Ever since I read Lawrence of Arabia and subsequently watched the movie, have I been fascinated by the Arabic world. Endless deserts, white houses, brilliant blue seas, camels and splendid horses, not to mention works of art , historical monuments and colorful dress, all came together in my mind as a magic carpet I wanted to climb on forthwith and sail off towards the East.
Well the sailing off took a little longer, but I finally made it to my dream destination, albeit by stages. First, I moved to Turkey where I lived for five years. After exploring the country, I used it as a base for further travel to the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and, finally,Oman.
It was only a 10 day trip, but the most impressive and exciting of my travels to that part of the world. I stared in the capital Muscat. Already on my way from the airport, I got an impression of serenity and sophistication, understated wealth as opposed to the rather garish, in-your-face ostentation of nearby Dubai. Immaculate motorways, huge mansions, green parks, shopping malls, certainly, all the trappings of oil money are there, but the dominating color is white or sand, in keeping with the historical heritage.
Even though the huge, brand new mosque has a gold cupola, it is hidden, so to speak, under white lattice stone work and only glimpses of gold sparkle through. The sultanute;s palace is blue and gold but even that is muted. And it isnute;t all that big either.
After settling in my hotel on a pristine private beach and enjoying a swim, I went to visit the fabulous Mutrak souk at night. I happened to visit during Ramadan, so of course only after eid did everybody come out to eat, shop and have fun. The scent of frankincense permeates everything, because itute;s one of the major exports of the country. Not for nothing is a huge frankincense pot on top of a hill in a park, the landmark of Muscat.
The next day, I went on not only one, but two boat trips. The first was by day and with the purpose of watching dolphins. I did see some and they are sweet to look at and watch play, but what impressed me even more was the absolutely fascinating coastline of Muscat. Black rock, alternating with brilliant white one, small, sandy beaches in between and the rocks forming bizarre sculptures some of which even got names.
When, back at the hotel, I saw that there was a sunset cruise on a traditional dhow (traditional sailing ship) along the same coast on offer, I immediately went and booked. It turned out to be an experience of a life time. To start with, the dhow is as romantic a vessel as you can imagine. Lounging on fat cushions, placed on thick oriental carpets and watching the coast glide by under the ever changing light of the setting sun makes you feel like a princess. Tea gets served as do sweets and little snacks and you donute;t return until night has fully fallen.
But, there is much more to Oman than coastline and beaches. Being a great fan of history, I hired a car and driver the next day to visit the impressive mountain fortress of Nizwa, followed by an off road drive to Jabel Shams, Omanute;s highest mountain.
What a day of contrast it turned out to be. It was already hot when we left Muscat and the coast behind and got even hotter the further we approached Nizwa. The massive fortress in the town which was Omanute;s first capital was not only meant as a defense but was, at the same time, seta and home of the rulers and a distinguished center for learning. Scholars, poets, writers, they all lived and worked here. Although I was very quickly soaking with sweat, I climbed up and around glanced down from the distinctive round tower and explored every nook and cranny. As it was Ramadan, there were very few visitors around and I had the privilege of having the great castle nearly to myself. Ramadan also meant no food or drink during the day, whether you are a Muslim or not.
But, my sweet driver took pity on me. Once back in the car and on the road, he pulled over, tossed a blanket over me and handed me a bottle of water underneath, with the instructions to take a quick sip so no passing police car would spot what I was doing.
Then, he threw in 4 wheel drive and off we turned into very rough terrain, approaching Wahdi Gul. As the name indicates, itute;s a whadi which normally is nearly dry, but, from the heat of Nizwa we were suddenly confronted with black clouds and within a matter of minutes, the temperature dropped and the heaves opened.
In the middle of this rainstorm, he confidently still found his way through the bed of the suddenly roaring whadi and up the other side to Jabel Shams, Omanute;s highest mountain. Rain or no rain, I had to get out and look down over the rather flimsy railing. For the second time this day, I got drenched, this time by rain and nearly was blown off the mountain, but, what a thrill!!!
I missed out on further trips like the one to the south and a turtle sanctuary and further into the interior to watch horse breeders, but, I left Oman knowing that I would be back. The fairy tale hasnute;t ended yet.
Written by Glamour Granny Inka.
TripHobo Note: Born in Germany, Inka was a successful international attorney. Around 3 years ago, she left everything at the drop of a hat and switched her career! Today, she is a freelance travel writer, photographer and a novelist.