In 2006 I was living and working in Qatar. Coming towards the end of the year we thought that it would be nice to see some other country in the region. I had already met some people from Oman through my work and found them to be warm and friendly. Also, many of my Qatari workmates had gone to Oman on their holidays and we were also aware of the natural beauty of the country. We arranged a four-day break in Oman and we were not disappointed with our choice for a first trip.
Oman is quite different to the Gulf States and it has closer ties to both Africa and East Asia than most countries in the region. At one stage Omani influence extended as far away as Zanzibar where the Sultan had a palace. At a later stage, they were invaded by the Persians, who were driven out in the 18th century when the Al Said dynasty came to power and, in effect, modern Oman has developed from there.
One of the first things that we noticed was the complete absence of high-rise buildings, compared with other Gulf countries, in the capital Muscat where we were staying.
This is down to a deliberate policy of the current ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who has reigned since 1970. Like other Gulf rulers, Sultan Qaboos was educated in Sandhurst and he served in the British Army, including a spell of service in Germany, when he was a young man.
On our second day in Oman, we went on a trip into the interior to see the mountains. Our car pulled into a service station to fill up for the journey and two young Omani men, who saw me with a camera, asked me to take their photo and I duly obliged.
When I had taken the photo they just looked at it on the back of the camera and then went on their way.
The first place we visited on our journey was the town of Nizwa where we visited a market and the local fort. Our driver Essa (can also be Isa or Issa – pronounced ‘Ee-sah’ which means ‘Jesus’, the same as Iosa, pronounced more or less the same way, in the Irish language) was familiar with Nizwa and brought us around the market and the fort.
By the length of his nails in the second photo above Essa could be a left-handed player of the Arabian Oud, which was a precursor of the European lute.
Below is a mosque beside the fort in Nizwa and a ‘majlis ‘ or sitting down ( for discussions) room.
The majlis, unlike its counterparts in Qatar, seemed to require some sitting on the floor, which may have rather shortened discussions unless more cushions were used.
We then proceeded into the majestic Hajar Mountains where we came across a village with 1,000 year old houses that were now deserted as the local river had run dry.
These houses were near the entrance to Wadi Ghul. Essa said that Wadi Ghul meant the ‘Wadi of the Snake’, but the best translation of Ghul is ‘ghoul’ and it was probably the ‘origin word’ for that name in English. Perhaps Essa was getting ‘ghoul’ mixed up with ‘devil’, hence the reference to ‘snake’.
We then went to the top of an almost 10,000-foot high mountain by road. This mountain is called Jebel Shams which means the Mountain of the Sun, but at this altitude it was quite cold at the top despite the ‘sunny’ name.
In the first photo on the left above Essa appears to be looking into an abyss, but when he called me forward I saw the scene on the right above, which is often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of Oman’
We returned to Muscat via Nizwa where we saw this wonderful ‘book roundabout’. This really took our fancy as we were already familiar with ‘themed’ roundabouts from Doha such as Sports Roundabout, Television Roundabout (for Al Jazeera) and Oryx Roundabout.
On the next day, we decided to go to see the Gulf of Oman and we set out on a boat trip from Bandar Al Rowdha.
Our boat was a fast, flat-bottomed vessel and we both wore life jackets. I was able to move around to get photos when the boat was moving slowly or straight ahead, but not while it was ‘taking corners’.
There were plenty of other boats about, but we seemed to be the only ones wearing life jackets
The Wayne Rooney jersey in the photo on the left above is not surprising as the Premier League was available on Al Jazeera Sports and other local TV channels, with a choice of Arabic and English commentary. Sir Alex Ferguson and his team were, at that time, frequent visitors to Doha and other Gulf capitals for exhibition matches and even for training. The photo on the right above again shows how friendly Omani people can be.
The coast of Oman must be heaven for geologists who can see all the different layers of rock development set out before their eyes.
I believe we may have gone under the arch in the photo on the right above, but I don’t seem to have a photo of that at this stage.
Before we finished, we went past the beach attached to the Al Bustan Palace luxury hotel. I normally don’t have much time for such beaches, but the hills behind were something to behold.
Finally, before we returned to land, we went on a trip around the harbour of Old Muscat where the Sultan’s Palace is located. This port had many forts, including this one on an island near the entrance to the port.
I have never been able to discover what the references to ‘Irish’ and ‘Cork’ on the walls of the fort meant, but they certainly intrigued me.
On our last night in Oman, we went to the souq in the port of Muttrah. It was pretty much like many other souqs in the region with the usual exotic foods, silks and perfumes etc. The most intriguing and distinctive feature was the circular area shown on the right below.
The final photo from the trip is this one of the palaces of the Sultan Qaboos. While it is of exotic design, it is also low rise in accordance with the Sultan’s own ordinances about building heights.
I can certainly recommend Oman as a safe and very friendly country to visit with an interesting culture, quite different to that of other countries in the region, and also with areas of stunning natural beauty and plenty of things to do, particularly for those with a sense of adventure. For photographers, it is a country with something interesting to capture around every corner.
The photos in this article were taken with a Nikon D200 and various Nikkor lenses.
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