It is one of Oman’s beautiful ironies that just minutes away from harsh, arid desert lies a haven of lush vegetation, refreshing shade and tumbling water!
This is no mirage. Walled by craggy mountains rich in copper and iron, Wadi Bani Khalid (Wadi of the Sharqiyah) is sustained by a virile ayn (natural spring). Millions of years ago, when the spring’s pressure grew too strong, the water gushed into the open air and created the wadi as we see it now. In the lowlands today, the water has formed an expansive lake, verdant reeds blooming through the lucid surface. Date palms – the wadi’s most common species of tree – lean over and spray their reflections across the ripples. If you dip your feet in the lake you can enjoy a free fish pedicure. Nearby, tall grass, pink flowers and a mango tree, teeming with fruit, prove just how fertile this region is.
Milling around the palm-roofed picnic shelters are visitors from all over the world. They have good reason to look awestruck. As you head towards the Hajar Mountains, the banks get rockier, their stark whiteness resembling icebergs. At higher points they are spanned by rickety bridges from which you can take panoramic photos of the wadi. Further in, water trickles down the rocks in mini waterfalls and gathers in pools ideal for cooling down in. The best approach is to jump right in!
The trail gets trickier as you approach the Moqal Caves. You’ll have to squeeze over and under awkward boulders, and contend with their footholds. Watch out for the stepping-stones across the smaller streams – many a visitor has taken an early swim. You’ll soon find the sandstone stairway to the mouth of the caves. Legend has it that anyone who enters and announces ‘Salim bin Saliym Salam’ will be transported to fragrant gardens and sublime waterways. The nearest you’ll get to that is by visiting one of the subterranean lagoons via muddy passageways, though it’s worth hiring one of the English-speaking guides given the maze-like structure of the caves. Whether you go alone or accompanied, you’ll be spending most of the journey kneeling down if not crawling. A torch – preferably a head-torch – is essential.
The adventurous traveller will love the Indiana Jones-like atmosphere, the mysterious nooks and crannies, and the bizarre rock formations. Have a look up to see the bats hanging from the ceiling. Beware that the deeper you go, the hotter it gets – hotter, in fact, than the midday sun above ground. Furthermore, once you’re fifteen minutes in, the oxygen starts to thin out. An alternative – and just as adventurous – route is climbing over the Hajars until you reach Wadi Tiwi, some 28km away. On the way, you’ll find deposits of water so remote from civilization that they are clean enough to drink from. The whole trip takes three days on foot, so going solo is not recommended – you’re better off joining an organised hike led by local experts with the right equipment and a fleet of pack donkeys.
You can book a place on a hike at numerous hotels and travel agents in both Muscat and Sur. After all this exertion, you’ll want to relax at the Tourist Service Centre situated on the main road leading from the caves. There’s no better view of the sprawling palm plantation and its three thousand-year-old falaj (irrigation channels). The palms do their bit for the ecosystem by shading and nurturing lesser crops such as wheat and barley. The view also gives you a sense of the sheer scale of the wadi and why it was likely named after the large and influential Bani Khalid tribe of old Arabia.
Stay long enough at the Tourist Centre and you’ll get to watch the sun go down over the ever-present mountains, strong coffee and halwa in hand. At about this moment you’ll be cured of any doubts – if you ever had them in the first place – that Wadi Bani Khalid is the most beautiful of the many thousands of wadis located in Oman. ‘Wadi’ roughly translates into the English ‘valley’, but this word doesn’t do the destination justice. With its above ground and underground charms, Wadi Bani Khalid is a vital and singular string to Oman’s tourism bow. And given that it’s a short diversion from the Muscat-Sur Highway and just round the corner from the Sharqiyah Sands, there’s no excuse to miss it.
As well as being famous for being a city where fashion leaps from the catwalk to the clothes rail, Milan is steeped in history and that certain quintessentially Italian way of life.
According to the Roman historian Livy, a Celtic village was first founded in this area in the sixth century BC. Conquered by Roman legions in 222 BC, “Mediolanum” attempted to rebel, becoming an ally of Carthage, Rome’s enemy. But the Romans won and, towards the end of the first century BC, Milan became a part of the state of the Caesars.
Fast forward to the present day, the tiny but geo-politically important town has become the centre of all matters to do with media, fashion, publishing and finance in Italy. It’s also a fantastic place to get out and about and soak up la dolce vita.
Where to begin:
Most of the main attractions in Milan are located in the city centre and there is plenty to see. Amongst the many sights not to be missed is the simply enormous Milan Duomo – the third-largest cathedral in the world, taking some four centuries to finish; the Castello Sforzeco – a fortress built in 1368 that later became an elegant and stunning Renaissance residence; the Teatro alla Scala Opera House – completed in 1776 and hosting some superb theatrical productions; and Santa Maria delle Grazie – an elaborate church dating back to 1463, where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting ‘The Last Supper’ is on display.
There are also numerous art galleries and museums in Milan, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery – housing one of Italy’s most important art collections; the Villa Reale and Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna – featuring masterpieces by famous artists, such as Grassi, Matisse and Picasso; the Palazzo Bagatti-Valsecchi – considered to be one of the finest museums in the whole of Europe, with many outstanding displays and collections; and the Civic Archaeological Museum – where you will discover the world’s oldest wooden plough still in existence, dating back around 4,000 years.
Shop till you drop:
One of the most famous streets in Milan is Via Montenapoleone, where many of the worlds’ leading Italian and international fashion designers are concentrated. Throughout the year there are numerous exciting and important fashion shows in the city, where the latest collections go on show. There are also many other popular celebrations both in and around Milan, including the Gran Premio di Monza – the Grand Prix of Italy held at nearby Monzo, Carnevale Amrosiano – the longest carnival in the world, and the Fieri di Chiaravalle – a famous fair in the bell tower of the Chiaravalle Cistercian abbey.
Not to be missed are the many splendid and unforgettable lakes nearby Milan, offering superb facilities for visitors, with shops, restaurants and cafés lining the lake fronts. Some of the most popular lakes in this region include Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda, the three largest lakes in Italy. Shopping central No Milan city break is complete without shopping in the world-famous Quadrilatero d’Oro (‘golden quadrilateral’), a fashion square around Via Montenapoleone (‘Montenapo’), home to Armani and Versace. Brera, north of the Duomo (the cathedral), is popular for its boutiques and elegant art galleries. Browse clothes and fabrics at the Viale Papiniano street market, south of the centre, and find trinkets at the Fiera di Senigallia flea market along the wharf. Pick up antiques at canalside Naviglio Grande, southwest of the centre.
Rustic trattorias, designer restaurants and canal-side bars, Milan is a food and drink Mecca. Specialities include costolette Milanese (veal cutlets) and saffron-flavoured risotto alla Milanese. Trendy Brera, north of Duomo, serves everything from pizza to sushi. The southern Navigli and Ticinese canal quarters are packed with romantic restaurants while Milan’s Chinatown, tucked between the Porta Romana and Bocconi University quarter, dishes up ethnic cuisine. Afternoons are for espresso sipping in Zucca’s mosaic-decorated cafe on Piazza Duomo.
The Brera district and canalside Navigli and Porta Ticinese are buzzing with great meeting places. Evenings start with a passegiatta (stroll) before heading to jazz clubs in the Navigli quarter or clubs like the chandelier-adorned Il Gattopardo Cafe, north-west of the centre and set in a deconsecrated church.
Como is the ideal starting place to explore the picturesque towns and villages dotted about the shores of the lake. You can get to them by road taking the Strada Regina – an old Roman road – which borders the western shore of the lake, sometimes at the water’s edge, or in more comfortable style on a boat.
The gentler scenery and luxuriant vegetation of the west side of the lake, with the town of Como at its bottom tip, contrast with the more rugged landscapes of the Lecco arm. But both offer villages of Roman origin, medieval towns, ruins of imposing castles perched on panoramic outcrops, and splendid villas and gardens to visit.
Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat and Milan.
Raiya Al Habsi is the first Arab woman to compete in Britain’s world famous 611 mile offshore Fastnet Race.
As one of the pioneering sponsors of Oman Sail since 2008, Oman Air has shared in many of the successes this national initiative has achieved. Surely one of the key highlights of the partnership is the iconic image of Raiya Al Habsi with arms victoriously stretched out against the soaring sails of Oman’s flagship MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam as she crossed the finish line of the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race.
It is the classic triumphal pose of many great circumnavigators returning to port. Having the honour of victory as crew aboard the 2013 handicap winner of the race’s MOCRA multihull class featuring some of the biggest, fastest and most radical yachts on the planet, gives her a unique distinction of her own.
It is a defining moment the 25 year old Omani will cherish forever but perhaps no less so than another just two years previously that decided the course that led her there. That earlier moment Raiya describes as a “whim”. It was simply “on a whim” she says, that she wandered down to the beach in response to an Oman Sail poster inviting women to try sailing at a one-day taster session. At the time she was a customer services assistant at Bank Muscat happily spending her free time at drama classes and making handicrafts. Boats were what her father and brothers went fishing on.
But the sport of sailing so utterly captivated her that by day’s end she had enrolled with the inaugural Oman Sail Women’s Programme and was soon among the country’s first 21 women to successfully complete an instructors sailing course accredited by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). She is now a proud member of the country’s first ever national women’s racing team and even though she knows it is just the beginning, she is humbled and overjoyed to be part of the exhilarating journey that has fast tracked her to the pinnacle of sailing in Oman.
The rare honour of racing aboard such a high performance “flying machine” as Oman Air- Musandam in a premier event like the Rolex Fastnet Race so early in her sailing career does not escape her: “I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race because I was so excited and nervous in equal measure. My family watched every minute of the live coverage back in Muscat and I think they were even more nervous than me.”
Held every second year, the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race is signalled by the deafening blast of the Royal Yacht Squadron cannon in the heart of Cowes, the famed home of sailing on Britain’s Isle of Wight. And while the magnificent sight of the massive flotilla of this year’s record 342 yachts would stir the emotions of even the most hardened sailors it is not surprising that Wayne Pearce, chief executive officer of Oman Air, the 2013 new sponsors of yacht Musandam, was also bursting with pride to see Oman’s hope leading the fleet into the Solent on Sunday 11 August. The national airline of the Sultanate of Oman has been a long-time partner of Oman Sail having previously sponsored Oman’s highly successful Extreme 40 campaign, and as has become customary, Pearce avidly followed Oman Air-Musandam’s progress from start to finish.
“The Fastnet has a classic course past the legendary Needles into the English Channel to Lands End and on across the Irish Sea to the infamous Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland. It then returns past the Scilly Isles to the finish off Plymouth. Skipper Sidney Gavignet and his eight-member mixed crew of European and Omani professionals can be proud. They sailed a textbook race!
“It was heart stopping stuff when Oman Air-Musandam briefly led the giant multihulls Sprindrift 2 and Banque Populaire which are almost double the size of our 70 foot trimaran. In fact it is remarkable that they finished only 83 minutes behind them in the early hours of Tuesday morning and a great honour that they won their class of 11 entries on corrected time,” said Pearce.
Gavignet was full of praise for Raiya who he described as tough, willing to learn and impressive in the way she handled the pressure of top level racing alongside the biggest boats – and names – in international yacht racing. If she was ever cold or nervous she never showed it. “This was the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I am used to sailing comparatively slow mono hull yachts less than half the size of these trimarans which are really big and very fast. It was something completely new and different for me. It was a little bit hard when we had some bad waves and the motion was quite violent but the guys were amazing – they took good care of me and taught me a lot. It felt good to be part of such a successful team,” said the diminutive Raiya. She says sharing her experiences and inspiring fellow sailors back home is easier than trying to explain it to family and friends who remain mystified as to why she might want to spend almost two days cold and wet sailing to a rock in the middle of the ocean.
“They think I am crazy but they are very supportive,” says Raiya, who has 11 brothers and sisters. “My parents are always encouraging me to try new things though I think they might have been a bit concerned. Many of my friends don’t fully understand – they think racing is like cruising or fishing – so I have to tell them how complicated it is and how I must always think about techniques and about the wind, always using my mind and my muscles.
“I tell everyone how amazing Oman Air-Musandam is – it is crazy going so fast on that boat. And I tell them about going around the Rock too. The Fastnet Rock is a tiny little island and looking back to see the rest of the fleet of over 300 boats going around that little rock was amazing.
The Republic of India is the second-most populous country in the world with over 1.241 billion people; the largest country in South-East Asia and the most populous democracy in the world. Reasons enough to stick to just South India now!
For a nation that speaks over 1,863 different languages and well over 6,000 diverse dialects, India does not have one official language! To understand and appreciate a country this cosmic, it would be wise to assimilate it in manageable portions. For that same reason, we shall stay here with South India’s three largest state capitals that Oman Air flies to – Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Bangalore in Karnataka and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.
Chennai: This multicultural state capital city of Tamil Nadu is a major commercial, cultural, economic and educational centre of South India. Known by its erstwhile colonial name ‘Madras’, Chennai is located on India’s south-eastern Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Gateway to South India’, Chennai is equally well-known as the ‘City of Temples’ and the seat of Dravidian arts and culture. Chennai also happens to be a major auto hub of Asia, producing 2 cars every minute, earning it the nickname ‘Detroit of India’. This city came into focus with the arrival of the British East India Company and the establishment of Fort St. George, the legislative and administrative seat of the state, way back in the year 1639. Today, a bustling metropolis with an estimated population of over 8 million residents, Chennai’s economy has a broad industrial base spread across the automobile, computer, technology, hardware manufacturing and healthcare sectors. The city is India’s second largest exporter of information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) services to the world. Chennai is an important centre for Carnatic music and hosts the annual ‘Madras Music Season’, a large cultural event which includes live stage performances by hundreds of artistes. The city has a diverse theatre scene and is one of the important centres for ‘Bharata Natyam’, a classical dance form. The Tamil film industry, colloquially known as ‘Kollywood’, is also based here.
To see – Being a coastal city, Chennai has several well known beaches. Topping the list has to be ‘Marina Beach’. 2 kms long and width up to 300 m (985 ft) of sandy foreshore, this beach is the second longest urban beach in the world. Along the shore, there are many buildings built during the British era like the Madras University, the Senate House and the Chepauk Palace. A visit to the ‘Edward Elliot’s Beach’ a.k.a. the ‘Besant Nagar Beach’ with good roads, pavements and walking track illuminated sands makes for a good outing. Spread along the coast down south from Marina, it is also the night beach for the local youth. ‘Covelong Beach’ located 40 km (25 mi) away from Chennai en route to Mahabalipuram, is another popular beach. The coastline of Chennai stretches even further south, where there are many hidden, untouched and uncommercialised beaches, particularly off the East Coast Road. Besides the many beaches, Chennai has a number of world famous churches, ancient temples, majestic mosques, many memorials, monuments, museums, art galleries, parks and more.
Bangalore: This state capital city of Karnataka and the ‘Garden City of India’ sits on the Deccan Plateau on the south-eastern region of Karnataka. It was renamed in recent times as ‘Bengaluru’, the city’s native name in Kannada, the local language. Bangalore grew into ‘India’s Silicon Valley’ in the 1990s given its leadership position as the country’s top information technology exporter. The city is home to the operations of more than 1,000 high-tech companies, including the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems. Bangalore is also where Indian information technology giants like ‘Infosys Technologies’ and ‘Wipro Technologies’ are based. Besides the above private sector global giants, Bangalore also holds a clutch of some of the finest public sector organisations such as Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) and HMT (formerly Hindustan Machine Tools). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was established under the Department of Space and is headquartered in Bangalore. Paradise lost India’s third largest city, after Delhi and Hyderabad, Bangalore was once called as the ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’. But in the recent past, due to rapid expansion and urbanisation Bangalore has unwittingly morphed into a very cosmopolitan city, playing host to migrants from different regions of India, as well as a sizeable number of foreigners who have come for job opportunities.
To see - Notable attractions of ‘India’s most developed city’ and ‘one of the world’s fastest growing urban areas’ include the famous ‘Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens’ and the 300-acre ‘Cubbon Park’, which provide the much needed green lungs for the city. Bangalore, however, is not one of those typical ‘touristy’ cities. The city has its fair share of landmarks such as the ‘Vidhan Soudha’, the legislative assembly of the state, the ‘Bangalore Palace’, built by the erstwhile Maharajas of Mysore, and the ‘Tipu Sultan’s Palace’ built in 1790. Besides these, Bangalore has numerous temples, churches, libraries, theatres, modern shopping malls, global fast-food bands and lots more to keep the visitors well engaged.
Hyderabad: Situated in the north-western part of Andhra Pradesh in south-eastern India, Hyderabad lies on the banks of the Musi River, in the northern part of the Deccan Plateau. This 400-year old city has numerous lakes referred to as ‘sagar’ meaning ‘sea’. ‘Hussain Sagar’, built in 1562, ‘Osman Sagar’ and ‘Himayat Sagar’, which are artificial lakes created by the dams on the Musi are some examples. The ‘Hussain Sagar Lake’, locally known as the ‘Tank Bund’ is a major attraction. The city has over 150 lakes and 900 water tanks. Hyderabad however is not famous for this. It is often referred to as the ‘City of Pearls’, the ‘City of Nawabs’, the ‘Biryani City’ and because of its high-tech draw, as also ‘Cyberabad’. Hyderabad can be broadly divided into the Old City, Secunderabad and the New City. In many sense, Hyderabad is the meeting ground between North and South India. The city has a unique culture that is distinct from the rest of Andhra Pradesh, showing strong Islamic influences and a courtly presence imparted from its period as the capital of the Nizamate. This is more evident in the old city. Secunderabad is more cosmopolitan. Like Bangalore, Hyderabad too has had a mega transformation of sorts while keeping pace with the changing times, which have collectively had a strong impact for the better, as well as for the worse.
To see – The ‘Old City’ is a must visit when in Hyderabad. Filled with historical landmarks, some notable ones are the ‘Charminar’ (literally meaning four minarets) has long been the icon of Hyderabad. The towers rise to a height of 48.7 m above the ground and have 140 steps. There is a mosque located inside in the upper storeys while at the very bottom of one of the minar is a Hindu temple! Built in 1617, the ‘Mecca Masjid’ is one of the oldest mosques in the city and easily the biggest. The mosque is a granite giant with awe-inspiring innards. The main hall of the mosque is 75 feet high, 220 feet wide and 180 feet long, big enough to accommodate ten thousand worshippers at a time. It is believed that the mosque’s bricks have been mixed with the soil brought from Mecca, which explains its name. The ‘Chowmahalla Palace’, the ‘Falaknuma Palace’ and the ‘Golconda Fort’ are other notable altercations. Ancient tombs like the ‘Qutb Shahi Tombs’, ‘Paigah Tombs,’, ‘Raymond Tomb’ are famous local landmarks. The two most famous museums to be found in Hyderabad are the ‘H.E.H The Nizam’s Museum’ and the ‘Salar Jung Museum’. Most modern attractions include the ubiquitous shopping malls, flashy entertainment arcades, children’s theme parks and a multitude of dining and outdoor leisure options.
When one hears the word ‘Oman’, the most common images that invariably conjure in most people’s minds are the spotlessly clean cities, the bustling souqs, the beautiful mosques, the majestic mountains, the undulating deserts and of course, the vast stretches of sandy and breathtaking beaches, with their almost still turquoise waters.
While all of these are some of the better-known facets of this beautiful Sultanate, little is known of one of Oman’s most exclusive specialties … its unique seashells. Barring a bunch of world-renowned conchologists and malacologists, not many are even aware of the hidden treasures of the Omani seas and its shores.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, the terms mollusk and seashells refer to two parts of one and the same underwater sea creature. Mollusk is the soft-bodied animal that lives inside its hard exterior, which is the seashell. The two are of course inseparable. In a sense, a seashell can be thought of as a mollusk’s external skeleton. 80% of all seashells are less than two inches in adult size. And fewer than five percent ever exceed three inches! Of the different varieties of seashells that are found in Oman, over 500 types of marine mollusks and seashells have been identified and classified to be uniquely Omani – not to be found anywhere else in the world. Quite interestingly, in honour of its finders, five of the 12 new species of shellfish discovered in Oman have even been named by their binomial biological nomenclature, after them – Conus boschi, Ancilla boschi, Cymatium boschi, Acteon eloiseae and Bursa boschdavidi ! The country’s natural and varied marine habitat stretches along its 3,165 kms long coastline from high mountains up in the north closer to the Strait of Hormuz and plunges deeply into the balmy Sea of Oman and the warm Arabian Sea that cover parts of Oman’s rest of the shoreline.
According to geological experts, the Arabian land plate broke away from the continent of Africa after a mammoth earth-shift some twelve million (12,000,000) years ago. The coastline of Oman too was formed around that same time, which is why the topography is so different and varied. A closer look at the coastal map of Oman would reveal many hidden coves and islands which provide an ideal habitat for a wealth of mollusk fauna. Typically, sections of the shoreline of the Sultanate have distinct kinds, types and varieties of seashells. Particularly, the Musandam Peninsula, the Batinah Coast, Sohar, Barka, Seeb, Muscat, Muttrah, Qurayat, Sur, Ras Al Hadd, Masirah, the Kuriya Muriya islands, Hasik, Mirbat, Salalah and Raysut have some of Oman’s most colourful and unique seashells. Serious conchologists who flock to the Sultanate from all over the world regularly discover several new varieties of seashells in these waters.
The seashell fauna of this part of the world is amazingly diverse and it is in these rich and varying habitats that the distinctive Omani mollusks thrive. For example, the sand-dwelling Bivalves, Olives and Moon Shells get miles and miles of sandy substrate to live in. Rock-dwelling Cowries and Nerites get enough of the underwater rocks and corals required for them to survive. Places where rocks and sand mingle are a great hunting ground for the molluskan fauna. Beyond these factors, many other reasons contribute to the rich molluskan life such as the temperature of the sea; light and humidity; wave movement and action; underwater currents; salinity and such.
While beachcombing anywhere in Oman one can find seashells of a bewildering variety, in many different shapes, sizes and colours washed up on the beaches or picked up from their many hiding places offshore. The best time to go looking for seashells is during nights, at low tide, when these mollusks come foraging to the surface for plankton food. Usually they tend to avoid the harsh daylight. A word of caution though; in Oman, collecting live seashells, abalones, corals, crayfish and turtle eggs is strictly prohibited. This has been in effect to primarily protect these natural resources from being pushed towards extinction by wanton pilferage and destruction. If you intend to do some beachcombing in search of fine specimens of seashells across Oman’s vast and varied coastline, kindly bear in mind that the mollusks, like all other living creatures are part of a community which inhabits certain ecological areas. And many species are dependent upon others for their survival. So dear shell collector, please do not disturb the environment. Leave the shore just like you found it. Do not disturb the stones and the rocks. Juvenile seashells and eggs should not be touched. Kindly replace a live mollusk back to where you picked it up from, after taking photographs. Carry with you only those seashells that you find washed ashore, for they are already dead. A visit to the Natural History Museum in Muscat would reveal a breathtaking collection of the more colourful and exquisite species of mollusk and Omani seashells that are kept on display. Incidentally, an active National Shell Collection Group is involved with the identification of many more new species of seashells that keeps the list of unique Omani seashells and mollusks ever expanding.
In a sense, Munich (München) is a city of contrasts. On the one side, you can notice prosperity flourishing in its various forms, while on the other there is this typical calm Bavarian Gemütlichkeit (coziness) that can be enjoyed.
Antiquity and modernity mingle seamlessly side-by-side as ancient castles and classical music rub shoulders with stylish sedans and haute couture. Above all, despite the glitz and glamour, what is truly charming about Munich is perhaps its seemingly provincial simplicity that the ‘Müncheners’ pride themselves on. In reality, Munich is a modern day ‘Weltdorf’, a global village that is home to over 1.5 million residents.
One of Germany’s major cultural and economic centres, Munich, also known as the ‘secret capital of Germany’ is actually the capital city of Bavaria. Located in breathtaking picture-postcard settings at the foot of the great Alps, Munich is one of the better-known festive cities in the world, and among Europe’s most vibrant, colourful and not-to-be-missed holiday destinations. A reticent candidate who seems fastidious to occupy the coveted seat of an international megalopolis, Munich has in reality vigorously pursued its commerce and industry, without giving up on its good life in any small measure. Even a short visit to this city will reveal that in spite of its economic muscle, Munich is a place that is inhabited by simple folks who cling passionately to their folkloric roots.
For the tourists, Munich, founded on June 14th, 1158 by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, throws up an amazing array of mindboggling entertainment and excursion options. Home to over 45 museums, ancient castles, grand palaces, modern opera houses, haute couture shopping arcades, spellbinding art galleries, breathtaking parks, a vibrant nightlife, Munich has all that and more a visitor would ever need to carry back as pleasant and happy memories to last a good lifetime.
The ‘Neuschwanstein Castle’ featured on the cover is incidentally the most photographed building in Germany. It is located in the German state of Bavaria close to Germany’s border with Austria, not far from the popular ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The closest airport is Munich, 128 kms to the north east.
For starters, the central area of Munich has what is known as the ‘Marienplatz’, a ‘Pedestrians Only’ zone. With its famous onion domes, the 15th century Gothic ‘Church of Our Lady’ is Munich’s unmistakable landmark. This building is a great place to catch a birds-eye view of Munich and an awe-inspiring view of the majestic Alps. Not very far away the carillon plays three times a day. Just a stone’s throw from here is probably the most famous tavern in the world, the ‘Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall’. Just for the record, every day, over 10,000 litres of beer gets served in the taproom, restaurant, banqueting hall and in the beer garden of this quaint establishment. Further strengthening its strong image as the ‘fun-loving’ and ‘festival-addicted’ city, ‘Oktoberfest’ is a living symbol of this sentiment. Today the festival has become an annual pilgrimage for the fun loving, from around the world. One can experience mini-Munich in all its glory with old buildings, authentic restaurants, famous museums, shopping malls and festive settings dotting the thoroughfares, sidewalks and bye lanes around town. The popular ‘Olympic Park’, another big touristic attraction which hosted the 1972 Summer Olympic Games is located a stone’s throw away from this neighbourhood. Just across you will find the BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) Museum and behind is the world-renowned architectural marvel of the BMW headquarters with its unique and ubiquitous steel cylinders that made the building world famous. A short stroll down the road will lead you to the address of 30, Tierpark Street along the Isar River that houses the ‘Hellabrunn Zoo’. A big difference between this zoo and any other zoo that you may have seen is that here most animal enclosures are nothing but vast open grounds with moats and trenches standing in for the cages and fences. Another imposing Gothic architecture that can be seen around here is located on 8, Marienplatz which is the ‘Neues Rathaus’, which translates to ‘New Town Hall’ in English. An interesting fact about this artistic structure is that the construction commenced way back in the year 1867 and was completed only in 1909.
Munich is a place shopaholics cannot just get enough of and ‘Maximilianstrasse’ represents all that is synonymous with luxury and opulence. The tree-lined boulevard is Munich’s address for some of the most exclusive and expensive designer brands like Gucci, Armani and Yves St. Laurent. Even if you are visiting Munich on a shoestring budget, this exclusive shopping district is still a great place … for window shopping! Other top of the line boutiques can be found in ‘Fünf Höfe’ shopping centre. The exterior of this massive shopping complex features the fully restored historic façades of the Archiepiscopal Palace, the ‘Palais Portia’ and the former ‘Bayerische Hypotheken-und Wechselbank’. Inside can be seen some of the finest retail outlets, restaurants and cafés. While ‘Gärtnerplatz’ quarter is known for trendy fashion and jewellery, authentic German souvenirs and so much more can be found at ‘Am Platzl’ next to the ‘Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall’. In short, Munich is the ideal place for an enjoyable shopping holiday, any time of the year. Given its plethora of exciting activities to indulge in and the numerous touristic spots to be seen and enjoyed, Munich is a true dream destination irrespective of the season. Owing to its distinct geographical features, Munich enjoys a mix of different kinds of weather. You can soak in the warm sunshine during April and May, September and October months. Between November to March it snows and gets chilly. You would need enough winter clothes to keep you warm. And remember, it can rain almost any time of the year!
Munich’s largest food market goes by the name of ‘Viktualienmarkt’. Located around the city’s maypole, the market sells posies of freshly plucked fragrant flowers, mountains of juicy fruits and garden fresh vegetables. Herbs, cheeses, different types of sausages and fish varieties can also be bought here. Because of its wide range of produce on bargain sale, this market is invariably packed to the brim with shoppers – even on weekdays. So picture for yourself how it would be on weekends! After the frenetic action of the day quietly settles down, the adventures of the evening begin. Munich takes on a totally different hue as the pulsating nightlife kicks in! Clubs, bars, dicotheques and eateries come alive with their own signature and unique specialities. Given Munich’s very cosmopolitan crowd comprising of locals as well as visitors, be it music or food, every conceivable variety and choice is available for the mere asking. ‘The Nachtwek’ happens to be one of the oldest party halls around. ‘185, Landberger Street’ is a busy place during Friday nights and the weekends. ‘The Taxisgarten’ located at 12, Taxi Street was started by the World War I veterans. The locals enjoy this place for their drinks, the somber company and its authentic Bavarian fares. ‘Café Glockenspiel’, at 28, Marienplatz located on the top of one of the building offers a new grand view of city lit up with a million lights. No wonder Munich is called ‘the best-lit city of Europe! Munich is a medley of many things magnificent! With Oktoberfest and Opera, Hofbräuhaus Beer Hall and Pinakothek Art Galleries, this city smoothly merges the timeless Bavarian traditions with its vibrant modern achievements making Munich truly mesmerizing!
The caress of the wind in your hair and the tang of the countryside on your lips, calves like coconuts and iron-hard wrists, even the excuse to wear Lycra or get out into the fresh air once a week! If these things sound appealing, then chances are you are a natural convert for mountain biking. And the Sultanate of Oman is a superb destination for one of the fastest-growing adventure sports in the world. You only have to Google mountain biking and Oman to see that for yourself. There are superb off-road trails just a short drive from the capital, Muscat.
Track Suit: There are also plenty of routes in Oman’s diverse countryside, and if you are keen on joining in or starting up then it is wise to join a local cycling club. The main club, the MTB Ride club has around 15 different routes which can vary in distance between 15km to 42km, depending on the area and terrain which varies from graded tracks, single tracks, goat tracks and in some cases prepared specific tracks.
Whether you want climbs, downhill, rocky and gravel terrain, easy flat areas or technical rides, there will be something for everyone. Most areas have long established trails that were or are used by local villagers, plus some of these trails/areas were used by off-road motorbikes and rally cars in the past.
First of all, a quick scene-setter, Oman’s jagged mountains lie in the north and south of the Sultanate. The northern peaks are composed of hardest sedimentary rocks. In the Jebel Akhdar range these are very dense limestone in thick beds. Below the mountains there are wadi beds where you will see huge boulders. Several major wadis drain Al Jebel al Akhdar: Wadis bani Awf, Sahtan and bani Kharus north to Al Batinah, and Wadi Ghul to the south.
The way of life remains traditional with scattered communities growing date palms and fodder crops fed by groundwater and springs. In the more sheltered areas, a variety of tree crops are grown, such as almonds, walnuts, apricots, peaches, figs and pomegranates. Stunning scenery, great cycling, and the friendliness of the local people make this an unforgettable experience.
Slow as you go: Mountain Biking Oman’s policy is “to ride as fast as the slowest rider”, and there is plenty of scope to get yourself accustomed to cycling in the area. One of the members is Oman’s top triathlete, Suleiman Alalwi. The riding levels of club vary, but the focus is on the social side to mountain biking. Of course, you do have to be reasonably fit, and there are areas where newcomers can practice safely.
The Mountain Biking club ride in the following areas: Al-Amerat, Al-Hadja, Al-Nahda, Al-Ansab, Hammam, Jiffnain, SQU area, Al-Khoud, Marbella, Ghalla, Bowsher, Nahfa, Sa,al, Jiffnain, and a little further away, including Yiti, Al-Hillo, Arqi and Quriyat. All the day rides with support cars have included Nahkl to Rustaq via Wadi Abad, plus Wadi Bani Awe/Wadi Sattan loop, Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar, Rustaq to Ibri, (pre-tarmac) Quriyat to Sur to Quriyat (pre-tarmac) return over two days, and many others. The popularity of mountain biking in Oman is shown by the increased number of regular meetings and day rides. For example, the MTB Ride Group meet every Thursday afternoon all year round in many different areas. There are also day rides during the year as well an annual MTB Race, plus new special events like downhill racing and the Trans Oman MTB event. The easiest and quickest place to go for a ride is opposite Muscat Private Hospital. There are a lot of good single tracks and you will end up in old Bousher village. From there you can follow the blacktop back which brings you out at the stadium or you can go right on the highway under construction.
Jebel Akhdar range: If you love fast cross-country and like to test yourself on back-country trails, this is the ideal ride for you. The riding conditions are excellent, on broad paths and sometimes on rough 4X4 roads, including sections of technically demanding single and doubletrack, some tough climbs and some exciting descents. Altitude is not generally a problem as the biking is mainly below the 2000m mark.
Hajar Range: Travel deep into the Hajar Mountains on remote trails through traditional Omani villages where the locals show true Omani hospitality and provide a welcome resting place with platters of fresh fruit grown on the green plateaus of the mountain range which reaches some 3000m. Stunning single track, challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and seldom visited villages, that’s what this holiday is all about. This is pure Omani mountain biking at its very best.
Rules of the road: There are of course rules! Riders must wear safety helmets, and be self-sufficient in terms of carrying ample water (one good way is to use a backpack), some energy food, spare inner tubes, pump and basic spares.
It is often said that if one does not change with the times then the times will change without you. We at Oman Air has always strive to be at the fore front of the changing times and bring our passengers the very best that the world of aviation has to offer. The latest of these efforts will be the introduction of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner into the Oman Air family.
Boeing, the centerpiece of the crown jewels in American aviation has developed the new 787 Dreamliner, promising new cutting edge features, comfort and an industry leading fuel economy. The Dreamliner ushers in a new era of lighter and more fuel efficient commercial airplanes as it consumes 20% less fuel than similar sized aircrafts. This would be a huge benefit to the airline in age of rising jet fuel cost and would act as a deterrent in increasing ticket prices.
Apart from the fuel efficiency the 787 is also equipped with a state of the art flight deck, which would allow the pilots to see the data while looking out the window and the new electronic flight bags would completely eliminate paper manuals, charts and other data traditionally recorded on paper thus helping us reduce our carbon footprint.
For passengers the 787 provides a host of benefits as well, thanks to the on board sensors the pilots can measure and more easily adjust to turbulence and reduce the on air dips and lifts that cause motion sickness, also the in-flight entertainment system is tested to ensure that it can handle the multiple electronic gadgets that passengers would plug in during the flight.
Some of the other treats in store for our passages while using the 787 include a larger window which allow for a clearer view of the sky outside and dim at a simple button, an A/C system which pumps in more oxygen and less dry air is specially designed to ease your journey with us. Additional care has been taken when designing the passenger area, with vaulted ceilings and adjustable soft lighting the 787 is sure to feel less claustrophobic than traditional aircrafts.
The business class seats have also been redesigned to be adjusted to a sleeping position for maximum comfort and the traditional economy class now comes along with an individual IFE (in-flight entertainment) system monitor in the arm rest.
The 787 is expected to enter into service by the beginning of 2015.
Sea turtles are fascinating creatures; they’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs, can live for hundreds of years, can survive in freezing waters below 40˚F and have actually orbited the moon before man ever did!! Sadly 6 out of the 7 species of sea turtles are on the endangered lists due to loss of nesting and feeding sites and costal development. One of the last few nesting sites in the world lies in the small coastal region of Ras Al Jinz, Oman!
In 1966, a Royal Decree was established by creating a safe haven in a small fishing village with a 45 kilometre coastline as a sanctuary. These majestic sea turtles can now safely come and lay their eggs throughout the year and thus giving them a chance to survive in a rapidly human developed world.
Under the cover of darkness for the past 7000 years over 20,000 female turtles of all species (loggerheads, giant green, olive ridley, hawksbill etc) make the harrowing journey from all over the world’s oceans (including the red sea and the Somali waters). The mother turtle, braving storms, predators and fishermen drag their heavy shells across the beach to lay their eggs in a safe place on the shores of Ras Al Jinz.
This my friends is truly a once in lifetime experience to watch this miracle of birth up close and personal as this is one of the few places in the world which allows tourists and unobstructed peek into the sea turtles natural habitat.
Sadly out of the 100-200 eggs that the female turtle lays , less than half will survive and make it to adulthood as many will be eaten by predators or will simply be rendered infertile due to climatic changes.
But the experience does not end here guys, 45-55 days later in the wee hours of daylight the little baby turtles hatch and then after taking several hours to dig their way out of their nest. They instinctively crawl towards the ocean to re-join their family waiting for them in the sea. This small journey is once again fraught with danger as predators line up to eat the ones who do not make it to the sea quickly enough.
To the nature enthusiasts willing to take the time out of their lives to watch this amazing journey, we recommend you to book your reservations well in advance
Another few things we’d like to point out include:
- Please keep in mind that the sanity of the reserve lies in its pollution free environment to be mindful of the things you carry and don’t littler
- Don’t carry torches or lit mobiles. The mother Turtles find their way around the beach by moonlight. Too many lights can lead her to the wrong direction making her lose her way back to the water and thus be exposed to predators
- Most importantly, please maintain silence. If you disturb the mother turtle while she’s laying eggs, she’s likely to retreat into the water causing her to lay them in the water, each time this happens it’s the destruction of about 100 eggs!
Enjoy your stay!!
One of the most extraordinary and diverse destinations in the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has so much more to offer, to suit the specific needs of different kinds of travellers
Acknowledged as the birthplace of Islam and called commonly “the Land of the Holy Mosques” – Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, and Al-Masjid al- Nabawi in Madina – the two holiest of holy places in Islam, Saudi Arabic, is perhaps most well known as the nucleus of Islamic pilgrimages. For, there is so much more to Saudi Arabic than only religious activities.
To experience genuine Arabian hospitality, culture and traditions, and so much more, a visit to this one-of-a-kind mega Kingdom is absolutely imperative. Just to give an idea of the size of this massive kingdom, Saudi has 4 international airports and twenty-two domestic airports, all fully functional. With approximately 2.15 km2 or 830,000 mi2 of land area, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabic is the largest Arab state in the whole of Western Asia, and the second largest in the Arab world, after Algeria, occupying a whopping 80% of the Arabian Peninsula. It is almost 9 times larger than United Kingdom!
To place the kingdom in a geographical perspective, it is a rectangular plateau of land gradually sloping eastwards until it reaches the sea level at the Persian Gulf. For neighbors, the kingdom is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the east, the Sultanate of Oman to the southeast and Yemen in the south.
Owner of the world’s largest oil, and sixth largest natural gas reserves, have endowed this kingdom with its enormous wealth. The country is also one of the largest producers of petrochemicals. With oil exports accounting for over 95% of the nation’s income, in a matter of mere decades, this has managed to successfully transform the once underdeveloped desert nation into one of the world’s wealthiest, that it is today. The vast wealth generated by oil revenues has also positively influenced the kingdom in a significant way. It has paved the way towards rapid modernisation, urbanisation, mass public education, and the creation of new media. The results are now for all to see.
The kingdom is taking concerted efforts to transform the image of Saudi from being only a centre of religious tourism, to one that offers many other attractions as well. The second most important reason is also to lessen the dependency of the country’s earnings based only on its oil and natural gas reserves. Towards this end, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, a state-run organisation, devoted to the development of the tourism sector within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with particular focus on encouraging and supporting domestic tourism through sponsoring and conducting tourism events across the country was formed in the year 2000.
While Saudi Arabia has been a travel destination for centuries, with millions of people visiting the Kingdom each year from around the world, most visitors have historically been Muslims undertaking pilgrimages. Given the size of this country, never mind most being desert land, one can still expect to see some variety in its offerings. The mountains, the valleys and the famous Red Sea beaches with their turquoise water are well known to have some of the world’s finest diving sites. Some other spots are hard to reach, yet spectacular, such as the Nabatean ruins, a four-hour drive from Madina, the nearest city with an airport.
Saudi Arabia offers both natural and historical wonders, from the mountain resorts of Taif and the majesty of ancient Nabatean tombs, to the multicolored coral reefs of the Red Sea.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich with ancient archaeological sites dating back to the prehistoric era. The precious antiquities of Saudi Arabia, found both in the museums as well on throughout the vast lands, are important evidence of the Saudi ancestors’ civilization and a reflection of the depth and authenticity of the ancient country’s past.
It must be noted that any travel within Saudi Arabic is a fun, easy and safe tourist experience.
Archeological research and excavations have revealed human history dating back to millions of years. The Paleolithic Age was evident in Al-Shwehtya excavations in the Jouf Province. The Mesolithic Age, which dates back to 50,000 years B.C., was evident in the excavations at Jubba in Hail Province and in the Abar Hemm site in Najran Province. Moreover, remnants from the Neolithic Age dating back 10,000 years B.C. were found in the excavations of Hail, Jouf and Eastern Provinces.
History & Culture
The historic landmarks in Saudi Arabia include certain archeological sites that have been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List such as the Al-Hejjr (Mdaen Saleh), and Al-Deraeah.
There are several archeological palaces and forts in Saudi Arabia that reflect the country’s prosperous and thriving historical eras. These include Ibrahim Palace, Khzam Palace, Mared Palace, Hatim Tai Palace, Al-Redm Palace and Al-Ablaq Palace.
Sports & Adventure
Off-road family camping trips, team sports, or one-off tests of skill on a Jet ski or quad bike, are all available for the daring traveler.
For a unique perspective on Saudi Arabia, take to the water in the Red Sea or the Gulf of Arabia. The pristine waters provide aquatic adventures of unparalleled beauty and variety. Learning to sail at the Obhur Creek or enjoying the sheer exhilaration of speeding over the waves on a Jet ski are also favourite activities for tourists.
The King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh is a world-class Olympic arena with a holding capacity of 80,000 people. On most weekends in the cooler months, it is full of soccer fans supporting their local clubs.
Thoroughbred Horse Racing
Horseracing is held at The King Abdulaziz Track located near the King Khalid International Airport at Janadriyah, 40km northeast of Riyadh. The facilities are of international standards with a grandstand accommodating 5,000 race-goers.
It is said, “As a man controls his falcon, so he controls his territory.” In the Northern Borders Province, this age-old tradition is still handed down from father to son as a lesson in patience and authority.
Hiking & Trekking
The winding roads and pathways of the forest of Al-Baha is one of Saudi’s most beautiful hiking trails. And the Raghdan forest is the most pristine in Al-Baha which is about 5kms north of Al-Baha city. Shahba Forest is also just over 5km north of Al-Baha. A narrow path winds through the park and there are plenty of small picnic pavilions with barbecue areas set in groves of pine trees and juniper bushes. Al-Geme Forest is a wild park overgrown with olive trees, acacia and juniper.
Asir Mountain Tours
The Asir Mountains provide outstanding sporting activities; professionally supervised paragliding; hang-gliding; rock climbing and mountaineering. Conditions are also ideal for hiking and mountain bike riding.
The mountains afford a spectacular setting for; hiking and biking around al-Soudah; rock climbing at Al Habala; and camel trekking and hot air ballooning in Tathlith.
Located on the edge of the Nafud Al-Kabir Desert and on an historical trade route, Jubba is an ideal base for safari operations. Activities could include visiting authentic Bedouin camps for coffee or for lunch or dinner with the family where one can gain some insights into the traditional Bedouin way of life.
Quad bikes and dune buggies are available for hire across Saudi Arabia. For the most challenging displays of mechanical ability, it is necessary to go to the desert or beach for Tat’aees. Tat’aees dune driving is a uniquely Saudi sport with distinctly universal appeal. It combines action, noise, speed and a hint of danger.
The other notable activities include, diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, caving, camping and even agri-tourism. The same geological conditions that provide oil to Saudi Arabia, allows for vast underground reservoirs of water. Cities like Al Kharj and Burraydah are particularly fertile because of it. Fun fairs, theme parks and the fabulous Riyadh zoo are must sees too.
Oman Air flies 39 times a week from Muscat to Dammam, Jeddah, Riyadh and Madina in Saudi Arabia and twice a week from Salalah to Jeddah.
Visa Requirements: Advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter the Kingdom. Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are exempt. Also exempt from visa requirements are foreigners transiting through airports for less than eighteen hours. Exclusive Hajj (pilgrimage) visas are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Contact your travel agent or your local Saudi embassy for details.
Languages: Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom. English is also spoken widely. Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Tagalog are also spoken given the large number of expatriates who speak those languages.
Currency: The official currency in Saudi Arabia is the gold-plated Saudi Riyal, divided into 100 Halalas.