Only you can let it in.”
A Heart within a Heart – Travel Journey to Oman
Traveling to an exotic location can really make you fearful. However, consider that only you are the one who truly lets fear rule you. It’s not people around you who keep questioning your sanity when you make an individual decision. I love the idea of getting acquainted with new places. I guess everybody does, and that’s why it’s more enthralling than anything else combined together? Just take a step out of your door step, and you have the world at your feet, only one step from entering into a realm of countries can be as reassuring as Pirates of the Caribbean Sea!
I have been thinking of traveling to a different place than my home country. Surprisingly when I came to think about it, I had lots of options and many places were within my budget as I looked for a country worth exploring. Well, every area has its own attraction and charm, in my opinion.
No choice is wrong, and that’s a point worth remembering as it’s the experience that counts. Yes, there may be good and bad choices when you decide your next big adventure but you learn from each one. I know I did!
But after researching locations I decided to opt for Oman. Surprising? Well, I had two reasons to choose this country.
I have been to Asia twice in my young lifetime, in India and China to be precise, but this time, I wanted to explore western Asia on my own (sorry Mom).
My college friends Bashir and Barzan (siblings) who came to study in the state of California to get their masters, always talked about their home country, Oman and they had some pretty fascinating stories that inspired me to travel there with them.
Yes, it was an impulsive decision on my part and may have resulted in epic failure. But, hey I got there and spent an entire week.
And oh, the things I learned about this country still amazes me. You know when you decide to travel or rather explore a new terrain first make sure you’ve got the facts right about them.
Did you know Oman is actually in Asia? I don’t know why I felt surprised by it, I always pictured it as beautiful as its neighbors like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen but once you land in Oman you realize this place is different from your imagination.
Unlike Egypt or Dubai, Oman is less chaotic, so it’s a welcome change to travel somewhere that is serene enough to enjoy without any hassle. Traveling to Oman gave me a chance to experience rare sights. Oman’s flashy mountains, sleepy fishing towns, and wind-blown deserts are the beating hearts of this country.
The people of Oman give a warm welcome to the tourists who travel here for whatever attracted them in the first place.
For me, it was comparatively more accessible than the rest of the tourists who visit this county because I was being accompanied by my two native friends.
While giving me a brief introduction to Oman, Barzan told me, “It is the oldest independent state in the Arab world and also boasts itself to have one of the earliest inhabited cities at Al Wattih which is likely to be 10,000 years old! And it had been an important trading hub for the British and Portuguese since the prehistoric times too you know?” He added that the former name of Oman was “Sultanate of Muscat and Oman” but under the rule of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, it changed into the “Sultanate of Oman.” Like the UK, it had a sole monarch rule, the rulers are named as Sultans, and they strictly rule the country. To be honest, it reminded me of the USSR back during the cold war. When I told Barzan about my thoughts, he laughed at it saying, “Yeah, it’s pretty much like that with communism.”
Moving on from a short history he further added, “Omanis share a combination of various tribes, regional and ethnic divisions, and you will get to see more of the country and culture as you get familiar with the people and your surroundings.” When we called upon a taxi, the driver spoke only Arabic and thanks to Bashir there was no difficulty in reaching our hotel (we booked in advance).
Just so you know, Arabic is an official language (just like in UAE) but other languages are spoken in this region as well. Oman has a diverse population hence forming lots of dialects spoken like Balochi, Persian, Urdu, Portuguese and even Gujarati. Mostly spoken among nomadic people living in the south, these languages are more common than you can imagine.
Oman’s Flag is a Pictogram
Oman’s flag consists of white, green and red colors. Each color represents its origin in a meaningful way.
Green represents fertility
White represents peace
Red represents harmony
Besides these astounding colors, a monogram of Khanjar (dagger) is also represented on the upper left part of the flag. It’s a national emblem displaying tribal nature and ethnicity.
For the Love of Traveling
The more we traveled, the more I realized this supreme feeling of adrenaline I always felt when visiting a new place. Was I nervous? Yes.
Was I excited? Absolutely.
Staying at the local hotel was another experience for me. The accommodation sufficed enough to say was pretty much okay. The hotel staff was friendly but reserved (I don’t know why but maybe due to their customs?), my friends told me it is pretty much normal for people here to behave that way so I should not take it at heart. Besides that, the lobby was full of both traditional and urbanized colors and interiors, another surprise for me. And my friends just kept laughing at me, seriously. I never realized I was so oblivious to this country!
As I spent more days, I began to understand the behavior patterns of the people. Being in Muscat, the capital city, people were more open as compared to other cities because it’s a mixed population. You will be surprised by how many Indians you will meet.
Traveling through Muscat
Although the origins of Muscat are rather confusing, it is believed that the word Muscat means “inflated hide” or skin. Well, to be honest in each language, the meaning changes as it also seems to mean ‘anchorage’. Regardless, it’s a beautiful city in its own way. For example, Muscat has an overall advanced hub of trade, and many festivals are celebrated here.
On the city tour, mad sure to put on sunscreen lotion to avoid a bad sunburn and I also wore a nice pair of sunglasses completed my “cool” look. The days are hot there. Like extremely hot! It’s one of the hottest countries in the world! Keep this point in mind as you pack your baggage. Luckily for us, we traveled to Oman in early February (the seasonal Monsoon), and a tad bit of rain made it somewhat less hot than the rest of the days.
Wedged between the mountains and the coastal area of Arabian Sea Muscat proved to be a comfort zone for me. I can’t really say but it definitely felt like inner calmness taking over me while I relaxed at the sandy shores.
I couldn’t help but notice every building in Muscat is coated in white paint. “Royal decree demands uniformity in buildings” Bashir responded.
Wondering Through Souks
After a day of getting my beauty sleep (felt more like jet-lag) we made an early breakfast of Dates, Tea and fruits, and I loved the assembling of Greek yogurt with berries. You should know Dates are a very common food item here. You can enjoy a variety of drinks just made out of it and the traditional Omani desserts!
The first stop for the next day was the souks! Barzan planned our day to visit the local market. The Souk was nothing like we see in the US! Instead, there were many stalls set up. Each had a different variety of products to offer, and sellers were very hospitable when Bashir told them I was a visitor and it’s my first time.
At one corner hookah pipes were being prepared and on the opposite of the alley, I saw a vendor squeezing fresh juice from citric fruits. What better way could it be that drinking and shopping?
We went to another souk just outside of the city. Ibra Souk was solely dedicated to women! Only a few men could be seen handling the stock items, but female vendors were another jolt of surprise for me. Covered from head to toe, they sat in their shops and gladly welcomed me. They were very friendly, once they get comfortable with you.
We made poses in front of Sultan’s Palace, Bait al Zubair (a traditional village selling handicrafts), spent some quality time in Ghalya Museum of Modern Art on Mutrah Corniche.
Famished from the sightseeing we chose to go to an Indian restaurant serving a menu consisting of Indian and continental recipes. The food was delicious and the drinks afterward were very refreshing for all of us.
Back to Our Hotel
After spending a day in Muscat I realized the network of roads is far greater in the capital than in the smaller towns in the country and don’t go through the wadis, mountains or desert sides. We had to book a rental for maximum traveling experience. And traveling on the roads was such a remarkable experience with the wild terrain around you which you don’t see when you are flying over this remarkable country.
Our stay in Al Bustan Palace opened the way to a private long beach shadowed with palm trees. And I thought for a second I had died and gone to heaven. The beach side was such a different contrast to the rest of the mountainous terrain, it thoroughly surprised me. A cool breeze flowed from the sea, and the beach itself was not as crowded adding to our enjoyment of quiet peace of mind after a rush full day.
“How did you like Muscat?” Bashir asked me the other day while we planned our next visit to Salalah. “It’s pretty amazing here! The culture, the people, and the Omani food, everything beguiles me” I honestly replied, “It’s more than I imagined!”
Each of us creates an image in our mind beforehand of what a country and the people must be like. However, it’s just so narrow-minded and barbaric to do so. Spending a day in just that one city made up my mind to travel further into Oman.
Where are you going to experience different people and cultures? Get the fear of traveling out of your thoughts. Even one day can change your mind for better (or for worse). Before your time runs out, make a choice. Choose to experience people and follow your dream. Just remember wherever you go—Go with your heart. I did with mine and left a piece of my heart in the heart of Oman.