Oman: Splendours of Arabia
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
What images come to your mind when you read the word “Oman”? If you had asked me this question two years ago, I probably wouldn’t be able to name a single thing. Despite loving geography, I had never heard of this country, formally known as the “Sultanate of Oman”, until I heard it mentioned offhand in a news article. I became immediately intrigued and logged the country away in my imagination as a place I had to visit one day, far off in the future. However, the idea of Oman clung fast to my mind and, two years after first hearing about, we decided to venture there.
Oman hooks off the right edge of the Arabian Peninsula, with Yemen below it and Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to the north-west. Its coastline faces the warm Indian Ocean while its land borders stride across featureless gravel plains, foreboding sand deserts and Arabia’s most rugged mountains. While some of its neighbours are notorious for civil strife and draconian rules, Oman chugs along peacefully under the radar. Politically, Oman represents perhaps the best possible example of a ‘benevolent dictatorship’. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has ruled Oman single-handedly since overthrowing his father in 1970. The Sultan has been a true statesman and visionary, using Oman’s modest oil revenue to wrench the country out of the illiteracy and stunted development that characterized the country just four decades earlier. Today in Oman, it is impossible to miss images of the Sultan wearing the traditional Omani dress: hanging in restaurants, decaled on the back of Jeeps or painted on the side of walls. Under the Sultan’s firm hand, Oman has become an entirely peaceful, stable and prosperous nation and his subjects genuinely venerate him for it.
Visiting Oman affords visitors the chance to see many of the classic hallmarks of “Arabia” in the Western imagination. Bedouin still ply the desert with their camels (and their 4x4s), over 500 forts and watchtowers dot the landscape of Oman and palm trees crowd alluring desert oases. Hospitality is one of the bedrocks of Arab culture and Omanis take it seriously. Even hotels will have the traditional platter of dates and Omani coffee, spiced with cardamom, in the lobby for guests to use and refresh. Omani culture is also characterized by its humble piety. The local strain of Islam is termed Ibadism and is essentially unique to Oman. One of the most distinct pleasures of visiting Oman is the hauntingly beautiful calls to prayer that echo throughout even the smallest village five times a day.
Due to Oman’s rugged geography and the vast distances that can separate settlements there, renting a car is highly recommended. Actually, Oman is probably the only place I’ve ever been to where I’d say it is almost not worth visiting if you are not going to travel it by car, simply because public transport is so minimal you will see very little. We rented an SUV while we were there, as many spots in Oman require driving on dusty pebble roads. Furthermore, one of the best parts about Oman is their lax attitude toward camping, owing in part to the nomadic heritage of many Omanis. It is permitted to camp in Oman anywhere other than private property or military installations (obviously). Otherwise, you are technically free to set up your tent wherever you see fit! Camping in Oman is the best way of really experiencing the desert and will save you significant amounts of money.
In subsequent posts, we will showcase Oman’s diversity by taking you to some of Oman’s best areas.