Paris is the most romantic and the most beautiful city in the world. A mere mention of Paris brings about a sense of joy to anyone who ever dreamed of visiting this stunning city. The Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, the Moulin Rouge, the Arc de Triomphe, Disneyland are just few reasons to visit Paris.
Paris is a timeless beauty which instantly absorbs your imagination with its imperial architecture, exquisite cuisine, modern elegant boutiques and astounding artistic monuments. Paris is itself an inspiring city in a way that so many cultures from all over the world go hand in hand.
There are a number of things to do when you are in Paris. Head first to the Eiffel Tower. no guesses here. These days clicking a selfie with the Eiffel Tower is what dreams are made of. While walking around, you can’t miss the artistic brilliance of Paris. It has been a major capital for art all over the world. You will witness the true meaning of art, culture and history in these museums.
The Louvre (Louvre Museum) is one such place where you will find art, culture and history beautifully woven together. Built as a fortress in the 12th century under Philip II, it was later chosen as the place to display royal collection by Louis XIV. The museum was opened to public after the French Revolution in 1793. The Louvre is home to ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci which has been acclaimed as the best known, the most visited, the most written about painting in the world.
But the most important place to visit this summer is Disneyland. It is the most visited place after the Eiffel Tower in France. It is not much different from the one in the US, it is just as entertaining and exciting. Originally called Euro Disney Resort, it is located at Marne-la-Vallée, 32 km east of the centre of Paris. It is the most visited park in the whole of France and Europe. It is a huge theme park with several resorts, a huge complex for shopping, dining and a golf course as well.
It is a perfect vacation destination for families, friends or couples. There are more than 50 attractions to pay a visit to. One thing not to be missed is the Disney Parade with your childhood cartoon heroes – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and a lot more!
Oman Air flies you to Paris 4 times week.
- Visa: If you’re a non EU passport holder, apply for a Schengen visa –this will entitle you to visit any one of 26 Schengen countries. For visitors from Oman, visit the Embassy of the country which will be your main destination that is the French Embassy in A’Sarooj, Qurm.
- Credit cards are used widely, ATMs are frequent, but Euros is always useful for taxis, buses and tips.
Here are some beautiful pictures of Paris.
Germany has a distinct personality of its own. The effervescent life on every corner is a big testimony of the same. The country has some of the busiest cities in the world to some of the most calming boulevards to glorious art galleries and countless entertainment zones. Germany is one of the biggest economies in the world with a high standard of living.
Oman Air flies you to Frankfurt and Munich, two important cities in Germany. Below are the must do things in both the cities.
Frankfurt am Main, an old majestic city situated on banks of River Main is by virtue a lively, important commercial and trade fair city in Germany and Europe. Being at the heart of Germany and Europe, Frankfurt has a lot more variety and faces to offer. The first thing you will notice in the city is its high rise skyline which is dominated by a huge cluster of imperial buildings. There are a number of historical sites in the heart of this busy city. Frankfurt is a global city which frequently lists under best places to do business and live in.
Here are some of the most interesting things to do or places to visit in Frankfurt.
- Rhine Valley Trip from Frankfurt including Rhine River Cruise & a visit to the Frankfurt City Forest is a paradise for nature lovers.
- Walk around the vast ruins of Heidelberg Castle Heidelberg Old Town and soak in the old world charm and flair.
- Visit Frankfurt’s Romer town hall and the Frankfurt Cathedral.
- Hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour to experience the old and new.
Munich is called the city of contrasts. One side of the city is ever growing and prosperous in every manner and other is the typical calm Bavarian Gemütlichkeit (coziness). Modernism and the old world charm blends perfectly in the city. The glitz and glamour of the city is perhaps what the Germans pride themselves rightly on.
Here are some of the most interesting things to do or places to visit in Munich.
- Stroll through the English Garden to spend a calm and relaxing evening.
- Visit the BMW museum to know about the history, present and the future of cars.
- Visit the home stadium of Bayern Munich, Allianz Arena. It is one of the most spectacular football stadiums in the world.
- The lavish and stunning castles in Munich are not to be missed at any cost!
Oman Air flies you to Frankfurt and Munich all week. Book here: http://www.omanair.com/
Farfina Salad: Watercress salad with white onion and cherry tomato garnish with lime dressing.
Eggplant Salad: Roasted eggplants with garlic flavor, garnished with chilies and coriander.
Awal Salad: Duo of sun-dried baby shark meat flakes and green mango accented with white onion, dressed with fresh tomato coulis.
Harees Laham Soup: Creamy whole wheat soup, slow cooked with lamb pieces seasoned with hints of cardamom and cinnamon.
Tomato Soup with Dry Limes: Omani take on classic tomato soup, slow cooked with whole sun dried Omani limes to flavor.
Alkarasea Soup: Traditional clear goat leg soup slow cooked with vegetables, lightly spiced with ginger and red chilies.
Omani Shuwa: Traditional roasted lamb marinated with special ‘shuwa’ spices and vinegar, covered with banana leaves and slow roasted overnight in an underground pit.
Arsia Laham: Mashed rice with lamb, flavored with cardamom with special sauce ‘turshe’.
Qabuli with Camel Meat: Rice cooked in ‘qabuli’ spices served with camel meat.
Maraq Ma’ajeen: Sun dried meat stewed and lightly flavored with garlic and coriander.
Maraq Mashakik: Mashakik meat cubes stewed in tangy tomato sauce.
Mahmas Laham: Sautéed lamb with roasted onions and tomatoes flavored with a little ginger.
Marqat Pablo: Light king fish stew with onions, tomatoes, green chilies, saffron and lemon juice.
Salqat Al Samak: Broth of hamour fish with onions and tomatoes with hint of zaatar (thyme).
Samak Mtafai: Pan-fried king fish served with tangy tomato and tamarind sauce.
Marqat Al Dijaj: Chicken stew, lightly flavored with garlic, accented with fresh coriander.
Marqat Al Dijaj Bil Narjeel: Chicken stew with a creamy coconut and tomato sauce lightly spiced accentuating the flavor.
Salqat Al Dijaj: Broth of corn fed chicken flavored with lime and zaatar.
Vegetarian Hot Dishes
Marqat Al Dal: Classic lentil stew with distinct Omani flavor.
Dengu Mqashad: Lentil stew prepared with onions and lightly spiced with cumin seeds.
Garlic Jareesh: Creamy broken wheat slow cooked with milk and onions, flavored with garlic.
Omani Halwa: Gelatinous Omani sweet, made from fine ingredients, flavored with saffron, cardamom and rose water.
Asida Bi Dibs: Soft crumble flavored with cardamom and saffron, served with dibs (date syrup).
Khabissa Bil Findal: Sweet potatoes prepared with sweet dough.
The Omani people are passionate about their food, and this is evident wherever you travel around the Sultanate. Thankfully, there are restaurants that create exceptional Omani food and unforgettable Omani eating experiences. Al Angham restaurant happens to be one of the finest. It does original Omani food, with a modern Omani touch. Wings of Oman’s Paul Winter went to investigate.
In the best eateries all over the world, it is very often the little details – in the service, the food, and the décor and design of the restaurant – that set them apart from the rest.
Al Angham is one of the restaurants in the Sultanate that consistently gets described as a top venue to experience traditional Omani food. And just like at some of the best eating venues around the world, the fine attention to detail here (along with the food) seems to be one of the reasons it does what it does so well.
Some of these details included the ‘Royal Omani Guard’ who welcomed me at the door, and who was impeccably dressed in the traditional Omani attire (complete with silver Khanjar dagger); the exquisite silverware, fresh roses, and embroidered napkins that adorned the dining tables; the original Omani artifacts and décor items that are placed at various points around the rooms; the interior architecture of the restaurant, and many more things.
Treating guests like royalty and making sure everyone feels special is one of the things that Al Angham’s staff (who all wear traditional Omani dress) take a lot of pride in. I got a feel for this as I was taken on a welcoming tour, like most guests are, around Al Angham’s four private dining rooms and halls – named Al Zabarjd, Al Turayia, Al Majlis, and Al Sabah. These are all separate from the main dining hall; all have their own character and design; and feature superb examples of Omani décor.
Original Omani food – With a modern touch
After the above introduction to Al Angham, I now faced the most difficult part of my time spent at the restaurant – negotiating my way through the restaurant’s menu. As a food-loving expatriate living in the Sultanate, I have become relatively familiar with what ingredients makes up traditional Oman-style uisine. So being able to identify each dish on the menu, and talk about some of the combinations of flavours being presented, is something that comes naturally. The difficult part was dealing with being overwhelmed with what was on offer.
My goal at Al Angham had originally been to sort of ‘taste my way through’ the full spectrum of the Sultanate of Oman’s cuisine. But of course, this proved impossible in just one sitting! I settled for selecting a few dishes that were recommended by various food reviewers who had previously been to Al Angham.
Many of the dishes at Al Angham are presented and laid out according to an innovative and modern aesthetic. My halwa turned out to be the perfect example of this.
Fine Omani Dining
Some food reviewers have suggested that Al Angham restaurant represents the very best in fine Omani dining, and it’s hard not to agree. Plenty of professional service, and warm, friendly hospitality – which is typical of the Omani experience – accompanied each of my dishes.
The food, of course, was spectacular, and the highlight for me was knowing I was eating classic, original Omani food, prepared and served in the traditional way (with, as mentioned, some modern Omani touches).
When I was done, the Al Angham experience ended off with the cherished Omani custom of rinsing my hands with rosewater. It was the perfect ending to what will surely be a very long love affair with Omani food and Omani food culture.
True Omani Cuisine
Having been at crossroads for world trade and travel between the Middle East, Africa and the Far East since ancient times, Oman’s cuisine has been influenced by many food cultures. But over hundreds of years, it has also naturally evolved into something original and unique. One of the main examples of this is that Omani dishes are not as hot as those of other cuisines from neighbouring regions.
Traditionally, Omani cuisine is prepared with liberal use of marinades, spices, herbs, onions, garlic and limes. These are combined and fused with the base ingredients of chicken, mutton, cooked vegetables and fish. (The abundance of fish and seafood dishes in Oman is also a reflection of the rich maritime tradition that the country has procured over hundreds of years).
Omani cuisine also includes a wide variety of soups prepared from vegetables, legumes and meats. Various types of vegetable and non-vegetable salads are also standard. Main courses very often include vegetable curries, which are combined with barbequed kebabs, and grilled or curried meat, chicken and fish dishes.
Located at the northernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula is a magical combination of mountain and maritime landscapes. Some say it’s the most spectacular travel destination on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s hard not to agree.
Exploring dramatic fjords on wooden dhows, snorkeling with dolphins and a fantastic array of marine life (sometimes Whale Sharks), sea-kayaking, and taking in some of the planet’s most breathtaking mountain and sea scenery – this is what the Musandam Pensinsula is all about. In fact, Musandam is often referred to as the ‘Norway of Arabia’ – due to the rocky, arid Hajar Mountains that rise up directly out of the deep blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. A maze-like series of steep-sided fjords (known locally as chores) and inlets is the result – with most of them being only accessible by boat or traditional Omani dhow.
‘Old World Arabia’:
Picture perfect coastal drive getting to Musandam is a highlight in itself. The thirty kilometers or so from Bukha to Khasab must be one of the world’s most spectacular drives, as the Khasab Coastal Road weaves its way along the edge of the clear Arabian Gulf waters and its many soft sand beaches, and right next to the sea cliffs and mountains of the towering Hajar Mountains.
Along the way, you’ll also see picturesque little mosques with their beautiful minarets near the coastline, tiny fishing villages, herds of goats, palm frond shelters where fishermen sort their catch and maintain their nets, and the hulls of old wooden dhows. This is ‘Old World Arabia’ at its very best. As you approach Khasab itself, you’ll begin getting views of the spectacular fjords and inlets. You’ll also see flat-roofed, mud-coloured houses dotted around the villager’s date palm plantations.
(There is also a collection of prehistoric rock art – etchings of warriors on horseback and other creatures – near Wadi Qidah). At only thirty kilometers you can do the drive at a leisurely slow pace – and stop now and again on the side of the road to take in the scenery and take photos.
History, Culture & Adventure:
The Musandam Peninsula has been the home of extremely isolated communities for centuries, and many coastal villages here can only be reached by boat. Some of these fishing villages are tiny – and surrounded on all three sides by coastal cliffs, and by the sea in front of them. Life here is probably very similar to what it was like many years ago. When visiting Musandam you seem to get a sense of travelling back in time to a world of what would have consisted of dangerous trading adventures and merchant voyages, rumors of mythical villages and people, and fantastic piracy and smuggling stories taking place in the secret coves and bays below the rocky, mountainous headlands. And this all seems to add to the mystery and charm and sense of adventure you get from travelling here.
What to do:
Two classic Musandam experiences A dhow cruise, offered by one of a handful of ecoadventure operators in the area, should be on any traveler’s essential to-do list for Musandam. Full or half-day dhow cruises to explore some of the biggest fjords and inlets in the area are available. Snorkeling equipment can be provided for the day, and overnight options – where you can camp on a secluded beach – are also possible. Whenever you’re on a dhow cruise in Musandam, you’re almost guaranteed to be intercepted by a friendly and inquisitive pod of dolphins. Most dhow trips also make a stopover at the interesting Telegraph Island, which is a small rocky island that, in the 19th century, was used as a base to boost messages along the London-to-Karachi undersea telegraph cable. Another classic Musandam experience is a guided four-wheel-drive tour up the region’s highest mountain – Jebel Harim. The absolute high point is used for military purposes (the altitude is 2 087 meters), but it is possible to drive to within a few hundred meters from the summit, to a height of around 2 000 meters. From here the views of the mountains and the Arabian Gulf waters are spectacular.
Oman Air’s mouth-watering First Class and Business Class inflight dining has been praised to the skies by readers of US-based luxury food magazine Saveur.
The national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman has scooped the Readers’ Choice Award in the magazine’s annual Culinary Travel Awards, beating many of the biggest names in global air travel.
Announcing the award, Saveur magazine said: ‘The traditional Arabic greeting of dates and coffee is just the beginning of a dining service that focuses on the essential details that make a difference at 40,000 feet. It certainly set the right mood for our readers, who selected Oman Air’s first and business class dining as their favourite in 2014.’
Saveur’s readers were particularly impressed with Oman Air’s long haul dining, with the daily Heathrow to Muscat route being singled out for praise. The magazine’s description of First Class dining on this route includes a starter of caviar and champagne, followed by canapés, appetizers such as a winter pumpkin and apple soup, and entrées such as poached fillet of beef, Loch Fyne salmon, pan-fried sea bass and saffron risotto with grilled asparagus.
Saveur also highlights ‘A wonderful Arabic meze with traditional kibbeh, tabbouleh, spinach fatayer, olives, and labneh with fresh mint, followed by…king prawn kebab, steamed chickpea rice with pine nuts, and seasoned okra.’
Saveur magazine has a circulation of 325 000 and draws nearly two million unique visitors to its website every month. It offers readers information about food in all its contexts, emphasising heritage and tradition, home cooking and real food, and evoking flavours from around the world. Coverage of Oman Air’s success in the Readers’ Choice category of the Culinary Travel Awards can be found at
Originally, cotton was cultivated around the Nizwa area in the Sultanate of Oman. It was then used to produce a range of clothing items. These days, cotton production has declined, due to increasing production costs compared to modern industrial textiles. The availability of modern materials has also meant that the cotton making industry has reduced in size. However, a smaller range of cotton clothing and cotton products are still lovingly being made in certain parts of the Sultanate.
Fishing Trap Design
Throughout history, the people of Oman have been experts in obtaining fish and seafood from the sea – and this has been illustrated by the unique selection of fishing tools and techniques that have been designed and developed through the years. Traditional dome-shaped fishing traps, which were originally made from palm fronds, are a wonderful example of this. After a fish enters through the trap’s one-way, funnel-like opening, they cannot return, and are captured later by a fisherman. The traditional palm-frond traps were expertly crafted and there was an innate beauty in their functional design. More modern versions of the traps are created with steel wire.
While handmade, traditional-style clay pots and pottery items are still popular in the Sultanate of Oman today, there are also examples of ceramic and pottery products being produced in a more modern style. These modern styles make use of contemporary manufacturing and finishing techniques which enable the craftsmen to produce some exquisitely beautiful and detailed designs – that have both ornamental, as well as functional qualities.
Mention Southeast Asia and most likely the names that will pop-up into most people’s minds are Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. But vying for equal attention are two other megapolises: Manila, of the Philippines, and Jakarta, of Indonesia. These are true hidden gems of Southeast Asia – and predicted to be the most likely cities to overtake Singapore and Hong Kong within just a decade or two.
Manila has around 21 million residents living in its metro area alone. Jakarta’s metro area is the 2nd largest in the world with 28 million people. A whopping 10 million of these live within its city limits. Not surprisingly, both these capital cities are the bustling epicentres of political, social, economic, entertainment and educational enterprises and endeavours. Amidst their many superficial similarities each city carries a very unique flavour true to its own. One has to feel and experience this to really enjoy the distinctiveness and diversity of Manila and Jakarta.
Manila is a rapidly developing city with a colourful multi-cultural heritage, a vibrant day and night life, an exciting mall and shopping culture, a fetish for food and lots more – which all make it a powerful magnet for visitors seeking good times Jakarta is a shining example of modern multiculturalism in its truest form. It has an excellent tourism infrastructure, a burgeoning economy, a vibrant art scene, a splendid selection of ancient cultural relics, an advanced education system and superior medical services. The character of both Manila and Jakarta has been largely shaped by their strong colonial influences, given the fact that both have been long-time colonies of Spain (Philippines) and Portugal (Indonesia). And to date, the local customs and traditions of these lively cities, their festivities, cuisines, arts and culture carry a very distinct and special individuality about them.
Colonial Creations vs. Modern Skyscrapers
Both Manila and Jakarta abound with an array of modern and massive skyscrapers which share space with quaint colonial buildings. Each of these colonial masterpieces speaks volumes about the signature architectural marvels of their creators. Historical areas like the Spanish fortified town of Intramuros, in Manila, and Jakarta’s Dutch quarter in Fatahillah Square are two examples of this. Manila’s claim to colonial fame is the erstwhile Spanish city of ‘Intramuros’, which was officially declared a historical monument way back in 1951. Intramuros was originally a fortress city, and the fort, now, has been converted into a museum. The soul of Jakarta’s architectural marvels can be found concentrated in the areas surrounding Monas Square, which was originally known as ‘Koningsplein’ (King’s Square).
Visitors to both these cities will be spoilt for choice when it comes to touristic attractions. In Manila, touristic interests abound. Located adjacent to the famous Rizal Park Square and close to the earlier mentioned Intramuros, is the National Museum of the Philippines complex. Within this complex are stocked a wealth of arts, crafts, artefacts and information tracing the evolution of its diverse people, and of the country. The National Arts Gallery, Museum of the Filipino People, National Museum of Natural History and National Planetarium are the assigned guardians of the country’s cultural and traditional heritage. The Baroque Churches (a collection of four Spanish built churches) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the other attractions include the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, The Agrifina Circle, the Manila City Hall, the Malacca Sultanate Palace and the National Library. In Jakarta, located in the Old Batavia of the Kota area and built way back in the year 1710 is the famous Jakarta History Museum, also known as the Fatahillah Jakarta Museum. First used as the administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company and later the Dutch Government, the Jakarta History Museum today displays the history of Jakarta from ancient days to the founding of the town of Jayakarta in 1527; and showcases the history of its Dutch colonisation from the 16th century onwards until Indonesia’s Independence in 1945. After this informative tour visitors can explore the other attractions such as the ‘Dunia Fantasi’ – a huge theme park, which is divided into eight global geographies, and has over forty main rides and attractions. For the culturally and artistically inclined, the Dutch-built concert hall ‘Gedung Kesenian Jakarta’ or simply ‘The Jakarta Art Building’ is a great place of interest.
For all bird lovers a visit to the ‘Bird Island’ should be a must see on their itinerary. Located in the Jakarta Bay area and a part of the ‘Thousand Islands’, a short ferry ride from the town of Banten is the Bird Island. Playing host to over 60 different species of migratory birds, this is a real haven for birdwatchers and serious ornithologists.
Oman Air flies three times a week between Muscat – Manila. (As from 2 December 2014)
Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat – Jakarta. (As from 12 December 2014)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.