Oman and its people have a long and rich history with the sea. For thousands of years, Omani merchants and sailors have journeyed into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean in search of trade and adventure.
In modern times, Oman has become well known for its spectacular diving potential. The jewel in the crown of Oman diving is the Daymaniyat and Sawadi Island chain, which is located about 75 kilometres east of Muscat, beginning just off the coastline at Barka. While the Sawadi Islands are always worth seeing, the nine main islands that make up the Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve, which are further out to see, are the most impressive. From Nabucco´s Al Sawadi Beach Resort to the uninhabited island group, it is just a 45 minute trip with the Extra Divers Worldwide dive boat. (The Extra Divers Al Sawadi centre forms the closest base from which to dive the Daymaniyats).
The islands begin about 18 kilometres out sea, and are clustered together in three groups – often referred to as the Western, Central and Eastern (including the Southeastern islands) sections. There are between 20 and 30 dive sites scattered around the area – all of which are accessed via boat. However, the nature of the undersea terrain means that at almost any point, there is a fascinating array of marine life to experience, and underwater features like caves, drop-offs, huge boulders and underwater swim-throughs to explore.
Aquarium: One of the most popular dive sites of the Daymaniyats is the Aquarium, where there is a huge variety of reef and pelagic fish species, and larger marine creatures like stingrays, eagle rays, turtles, moray eels, scorpion fish, various species of sharks, and Whale Sharks at certain times of the year.
Hayut: At the Hayut dive site, which would suit more advanced divers, there are coral coated walls – many of which are overhanging – that drop down to 25 to 28 metres in depth and contain all kinds of marine creatures, including large Moray Eels.
The Daymaniyat Islands have been protected as a nature reserve since 1996 and provide an important nesting site for hawksbill and green turtles, as well as a wide range of migratory birds – mostly during the summer months. Given their protected status, access to the Daymaniyats is restricted, and you’re not allowed to land on the islands during certain months during summer. During the rest of the year you’ll require a permit, which can be arranged by your dive centre or tour operator.
During the trip out to the islands, dolphins are also often encountered. Coral reefs with dozens of hard and soft coral species cover up to 70% of the dive sites. The marine life is prolific and there are all kinds of colourful reef fish and large pelagic fish in abundance.
Various types of sharks and rays, and numerous other large and small marine creatures (including the much-loved seahorses) are all part of the experience.
Whale Sharks are also frequent visitors here during the summer months – from around July to September. ‘There is not much in the world that can compare to an encounter with a whale shark,’ says Gerrit Schneider, from Extra Divers Worldwide. Turtles are common too, with many returning during the summer months to lay their eggs on the island’s white, sandy beaches.
Diving conditions: Water visibility is generally decent throughout the year, but during the summer months it can be excellent – up to 15 to 20 metres and more at certain times. Water temperatures are around 29 C° to 31 C° in summer and 20 C° to 22 C° in winter. Most of the dive sites are between 8 metres and 27 metres deep.
If you aren’t a qualified scuba diver, you’ll still be able to experience the marine life and sea creatures by snorkeling. Typically, you’ll join a boat of divers heading out to the islands, and while they’re busy underwater, you’ll be able to explore the shallower patches of coral reef in the area. Under the water, or at the surface, the Daymaniyats are not to be missed!
A visitor to Oman, Danny Buckland, describes his experience of an endangered green turtle laying her eggs in the sand at Ras-al-Jinz, and tiny hatchlings from another nest making their way to the sea.
The atmosphere can be hypnotic, and the true wonder happens early in the morning when, atop a 100-foot high dune, the full moon slips into view and a lazy sun lumbers over the horizon to provide colours and hues no human hand could create. The sensory overload is matched by the wonder of watching a giant green turtle emerge from the waters of the Gulf at the Ras-al-Jinz turtle reserve, to lay her eggs.
The early signs were not promising. Too many visitors and a full moon created a disturbing combination to deter the giant green turtles from emerging from the waters of the Gulf. An endangered species through over-fishing and pollution, the cycle of life for this graceful creature of the deep is perilous. And, here on a beach in Oman, at the very eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, it is a Discovery Channel moment as a female turtle lumbers across the sands to lay a clutch of around 120 eggs. On the beaches of Ras-al-Jinz, the Omani government’s environment ministry is balancing protection for the turtles with the need for greater awareness of their plight. Their policy allows small groups to be guided to the beaches, which are the hatching grounds for five species of at-risk turtles. The process for the green turtle is laborious and fraught with danger. The pirouetting dynamism of a seaborne life disappears as they become slow-moving targets on land.
Females return to their birthplace after almost 37 years to lay their first set of eggs. Only two of the hatchlings will live to maturity and make that same journey. The mother invests massive amounts of energy to lay her eggs – a two hour labour of love that brings her to the brink of exhaustion – only to become the ultimate absent parent by not taking a backward glance after covering the eggs and vanishing off into the deep waters on an astonishing migratory route that will cover more than 2 000km miles and bring her back to the same beach three years later. Some people will have seen this spectacle on television, but nothing can compare to a front row seat. Low-level torches gave a dull glow to reveal a turtle that had dug a large hollow and was lying at an angle over a deeper cylindrical chamber where her glistening white eggs, the size of golf balls, were dropping. In 30 minutes the last egg would be in place and she would engage in the primeval choreography of covering the hole by flicking sand back with her massive front flippers and smoothing the surface with her rear legs before edging forward. The flashlight occasionally picked out the brightness of her jet-black eyes, full of intent. Periodic gasps revealed the huge effort needed to perform on land. This is a raw, natural event. Her DNA had propelled her up the beach and locked her into a Herculean effort to create life and then, after the selfless act, she slithered back into the sea, having nothing to do with the hatchlings, which would attempt to follow her route some 55 days later.
Further down the beach, three tiny sand-flecked turtles from a different and earlier nest site – smaller than a handprint – had emerged from their nest to head down to the sea. It was a treacherous 100m dash with jackals and rodents patrolling nearby.
Their miniature flippers skittered as they struggled up ridges in the sand and somersaulted down, landing on their back with frantic flaying. Small and soft-shelled they were easy pickings for a predator. The trio had probably the safest run to the sea because of the group’s presence, but they didn’t know that and every fibre of their existence was wound up to reach the breakers. They scaled tyre tracks and ruts and careered down the slopes to the sea. All three made it; whether they would return was in nature’s hands. The turtle reserve at Ras-al-Jinz is just one of the growing array of eco-tourism opportunities on offer in Oman, the Middle East sultanate. The range is impressive, from pristine beaches to towering mountain ranges, from deserts to wadis – pools of water in rock formations – where Omanis gather to swim, dance, sing and fire up barbecues.
Visitors can trek and climb through the spectacular ranges, enjoy nature reserves and shop and bargain through traditional souks, which have stunning displays of goods. The natural friendly nature of the people enhances every moment in this experience-rich land, which balances ancient and modern, from the traditional crafts and mosques to luxury hotels.
The one time burial place of famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, and an ancient trading centre, Kochi, in Kerala, southern India, is a colourful city where past and present exists side by side.
Kochi, in south-western India on the Malabar Coast, stirs the senses. As with most cities in India, Kochi’s roots reach back far into the past. Recorded history reveals that after severe flooding of the river Periyar in 1340AD, which destroyed the trading city of Cranganore, the forces of nature carved out a new natural harbour at Kochi. The city quickly became the epicentre for a lucrative spice route, including cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, among other spices. Many different cultures based their trading operations in Kochi, including the Arabs and Chinese, then later the British, Portuguese and Italians. Each at one time governed the city, resulting in a cultural melting pot of architectural and culinary influences. Each culture found something to remind them of home there, to the extent that the British called Kochi “Mini England”, the Portuguese called it “Mini Lisbon” and the Dutch called it “Homely Holland”.
Indeed, such was the prominence of Kochi that one explorer, the Italian Nicolas Conti, wrote that, “If China is the place to make your money, then Kochi is the place to spend it.” So where can you spend your money in modern-day Kochi? From touring flea markets and taking boat trips on the backwaters, to visiting numerous sites of historical and cultural significance, there really is something for everyone in this charming town. Bearing in mind that the whole region has been visited over the millenia by traders from countless countries, it makes sense that cuisine reflects a very diverse range of cultures. This is a land famous for its spice production and Kochi earned international fame because of the production and export of these precious spices.
Today the city occupies an important place in the global spice market. It is worth taking a trip round the city to visit the various spice markets. You will quickly notice the pungent aromas of different spices as you wander through the streets of Kochi, and it is an oddly comforting feeling when you realise that these same smells permeated the nostrils of people who lived and worked here hundreds of years ago.
Out and about
Kick off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes in a stroll along the beach. Sunset is a magical time, and be sure to look out for the Chinese fishing nets and boats against a sunlit horizon. Many European-style bungalows have been built along the shoreline. After a brisk walk, you are bound to be hungry so be sure to visit one of the numerous stalls which sell mouth-watering traditional fish dishes. A stroll along the long tree-lined coastal pathway that lines the backwater is also a good way to pass a morning or afternoon. Cherai Beach is ideal for swimming, and is situated at the north end of Vypeen island. The beach is lined by coconut groves and paddy fields. Vypeen is one of the numerous small islands which can be reached by boat. A boat ride through the backwaters is a great day out. Be sure to take in Bolghatty Palace on Bolghatty Island. The island also has a small golf course and superb views of the port and the bay.
Inspiring art and culture
A great way to pass a morning and an afternoon is to soak up some local history and culture. A good place to start is at the Mattancherry Palace, which was built by the Portuguese, and then converted by the Dutch in the 17th century. Many Rajas of Kochi held their coronations here. The palace has a fine collection of mural paintings depicting scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The palace is located in Mattancherry. When you are done touring there, take a trip to the 19th-century Hill Palace in Tripunithura, 16km east of Kochi. It was built by the Raja of Kochi and indeed served as the seat of the Raja of the Kochi province. The palace was later converted into a museum housing an impressive collection of archaeological findings and art.
For a fun, educational and entertaining afternoon, it is worthwhile visiting Kalamassery, and spending some time browsing through the Museum of Kerala History, which has fun audio-visual exhibits depicting the history and culture of Kerala. Another beautiful museum which affords a glimpse into the grandeur of yesteryear is the Parikshith Thampuran Museum, which has a large collection of old coins, sculptures, oil paintings and murals.
Once you are done learning all about the history and culture, now it is time to take in the natural beauty of this exotic destination! Situated 48km north-east of Kochi, on the banks of the river Poorna, Kalady is the birthplace of Sri Adi Sankaracharya, the eighth-century Hindu philosopher. The shrine is a must-see for visitors. Elephant Kodanad is 30km north-east of Kochi situated on the lower ranges of the Western Ghats on the banks of the river Periyar. The wildlife reserve is famous for the elephants and the largest elephant training centre is situated here. The reserve also features a mini zoo. If you are keen to keep your children amused, then make sure you set aside some time for South India’s largest amusement park, situated just 14km from Kochi. Veega Land has many fun attractions, such as mini-castles, water parks, Ferris wheel, rides, slides, shows and fountains.
The mausoleum of Bibi Maryam in Qalhat is one of the fantastic vestiges of Oman’s history.
With the opening of the Quriyat-Sur dual carriageway, important sights that fall along the route are now easily accessible. With an alignment that touches scenic spots and a major heritage sight, the new highway is expected to add considerably to the tourism potential. One such sight is the town of Qalhat. The town, 25 kms north-east of Sur, is steeped in history and traditions. Throughout history, the town had economic significance which has been documented in the books written by celebrated international travellers. The town’s prosperity was at its peak during the 12th century AD and continued through the 14th and 15th century.
The town of Qalhat is now more identified with the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam which stands on a desolated hillock overlooking the town and the Arabian Sea. The tomb can be seen from a distance if one is travelling on the Quriyat-Sur dual carriageway. The tomb may have been built by the ruler of Qalhat for his wife around 1311 AD. Today, the historically important monument, in a dilapidated state, bears unmistakable testimony to the significance of Qalhat in the past. Even today, after a span of hundreds of years, the structure retains its architectural features which employed the most refined skills of that era. To create awareness about the rich heritage of Oman and to educate the children about the importance of preserving and appreciating our heritage, efforts are being made to preserve the edifice.
Bibi Maryam mausoleum was built on a raised platform of coral and stone bonded together and embedded in mortar, with the original coatings of plaster still in existence in larger part of the edifice. There is a crypt below the floor and the building was topped by a pointed dome, which has mostly collapsed due to the vagaries of nature. Part of the drum and the few segments of the dome that remain give indications in identifying the shape and design. The four facades are decorated with niches and blind arches, reflecting the style adopted in India and Iran. The use of poly lobed arches was typical of Mughal style of architecture, while the inner corners wall with its squinches and mihrab were ornamented with a motif of muqarnos. It is assumed that the interior would have originally been embellished with glazed tiles, the remains of which can be seen as vague design motifs but nevertheless giving a clear indication of the skills and talents of the craftsmen and artisans of those times.
In 1507, the town came under heavy destruction with the exception of the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam. This may be due to the reason that the name Maryam was sacred to all the concerned warring parties. Ibn Battuta, noted traveller, was very impressed by Qalhat and the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam. He wrote: “having fine bazaars and an exceedingly beautiful mosque, the walls of which are decorated with elaborate enameled tile work and which occupies a lofty situation overlooking the town and harbour.”
The destruction of the town is vividly described by later visitors, like Wellsted who landed in Qalhat in 1835. He writes that the town was reduced to an extensive ruin field with a lovely structure, the roofless Bibi Maryam mausoleum standing amidst the ruins. Poala M. Costa, a noted archaeologist, describes the mausoleum in ‘Historic mosques and shrines of Oman’ thus: “The mausoleum is rectangular in plan, and was originally covered by a dome now almost missing.” He further writes:“Entrance is on the east side: through an arched opening surmounted by a motif of elongated fluted petals.”
There is little doubt that the splendid mausoleum of Bibi Maryam has been witness to many a tale and continues to enchant visitors with its beauty and historical significance. The tomb of Bibi Maryam is priceless and ought to be conserved and handed over intact to future generations.
Google Map co-ordinates – 22.696658,59.373422
If you are looking for fresh air and unadulterated nature which can rejuvenate your body and soul head straight to Bandar Al Khayran, a picturesque spot within easy reach if you happen to live in Muscat. 25 kms southeast of Muscat, Bandar Al Khayran is a haven of tidal creeks and sheltered bays fringed in places by dense growth of mangroves. Green environs, complemented by placid water and framed by copper-coloured mountain, make for a delightful experience. Yeti and Sifah, both scenic coastal villages, fall on the route if you are coming from Hamriya roundabout and thus you can combine this trip with two other exciting places.
Most visitors to Bandar Al Khayran are awestruck by its serene charm and the slow pace of life. If you are lucky you will spot spinner dolphins which are found between Fahal Island and Bandar Khayran. People from far off places, and especially from the Muscat Governorate regularly visit Bandar Al Khayran for camping, diving and snorklling. What soothes one’s eyes is the calmness of the area. No sound pollution, no vehicle pollution, no traffic jams… you feel you are in a different world where serenity reigns.
It is the largest semi-enclosed bay, surrounded by steep rocky hills and cliffs, on the western coast of Oman with an area of approximately 4 sq kms. This island separates the western side from the open sea forming two narrow channels serving as the main inlets to the bay. The maximum depth of the bay is around 16 mtrs. Besides serving as a rich habitat for mangroves, fish and corals, it is also home to turtles and nesting birds such as the whitecheeked tern, osprey and heron. More than 200 fish species, most of which are coral fish, and about 40 coral genera live in the bay. Local fishermen will provide boat rides for those interested in venturing into the calm waters of Bandar Al Khayran. It is a place where you can commune with nature.
How to go:
Bandar Khayran can be reached both by boat and by road. It lies beyond Yiti and Al Sifah. From Hamriya roundabout take the Yeti road and reach Al Sifah. Further down after Al Sifah a small bay that cuts deep into the coastline unfolds before you. And you arrive in Bandar Al Khayran. The new road built from Barr Al Jissah roundabout to go to Yeti, further reduces time.
What to do:
Camping, boating, snorkelling, scuba diving, picnicking.
Germany has a vibe all of its own, and wherever you go, you can experience the pulsating life of its bustling cities, calming boulevards, the art galleries, at the flea markets, or in the city’s innumerable entertainment arenas.
Located in Central Europe, with Denmark bordering to the North, Poland and the Czech Republic to the East, Austria and Switzerland to the South, France and Luxembourg to the Southwest, and Belgium and the Netherlands to the Northwest, Germany is a major economic and political powerhouse in the European continent and has been a leader in numerous theoretical and technical arenas since time immemorial.
The most populous member of the European Union – a political and economic union of 28 different member states – with a population of 80.5 million Germany is a country consisting of 16 states, spread across a land mass of 357,1021 km2, with Berlin being its largest and capital city.
Germany has been the home of many influential philosophers, music composers, scientists and inventors, and is known for its rich cultural and political history. Tracing their origin, the Germanic tribes are thought to date from the Nordic Bronze Age, or the Pre-Roman Iron Age periods.
One of the largest economies in the world, Germany offers the highest standards of living for its residents, including a very comprehensive social security system and perhaps the world’s oldest universal health care system dating as far back as 1883. Enabled largely by its position in the world as following an open social market economy system and manned efficiently by a highly skilled labour force, and supported by a large capital stock, with a low level of corruption, and a high level of innovation, Germany is grand indeed in so many ways. Germany’s achievements in the sciences too have been significant and continuous research and development efforts form an integral part of the economy. In fact, for most of the 20th century, German laureates had accumulated more awards than those of any other nation, especially in the sciences (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine). Some well-known global brands bearing the prestigious ‘Made in Germany’ seal of proven quality are Mercedes-Benz, BMW, SAP, Siemens, Volkswagen, Adidas, Audi, Allianz, Porsche, Bayer, Bosch, and Nivea to name a few. Not surprisingly, Germany also has the largest and most powerful national economy in all of Europe. Given its pivotal position in the continent of Europe, Germany is an essential transport hub, reflected in its dense and modern train transport networks. So advanced is this network, Germany’s famous motorway ranks as the world’s fourth largest in length and is known for its lack of a general speed limit. Connecting places within the country and some destination in the neighbouring countries is the ‘InterCityExpress’ zipping at speeds of up to 300 kmph (186 mph).
When it comes to flying, Germany’s largest as well as the busiest airports are the Frankfurt Airport and the Munich Airport, both hubs are connected by Oman Air. Culturally very comfortably placed and can be considered as wealthy in many ways, Germany has been called as ‘Das Land der Dichter und Denker’ (“the land of poets and thinkers”).
During a recent count it has been officially listed that there are over hundreds of subsidized theatres, symphonic orchestras, thousands of museums and almost 11,000 libraries spread all across Germany. These cultural opportunities are enjoyed by the culture vultures visiting and domiciled in the country. There are over 106 million German museum visits every year. And as of 2013, the UNESCO inscribed 38 properties in Germany on the World Heritage List. Germany stands head and shoulders above many other nations in the world in music, arts, sports, architecture, literature, philosophy, science, technology and much else.
Germany is a country of thousands of medium-sized towns and cities. Four cities, Berlin, Hamburg, München (Munich) and Cologne (Köln), are Millionenstädte – cities where more than one million people live. Another nine German cities have a population of more than 500,000 people. The population of Germany’s 300 largest cities amounts to more than 37 million, or 46 per cent of all people living in the country. Oman Air flies to two of these cities, namely, ‘The City of Arts’, Frankfurt, and ‘The City of Lifestyles’, Munich.
Frankfurt has gained the reputation of a premier cultural destination that also offers an equally wide range of recreational activities. Whether art, nature, culture, shopping or any other form and kind of entertainment, Frankfurt has them all. Frankfurt and its neighborhoods offer excellent quality of life. For nature lovers, this is paradise. Countless city parks, the Frankfurt City Forest, the Rhine and Main River with the neighboring mountains provide ample scope for unlimited relaxation. Notably, the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Regional Park with the Frankfurt Green Belt has a 63 km circular cycle path and a 65 km hiking path. Along these paths are spectacular picnic and barbecue areas, shelters and lush apple tree tracks. Frankfurt is a city which exudes a cosmopolitan flair and inimitable style of its own. The impressive skyline, characterised by the unmistakable Messeturm and numerous banking skyscrapers, has become “Mainhattan’s” unofficial city symbol. Today, Frankfurt is home to the German Stock Exchange, the European Central Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank and around 260 financial institutions from around the world, making the 1200-year-old trade and commerce city one of Europe´s foremost finance centres.
Frankfurt, has in fact managed to retain much of its charm, serenity and old-town flair, especially the time-honoured going-out district of ‘Sachsenhausen’. And as a city of contrasts, Frankfurt continues to prove to one and all that there is ample space and opportunity for indulging oneself in art and culture. Frankfurt offers everything expected of a cosmopolitan city. Historical buildings, a renowned museum landscape, superb exhibition venues and countless sightseeing attractions, combined with numerous cultural highlights, international sporting events, superb nightlife locations and excellent shopping opportunities.
In all the simple things that make a place liveable, Munich excels. It is clean. It is safe. The public transport system is exceptionally efficient. Distances are short. The skies are blue (quite often anyway). And the food is comforting. With the Oktoberfest and opera, Hofbräuhaus beer hall and Pinakothek art galleries, BMW and Bayern Munich, the city of Munich manages to marry old Bavarian traditions with vibrant modern living. A city sight-seeing tour by bicycle is a great way to see Munich’s highlights. Also, a walk through Munich’s historic centre will help visit its most important churches and see the carillon at Marienplatz. A visit to the fascinating Pinakothek Modern, followed by a musical evening at the Deutsches Theater would provide for some typical local entertainment.
The Nymphenburg Palace with its famous Gallery of Beauties and the porcelain factory is another great attraction for visitors. The ‘Allianz Arena’, Munich’s temple to football is a must see for all sporting aficionados. A not to be missed place to see is the Deutsches Museum, the largest museum of science and technology in the world. While in Munich, go on a breath taking Climbing Tour on the tent roof of the Olympic Stadium which could be followed by a trip to Lake Starnberg for a boat ride to the Buchheim Museum in Bernried, with its outstanding collection of German expressionists.
Oman Air flies six times a week between Muscat – Frankfurt and four times a week between Muscat – Munich.
From its inception in 1993 until now, Oman Air has witnessed only success. The tiny airline, which began operating only one aircraft for its flights to Salalah, has now grown to a mighty airline ready to challenge all major airlines.
Many great achievements have paved the way to success and among the first was completing the International Air Transport Association’s Operational Safety Audits. Oman Air attributes the successful completion of the audit to its conforming with the standards and regulations set by IATA. This places the airline to be in the list of companies that comply with internationally recognized safety standards.
Tourism in Oman
Oman Air continues to have a large impact upon the inflow of tourism into Oman. It went on to win The Oman award for Excellence, as tourism promoter for 2001. The award is instituted by OCIPED to recognize accomplishments of individuals and organizations that contribute to the Oman economy.
The airline shows continuous support and dedication to premium sports events though a several sponsorships, among the most recent the Oman Sail event and the National Bank of Oman Gulf Classic. Oman Air’s sponsorship also includes the Oman Football Association and motorsports star Ahmad Al Harthy. Their sponsorship also extends abroad as they support polo events in Europe. These events are aimed at raising awareness for the Oman Air brand and their awards-winning products and services, but also creating increased exposure for Oman’s unique attractions as part of a fabulous holiday destination.
Impeccable Products and Services
Oman Air soon started expanding its destinations and aircraft and now it flies to more than 40 destinations throughout the world. Its strengths lie in the high quality standard of their aircraft and cabin and the always-fantastic service offered to their customers. With such impeccable service, the awards soon followed. Oman Air was named winner of the “World’s Best Business Class Airline Seat” award at the 2011 World Airline Awards, in a ceremony held in the French Air and Space Museum at the Paris Air Show. Also in 2011, The Passenger Choice Awards presented them with the award for “Best In-flight Connectivity & Communications”. For the second year running, they won ‘Best Business Class Airline Seat’ at the prestigious World Airline Awards™, run by Skytrax. The prestigious Business Destinations Travel Awards have awarded Oman Air the title of ‘Best Business Class Airline, Middle East’ in 2012.
Looking to the future
Oman Air is striving to be ahead of the rest and place great importance on technological innovation. They found it imperative to implement the Electronic Ticket system and become the Second Middle East carrier to issue e-Ticket (ET) in 2005 and targeted 100% e-ticketing by end of 2006 while IATA mandate is 2007. More recently, Oman Air is celebrating reaching second place in the December 2013 issue of the highly competitive Heathrow Punctuality League Table, in recognition of its enviable on-time departure record. This success is being accredited to the extensive planning, organization and logistical resources that they have put into ensuring that the highest service standards are consistently maintained.
This great level of success has been the fuel for hard work and ambition of Oman Air. The fame and reputation that they have achieved throughout their existence is the result of dedication, passion and perseverance. Their aim is to improve their services and technology and always provide the highest level of customer satisfaction.
A wedding is always one of the happiest moments in a couple’s life, but in Oman it’s never just about bringing two people together to start their lives anew, it’s about bring two families and sometimes two villages together and binding them in one of the strongest bonds ever known for a lifetime!
In Oman even the engagement takes quite a bit of preparation. When the groom visits his bride-to-be’s house, it is inappropriate for him to come alone but with his entire family. From there once the two families have agreed on the union and the bride says yes, it’s becomes a long celebration of life until the marriage is taken place. First off, the two families have to agree upon the dowry to be paid by the groom’s family, normally given to bride directly (to start her new life). The dowry can either be in cash or kind and is considered the sole property of the bride to use as she sees fit. This ceremony is attended by family members only, and on this special day, the groom and his family arrive at her house with the appropriate gifts in trays decorated with bars and covered with fabrics, special songs are sung for this occasion as it is on this day that the wedding contract is signed.
After that, Mulkah is conducted in the mosque and is attended by the groom and his male friends and family. The couple is now technically considered married and thus culturally acceptable for them to be seen together publicly and talk on the phone unsupervised.
Now the celebration of wedding itself takes place in two houses, the groom’s, and the brides, where each of the families celebrate before the groom and his family leave their house to come and pick up the blushing bride. At each of the homes the men celebrate outside with the women inside. There’s music, dancing and an abundance of food, even with excess of 400 people that will visit both the homes on this special day!! Outside the men dance with wooden canes called assas and are regally dressed with their dishdashas, sayf (straight swords) and of course the Omani Khanjars. Inside, the women away from the prying eyes of men, dance and feast unencumbered in their finest jewellery, with their hands painted in intricate mehndi designs particular to the region (one can easily learn where a women is from based on the designs of the mehndi on her hands)
After three days like the actual wedding takes place. The groom’s family and his guests pile on into busses and cars, honking, singing and clapping in a cacophony of festive noises, the men wait while the women bring out the beautiful bride, blushing at the thought of going to her new home and from there the festivities continue at what now becomes their home.
One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Amman is a curious mix of ancient and modern, and is known for its welcoming residents
The seven hills of Amman are an enchanting mixture of ancient and modern. Honking horns give way to the beautiful call to prayer, which echoes from stately minarets. Gleaming white houses, kebab stalls and cafés are interspersed with bustling markets, and the remains of civilizations and ages long past.
Sunset is perhaps the best time to enjoy Amman, as the white buildings of the city seem to glow in the fading warmth of the day. The greatest charm of Amman, however, is found in the hospitality of its residents. Amman is built on seven hills, or jabals, each of which more or less defines a neighborhood. Most jabals once had a traffic circle, and although most of these have now been replaced by traffic lights, Amman’s geography is often described in reference to the eight circles which form the spine of the city. Amman has served as the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 7000 BC.
Most of Amman’s noteworthy historical sites are clustered in the downtown area, which sits at the bottom of four of Amman’s seven hills. The ancient Citadel, which towers above the city from atop Jabal al-Qala’a, is a good place to begin a tour of the city. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath- Ammon, and excavations here have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr (“the Palace”), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. To the north and northeast are the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds. Close to al-Qasr lie the remains of a small Byzantine basilica. Corinthian columns mark the site of the church, which is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century CE. About 100 meters south of the church is what is thought to have been a temple of Hercules, today also known as the Great Temple of Amman. The temple was built in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), and is currently under restoration.
Also on Citadel Hill, just northwest of the Temple of Hercules, is the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This small museum houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th century. There is an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of the Mesha Stele and four rare Iron Age sarcophagi. Downhill from the Citadel and five minute walk east from downtown, the Roman Theatre is the most obvious and impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. The theatre, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a necropolis—or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the amphitheatre at Jerash, and can accommodate 6000 spectators. The theatre is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.
Two small museums are built into the foundations of the Roman theatre. The Jordan Folklore Museum is in the right wing of the theatre and displays a collection of items showing the traditional life of local people. At the other end of the theatre stage, the Museum of Popular Traditions displays traditional Jordanian costumes, including fine embroidery and beautiful antique jewellery. It also houses several sixth-century mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.
The Museum of Popular Traditions is open daily 09:00-17:00, and closed on Tuesday. The Jordan Folklore Museum is open every day from 09:00-17:00, except Friday when its hours are 10:00-16:00. To the northeast stands the small theatre, or Odeon, which is still being restored. Built at about the same time as the Roman theatre, this intimate 500-seat theatre is used now as it was in Roman times, for musical concerts. Archaeologists think that the building was originally covered with a wooden or temporary tent roof to shield performers and audiences from the elements. Heading southwest from the theatre complex, Philadelphia’s chief fountain, or Nymphaeum, stands with its back to Quraysh Street.
Much of the fountain, which was completed in 191 CE, is hidden from public view by private houses and shops. The Nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meter pool, three meters deep, which was continuously refilled with fresh water. From the Nymphaeum, the short stroll to the King Hussein Mosque bustles with pedestrians, juice stands and vendors. The area around the King Hussein Mosque, also known as al-Husseini Mosque, is the heart of modern downtown Amman. The Ottoman style mosque was rebuilt in 1924 on the site of an ancient mosque, probably also the site of the cathedral of Philadelphia. Between the al-Husseini Mosque and the Citadel is Amman’s famous gold souq, which features row after row of glittering gold treasures.
Visitors to Amman – and the rest of Jordan, for that matter – are continually surprised by the genuine warmth with which they are greeted. “Welcome in Jordan” is a phrase visitors will not soon forget.
The Kathmandu Valley was once widely believed to be the fabled Shangri-La – a fictional, earthly paradise and utopia, isolated from the outside world. Because of this, a visit to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu has often been claimed as a rite of passage for ‘serious’ travellers. To call yourself a proper traveller, you would have to have been to Kathmandu!
Indeed, since Nepal opened its doors to the outside world in 1950 (due to a change in the country’s political situation), Kathmandu has enjoyed a dedicated following among modern travellers. When talking about Kathmandu, most travellers are actually referring to the Kathmandu Valley – made up of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and its sister cities Patan, Kirtipur, Thimi and Bhaktapur. Together, these form the most populated and developed region in Nepal. Nepal itself is famous for being a centre point for Hinduism and Buddhism as it is home to many sacred temples for both faiths. One of these is the revered Buddhist pilgrimage site of Lumbini – the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, who was the ‘enlightened one’ on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Nepal also contains eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, with Mount Everest, on the Tibet-China border, the tallest. Nepal is landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region in the north, and the India in the south, east, and west. At some travel destinations, there seems to be a prevailing sense of urgency to get through a list of ‘must-do’ activities. Kathmandu can be best enjoyed by just ‘being there’ – without feeling the need to progress through any sort of busy itinerary.
In Kathmandu, as well as the rest of the country, it is common to greet people with a warm ‘Namaste’ with palms together, fingers up – in place of a hello or goodbye. It should only be said once per person, per day. Roughly translated the word means ‘The divine in me salutes the divine in you’.
Valley of Treasures
Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the place can be wonderfully overwhelming for a first time traveller. To a certain extent, due to Kathmandu being the largest urban centre of Nepal – complete with congested walkways, traffic delays, over zealous street traders etc – it is easy to think it is just another developing world city. But it isn’t. And once you’re settled, and begin exploring Kathmandu’s back streets, alleyways, little courtyards and older parts of the town – some of which seem to have been untouched since the Middle Ages – the real spirit of Kathmandu comes alive.
In fact, the Kathmandu Valley is an enormous treasure trove of art and culture and tradition – with much of it in the form of statues of the gods, goddesses and iconography of Eastern spirituality and philosophy. And it is hard not to be deeply affected by it all. There are well over a hundred monuments in the valley, with several Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites, including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Durbar Square is the traditional heart of Kathmandu, and has been in active use since around 1000 AD. It is crowded with palaces and temples, and the most spectacular of Kathmandu’s traditional architecture. Durbar is one of three loosely linked squares – all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Perhaps the best-known building here is Kasthamandap – a three-storied temple built in the pagoda style by the early sixteenth century King Laxmi Narsingha Malla. The whole temple is built from the wood of just a single tree, and covered with the shrine. In a special ceremony held every year here, people stay up all night to share legendary stories about the temple, while feasting on traditionally prepared food.
Thamel is the commercial nerve centre of Kathmandu. It is a haven for tourists and although some consider it to be overcrowded, the streets of Thamel are fascinating. You can buy almost anything at the many markets and shopping stalls lining the streets and alleyways. Some favourites are incense, prayer flags, and cultural artefacts like Kukri swords or Hindu and Buddha statuettes. There are also bookstores, clothing shops, outdoor outfitters, internet cafes and banks in this district – and of course dozens of hotels and restaurants.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the magnificence and grandeur of some of the sites around Kathmandu – like the sacred and highly revered Buddhist sites of Swayambhu and Boudha; as well as the important Hindu temple, Pashupatinath. There is also the Garden of Dreams (called Kaiser Mahal) near Thamel where you can relax in a beautiful and peaceful walled garden next to the former Royal Palace. At the Budda Neelkanth site, an idol of Bhagwan Vishnu in a sleeping position, surrounded by water, makes for an extraordinary cool and calming spectacle.
The so-called Freak Street was once a gathering point of western hippies seeking enlightenment during the 1960s and 1970s. But these days, you’ll just a find a few restaurants and hotels here.
Kathmandu Valley is referred to as the ‘gateway for travellers into Nepal’ – and many visitors use it as a launching pad for their trekking and mountaineering adventures, holy pilgrimages or sightseeing tours into the rest of the country.
Dhulikhel is a scenic town situated 30 kilometres east of the city on the Kathmandu Kodari Highway. From here one gets a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. If you would like to see some of the Himalayas from Kathmandu itself, it is possible to spend a day or two walking out of the valley to various view points, from where you can gaze up at and photograph these magnificent peaks. Most trekking companies in Kathmandu can also organise longer, more intense treks into the mountains.