L ooking out of the aircraft window while coming in for a landing at Muscat International Airport, one notices the rugged hills of the Al-Hajjar Range that are in stark contrast to the undulating sand dunes that welcome a visitor to the other Gulf countries. As if the hills stand in as Nature’s high-rise structures in
The airport is located at some distance from the city centre but an excellent road adjacent to the coastal hills makes the journey a breeze. The Muscat Gate that marks the entrance at the city limits reminds one of our own
The roundabouts feature traditional icons like the coffee pots, incense burners, dhows and dolphins. We drove straight to a hotel in the commercial district of Ruwi. The multi-national complexion of the local population is quite evident, like in other Gulf countries. Amongst the expatriates, the Indians dominate in the services sector and convenience stores, while Pakistanis mostly work as labourers and farm workers. Many Baluchis and Gujaratis have settled in Khyber Pass. and have been granted ‘second class’ citizenship. Oman
Crass commercialisation is frowned upon and the symbols of conspicuous consumption are notably absent. This aspect may have to do with the economic downturn as a result of drying up of petroleum reserves, but the government has made a concerted effort to focus on simplicity and traditional values in all walks of life. In
one finds the Western tourists as well as expatriates respecting traditions by
way of their own sensible dress and general conduct, quite in contrast to some
other Gulf cities. Muscat
The arrival of our armed forces delegation was known to the Pakistani community, whose representatives had organised a dinner on the very first evening at a local hotel. At dinner, we were invited yet again to spend the following Friday at the farm of a Pakistani, Haji Abdul Yusuf. Yusuf had moved to
three decades earlier during the oil boom.
An enterprising gentleman, he fell in love with Muscat
and decided to live here forever, if he could.
Following up on a government initiative, he purchased some barren land about
an hour’s drive from Oman , where
irrigation water had been facilitated by the government. Bringing in labour from his village in Muscat ,
he started tilling the land and today, his farm is one of the largest,
completely mechanised farms in Pakistan . A sumptuous lunch featuring a Punjabi fare
was the highlight of the visit to Haji sahib’s farm. Oman
A visit to the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum was instructive and one could note the emphasis on preserving Omani traditions, particularly in uniforms and military livery. An evening fete in the Central Armed Forces Officers’ Mess was again an impressive function, where waiters in splendid Omani thobes, complete with badges and other regalia, and well versed in military decorum, served us in traditional style.
With the oil drying up, trying to keep up with the Gulf Joneses has been difficult for
. All other Gulf capitals have the Corniche,
the paved pathways on the waterfronts and Oman
is no exception, having built a beautiful one on the adjoining Muscat . Similarly, luxury hotels are de rigueur for
the rich tourists and Mutrah
not been left behind. One of the most
impressive that we got to see is the Muscat belonging to the
Ritz-Carlton group. The grand hotel was
built in 1985 to house delegates to the GCC summit conference and Bostan
spared no effort so as not to be singled out as the ‘country cousin’ of the
other Gulf countries. The hotel is a
place worth visiting and is highly recommended at least for a coffee, if not
for a night’s stay that could leave you lesser by 1,000 Omani Riyals! Oman
Of all my travels in the Gulf cities, I liked
the most, in
part for its well-preserved past and, for the fact that its architecture blends
with the natural surroundings without being an eyesore. Beautiful mosques, open air souks, traditional
dhows bobbing in the placid harbour, flower-laden gardens and palm groves, and
turbaned men with daggers in their belts, all conjure up images from One Thousand
and One Nights. If one were to look
for the jewel of the Arabian tropics, one need not go farther than Muscat . Muscat
© KAISER TUFAIL. This is an open-access article published under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
This article was published in the daily newspaper The News International on 17 February, 2013.