Muscat’s Big Bus Tour

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(Image Courtesy: Big Bus Tour Facebook)

In the modern day world of transport where ‘faster, more powerful, and more efficient’ seem to be the ultimate ideal, it is reassuring to know that the good old trusty bus – especially the traditional double-decker bus – is still the most satisfying and enriching way to explore a city…
Muscat’s Big Bus Tour is a remarkable example of this. The Big Bus open-top tour puts its passengers in touch with Muscat like no other mode of transport could. For anyone that wants to explore the city, and wants a good overview of the city’s best features and landmarks, then a Big Bus Tour is absolutely essential. While buses are traditional modes of transport, the Big Bus experience is very modern. Passengers receive fun, informative commentary throughout the journey that details Muscat’s fascinating history, and highlights the city’s landmarks, noteworthy buildings, and all the attractions that travellers might find interesting. Passengers are also given an insight into the Sultanate of Oman’s rich culture and traditions. Earphones are provided for commentary in English, Arabic, French, German, Italian or Spanish.

The Big Bus fleet was designed with Muscat’s warm climate in mind. The front section of each bus has an enclosed sun canopy; and the rear end is completely open for those wishing to enjoy the weather and a traditional open top, wind-in-your-hair style journey. But the best part of the tour is that passengers can hop-on and hop-off at each stopover point at their leisure. There are ten stops or ‘stations’ – and you can spend as long or short as you like exploring each point, with no need to stick to a pre-determined schedule. Every passenger is also provided with a full-colour route map with details of what to see and do at each point.

The Route: What to See and Do

Mutrah Souq, Station 1: Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest markets in the Arabian World. It is easy to lose yourself here in the charm and ambiance of the little shops and market stores selling hundreds of Omani treasures – from the most practical household goods, to the most extravagant luxuries. This is the start of the route, and the place where you’ll eventually return at the end of the journey.

Churches and Temples, Station 2: Here, passengers can visit the Sri Krishna Temple, Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, and the Protestant Church in Oman.

Hay As Saruj, Station 3: The Hay As Saruj stop is near the beautiful Royal Opera House Muscat – Oman’s premier venue for musical arts and culture. Hay As Saruj is a nice stop-off to relax, rest and ‘hang out’ for a while, as there are many shops and restaurants in the vicinity. The sandy beach of Al Shatti is also close by. It is excellent for long walks and safe swimming.

Shatti, Station 4: At the Shatti stopover, passengers disembark at the promenade along the Al Shatti beach. The sandy beach is the perfect place to swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman, or relax in the shade of the palm trees and beach huts. Behind the beach are sections of the Al Qurum Mangrove Reserve. There are also some popular cafes and restaurants here.

Al Qurum National Park, Station 5: Al Qurum Natural Park is the largest park in Muscat. The park contains a boating lake and fountain, ‘Waterfall Hill’, the Sultan Qaboos Rose Garden, and meandering pathways that weave around the park’s floral gardens. There are lots of grassy areas here to sit down and relax on.

Central Business District, Station 6: Here passengers can explore parts of Ruwi, which is the bustling city centre of Muscat. The Muscat Clock Tower, which is the oldest monument in ‘modern Oman, is also here. It was created as a symbol of the Sultanate’s commitment to modernisation.

Parliament, Station 7: Oman’s new parliament buildings, locally known as Majlis Oman, house the council of Oman, the state council, the consultation council and common facilities. The gigantic 64 metre high clock tower is an icon of the buildings. The five-star Al Bustan Palace hotel is also just down the road.

Marina Views, Station 8: This stop is at an elevated lookout point on the coastal road. From here, there are spectacular views of the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Oman. Down below, there are the charter boats and yachts of the Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, and a small, rocky island about 500 metres off-shore that tourists often refer to as ‘Cat Island’. Viewed from a certain angle, it supposedly looks like a cat.

Al Alam Palace, Station 9: Al Alam Royal Palace is the grand ceremonial palace of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Visitors are not allowed inside the palace, but they can get a good view of the building’s beautiful, bold architecture from the entrance gates. The exquisite Al Khor Mosque is also here, as well as the sixteenth century Al Mirani and Al Jalali forts. This is a good viewpoint for the towering Al Jazirah Island, just off-shore.

Mutrah Corniche, Station 10: The Mutrah Corniche stretches three kilometres along the edge of Muscat’s harbour port. There are gardens, fountains and sculpture works dotted all along the cornice, and a fruit and vegetable market at the northern end. At the dhow port and fish market, Omani fishermen can be seen unloading their catches.

Even more of Muscat?
As an added bonus, from November to May, Big Bus Tour passengers can do a free Heritage Walk tour that leaves at 3pm daily from the Al Alam Royal Palace (Station 9). The tour explores the charm of old Muscat – and takes you to ancient forts, the Al Alam Royal Palace, a concealed harbour, museums, a Persian Style Mosque, and the Royal Court. Also, between November and May, there is a free shuttle service to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque from the Mutrah Souq (Station 1) or Hay As Saruj (Station 3). This is the largest mosque in Oman, which can accommodate up to 20 000 worshippers. It is an exquisite work of art and architecture, and absolutely worth seeing.

For more information about Big Bus Tours in Muscat visit http://www.bigbustours.com

Maldives: Indian Ocean Paradise

The tropical island paradise of the Maldives really does represent the most conventional of travel clichés: Powder white sands, palm trees swaying in the tradewind breeze, turquoise blue sea, coral reefs filled with colourful fish, and days spent lazing around the beach and island lodge sipping coconut juice cocktails – watching island life go by at its own, gentle pace

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Paging through picture-perfect travel guides and brochures of the place, you might even think it could all be too good to be true. This place really is a paradise!
The Maldives is an archipelago nation of 1,190 coral islands in the Indian Ocean’s Laccadive Sea. They begin around 400 kilometres south-west of India, and run in a north to south direction for about 750 kilometres. On average, of the 26 atolls that make up the Maldives, each one has approximately 5 to 10 inhabited islands; and about 20 to 60 uninhabited islands.

Interestingly, the Maldives is also the lowest country in the world, with the highest natural point in the entire archipelago being only 2.4 metres. Although in built up areas, of course, the height above sea level is several metres more than this. Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives. And for a good reason… For first timers to the Maldives, the best way to experience the place is to travel to an inhabited island. As the Maldivian Tourism board points out, it is a typical island custom that everyone finishes their work by late afternoon, takes their daily showers, dresses their children in fresh clothes and goes for a stroll around their island, visiting friends and relatives, and delivering small bowls of fresh, homemade curry, or taking some time to relax at the beach, enjoying the late afternoon sun while the children play around at the shoreline.

It is all a very special part of the Maldives, and for the traveller, something heart-warmingly special to witness and be a part of. You’ll also be able to find locally made handicrafts at most of these islands. There are over 100 different island resorts to choose from in the Maldives, so the traveller is spoilt for choice as to where to stay. There is also a general ‘one island one resort’ rule adhered to by the archipelago’s hospitality establishments, which means that you can have complete privacy, and relax in the knowledge that you and your fellow resort guests will always have the island to yourselves. Although lounging around your island the whole day, or going for regular treatments at your resort spa are perfectly good things to do, there is a lot more to see and do in the Maldives…

Fishing is an essential part of Maldivian culture. Many say that another good way to get to grips with the Maldivian way of life is to head out on a night reef fishing trip. Typically, you and your party will hop in a boat just before sunset, and head off to a local fishing spot to catch what will end up being your delicious grilled fish dinner later that evening, when you return to your island. Most of the time, these fishing trips can be organised by the island resort you’re staying at.

Staying with the theme of water – the Maldives is an absolute paradise for divers. The whole chain of islands has excellent visibility throughout the year – sometimes up to 40 metres and more – as well as warm water. Divers can explore swim-throughs, caverns, shipwrecks, deep drop-offs and wall dives, and overhangs covered with all kinds of colourful marine life and sea creatures. This region of the Indian Ocean is also well known for Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Dolphins, and Turtles. Add to this literally hundreds of different dives sites, and hundreds of species of fish and marine creatures – as well as the fact that many of the dive sites can be accessed almost effortlessly from your resort – and it is easy to see why many consider the Maldives to be the best dive destination in the world.

Most resorts are well equipped with snorkelling equipment, seakayaks, windsurfers and catamarans for days spent ‘at home’ – and they also often have parasailing, kite-surfing, water-skiing, and jet-skiing experiences available for guests. The Maldives is also a top-notch surf destination, with especially good quality surf to be found from May through to October. There are several well-known surf breaks just offshore from some of the atoll’s hotels, but more out-of-the-way spots can be accessed by specialised surf charter cruises that operate in and around the Maldives atolls.

Of course, Malé is the capital and most populous city in the Republic of Maldives. As a contrast to the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the archipelago, Malé is packed with high rise buildings, businesses, restaurants, tea rooms and coffee cafes – and shops selling home goods and travel artifacts like model Dhonis, which are the traditional wooden fishing vessels of the Maldives. Malé is a good place to base yourself for a short while before heading off into the rest of the archipelago. While you’re here, the fresh produce and food markets, as well as the many markets selling local souvenirs, can be a shopper’s dream, and provide an opportunity to experience more of the Maldivian culture. Malé’s small National Museum and National Art Gallery are both worth a visit. And the Hukuru Miskiiy Mosque, which is the oldest in the country, is also worth seeing (although prior permission needs to be obtained). The mosque dates from 1656 and is well known for its beautiful coral stone construction. The interior is exquisitely finished in fine lacquer work and elaborate woodcarvings. One long wall panel, reportedly carved in the 13th century, commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives.

Oman Air flies five times a week between Muscat – Malé.

Unmistakably UAE

For many, the Middle East comes to focus when they hear the name ‘Dubai’ mentioned. Surprisingly what many do not know is Dubai is the modern face of the larger United Arab Emirates (UAE), fêted for many things ancient and modern
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Deep Roots
Despite its harsh climatic conditions and the vast seas of ubiquitous sand, the original roots of the UAE run deep – very deep, in fact – to centuries before oil stuck in the 1950s, to when they were first exported commercially in the year 1962. The earliest recorded settlements in the UAE date back to the Bronze Age. In the 3rd millennium BC, a culture known as Umm al-Nar arose near modern Abu Dhabi. Umm al-Nar’s influence extended well into the interior and right down the coast to today’s Oman. There were also settlements at Badiyah (near Fujairah) and at Rams (near Ras al-Khaimah) during the third millennium BC.

The Transformation
But it was the discovery of oil that proved to be the elixir for this desert nation, transforming this once unknown and reticent fishing village into one of the most prosperous countries in living memory. With Abu Dhabi becoming the first of the Emirates to start exporting oil, the country’s society and economy were transformed forever, for good. And it was the late, lamented Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and the President of the UAE during its inception, oversaw the development of all the Emirates and directed oil revenues into health care, education and the national infrastructure UAE is today a vivacious nation that is rich in history and steeped in culture, that is equally acknowledged as the preferred entry points for travels into the Middle East region, from any global destination.

The Location
To be found geographical on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, UAE has Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest and the Sultanate of Oman to the southeast and on the eastern tip of the Musandam Peninsula, as well as an Omani enclave within its borders. The UAE have coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, sharing sea borders with Qatar and Iran.

The Seven Emirates
To put things in proper context, the United Arab Emirates, oft times known merely as the ‘Emirates’, is a federation of seven independent Emirates. A hereditary Emir governs each these constituent Emirates and all of them come together to choose one of their members to be the President of the UAE Federation. The seven Emirates that together form the UAE are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The largest Emirate is Abu Dhabi, which accounts for 87% of the UAE’s total area (67,340 square kilometers). The smallest Emirate is Ajman, which encompasses only 259 square kilometers. Intentionally the islands, man-made and natural, have been left out. The capital city of the UAE is the bustling Abu Dhabi, which also happens to be the state’s main center of political, industrial and cultural pursuits. Dubai is the most populated Emirate with 35.6% of the UAE population. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has a further 31.2%, meaning that over two-thirds of the UAE population lives in either Abu Dhabi, or Dubai.

Cosmopolitan Crowds
The wealth discovered in the UAE acted as a powerful magnate to attract people from all over the world, who thronged to its shores to capitalise on the country’s massive growth and development opportunities that presented itself. Today, the population is incredibly varied and diverse. At the end of 2012, the population of UAE was recorded to be at 8.2 million, with 11.47% being the ‘real’ Emiratis (locals). Most of the rest come from the Indian Subcontinent of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, or Bangladesh (about 60%); other parts of South-East Asia, particularly the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia (another perhaps 20%); and “Western” countries (Europe, Australia, North America, South Africa 5%), with the remainder from everywhere else.

A Land of Mesmerizing Contrasts
UAE is a mind-boggling study in contrasts. Besides the mega malls and skyscrapers can be found quaint little ‘souqs’, where even to this date trading takes place just as it did centuries ago. Besides the global brands and the fancy cars can be found people who still faithfully follow their traditional Bedouin customs and modest lifestyles. Undoubtedly, generous credit is due to those who had the vision and have successfully dared to convert their dreams into realities – retain the old-world charm of this country, yet convert it to make it one of the most modern of nations within the region, if not in the world.

Places to See and Things to Do
The United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations, has all the right ingredients for an unforgettable holiday – sun, sand, sea, sports, unbeatable shopping, top-class hotels and restaurants, an intriguing traditional culture, and a safe and welcoming environment to name a few. For want of space we shall limit our scope to cover only the key attractions found in the two of the largest Emirates of the UAE, namely Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Dubai has rightfully earned its names as ‘The City of Superlatives’ for its coveted collection of the ‘biggest’, ‘largest’, ‘tallest’ presentations. Juxtaposed against these modern marvels are also some ancient wonders too.

Dubai Museum: A definite stop by, this museum retraces the social history of the Emirates. From ancient reed houses to pearl diving implements, rare collections of artifacts are kept for public display. The reconstructed centuries old ‘traditional souq’ replete with authentic sights and sounds adds to its aura.

Jumeirah Mosque: Built in the medieval Fatimid traditions, this is the largest mosque in the city showing stunning samples of Islamic architecture and Arabic calligraphy. This is one of the few mosques where non-Muslims are allowed entry.
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Burj Khalifa: Standing tall at 828 metres and 160 floors this is the world’s tallest structure by a long shot, over 300m taller than its closest contender is. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the second highest in the world after the Shanghai World Financial Center. Dominating the Dubai skyline, is the tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system. Advance booking is required to visit the observation deck.

The Dubai Fountain: At 270m (900ft) in length and sporting a jet that shoots water up to 150m (500ft), the Dubai Fountain is the world’s largest dancing fountain with classical, Arabic and world music. Daily shows start every evening at the Burj Dubai Lake.

The Palm Islands: These are arguably one of the world’s modern man-made marvels. The Palm Islands are an artificially created archipelago just off the coast of UAE in the Persian Gulf. The Palm Islands are made of the Palm Jumeirah, the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Deira. Besides these, there are also two other artificial archipelagos namely The World and The Universe, located between the Palm Islands.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo: Set right in the centre of Dubai Mall, this aquarium is one of the largest of its kind in the world with a record-breaking acrylic panel and 270-degree glass walk-through tunnel. Best of all, the bold can go for a dive in the aquarium amongst the sharks, stingrays and enormous groupers. Some other note worthies would have to be Dubai’s enviable shopping options, excellent golfing facilities, beach and desert safaris to name just a few.

Abu Dhabi has its fair share of places to see too.
Abu Dhabi Heritage Village: Take a trip back in time to discover what life was like for the town’s early inhabitants – the Al Bu Falah branch of the Bani Yas tribal group from Liwa who moved to Abu Dhabi in the 1790s. The town quickly evolved as an important pearling centre. Pearl divers and boatmen tended their date gardens and camels in the oasis and desert of the hinterland during the winter and trekked back to the coast in the summer months to dive for pearls.
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Sheikh Zayed Mosque: This is the world’s sixth largest mosque and of course the largest in the UAE. This mosque is truly a masterpiece of modern Islamic architecture. Entry into the mosque for non-Muslims is restricted. Khalifa Park. The best park by far, built at a cost of $50 million. It has its own aquarium, museum, train, play parks and manicured gardens. This marvellous place for leisure and entertainment built on an area of half a million square kilometres is the first of its kind in the region. With very distinctive architectural designs and landscaping unseen before in the region, the Khalifa Park is set to give the people all the stunning facilities for enjoyment, sports, leisure and enlightenment.

Corniche: Abu Dhabi’s spectacular waterfront stretches for miles from the Breakwater near Marina Shopping Mall almost up to the Mina Zayed port. It has a walkway for the entire length, and certain stretches have sandy beaches. There are also many activities like go-cart riding, playgrounds and even stages for shows.

Flagpole: At 123m, this is the world’s tallest flagpole, located on the Marina Island across the Marina Mall. The pole has an automatic mechanism for hoisting and lowering the gigantic UAE national flag measuring 20×40 metres. It has an Internet web camera installed at the top and a maintenance lift to carry two people that goes right up to the top.

Yas Island: Looking to unwind? Looking for adventure? Looking for recreation? Looking for entertainment? Yas Island is the place to be. The island is the site of a US$36 billion development project. The island holds the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Other notable attractions here include the Ferrari World, Yas Island IKEA, Yas Marina, Southern Marina, Warner Bros. Theme Park, Yas Waterworld and the mega Yas Mall.
Abu Dhabi also has several large green swathes, many of which include play areas for children, and the city is interspersed with lovely fountains, bright neon lights, and sculptures.

Doors of Perception

The intricately carved, beautiful doors found across much of the Sultanate open the way to Oman’s rich cultural and historic legacy. One Omani photographer is keen to preserve the past for future generations.

One of the first things visitors notice when they take the time to walk around any Omani town are the amazing doors. As well as being an elegant way to enter someone’s home, these doors often have an old and colourful history. You can find them all over the Sultanate, and down the East African seaboard, most notably in Lamu, Mombasa and Zanzibar on the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts.

Research suggests that some were carved by skilled Omani and Indian carpenters, and each one tells a particular story in their design. An Omani businessman, Nasser al Kindi, wants to record these snapshots of time. He is a keen cameraman, although he has never received any formal training in photography. He says that intuition is the key to art. “I think you have to listen to the place you are photographing. If you are into nature photography, then you have to understand the symphony that is there and close your ears to everything else.” The thing that first grabbed his attention to the world of photography was the sound the camera shutter made. His initial enthusiasm has matured now into a growing appreciation of the value of the past to modernity. He says he has, “an affinity to beautiful things that are vanishing, such as the old doors, which people think of as being from the past, so I wanted to capture these beautiful details that in a couple of years might not be here anymore.”

Similarly, growing up by Fort Mirani in Muscat and later travelling across Oman and much of the world, Nasser found the landscape continuously shrinking as it makes way to development. He said he often finds himself at the crossroads between two worlds; “one with its trumpeting development, a jigsaw of cement and asphalt, and another with its serene and unobtrusive way of living. Sadly, the latter is forever making way for the former.” A few years back, on a visit to Al Aijah, a village in Sur that overlooks an arresting view of the marriage between land and sea, Nasser was dazzled by the inhabitants’ zealous interest in maintaining old doors in new houses. Over time, he captured on camera an astounding number of these ancient doors, with their shapes, wood, intricate carvings, colours, locks and the playfulness of light as it changes the hues of the wood and the shadows they absorbed.

Nasser says people are continuously “traversing between one world and another, as technology becomes more advanced, often leaving behind, sometimes sweeping away altogether, beautiful yet irreplaceable facets of a fast changing world.” These old Omani doors are often neglected objects of art. Some of the doors he photographed in Nizwa bear their maker’s inscriptions; they are over 1000 years old and still going strong! The photographic collection depicts the different art forms that prevail in various towns. Nasser says that when some of his Omani friends look at the collection, they instinctively know in which part of Oman the photograph was taken!

“The elegance of the blue door lent to it by its simplicity, so characteristic of Nizwa as an old stronghold of Ibadhi architecture (Ibadhi: the predominant sect in Oman, found also in East Africa and to a much lesser extent in parts of Algeria, Libya and Morocco).”

Destination Dhofar!

Dhofar is famous throughout the region as a ‘must visit’ summer destination to cool off – during the ‘Khareef Season’. But there are much more awe inspiring facts about Dhofar than these soothing summer showers!
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The southernmost coastal strip of land stretching to about 560kms within the Sultanate of Oman is the Dhofar Governorate. Size wise, this region is the largest of the Sultanate’s 11 Governorates, occupying one third of the country’s combined land area. The mountainous Dhofar region lies just adjacent to Yemen on the south-west and the Arabian Sea on the east. With the vast seacoast running to many kilometers of unspoilt sandy white beaches on one side, and the mountains rising up to 1,500 metres on another, and fertile plains in-between, the Dhofar topography is indeed an enviable amalgamation of nature’s bounty at its best.

What is interesting about this geography is that while the rest of the country is predominantly made up of arid and desert lands, only this part is distinctly the opposite. It would be appropriate to say that in Dhofar one can enjoy and experience a different Oman – one with a refreshing tropical twist. Now combine that with the white sandy beaches, swaying coconut and banana palms, quaint little pastel-painted houses standing in for the fortified mud brick mansions that can be commonly found elsewhere in the country and you get a destination quite like no other, either in the Sultanate, or even across the entire GCC region!

The Governorate’s eleven Wilayat’s are Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat, Sadah, Shalim and Halaniyat Islands, Dalkoot, Rakhyut, Thamrit, Mokshin and Al Mazuna, with Salalah being the capital and the largest city. Lying 1,040kms south of the capital city of Muscat, the Dhofar region’s history and even its identity have largely remained unique. Fabled in antiquity as the point of origin of the world’s legendary and much celebrated frankincense trade, Dhofar of yore boasted one of the world’s oldest and most cosmopolitan civilizations – whose excavations continue to amaze historians and archeologists even to this day. Numerous excavations done over long periods of time suggest that this fertile land mass may have supported some of the earliest human settlements outside of Africa going as far back as 75,000 to 100,000 years.

The region as a whole rose to prominence, and economic prosperity, much earlier than most other parts of the Sultanate, thanks to the lucrative local frankincense trade. Frankincense was traded through the region from Neolithic times onwards, gradually developing into the so-called ‘Incense Route’, one of the ancient world’s most extensive and important commercial networks. Frankincense was transported over the sea from the coast of Dhofar westwards up the Red Sea to Egypt, Africa and Europe, and east into the Arabian Gulf and on to India. By land, caravans headed up via Shisr across the Empty Quarter to Bahrain and, westwards, into Yemen and then north to Medina, Petra and, ultimately, Egypt.

A string of ports developed along the coast of Dhofar to service the frankincense trade, include Sumhuram, followed by Mirbat, Sadh, Hasik and Zafar (the forerunner of modern Salalah, and the origin of the name “Dhofar”). From around 300 AD onwards, the international frankincense trade went into a gradual decline, although Mirbat and Zafar, at least, continued as major commercial centres, exporting horses and spices in addition to frankincense and attracting many foreign visitors, including Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta. Moving to more recent times, there are numerous attractions certainly worth a visit while in the region. Some of the more notable ones are:

Al Hafah Souq – Replete with a variety of products, including traditional textiles and clothing, gold and silver jewellery as well as many other traditional handicrafts. Is also the perfect place to buy the best kinds of gum and incense, not only in Dhofar, but also in the entire Sultanate.

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Khawr Al Maghsayl – A lagoon (khawr) that lies at the eastern end of Jabal Al Qamar (Moon Mountain). The lagoon’s importance lies in hosting some important species of indigenous and migratory birds that inhabit the lagoon due to the abundance of food throughout the year. Some birds migrate from Africa, some from Europe and others from India, while others are permanent residents of the lagoon.

Khawr Ruri – This is the largest reserve in the Governorate of Dhofar. It is considered the most attractive to tourists as it contains Khawr Ruri port, famously known as Samharam. Nearby, there are important ruins that date back to prehistoric times. The port was often mentioned in Greek, Hellenic and Arabic historical scrolls, being the main port for the export of frankincense in Dhofar. Therefore the khawr has gained special status, as it is not only a nature reserve, but an important heritage reserve as well, and has been included in the World Heritage List.

Al Balid – The most important ancient port on the Arabian Sea and part of the famous Frankincense Trail, history dates back to before 2000 BC. Some archaeological research confirms that the city’s prosperity dates even back to the Iron Age. In the year 2000, Al Balid was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Samharam – The location tells the story of an ancient civilization and its then thriving frankincense port dating back to 1000 BC, which acted as a link between Dhofar and other parts of the world. It is reported that the port acquired fame and significance as jars of invaluable Omani frankincense was shipped from the Samharam Port at the behest of the Queen of Sheba. Further archeological excavations in Samharam city unearthed a number of scrolls, an old temple, coins and historical artifacts all of which indicated a close historic association with India, the countries between both rivers (Tigress and Euphrates), and the Nile river area.

Wadi Darbat – This wadi carves its way through hills and highlands until it reaches Khawr Ruri, where it empties into the Arabian Gulf. During autumn, the wadi’s water descending from the mountains forms magnificent waterfalls cascading from a height of up to 30 metres (100 feet). The wadi is distinguished by its virgin nature and thick botanical cover, in addition to a natural spring and a number of caves. The wadi’s water is the source of the water filling Teeq Cave’s cells.

Dhofar’s Beaches – The Governorate’s most important beaches are Al Maghsayl, Raysut, Al Hafah, and the shores of Wilayat Taqah, Mirbat and Sha, noted for the purity of their sands and the beauty of their surrounding rocks and scenic nature.

Dhofar’s Lagoons – There are a number of lagoons such as Sawli, Al Baleed, Ad Dahareez, Atheeb and Salalah, where one can see large numbers of flamingos and a wide variety of migratory and endemic birds. Some of these lagoons have been established as Nature Reserves too.

Nature Reserves – There are eight in all : Khawr Ruri, Khawr Al Baleed, Khawr Sawli, Khawr Al Maghsayl, Khawr Al Qurm Al Sagheerand Al Qurm Al Kabeer, Khawr Awqad, Khawr Ad Dahareez and Khawr Al Taqah.
Aside of all these amazing attractions, the biggest draw for the region happens when the much awaited Khareef Season gets going during the peak summer months. The entire region becomes lush and green, with soft drizzles and softer mists wafting along, as waterfalls, rivers and natural springs gush forth in gay abandon, creating an almost idyllic modern day Xanadu!

Unique UNESCO: World heritage wonders

Throughout hundreds of years, the people that have inhabited Oman have been responsible for establishing a fantastically rich array of culture and tradition. They also continue to be the proud guardians of a magnificent geographical landscape and biodiversity.

The Sultanate of Oman currently has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites that as per the UNESCO organisation’s set of criteria are recognised as having ‘outstanding value to humanity’. But did you know that Oman also has a tentative list’ of heritage sites that are shortlisted for inclusion in the World Heritage Site list? There are currently eight. Here’s a look at each one.

Rostaq and Al-Hazm Forts
Rostaq Fort is located at an oasis at the foothills of the Jebel Akhdar mountains, near Nizwa. It has been an important town and marketplace since Persian rule in pre-Islamic times. Al-Hazm Fort is nearby, on the western bank of the Wadi Far. It has an unusually large design and contains the tomb of its builder – Imam Sultan bin Seif II.

Qalhat City
Qalhat is an ancient harbour city, about 20 kilometres north of Sur. It was considered an important sea port before 1,500 BC and welcomed ships coming from India, Yemen, Dhofar and other regions. Even artifacts from as far away as China have been found here.

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(The tomb of Bibi Miriam near the ancient harbour city of Qalhat)

Prehistoric Bisyah and Salut Settlements
This multi-period archaeological site clearly indicates that the area was a focus for occupation from the late 4th millennium BC until Islamic times. Salut especially has been linked with the first arrival of Arab tribes in Oman from different regions across the Arabian Peninsula. It is located on a rocky outcrop near Bisyah, in the Dakhiliya region.

Oman’s four already established UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Nizwa Falaj Daris: This is Oman’s biggest falaj irrigation system, and one of five collectively listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The origin of this system, which uses gravity to channel water to villages, dates back to around 500 AD in Oman (some archaeological evidence suggests as early as 2 500 BC). Location: Dakhiliya Region Longitude: 22° 59’ 56”N Latitude: 57° 32’ 9.8”E

Land of Frankincense: The frankincense trees of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ports of Khor Rori and Al-Baleed vividly illustrate the frankincense trade that flourished here for centuries.
Location: Dhofar Province Longitude: 18° 15’ 11.99”N Latitude: 53° 38’ 51.32”E

Archaeological Sites of Bat: The sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al- Ayn lie near a palm grove in the interior of the Sultanate of Oman and form the most complete collection of settlements from the 3rd millennium BC in the world. The necropolis of Bat represents especially well-preserved evidence of the evolution of funeral practices during the first Bronze Age.
Location: Al Dhahira region Longitude: 23° 16’ 11.50”N Latitude: 56° 44’ 42.00”E

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Bahla Fort: The oasis of Bahla owes its prosperity to the Banu Nebhan – the dominant tribe in the area from the 12th to the end of the 15th century. Bahla Fort’s unbaked brick walls and towers are a reflection of the genius and ingenuity of these people.
Location: Oasis of Bahla, near Nizwa Longitude: 22° 57’ 51.01”N Latitude: 57° 18’ 4.00”E

The Treasures of Cultural Colombo

At just 37.31 square kilometres, Colombo is a small city by world standards. But in so many ways, it packs a big punch!

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Historical Influences
Due to its position along ancient trading routes, the port of Colombo was well-known to the great seafarers – the Arabs, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese – for thousands of years. Indeed, Sri Lanka has a documented history that spans over 3 000 years. Its geographic location and deep, safe, harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II. More recently, Colombo (and the rest of Sri Lanka) was subject to three periods of European colonialism – first by the Portuguese in the early 1500s; then by the Dutch; and then finally by the British – before the country as a whole assumed the status of an independent republic in 1972. Of course, South Indian influences are very visible in many aspects of Colombo and Sri Lankan life. Sri Lanka is also home to many religions, ethnicities and languages. It has an especially rich Buddhist heritage – some of the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island.

All of the above influences from all corners of the world have moulded Sri Lanka into an extremely rich mixing pot of culture and diversity. And Colombo represents a microcosm of this. There is no real starting point or pre-determined route from which to explore Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo. Instead, due to its small area, the traveller would be happier experiencing bits and pieces of the city in a spontaneous, unplanned way. If you did have somewhere in mind to explore, the traditional Colombo way to get there would be in the back of a Tuk Tuk taxi! These motorised, three-wheeled chariots are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s transport system and a very effective – if rather quirky – way to get around the city.

Shop Till You Drop
Going shopping is a good way to explore any city. The Pettah Market is the place to shop for anything from fruits to clothes to electronics, all at wholesale prices. But be warned – this is true market-style shopping, where bargaining is serious business. It is not for the faint of heart! Pettah Market has been described as an ‘exhilarating slice of Asian life.’ It is a wonderful place to experience the bustling energy of Colombo. Lakpahana, in Cinnamon Gardens, serves as a base for the Sri Lanka Craftsmen and Artisans Association. Here you can buy high quality wood carvings, silverware, masks, gem stone jewellery, textile products, and much more. According to most shopping reviews, prices are generally very good.

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Park Life
Visitors keen to ‘escape the city’ for a moment will find they are never far from a park or recreation space in Colombo. The Galle Face Green is the most popular of these. Its mile-long walkway is situated right next to the shoreline, and is lined with palm trees and patches of greenery. The place is always a beehive of activity – with people and families and their children having picnics, playing games, flying kites, watching the sun go down – generally just having a ball. Street vendors serve up traditional-style snacks and beverages all along the promenade. Beira Lake lies in the heart of a built up and busy part of Colombo, but the immediate surroundings of the lake are a sanctuary of calm and quiet – the gigantic trees offering protection from the mid-day sun. The Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park) is a public park located next to the National Museum. It is the oldest and largest park in the city (built during the British rule of Sri Lanka), and it also happens to have a huge Buddha statue and a series of water fountains within its grounds. All of the above attractions and many more can be observed from the upper deck of a bus on one of the Colombo City Bus Tours.

Things to See
The Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, in Pettah, is now over 100 years old. Every surface of the mosque’s minarets and domes has been painted in a striking red and white colour scheme. It is spectacular to look at. The National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka, in Colombo’s Dehiwala region, are also the location of the Colombo Zoo – home to a bunch of animal species (including elephants), as well as an aquarium, aviary, reptile house, and butterfly garden. At the National Museum in Cinnamon Gardens, you’ll encounter a fascinating range of art, carvings, statues, and other interesting items from Sri Lanka’s past – as well as weaponry and other paraphernalia from the colonial period. A short way away from Beira Lake is the Buddhist temple of Gangarama Vihara, which is one of the most revered temples in the country. It is decorated with brass work, stone carvings, and other Buddhist art. There is also a museum on the premises.

Cricket Culture
Sri Lankans are absolutely passionate about their cricket – watching a match is possibly one of the most culturally appropriate and thrilling things you can do in Colombo. The Ranasinghe Premadasa Stadium in Maligawatta has hosted over 100 one day internationals, and is where the Sri Lankan national side often play. If they happen to be playing while you’re in town then don’t miss out on the action!

Culinary Colombo
Most Colombo-style cooking involves a rice dish served with a curry of fish, chicken, or mutton, combined with other curries made from vegetables, lentils and even fruit. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and sambals. Coconut milk features strongly too – adding a distinct flavour to many dishes. Don’t leave Colombo without sampling a Kothu Rotti – a quintessential Sri Lankan snack of sliced-up bits of rotti, blended with combinations of chicken, beef, egg, onions, tomatoes and green chillies. Being in such close proximity to the ocean, sea food is obviously a big part of Colombo cooking. A sea food dish bought from a street vendor or eaten at a restaurant on a beach is a defining Colombo experience. After a few of these, you’ll want to stay forever!

Jaipur – The Pink City of India

A holiday to Jaipur, the Pink City of India, is filled with fun and excitement. Jaipur tourism has taken all sorts of steps necessary to make this city a major holiday destination.
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Tourism in Jaipur must involve a journey on the train “Palace on Wheels” to this city. You can board this train and travel like a king and come to this ancient city. In fact, tourism is a major industry in Jaipur. The grand mahals of the kings and queens, the beautiful gardens, parks and the temples of the city have given a spurt to the tourism industry of the city. You can take a look at the magnificent forts and palaces that play a major role in promoting Jaipur tourism. Every year a large number of tourists come to this city to explore the rooms, halls and the interiors of the Jal Mahal and the Amber Fort. One can take a walk on the paved path of the Sisodia Rani ke Bagh.

Jaipur is the cultural hub of India. The handicraft industry is pretty strong over here. The city is known for its mirror work, bandhni work, stonework, silver jewellery and other local handicrafts. The handicraft industry thus plays a major role in promoting Jaipur tourism. Foreigners come over here to buy a large number of articles starting from traditional jewellery to decorative articles. A large number of hotels and resorts have come up over the past few years. As many international tourists come over here for a vacation, a 18 International Destination large amount of foreign exchange is earned by the tourism industry in Jaipur. The city municipality and the government of the state has preserved the national heritages and monuments of the city so as to attract more and more tourists over here. Jaipur is a majestic and impressive doorway into the glorious and rich past of India.

Jaipur tourism has continued to grow each year, and is known for its endless opportunities of sightseeing, dining out, shopping and adventure. An immense cultural background, spectacular forms of art and performance and some of the most impressive forts and palaces in the world have rightly made Jaipur a phenomenal tourist destination. The number of places to see in Jaipur and the sightseeing opportunities are practically limitless. The city has been home to the Rajput race and also shows influences of Mughal architecture and culture. Apart from this, one can also visit the various temples that are to be found in the city.

Apart from sightseeing, the next favourite thing to do in Jaipur is shopping. The city of Jaipur boasts of bustling bazaars and markets, which offer tourists a chance to buy every kind of keepsake you can possibly imagine. From pottery, antiques and jewelry in semi-precious, precious and cheap varieties to textiles, handicrafts, gems and leather goods, you can get just about everything in the markets of Jaipur. Some of the markets that you can pay a visit to are the Nehru Bazaar, Kishanpol Bazaar, Jauhari Bazaar and Mahiharon Ka Rasta. The collection of goods, sparkling colors, endless varieties and great bargaining options will keep you busy for hours and hours. Shopping is an integral part of Jaipur tourism and if you are visiting for a short time you should keep at least two whole days aside just for the shopping experience. Trust us, it’s so fabulous that you will not regret it!
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If you enjoy culture and celebrations, visiting Jaipur can be an amazing treat. There is a strong culture of celebrating festivals and organizing fairs in Jaipur. These events add a touch of sparkle and festivity to daily life in this beautiful city. The bustling city of Jaipur is known for its tradition of celebrating each and every occasion and event with full pomp and show. On any ordinary day the city is bright, colorful and full of enjoyment, but when there are fairs and festivals, it is as though the entire city becomes magical. Some of the unique festivals that tourists in Jaipur must try and attend are the Kite festival, the Elephant festival, the Gangaur festival and the Teej festival.

Knowing the climate of Jaipur is very important for tourists who are interested in planning a trip to the city. The city has a very warm climate given its location in the desert state of Rajasthan. The term ‘extreme’ has often been used to define the climate and weather of the region. Summer season in Jaipur is marked by immense heat and it is a bad time for visitors to plan a trip since it is too hot to do anything. At the same time, winters can be mild and pleasant during the daytime but are very cold in the night, so this time should be avoided as well. All in all, the best time for Jaipur tourism is between mid-July and till the end of October.

Mount Everest: Because it’s there

Mount Everest
At 8,848 metres, Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain. Would you ever dream of climbing it? And making your way safely back down to tell the tale? Many have done so. Tragically, many have also tried to, but never returned from the mountain’s icy, rocky slopes. Here’s a look at the culture of climbing the world’s greatest mountain.
On 29 May 1953, the New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa-mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest. But in the decades leading up to this day, many climbers and expedition parties had been enthralled and seduced by the idea of climbing the world’s highest mountain, and many attempted to do so. One of these men was George Mallory, an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s, and he might have even reached the top.
During a 1924 expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner both disappeared forever on the mountain’s north-east ridge during their attempt to make what would have famously been the first ever ascent of Everest. The pair were last seen when they were about 245 metres from the summit. Whether he or his climbing partner ever reached the summit before they died remains a mystery. Since then, the mountain has attracted more and more climbers every year to Base Camp – the rudimentary campsite below the mountain that is used as a launching point and return base for expeditions.

Climbing Modern Everest?
These days, there are two main climbing routes up Everest. One approaches the summit from the south in Nepal (the standard route) and the other from the north in Tibet. Most attempts are made during April and May before the summer monsoon season. As monsoon season approaches, a change in the weather conditions reduces the average wind speeds high on the mountain, making it easier for climbers to summit. For the standard southern approach to the climb, mountaineers fly into Kathmandu and spend several days here arranging climbing gear, going through logistics, and stocking up on food and supplies. Climbers then fly into Lukla, in the north-eastern region of Nepal, and make their way overland to Everest Base Camp. The altitude at Base Camp for the southern route is already over 5 300 metres so climbers spend about one or two weeks here or more, acclimatising their bodies. To begin the ascent, climbers must then pass through Everest’s notorious Khumbu Icefall multiple times. Even with safe climbing methods, this section is extremely dangerous due to shifting ice and deep crevasses. Once through the Khumbu Icefall, climbers reach Camp 1 at 6 065 metres, and then make their way to Camp 2 (6,492 metres) before having to ascend the sheer wall of ice named the Lhotse Face to get to Camp 3 (7,470 metres).

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After this, they cross a section of the climb called the Geneva Spur to reach Camp 4 (7,925 metres), and push on to Camp 5 (7,925 metres) where many climbers spend their first night in the so-called ‘Death Zone’ – the altitude at which the oxygen available for breathing is dangerously low. The majority of climbers use bottled oxygen in order to reach the summit, although some have reached the top successfully without it. If all is going well, and if weather conditions allow, climbers head up to an altitude of 8,440 metres to a spot called The Balcony, which offers the opportunity for a brief rest from climbing, and then on to the Hillary Step which is one of the most challenging elements of the climb. Once they have negotiated this, they must trek the final few feet to reach the summit.
It all sounds straightforward on paper but of course it’s not! Once a climber has reached the top, their Everest adventure is far from over. Statistically, coming back down from the peak is far more dangerous than ascending it – and most accidents occur during this time. While Everest is not the most technically difficult mountain to climb, the challenge in reaching its summit lies in dealing successfully with debilitating effects of altitude and freezing temperatures – and negotiating the ever-present danger of extreme weather shifts, avalanches and rock falls, and the physical and mental effects of over-exhaustion. The previously mentioned George Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question ‘Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?’ with the statement, ‘Because it’s there’.
These most famous three words in mountaineering have been at the heart of why countless mountaineers have succeeded – and failed – in climbing Mount Everest. We are presented with life, and therefore we live it. We are presented with a big mountain, and therefore we attempt to climb it. Just because it’s there!

Everest Info…
• The majority of climbers use bottled oxygen in order to reach the summit. The Italian Reinhold Messner was the first to climb the mountain without oxygen, along with Peter Habeler, in 1978. Two years later, Messner surpassed the achievement, reaching the summit solo – and again without bottled oxygen.
• On 23 May 2013, Japan’s Yuichiro Miura again became the oldest person to reach the summit of Everest, at the age of 80.
• These days, mountaineers that attempt Everest are highly experienced. However, in the last few years, there have also been a large number of lesser experienced (but still capable) climbers that have hired professional mountaineering guides to assist them to the top. Because of this, the main route to Everest’s summit has been clogged with people during the few days each year when weather conditions are right for the attempt.
• On 19 May 1975, Junko Tabei, a Japanese mountain climber, became the first ever woman to reach the mountain’s summit.

Oman – Golfers Paradise!

A visit to these three new golfing destinations in Muscat will change fans’ views about the great game in Oman forever!
As recent as just a few years back any golf aficionado in Oman would have been caught griping that to play a decent round of golf they have to board a flight to the bordering country. But not anymore! Today, Muscat boasts of some of the most breathtaking golf courses in the entire Middle East – each set in its own unique and It’s Tee Time! Signature landscape – one right by the seaside (Almouj Golf), one deep in a valley (Ghala Valley) and one perched atop a hill (Muscat Hills)! With these 3 amazing golfing options ready and available, Muscat is fast turning out to be the regional golfers’ most preferred destination of choice, besides proving to be a much awaited boon for the burgeoning local golfing population.

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Already hordes of serious golfers from within the GCC are making a beeline to Muscat to enjoy a weekend of matchless golf, stretching their time between these 3 courses – each presenting their own personal versions of challenging greens, alluring fairways and unforgiving bunkers. Join us as we walk you through the key attractions of these 3 new sparkling gems on the regional golfing crown. Almouj Golf: This course is Oman’s only Greg Norman signature designed PGA Standard 18-hole golf course. The entire golf course is a mere stone’s throw away from the shores of the Sea of Oman. Two lakes centered on the course add to the challenge, and a Par 3 Island green on one of the lakes is designed to test the golfer’s short game acumen. While the overall design encourages an interesting and challenging game, the course itself has been specifically designed to accommodate all levels of golfers; each tee has five tee boxes to ensure an exciting game for every skill level. Says St John Kelliher, General Manager, Almouj Golf, “In addition to the above mentioned, Almouj Golf Academy offers Oman’s only floodlit 9-hole Par 3 golf course, a floodlit driving range, private teaching area, a state-of-the-art swing studio, a pro shop, clubhouse and an outdoor lounge area overlooking the scenic course.” In an effort to make the game go even farther the 3 fully qualified Professional Golf Association (PGA) staff in association with the Oman Golf Committee (OGC) has coached well over 100 Omani children and 30 Omani ladies in the joys of this great sport. Since Almouj Golf is not a private club and is open for all guests anyone interested in enjoying this unique experience are most welcome to do so. For details log on to http://www.almoujgolf.com.

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Complementing the championship course is the comfortable club house and excellent practice facilities that feature a spectacular 400-meter floodlit driving range with undercover tee off area from both sides and a pitch and putt practice area. The Golf Academy offers state-of-the-art equipment under the tutorship of qualified PGA professionals who offer a wide range of tuition services using the latest cutting edge technologies of eCoaching with swing video analysis, Flight Scope, Sam Putt Lab. Find out more of Muscat Hills Golf and Country Club at http://www.muscathillsgolf.com Given the current novelty value and the sumptuous spread of varied golfing options that are on offer for a professional golfer, or a novice, or even one considering trying a hand at golf, Muscat golfing has something exciting for everyone. Muscat golfing is certain to gain much greater popularity in the days ahead. Ghala Valley Golf Club: Ghala Valley will be opening as a fully-fledged 18-hole golf course. Currently playing as a 9-hole course, this golf course is set within the natural surroundings of a Wadi (dry river bed), and entices the golfer with some stunning views of the surrounding mountains and down the valley to the ocean. But golfers are cautioned not to be taken in with this beautiful setting as the course can prove to be very challenging even for professionals, while often being unforgiving for the beginners as the players’ course management expertise and skills will be tested and stretched to the maximum. The course offers members and guests the choices of a driving range, chipping green, putting green, pro shop and a full service club house. In a bid to promote the sport in a big way in the country, junior memberships are offered free of charge until a player turns 18! For more information please visit http://www.ghalavalley.com

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