Tag Archives: Oman

Rugged Mountains Surrounding a Jewel ~ Muscat, Oman

According to our onboard Exploration Guide:

 Muscat has been an important trading area going back thousands of years because of its position on the Arabian Sea (close to the Straits of Hormuz). Persians invaded long before the area became Islamic in the seventh century. The Portuguese ruled for over a century, until the Al Bu Sa’id dynasty seized control in the eighteenth century, and they have ruled ever since. In the past 50 years, Oman has remained a stable economy based on trade and petroleum. Since the current Sultan Qaboos bin Said took over in 1970, tourism has flourished. Muscat’s position on the water surrounded by mountains is dramatically beautiful.

We agree. Of all the cities in the middle east that we have visited on this trip (Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh, Safaga, Aqaba, Salalah, Abu Dhabi,and Dubai), Muscat is by far the most distinctive and beautiful. It is a jewel.

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In the harbor, on our way to the souk, we saw the Sultan of Oman’s private yacht. It would have been a treat to see the inside, but we didn’t have an invitation awaiting us. Maybe next time.

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The souks are fascinating places, almost like rabbit holes with so many twists and turns, branches and arteries that you can get lost very easily. But there are always interesting people to see as well as the fun of haggling with the shopkeepers over prices of goods. We did not buy any thing that day, but had fun taking pictures and talking to the locals.

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 We rode the Hop-On-Hop-Off Big Bus to see more sights of Muscat. We stopped at Al Qurm National Park, a lovely area designed for children, families, picnickers, and flower lovers. We basically had the park to ourselves, as only the maintenance staff was present, busily keeping all the beds and lawns in pristine shape. We did meet two young families who gave us permission to take photographs. There was also a Heritage Village within the park, which displayed a typical old fortress. There were also signs throughout the park encouraging us all to exercise freely.

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Back on the bus, we drove through the city admiring many of the buildings that can be no higher than 8 stories and may only be painted white or cream.

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 Royal Opera House

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Al Bustan Palace Hotel ~ Beautiful 7 Star Hotel outside Muscat ~ It is said that entering the lobby is like stepping into another world. 

Our last stop was Al Alam Palace, which is one of the Sultan’s palaces. The Sultan is currently out of the country, in Germany, but several of the outer buildings were bustling with activity and staff. The Palace is not open to visitors, but the outside views were commanding.

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It was time to meet our friend who lives in Muscat, as she was able to leave work after her late afternoon meetings. She showed us some of the non-tourist areas of the city, and then drove us over to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. We arrived before evening prayer, so we were able to walk around the exterior of the building. Truly, it is magnificent! We only had one camera between us, so we did not get as many pictures as we would have liked, but we hope you can get the flavor of the Mosque from the few we did get before it was closed to non-Muslims.

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 We then followed up with a sumptuous Arabian dinner at a local restaurant named Kargeen (www.kargeen.com). We all had something different, and Carolyn was adventurous and got outside her comfort zone, to taste the local foods and spices. She was not disappointed. The big surprise was the wonderful drink that our friend introduced to us, called Lemon Mint. It is very common in the Arab countries, and tastes fantastic, especially if you have been out in the hundred-degree heat all day. We do not know the proportions, but the drink is made with fresh squeezed lemon juice, crushed ice, and a blender full of fresh mint so it’s very green in color. It comes to you in a very tall glass and is wonderfully delicious.  Cheers to All!

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Lots of Legend and Lore ~ Little Reality in Ubar

Once upon a time there was a City of Towers in Shisr, Oman called Ubar. But what remains of this fabled paradise is simply a hole in the earth!

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The legends surrounding the Lost City have been around for centuries. Ubar was mentioned in stories of “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” Lawrence of Arabia called Ubar “the Atlantis of the Sands” and, in the Holy Quran, it is referred to as “the City of Towers.”

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It is also said that Ubar became a hotbed of wickedness and its people became corrupted by its riches, just like the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was also believed that Ubar suffered the wrath of God and during the first century, Ubar was destroyed by cyclonic storms that swept away the buildings and sucked the kingdom into a deep hole.

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However, in 1992, scientists, using high-tech satellite imagery, were able to “see” through the overlying sand and loose soil to pick out subsurface geological features that would tell a different story. They were able to distinguish the ancient trade routes that were packed down into hard surfaces by the passage of hundreds of thousands of camels. Junctions where the trade routes converged or branched were likely locations for the lost city.

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Scientists also found that the city didn’t fall because of divine retribution for the wickedness of its people. In building his “imitation of paradise,” the King at the time unknowingly constructed the city over a large limestone cavern. Ultimately, heavy flooding dissolved the cavern and washed away the limestone; and the weight of the city caused the cavern to collapse in a massive sinkhole, destroying much of the city and causing the rest to be abandoned.

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Not all destinations prove to be as advertised. In most cases it is the journey there that is the more important story to be remembered. And it was for us.

Our journey began in the port city of Salalah, Oman from which our caravan of eleven four-wheel drive Toyoto Land Cruisers carried us 220 kilometers north in our search of the Lost City of Ubar. The flat land was sprinkled with large mounds of earth along the way.

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We were four to a car plus the driver and our travel mates were two former schoolteachers from Canada who were very congenial people with which to share our day.

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Our guide was a young Omanian named Haman, 26 years old with a wife and 2-year-old son. In Oman the extended families are large and Haman has 7 brothers and 13 sisters. They have 100 camels, though personally, Haman just has 3. The houses we saw were large since many extended families live together in one home.

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Camels roam free throughout Oman, and are often found along the roadside (sometimes with wild donkeys) and even in the median strip on the four lane super highways. We were glad the camels knew enough to stay within the yellow lines and not stray into lanes of oncoming traffic traveling at 60 miles per hour.

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© Ruth Price (Victoria, BC, Canada)

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© Ruth Price (Victoria, BC, Canada

After having driven approximately two hours on the highway through landscape of what Omanians call badiha, desert-like terrain of sand mixed with stones and other types of dirt, we reached the “real” desert of pure, deep sand along the sides of the “road.” To facilitate the 4 x 4’s ability to traverse the sand, the drivers flattened the tires.

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Frequently, the deep snow-like sand would grab the wheels and whip the car into a direction not chosen by the driver as we sailed through the sands, slipping, sliding, and often almost colliding with other vehicles in our party.

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Upon leaving our vehicles, we were quick to realize that what we were walking on was more like quicksand than snow as we sank into sand above our ankles and even higher. Because of the winds we saw ever interesting and changing patterns in the sands.

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We encountered a number of signs that said

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© Ruth Price (Victoria, BC, Canada)

We are here, in the middle of the desert with absolutely no water in sight, let alone water that is “at red.” We asked Haman to explain, which he did.

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© Ruth Price (Victoria, BC, Canada)

 

Some distance after the warning sign there are a series of five poles (as shown above) and they are placed in areas where there are shallow wadi’s (dry river beds). Even though they have rain only about one month a year, when it does rain, it is heavy and since the earth is so sunbaked, the water does not soak in, but gathers in the wadi.

The center pole of the five is striped, with the lower portion painted white. If the water is above the white section, and into the red zone, then it is unsafe to pass through the water. And to get stranded in the desert this far out with engine trouble is not something you desire. Cellular coverage is spotty and help could be a long time to reach you.

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The region surrounding the Lost City is still dotted with numerous groves of a small tree, the frankincense tree, whose resin was as valuable as gold in ancient times. Then and now the resin is used as a fragrance, for medicinal purposes, and for embalming.

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