More than just souks and sand

I often find myself looking through photos of destinations on my bucket list. Like the stunning cliff-town of Santorini, the temple city of Macchu Picchu in Peru, North Canada for a glimpse of the extraordinary Northern Lights, Sri Lanka for endless cups of tea on a paradisiacal island, Turkey for its grand mosques and open-air markets—the list is endless. While these places feature on most people’s bucket lists, there are others that don’t usually find their way to such lists. One of these places that I recently discovered is Oman. Here I was imagining Oman to solely be a land of deserts and souks, dates and spices. But this state in Southwest Asia is so much more than that. Think beaches and forts, castles and nature in all its glory. Yes, tourism in Oman is indeed booming, and there couldn’t be a better time than now to visit it.

I first heard about it from a friend who had visited Oman last year. She came back with stories of unspoiled coastlines, dolphin watching, cities with an old world charm and bustling markets. I started looking up imagery and blog posts of this unlikely travel destination only to be surprised at the number of tourists it welcomes every year. Who would have thought really!

Something that really piqued my interest in Oman was its natural beauty, and when I do visit, I definitely don’t want to miss the Bandar Khayran Reserve, given my love for nature and wildlife holidays.

In Oman, it seems like journeys are as interesting as the destination. Even though the reserve is a 40-minute boat ride away from the heart of Muscat, you won’t be bored during the commute, for you’ll be marvelling at the rocky mountainous landscape, the white-washed houses that overlook the deep blue as well as architectural points of interest. And, of course, the friendly dolphin pods swimming alongside your boat!

When you actually reach your destination— Bandar Al Khayran waters— you’ll have plenty to indulge in. Snorkelling and scuba diving reveal a new world of diverse species of underwater life including coral reefs and colourful fish. Oman seems to rank high on the eco-tourism map and it definitely seems like my kind of place, more so, because of the Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve.

Thousands of sea turtles migrate annually from other shores to lay their eggs on Oman’s shoreline. I hope to visit between July and October, as this is the peak time for turtle watching. Interestingly, Oman’s waters play home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles! Whales also frequent Oman’s shores particularly in A’Sharqiyah South Governate, Dhofar Governate and Al Wasta Governate, albeit at irregular intervals. Still, I’m definitely not going to give this a miss! If it’s your lucky day you might get to see one or two of these gigantic creatures of the ocean.

Besides spending time in the midst of nature, I also like to delve into the region’s history and culture. Oman is an ancient land that’s rich in history. The relics of innumerable forts and watchtowers are evidence of its well-preserved culture. Some forts like Nizwa Fort have been restored with impeccable care and are worth a visit, as is the Jabreen Caste that dates back to 1670. The palace’s frescoed ceilings carry Islamic-era inscriptions and intricate paintings. Strolling through the palace’s many rooms is sure to take you back in time.

I’m especially excited to see the Sun and Moon room, which was used by the Immam as a room for meetings and discussions. More intriguing is the fact that the ceiling of the Sun and Moon room is adorned with Islamic-style calligraphy. The room has 14 windows—seven are located near the ceiling and the remaining seven are at the bottom of the room—that keep the atmosphere cool throughout the year. This ‘natural’ cooling mechanism was devised to allow cool air to enter from the lower windows and to expel warm air from the upper ones.

I believe that the best way to soak in a region’s culture is to see it through the eyes of a local. This might be possible if one were to visit Oman’s many colourful souks that sell everything from incense and spices, to traditional textiles and local jewellery. Alongside Oman’s charming culture is luxury in all its forms—chic hotels, swanky malls, yachting and fantastic restaurants. Beauty has an address and from the looks of it, it can be found in Oman. Here’s where you’ll get all the information you need: http://www.omantourism.gov.om

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