Oh Man, Oman: An Adventure In The Little-Known Arabian Oasis
Hajar mountains and Shatti Al Qurm beach; view from our room at the Grand Hyatt Muscat
When I first mentioned to my family and friends that I was planning a trip to Oman, I was greeted with some of the most incredulous stares I’d ever seen. Many had no idea the place existed, but a larger part looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, saying, ‘Who goes to Oman on holiday?’ Answer: me.
The Corniche, Muscat
A sudden plan to Dubai meant that I could finally explore that little-known Arabian oasis known as Oman, which as some of the most cerulean waters, pristine beaches, majestic mountains and awe-inspiring desert landscape I had ever seen. If you, like me, enjoy going to unexplored destinations, this guide is for you.
The facade of the Grand Hyatt Muscat
GETTING THERE & VISA INFORMATION
Muscat is a very short, 2.5-hour flight from Mumbai and you can fly Oman Air, Emirates or even IndiGo. Make sure you book your trip through a travel agent in India, though, or visas could be a problem. Indian passport-holders are not eligible for a visa on arrival. Travel agents who book tours to Oman include Vinaayak Holidays, Mercury Travels and Beacon Holidays (022 4041 8888).
Inside the Grand Hyatt Muscat
Oman’s capital city, Muscat, is vibrant, with its lively souks, friendly people and fabulous views of the Hajar mountains and Shatti Al-Qurum beach. We’d recommend a stay at the Grand Hyatt Muscat, an imposing edifice set on the Shatti Al-Qurm beach. Built in striking Arabian architecture, its 280 stylish rooms and suites offer great views of the surrounding areas. The Grand Hyatt Muscat is also close to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and has some delectable dining options. We loved the Mokha Café’s buffet dinner, which came with an astounding selection of local and international dishes and offered plenty of choices to us vegetarians.
Shatti Al Qurm beach, outside the Grand Hyatt Muscat
Local Omani sweets at the Grand Hyatt Muscat’s Mokha Cafe
The poolside at the Grand Hyatt Muscat
You must also visit the gorgeous Wahiba Sands, a desert stretch at a distance of about three hours from Muscat city. Here you can indulge in desert activities such as camel rides, Bedouin tent stays, tribal entertainment programmes and dune bashing in 4x4s. We’d strongly recommend staying at the 1000 Nights Camp, which offers clean and spacious tents as well as delicious camp food, a swimming pool and evening entertainment.
Tents at the 1000 Nights Camp
Bedouin performers at the 1000 Nights Camp
Explore the lively Muscat by visiting sightseeing spots such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House Muscat, Sultan’s Al Alam Palace, Muttrah Souq, Corniche and the Amouage Perfumery. Muscat does not have any public transport other than taxis (which also don’t operate on a metre), so be careful to bargain hard before you take one. The bargaining scale is huge (we paid two rials to a quote of 10 rials) but the taxi drivers are super-friendly, with many of them knowing and understanding Hindi as well as Bollywood films and actors. If you book your entire tour through a tour operator, though, you have the option to book your daily vehicle as well, minimising any chances of hailing your own cab.
Royal Opera House Muscat
The Sultan’s Al Alam Palace
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is, as the name suggests, a truly grand structure named after the kingdom’s ruler. However, to see its jaw-dropping splendour (including the Quran written in gold, a two-tonne, 14-metre tall chandelier and the world’s second largest Persian carpet covering a 4,343sq m area), you’ll have to ensure you’re fully covered. This means loose, full pants, a full-sleeved top and a scarf to cover the head. Unlike mosques in Abu Dhabi and even Delhi, the Sultan Qaboos mosque does not supply clothing to cover you up, so if you’re not sufficiently hidden you’ll be denied entry.
The facade of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The impressive chandelier at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Other attractions to see for their beautiful architecture include the Royal Opera House Muscat (which also houses a mall; yes, Omanis, like their neighbours, love to shop albeit in a much more restrained manner), the Sultan’s Al Alam Palace and the Muttrah Souq. If you’re looking to bring back some souvenirs, the souk is the place to go to. We picked some gorgeous Omani jewellery and khanjars from there. Be prepared to hunt, though, as most shopkeepers are Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi and most goods in their shops come from Turkey and the Indian subcontinent. Again, bargaining is key here.
Jewellery on display at the Mutrah Souq
Omani khanjars at the Mutrah Souq
Take a walk along the Corniche, a strip of seaside road connecting the city once you’re done shopping at the souk. Here, you’ll see local life at its best. The Amouage Perfumery is a great place to bring back some attars from.
Pristine waters off the coast of Muscat
If you’re a water person, you’ll really enjoy Oman. The country offers opportunities to swim, snorkel and dive and you can expect to see everything from dolphins, whales and sharks to coral, turtles and small fish. The Oman Dive Centre is the place to go to to book your diving expedition. While the coast off Muscat is great, better marine life can be spotted at nearby islands such as the Daymaniyat Islands. We suggest you keep a couple of days aside for this if you want to indulge in some serious diving and snorkelling. Besides this, you can even take a three-hour dolphin-watching and snorkelling tour with Az’Zaha Tours. We spotted hundreds of dolphins dancing about in the water as well as some pretty neat coral, fish and turtles here.
For more information on visiting Oman, visit the official Oman tourism site.