Tribute to the Sultanate of Oman
By Fred Searle
Administration
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said is the head of state, its highest and final authority
and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
 

Background
The oldest independent state in the Arab world, the Sultanate of Oman is one of the more
traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until recently, one of the most isolated. Located in the southeastern corner of the Arabian peninsula, the country has been viewed as strategically important given its position at the mouth of the Gulf.

History

Archaeological discoveries and research suggest that early civilisations existed at least
5000 years ago. Sumerian tablets refer to a country named 'Magan' as a source of copper. It seems certain that they referred to Oman. Evidence from excavations near Sohar shows that the copper mining and smelting industry was well developed by the year 2000 BC. Frankincense from Dhofar, which was so important in the social and religious life of ancient peoples also provides evidence of the existence of an early trading community. It is also clear that there were farming and fishing settlements from the earliest times.
The ancestors of present day Omanis are believed to have arrived in two waves, of
migration over a number of years, the first from the Yemen and the second from Arabia
at a time when various parts of the country were occupied by the Persians.

Geography
The Sultanate of Oman occupies the South-Eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
The coastline extends 1,700 kilometres from the Strait of Hormuz in the North to the
borders of the Republic of Yemen in the South. It overlooks three seas - the Arabian Gulf,
Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It borders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
in the West; the Republic of Yemen in the South; the Strait of Hormuz in the North and the Arabian Sea in the East. The total land area is about 309,500 sq.kms, and it is the third largest country in the Arabian Peninsula.

Topography
The Sultanate of Oman has a variety of topographical features consisting of plains, wadis
and mountains. The most important area is the coastal plain which represents about 3%
of the total land mass. The mountain ranges occupy about 15%. The Hajar range runs
from Musandam in the North to Ras Al-Hadd in the South. The Dhofar range attracts
the monsoon, which brings unique weather conditions and creates a special environment in
Dhofar. The remaining area which occupies 82% of the country is mainly sand and gravel
desert or scrub, and includes part of the Empty Quarter.

Land Area: 309,500 square kilometres
Population: Approximately 2.8 million
Density: 6.5 inhabitants/sq km
Capital: Muscat (population over 400,000)
Official Lang.: Arabic (English widely spoken)
Religion: Islam
Time: 4 hours ahead of GMT
Internet Domain: .om
Currency: Rial Omani =US$2.60
1 Rial = 1000 Baiza's (£1= approx. 580 Baiza)
Press: Al-Watan Oman Daily - Arabic Oman Observer - English-language Times of Oman - English-language
International Dialing Code: + 968

Administrational areas or Divisions
There are a total of 59 Wilayaat, 3 Governorates and 5 Regions. The head of a governorate will normally have ministerial status.
The head of a Wilaya is the Waali. In the Region's capital areas for example, Nizwa, which is the capital centre of Al Dakhiriyah, the Waali becomes the senior Waali for that region.

Muscat Governorate (6):
Muscat, Mutrah,Boushar, Seeb, Al-Amrat and Quriyat.
Al-Batinnah Region(12):
Sohar, Rustaq, Saham, Barka, Wadi Al-Mauly, Nakhal, Al-Khabourah, Suwaiq, Shinas, Liwa, Al-Mussanah, and Al-Awabi.
Mussandam Governorate(4):
Khassab, Diba Al-Bayah, Bukha, and Mad-Ha.
A
l-Dhahirah region(5):
Buraimi, Mahdha, Ibri, Yanqul, and Dhank.
Al-Dakhiriyah Region(8):
Nizwa, Adam, Bahla, Al-Hamrah, Izki, Samail, Manah, and Bidbid.
Al-Wusta Region(4):
Hema, Al-mukhut, Al-Duqum, and Al-Jaazir.
Al-Sharikiyah Region(11):
Sur, Wadi Bani Khalid, Jaalan Bani Buali, Jaalan Bani Buhassan, Bidiyah, Ibrah, Al-Mudhebi, Al-Dima Wa Tayeen, Masirah island, Al-Kaabil, Al-Akamil Wa Al-Waafi.
Dhofar Governorate(9):
Salalah, Shaleem and Halaniyat island, Mirbat, Sadah, Taqa, Thamrait, Dhalkut, Rakhyut, and Mugshiin.

Getting there
Most major carriers have routes to the Sultanate (BA, Gulf Air, KLM, Kuwait Air, Emirates, Lufthansa etc). Flight times vary but are between 6-9 hours depending upon route.

Getting About
You will need a car and preferrably a good 4 x 4 off roader. To wet your appetitie, how about a drive to Sur, without going via the Batina coast route. Try the drive along the coast from Muscat to Qurayat and onwards to Ras Al-Jinz. This is a good fast road with lots of panoramic scenery. Remember to stop at Wadi Al-Shab, a truly beautiful wadi, which we have visited many times.

People
Probably the most friendly in the Gulf. Strong family orientated society. People will travel for miles to see a friend and to sit and chat. Hospitality, second to none.
Great sense of humour very much akin to our own.
In my experience, their education system has exceeded expectations.Their rising generation are in the main well educated, becoming well travelled and intently keen to learn and to take on responsibility. I know this as I had the priviledge of teaching many of them over a sixteen year period. If you do get a chance to visit the Sultanate of Oman grab it, you will never forget it.

Food
The Omani people are well known for their hospitality and offers of refreshment. To be invited into someone's home will mean coffee (kahwa), a strong, bitter drink flavoured with cardamom, and dates or halwa, a sticky sweet gelatinous substance which is made from brown sugar, eggs, honey and spices. Lokhemat is another accompaniment to coffee, which are balls of flour and yeast flavoured with cardamom and deep fried until golden then served with a sweet lime and cardamom syrup. The sweetness of this dish often counteracts the bitterness of the kahwa.
Endowed with some of the finest hotels and restaurants, Local, Asian, European and Western dishes are all available and service is generally of a higher standard than that of the UK.
Local fish is plentiful; try the Kana'd or Kingfish steaks as well as fresh dates, and the local halwa.
Shuwa is another popular meal, which is meat cooked very slowly (sometimes for up to two days) in an underground clay oven. The meat becomes extremely tender and it is impregnated with spices and herbs before cooking to give it a very distinct taste. It is usualy served with rice.

Sports and things to do
Football crazy. Great water sports facilities available (water skiing, diving, jet ski's etc)
Beaches are sand and are usually very clean.
A favourite pastime of the expatriate community is weekend wadi-bashing or desert safaris. This entails taking four-wheel drive vehicles off- road (these are essential in mountainous and interior regions of the country) This is a great way of exploring a truly beautiful country and to observe the camels roaming the interior.

Places to visit
Mutrah-Muscat:
This old walled town is dominated by two well-preserved 16th-century Portuguese forts, Al Jalali and Mirani. The town consists of old houses, narrow streets and three beautifully carved original gates. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Al Bustan Palace Hotel, the Sultan's Palace and the Mutrah Souk are a must for visitors.

Salalah:
Capital of the southern Dhofar region. It is a city set amongst coconut groves and banana plantations, sprawled along sandy beaches that run the length of its plain. The lush vegetation makes Salalah seem almost tropical. Visiting it is a unique experiene particularly after the monsoon period. The Qamar range of the Jebel (mountains) rise to 2,500 metres and extend for about 180 kilometres and include the Qarra and Samhan range.(see article under main cities below)
Sur:
Situated in the northeastern province of Sharqiya. It is a seafaring town, a fishing village and a trading port all rolled into one. Famous for its traditional ship building, Sur started trading along the African coast as early as the 6th century. It is an old town with winding streets, carved wooden doors and old arabesque buildings. Sur souk is also well worth visiting.
Sohar:
There is a very large and functional souk (market) here full of tailors, fruit-sellers and fishermen. An imposing four-storey fort with six towers overlooks the bay.
Nizwa:
The main town in the interior province. It was the capital in the 6th and 7th centuries. The town's immense palm oasis stretches for 13km (8 miles) along the course of two wadis. It is famous for its fort and its gold and silver handicrafts.
Jabrin:
The 17th-century fortified palace situated here is notable for its painted wooden ceilings and the splendid view across the desert to the mountains.
Bahla:
This ancient town, known for its pottery, has a good souk and nearby is the picturesque village of Al Hamra.
Jebel Akhdar:
Literally 'The Green Mountain', noted for its picturesque terraced villages.
Al Hazm:
On the northern slopes of the Jebel Akhdar is the fortress of Al Hazm Fort, built in 1708, and the oasis town of Rostaq.
Qurum:
Encapsulates Oman's archaeology, history and culture. The National Museum has a collection of silver, jewellery, weapons and ancient stone artefacts. From here dhows cruise along the palm-fringed coast and there are excellent fishing grounds and beaches.

Main Cities:
Muscat :
Muscat city, once a thriving and strategically located port of the Arabian peninsula in ancient times, is the capital of modern Oman. Its medieval appearance with two old Portuguese forts, Jelali and Merani, flanking the rocky cove around which the city is built, makes it a unique and unusually exotic place. Muscat's picturesque old buildings co-exist with modern commercial and residential quarters giving the city an ambiance of its own. the seaside palace of H.M. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, nestled between steep rocky hills, offers a spectacular sight, specially by night.
Salalah :
Largest city in Southern Oman, Salalah has a unique charm with its coconut groves and banana plantations growing right to the water's edge. Its beautiful beaches of white sand are a heaven for swimmers and sea lovers. The rugged beauty of its fertile plains, its fresh water springs, its bustling souqs and tropical landscape leave a lasting impression on the visitors mind. The best time to visit Salalah is from June to September, When the monsoon rains lash the region, turning it into a tropical paradise.
This is also where Frankincense comes from. This is used extensively throughout the Sultanate for a variety of purposes. The Dhofari frankincense is considered amongst the best in the world.
Nizwa :
Oasis city of Nizwa, the largest in the interior province, was the capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries. Today it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions with its historical buildings and imposing fort built in the mid 17th century by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya'ribi. The town's immense palm oasis stretches for eight kilometers along the course of two wadis. It is famous for its bustling souq where tourists can buy exquisite copper and silver jewelry and other craft items.
Sohar :
The coastal city of Sohar was once an important Islamic port and the largest town in the country. Visitors will be attracted to its large and functional souq with handy tailors, fruit sellers, and fishermen vying for space, and its fort which stands apart with its four-story walls and six towers, an imposing sight overlooking the bay.
Sur :
An ideal location in the northeast Province of Sharquiya and is a seafaring town, a fishing village and a trading port all in one. The highlight of the town is the dhow builder's yard of the coast just beyond the town. Sur started trading activities with the African coast as early as the 6th century A.D.. A walk through its labyrinthine streets reveal many fine old houses with carved doors, arabesque windows and other intricate details. Sur is also famous for its breeding sites of world's rare sea turtles in Ras Al Jinaiz, which has been declared a protected wild life area.
Musandam :
Separated from the rest of Oman by part of the United Arab Emirates, this is the northernmost part of the Sultanate. It's rugged mountains rise up to 2100 meters above sea level and the coast which juts into the strait of Hormuz has a spectacular fjord like look. It is no wonder that Musandam is also called "The Norway of the Middle East". Khasab Fort, Qadah Archaeological site, Jebel Harim Mountain, Shim Gulf and Strait of Hormuz are the most important attractions in Musandam. I spent much time in the Musandam peninsular and never tired of its unspoilt beauty.

Forts:
Jalali Fort : One of the two forts constructed by the Portuguese to defend the Muscat port in 1587, it was first named as Sao Joa. It lies on the eastern side of the port.

Merani Fort : This western fort was completed in 1586 and was originally called Fort Capitan. The building of the two forts remain virtually unchanged, though restoration works were carried out in later times.

Nizwa Fort : Built by Imam Sultan Seif Al Yarubi in 1641 AD is one of the largest monuments of Oman's historical and cultural legacy. It lies in the city of Nizwa, 175 km south of Muscat.

Jabrain Castle : Built in 1688 AD and situated in Bahla, not far from Niawa is one of the most beautiful and magnificent historical monuments of Oman.

Rustaq (Hazim) Fort : Situated in Rustaq, 160 km north-west of Muscat was built in 1702

Nakhl Fort : This fort is built on a 200 ft. high mountain peak and it dates back to the pre-Islamic era. It lies in Nakhl which is 121 km from Muscat.

Hotels: The Sultanate is endowed with numerous splendid hotels, some of which are:
Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Intercontinental and the Grand Hayyat.

The Sultanate of Oman welcomes tourism for which it is well set up.
Excitingly different, it offers a multitude of activities and interests in a friendly and unique part of the world.
As I said previously, if you get the chance, grab it, you will not be disappointed.