Many of us have heard of Oman, located in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, but very few of us know much about it. Dubai, only an hour away, is, however, a very popular destination. Although Oman may not be popular, it certainly deserves more attention than it gets, and you’ll see what I mean when you take a tour of Oman with me.
Sometimes you head to places that you’ve never thought of. Such far away places can make you believe that you will never go there again. The further away this place is, the more you may feel inclined to go back, however. The feeling of never being able to see this place again clouds your feeling of wanting to go back, and you get lost in its mystery. While heading to Oman, your curiosity increases as you pass over Dubai, a city that seems to have been planned out with exact precision and fascinates all with its magnificence. Every map of the Omani capital of Muscat draws you in with its perfectly aligned roads, similar to those of Dubai, as well as the consecutive street lamps that light up the night. A sense of calm comes over you. All we can see late at night is that, although they are similar in appearance, the buildings in Oman are shorter than those in Dubai. I later found out that buildings in Muscat can only be up to four stories high, while only hotels can reach upwards to 20 stories.
While moving towards the coastline to watch the Extreme Sailing Series competition taking place on a day I started off after getting little sleep, I was able to take notes on the architectural structure of Muscat. There are low to the ground, plain and angled buildings that resemble each other throughout the city. Almost all of the buildings are embroidered with patterns reminiscent of bastions. They are plain yet expensive residences. This part of the city is called “new Muscat.” New Muscat is a zone in which the wealthy residents of Oman reside. It is continuously expanding. The coast of the Bay of Oman is entirely built up. Luxurious cars parked in front of new buildings are an ordinary sight, as there are many of them. This may be because there is nothing like a vehicle tax here. A jeep that you would purchase in Turkey for roughly TL 70,000 is available for around TL 40,000 here. As for oil, it is very cheap. If you are good at bargaining, a taxi driver will take you on a tour of the entire city for 10 riyals.
The taxi driver was kind enough to take my crew and me shopping in the evening. He even brought us back to our hotel. As for shopping, the Al Qurm neighborhood is where shopping centers abound. If you’re lucky, you can buy electronic devices at rates cheaper than even in Dubai.
Traces of Sultan Qaboos everywhere
Together with Kuwait, Oman is the richest country in the region. In charge is Sultan Qaboos, who rules over this nation. Everywhere you go in the city, you will be able to see sizeable images of him. Many buildings are also named after him. Sultan Qaboos has ruled over Oman for 40 years. He deposed his father through a palace coup and quashed civil rebellion.
Without doubt, the most fascinating building among those he commissioned to be built in his name is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which includes the world’s second-largest hand-woven carpet. It took 400 people six years to weave this carpet in Iran, and it is simply dazzling. The mosque’s lighting and encaustic tiles were produced in Turkey, while the stone comes from India. Home to a vast library, the mosque has a marble floor that is quite refreshing, particularly when the temperature in the city reaches up to 55 degrees Celsius in the dead of summer. Plain and yet spectacular architecture becomes dazzling, especially when surrounded by aromatic flower gardens.
Allure of old Muscat
Oman is a very safe country. It ranks as one of the safest places to live in the Middle East. You won’t see any police on the streets. The empty roads of the wealthy city of Muscat become replete with cars in the evening and every Friday, which is a public holiday. However, it is also rare that you will find an open store at noon time, during prayer.
When we head to the “old city” of Muscat, we come across the beauty that we dreamed of. Modern Muscat aside, it an exotic, historical and attractive part of the city. Along the buildings here is the city’s Grand Bazaar. It is very cool and tastefully designed. Enthusiasts of silver and those who enjoy different scents and frankincense should certainly drop by. Another popular item here is traditional Omani clothes. Whatever you buy, do as the locals do and bargain away. Our crew noticed that the merchants here were nicer and more generous when we told them we were from Turkey.
Almost all the men here wear the dishdashah (a loose, ankle-length robe) and a pair of wide flip-flops. Soon after arriving here you realize just how convenient this attire is — particularly considering how it is 30 degrees Celsius even in February. The women here do not have a general clothing style. There are unveiled women as well as those who wear a headscarf, complete with a full-length gown. Many of the women sport a unique look, as opposed to men. What surprised us is a gigantic opera building that was built by Sultan Qaboos. We were slightly surprised because we did not expect this nation to place such great significance on the occidental arts. The sheer size of the city’s football stadium also surprised us; however, its name was easy to guess! Just across from it are stud farms built for camels. In fact, this was the first time ever that I saw so many camels together.
Coming to Oman was a great experience, if only for the feeling of going to a place where you will most likely “never go again.” It takes one hour from Dubai, the time it takes to fly from İstanbul to Ankara. After landing, though, it is your duty to discover this beautiful Arab country where you are sure to encounter unexpected charm.