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.
Home to over 14 million residents, Tehran, the bustling capital and the largest city of Iran is also the most populated in the country where tradition and modernity coexist peacefully.
Situated 1200 meters above sea level in the north-central part of Iran at the foot of the towering Alborz mountain range is Tehran. Within its 1500 sq. kms, the city packs an amazing variety of attractions catering to the fancy of every kind of traveller. Breathtaking museums which showcase the ancient and rich heritage of the country, well-maintained parks (over 800) to unwind and relax, world-class stadiums hosting sports and games, theatres staging plays, an amazing selection of culinary outlets to tickle the taste buds, are but a few of the attractions.
To witness firsthand how antiquity is coexisting peacefully with modernity, Tehran is perhaps one of the best examples in the modern world. Being the heart of Iran’s vibrant culture, burgeoning economy, dynamic politics and rich social life makes Tehran a destination not to be missed by any discerning traveller.
History: Tehran’s history dates back centuries, but is today a cosmopolitan metropolis. Possibly the first mention of the name Tehran can be traced back to the 10th century as some excavated manuscripts have revealed. In the distant past it seems to have been nothing bigger than a small hamlet with gardens. The city began growing in size and stature between the years 1501-1736, during the Safavid period. Ruled by different Kings, from Shah Tehmasp (1524-1576), Agha Mohammad Khan who founded the Qajar dynasty which flourished from 1776-1925, Naser od-Din who was the Shah of Iran from 1848-1896, Tehran was converted into a walled city to repel attacks from ambitious invaders who were drawn towards the city’s riches. Blessed with year-round holiday activities, Tehran can be enjoyed almost equally during any part of the year.
Golestan Palace: This must-visit complex is the oldest of the historic monuments in this city. The complex is in fact a strange combination many different things including 17 palaces, museums, and halls. The Qajars’ royal residences with its accompanying gardens and the Golestan (Rose Garden) citadel are one of mainly visited places in Tehran. An unpretentious building houses objects d’art from the Qajar period. In the Golestan garden, a one-story pavilion shelters one of the best organized museums in Tehran. It encloses about thirty showcases presenting almost everything related to Iran, which makes up the critical originality of Iranian life across the variety of provinces of the country.
Treasury of National Jewels: Check out the amazing collection of some of the world’s most expensive and exclusive jewels kept here for public display. Not to be missed items include the world’s largest uncut ruby, the ‘Sea of Light’ which happens to be the world’s largest pink diamond and an astounding free standing globe made from some 34 kilos of gold and studded with 51,366 precious stones!
National Museum of Iran: This is actually two buildings connected as one. The old building serves as a store house of excavated artefacts including stoneetched figurines, ceramic pieces and carvings dating from the pre-Islamic, Neolithic period of 5th millennium BC up to the Sassanid period, while the new building house more recent 1,400-year old Islamic history.
Azadi Tower: This most iconic symbol of Tehran was built in a unique style which combines the Sassanid and Islamic architectures. This monument was constructed to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. Directly beneath the entrance of the tower are the main vaults which lead visitors into the Azadi museum down in its basement.
Milad Tower: Claim to fame is this tower happens to be the world’s 12th tallest freestanding structure in the world and the 4th tallest tower in the world. Needless to add, one can spot this landmark from almost any corner of Tehran.
Jamshidieh Park: No mention of Tehran will be complete without talking about the absolutely picturesque Jamshidieh Park, situated at the foot of the Kolakchal mountains. Besides this star attraction, Tehran is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful natural parks like the Mellat Park, which also happens to be one of the largest recreation centres in the entire Middle East, the Niavaran Park, next to the Niavaram Palace, which is very popular with the locals as well as the tourists, besides certain areas colloquially known as the ‘parke-jangali’, meaning ‘forest parks’, a favourite haunt of the locals for day outings and family picnics.
Ski attractions: The mountain slopes on which this city stands provide for some excellent skiing during winters. Particularly famous are the ski resorts situated in the Alborz range of north Tehran, hosting the tallest peak. Shemshak and Dizine are the other noteworthy ski destinations, where ski experts claim the snow quality is one of the finest in the entire world!
Jordan’s cultural, historical and natural treasures play a huge part of what the country is about. Any story on Jordan would be very incomplete without them…
The ancient city of Petra has traditionally been what Jordan is most famous for. The design and construction of Petra represents the engineering genius of the Nabataean tribe – an industrious Arab people that settled here over 2,000 years ago, when the area was an important junction for the silk and spice routes. Access to the entrance of Petra is through a deep, narrow gorge. From here, visitors get their first glimpse of the city’s massive, 50 metre high façade of the main entrance. Petra today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’.
The Dead Sea, resting over 420 metres below sea level, is another Jordanian icon. Since ancient times, people have made their way to the sea’s warm, buoyant and mineral rich waters. Wellness treatments combining Dead Sea water and the rich black mud found along its shore can increase circulation, ease arthritis, revitalise the skin – and provide many other health benefits. It is hard not to be deeply affected by the surreal quality of Wadi Rum – the famous desert valley in southern Jordan, which is home to a maze of monolithic rock formations that rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750 metres. It is possible to schedule a trip of several days in Wadi Rum – done on camel back or by four-wheel drive.
A close second to Petra on the list of historical destinations in Jordan is the ancient city of Jerash. Located 48 kilometres north of Amman, Jerash is one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world, outside Italy.
Modern Jordan – the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon – was founded by King Abdullah I after World War I. It was ruled by his grandson, the late King Hussein, for 46 years until his death in 1999, when his son, King Abdullah II, assumed the throne. Since then, Jordan has grown into a modern nation that has enjoyed remarkable measures of peace, stability and economic growth. With warm, dry summers and cool winters, Jordan has a Mediterranean-style climate. This makes it an attractive year-round destination for visitors. Major cities are the capital Amman and Salt in the west; Irbid, Jerash and Zarqa in the north west; and Madaba, Karak and Aqaba in the south west. Major towns in the eastern part of the country are the oasis town of Azraq and Ruwaished.
The highest point in the country is the 1,854 metre high Jabal Umm al Dami, which experiences seasonal snowfall at its peak. The lowest point is the Dead Sea, which is at 420 metres below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley. The waters off Aqaba, on Jordan’s section of Red Sea coastline, contain a vast array of tropical marine life. Here, there is the chance to dive and snorkel with schools of colourful fish – and possibility encounter sea turtles, dolphins and whale sharks. It has been said that Aqaba also represents a microcosm of all the good things Jordan has to offer: excellent hotels, superb visitor facilities, good shopping and friendly people.
Jordan’s Natural Wonders
One of Jordan’s greatest assets are its nature reserves – most of which are ‘undiscovered’ by mainstream tourism. For instance, the Ajlun Nature Reserve in the Ajlun highlands consists of beautiful Mediterranean-like hill country, dominated by open woodlands of Oak and Pistachio trees. The spectacularly scenic Mujib Reserve is called the ‘lowest nature reserve in the world’ due to it’s proximity to the Dead Sea. And the Dana Biosphere is interesting as it is the only reserve in Jordan that encompasses all four of the country’s bio-geographical zones. There are other nature reserves too. The Shawmari Reserve was created in 1975 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and is today a thriving environment for the protection of rare animals from the Middle East. The newest addition to Jordan’s network of nature reserves is Dibeen. Located north of Amman, it offers nature walks, wonderful views of the countryside, and an exceptionally large variety of tree species.
Amman: Jordan’s Centre Stage
If much of Jordan’s attractiveness lies in its history, culture, and natural resources, then the capital, Amman, represents something completely different. The city still retains much of its old-world charm, and if one is willing to look for it, they’ll be fascinated by the history and heritage of what is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. However, there’s a good reason why Amman is often referred to as the most sophisticated city in the Middle East, and a bustling metropolis. Amman is the modern, trendy, commercial centre of the region, and it hums with the energy of trendy cafes, start-up businesses, galleries, boutiques, classy shopping malls and entertainment venues – all of which are filled with Jordan’s fashionable, fun-loving crowd that are serious about ‘living the good life’. The city consists of an older, more traditional region referred to as the downtown area – and then a more modern, vibrant area in the western part. Amman is very much a city of hills – to get anywhere one will have to zoom up and down many hills. The positive part about this is that there are spectacular views at almost every turn. Amman’s mall and market culture is a big part of what the city is about. Besides the malls that stock international brands and designer items, there are other shopping experiences not to be missed.
For instance, at the Balad, the busy downtown area in the old heart of the city, you can walk through a maze of street cafes and shop stalls that sell everything from fruits and spices, to souvenirs, clothes, hardware items, and all kinds of tasty local dishes. Wakalat Street is a pedestrian street in Sweifieh that has shops, restaurants and cafes with open areas for sitting, relaxing and ‘people watching’. The much-loved Shari’ Al-Rainbow is a cobblestone street that has a European feel to it, and is populated with small antique stores, clothing shops, restaurants, cafes and tea shops.
It’s been said that the people of Amman are multi-cultural, multi-denominational, welleducated and extremely hospitable – and they welcome visitors and take pride in showing them around their fascinating and vibrant city. What more could any visitor desire?
Oman Air flies seven times a week between Muscat-Amman.
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.