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.
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.
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.
Water sport is now a rage all over the world. All countries plan different strategies to develop this sport by enhancing the sports facilities to attract more water-sports enthusiasts. As far as this sport is concerned, Oman is a paradise and is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of water sports. Hence, special focus is being accorded to develop and upgrade facilities for it. A key element of the strategy set out by the Ministry of Tourism calls for a major diversification of the tourism product. This strategy has helped Oman to successfully host the Asian Beach Games of 2010.
Water sport is one of the popular sports in Oman with more than 3000 kms of coastline and clean unpolluted waters; there are several fascinating aqua sports which are popular in Oman.
Diving: Oman has an amazing world of colour in its waters. There is a wealth of scenery, wildlife, and thrill beckoning the more intrepid underwater explorer. Yes, diving is a major activity in Oman. The relative remoteness of pockets of the rocky coasts and secluded fjords has helped to preserve their natural beauty and wildlife. These areas offer greater access with nature and exciting opportunities for exploratory diving. And the balmy water and mellow currents make Oman a favourite diving destination. Its breathtaking underworld features rock falls, scenic walls and reefs. So to explore the crystal waters and be with the amazing corals, visit Bandar Jissa, Bandar Al Khyran, Damaniyat Islands, Fahal Island, and Al Sawadi. All these places serve as a natural magnet for snorkelling and scuba diving enthusiasts alike. Night dives are popular and divers are often astounded by the amount of phosphorescence found in Oman’s nighttime waters. The phosphorescence is green/blue and emitted by microscopic plankton as a result of a chemical reaction issuing from vigorous movement.
Sailing: This sport is the latest rage in Oman thanks to recent successes of Omani sailors and teams in premier sailing events around the world. There are regular regattas held in the waters of Oman. The Marina Bandar Al Rowdha or Capital Area Yacht Club draw up plans for sailing. Sailing initiative, Oman Sail along with the Ministry of Tourism, aims to tap the maritime tradition by developing and training a core crew of Omani sailors who will then represent the Sultanate at sailing events in Europe and Oman. The aim is that Oman Sail will help to attract tourism and promote the Sultanate as a world-class sailing destination.
Parasailing: It is an adventure sport that blends the exhilaration of flying, parachuting and sailing into a single experience. Parasailing is yet to take off on a big scale here. The dhow sailing is also adventurous and the dhow sailing races are without a doubt the most spectacular and gracious events on the water sporting calendar.
Surfing: How does it feel to ride on the white waves and feel the high of surfing in the aquamarine waters of Oman? Great! Beaches in Oman are ideally suited to enjoy surfing. One of the best places to surf in Oman is Masirah Island, reached only by ferry from the village of Shanna on the mainland. Masirah with surf of four to six feet is also an ideal area for windsurfing, particularly during the Khareef (monsoon season – June to September), when warm, strong winds sweep across from the southern region of Dhofar.
Kite Surfing: This water sport has been around for a while but has started to grow quickly in the last few years. The sport uses the wind as the propelling force. Oman is among the best places in the region to kite surf – the summer season, from May to September, is ideal. The wind is consistent and on an average, 20 knots plus every day from Ras al Hadd south makes for perfect conditions for kite surfing. Masirah is popular with both kiters and windsurfers while the town of Aseela, 16 kms from Al Ashkarah, is very popular for kite surfing.
Kayaking: This is a relatively recent introduction into Oman and is currently limited to the Capital Area. Explore the fjords and coastal waters of Muscat as you gently glide in 1 or 2-seater kayaks. Kayaking on the warm waters of Oman makes for an adventurous experience. One can kayak among the fjords of Bandar Al Khyran. Musandam is another striking location that springs up in the mind when kayaking is mentioned.
Game Fishing: It is being promoted in right earnest in Oman considering the element of excitement involved in the sport. Angling is expected to find enthusiasts and those looking for new ways of adventure. Omani waters abound in a great variety of fish like Tuna, Swordfish, Queenfish, Cobia, Sailfish, Barracuda and Black Marlin.
Other water sports: Jet ski, canoeing, etc. are slowly finding a place on the domain of water sports. In the coming years, Oman is set to become an ideal destination for water sports!
With visitors flocking in from all over the Sultanate, the GCC, MENA, Levant regions, Europe and even further, this is undoubtedly Oman’s best festival yet!
To say that the Muscat Festival is truly the pride of all festivities in Oman would be a gross understatement. Over the years, the Muscat Festival has evolved to become so very popular that the citizens, residents and visitors alike look forward to being in Muscat to share all the joy and fun of the festivities.
The Muscat Municipality that drives this annual festival extravaganza leaves no stone unturned to ensure that year-after-year, the Muscat Festival stays ever fresh in its different offerings to the public. The Muscat Festival comes in many parts, all offering wholesome family entertainment. For starters, the various activities are spread across the city at two main venues of Naseem Gardens and Amerat Park besides numerous other locations.
There will be something of interest to every age group. Besides the major sporting spectacle in the form of the Tour of Oman, the Muscat Festival will also host a spectrum of colourful activities celebrating the Omani, Arabic, as well as International Culture, the Oman Food Festival, the International Festivities of Arts, the Heritage and Creativity, the Muscat International Folklore Festival, the Architects of Air, the Festival of Lights, the Festival of Arts, Laser Shows, Fireworks, Handicrafts, fun and frolic!
Tour of Oman
One of the key international highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Tour of Oman. 128 of the world’s finest cyclists will group together as 16 professional teams, to race over 935.5 arduous kilometres across 6 stages spread over 6 days. The Tour of Oman continues to be a major hit with the international media given Muscat’s breathtaking natural beauty of stark mountains, azure beaches and world-class road networks, dotted with some mesmerising monuments along the routes.
This venue in Barka, just a short drive from the Muscat International Airport, will feature one of the region’s largest outdoor international shopping pavilions during the Muscat Festival. Many nations from the Central Asian to South East Asian countries, the Eastern Bloc, the Baltic countries, African and the Middle Eastern nations will be present to offer their countries signature products for sale at very attractive prices. Besides shopping, Naseem Gardens will feature a large multi-national food court, a huge children’s entertainment arcade with many rides and other attractions. Every evening there will also be laser shows and a colourful fireworks display over the park’s precincts, providing for some wholesome family entertainment.
Al Amerat Park
One of the key highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Omani Culture and Heritage Village, with an accurate re-creation of a traditional and ancient Omani village, complete with its own ancient souq, fort and live lifestyle demonstrations. This year, all these will happen at the Al Amerat Park. Besides Omani, the park will also host the International Festival of Arts, Heritage and Creativity where over 150 artisans from 25 different countries will be present to demonstrate live handicraft performances. Also many other outdoor entertainment activities like the International Folklore, Live Musical Shows and performances, Children’s entertainment activities will take place here.
An all-time hit of the Muscat Festival has to be the Oman Food Festival, where the authentic tastes of Oman will be served to the world, will be held at this venue. Traditional cuisines, live cooking counters, dine-in and takeaways will make the offerings complete. Other notable highlights at this venue are the Muscat International Folklore Event and a series of theatrical presentations organised by the Royal Opera House Muscat. Besides all of the above, the Muscat Art Festival, a celebration of the fine arts will be held across the capital city in various museums and art houses. The Festival of Lights would convert the city into a veritable magic world, where Muscat’s many Forts, Gates, Monuments, Buildings and other select structures would be lit up attractively. With all this and more, the Muscat Festival surely promises to live up to its well earned reputation as one of the major crowd pullers of the region.
Get ready to be part of Muscat Festival 2014 and if you are planning to visit Muscat, and you couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit, then book flights to Muscat on omanair.com to join the festival.
Oman Air is the official carrier for the Muscat Festival 2014
For complete programme listings please refer to www.muscat-festival.com
Not every country can boast one, never mind four! We are talking about Oman’s World Heritage Sites which the global community has honoured for their significance to the present and for posterity. Having just one World Heritage Site is something any country can be rightfully proud about. So to have four such sites is truly a feather in the cap of this dynamic, culturally significant land. The four sites in Oman are the Bahla Fort, the Land of Frankincense, the Aflaj irrigation system and the Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn settlement and necropolis.
What is a World Heritage Site?
A World Heritage Site (WHS) is one listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a place having special cultural or physical importance. Each WHS belongs to the country where it is located, but it is also understood that it is in the interest of the international community to preserve these sites. There are 840 WHS in 148 countries.
In order to comply for World Heritage status, a country must first make an inventory of its sites of cultural and physical importance and nominate a particular site for evaluation by the World Conservation Union and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. There are 10 selection criteria and to be chosen as a World Heritage Site, the site must comply with each one.
Why do they matter?
The criteria for a place of cultural significance includes an example of human creative genius, such as an example of traditional human settlement or land use which has become vulnerable over time. It also might reflect the interchange of cultures over a span of time, and especially any culture that has since vanished from the face of the earth, or is in danger of doing so.
Criteria for natural or physical World Heritage significance reflect examples of exceptional natural beauty that represent major stages in the Earth’s history, as well as areas of outstanding importance in terms of biological diversity and endangered species.
Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn
This is a wonderfully complete example of a third millennium BC necropolis site. Together with fortification towers, settlements and irrigation installations for agricultural cultivation, it is a rare example of the way an ancient culture lived. Part of the reason for its being accorded World Heritage Site status was its superb example of Bronze Age funeral practices. Situated in Ibri, some 300km south-west of Muscat, the northern part of the site consists of bee-hive tombs while the southern part contains cemeteries of the Um al-Nar period’s style, between 2700BC and 2000AD. The site used to stand at the intersection of ancient trade routes, and exploratory work has revealed several tombs which date back to the Iron Age. Visitors cannot fail to be struck by the realisation that the site points to the existence of an advanced, well-ordered civilisation 5 000 years ago in Oman. Archaeological work has also unearthed well-designed red pottery pieces decorated with horizontal black lines. An archeological tomb dating to the Um al-Nar period and some chambers of the main tower in the settlement have been renovated. Visitors cannot fail to be struck by the realisation that the site points to the existence of an advanced, well-ordered civilisation 5 000 years ago in Oman that must have enjoyed a flourishing economy and contact with other parts of the world! The construction of the tombs suggests a specialist knowledge of stonemasonry as well as a thriving architectural community.
Oman has been described as “the land of 1 000 forts” and it certainly seems wherever you drive across the Sultanate that there are forts on every hilltop. However, only one made it into the ranks of World Heritage Sites. Bahla Fort is one of four historic fortresses situated at the foot of the Jabal al Akhdar highlands. Its stone foundations and immense adobe walls and towers were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, and reflect the power and vision of the dominant tribe in the area at the time, the Banu Nebhan. Some of the walls are 165 feet high. Reconstruction work is ongoing at the Bahla Fort. To the southwest is the Jaamea Mosque with a 14th-century sculpted mihrab. Bahla Fort is about a two-hour drive south-west from Muscat towards Nizwa.
Aflaj Irrigation System
This World Heritage Site refers to the ancient system of water irrigation that is believed to have been in use in Oman since around 2500BC, and is still in use in some places. Five actual sites were selected by the World Heritage Committee to represent the more than 3 000 sites in Oman. These are Falaj Al-Khatmeen, Falaj Al-Malki, Falaj Daris, Falaj Al-Jeela and Falaj Al-Muyassar. The system works by letting gravity channel water from underground springs to crops and human settlements. Such mastery of engineering allowed communities to grow crops in extremely arid areas, and allowed for equitable and effective allocation of scarce water resources throughout the community. A tour of these sites is an absolute must to better understand Omani culture. Look out for the gradual change in water usage, from collection for drinking through male and female ablution areas, laundry and finally into the date fields. Sun dials were also used traditionally to time the distribution of water.
The Land of Frankincense
Many visitors to Oman will have heard of frankincense from the Bible, it being one of the gifts from the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus. However, many will not have actually seen a frankincense tree, much less one being harvested. The frankincense trail, on what has come to be known as the Incense Road, actually consists of four designated areas, the archaeological sites of Shisr, Khor Rori and Al-Balid, and the Frankincense Park of Wadi Dawkah. These places straddle an ancient caravan route that took frankincense from here to different corners of the world. A tour of this World Heritage Site with leave visitors with a glimpse into one of the most important luxury trading activities of the ancient world. In addition, the Oasis of Shishr and the structures at Khor Rori and Al-Balid are outstanding examples of medieval fortified settlements.
A first-time visitor’s guide to the major landmarks and draw cards in London, England.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” So said 18th-century English author Samuel Johnson. He was man of strong opinions. But what is it about London that so inspired Johnson, and still inspires millions of overseas visitors every year? Partly it’s the sense of recorded history, dating back at least 2 000 years to when the Romans first arrived, and the subsequent waves of Saxons, Danes, Vikings and so on. Everyone recognised the geo-political and trade importance of the port city on the River Thames. Out of this cultural melting pot London has grown to become one of the most important financial and cultural capitals of Europe, if not the world, being birthed anew out of multiple fires, plagues, a civil war and the Second World War bombing. It is perhaps this sense of history, of having their backs against the wall, that makes Londoners the delightfully quirky bunch they are!
There is a world to explore in the massive city, and different districts reflect differing national characteristics. A survey in 2005 revealed that there were more than 300 languages and 50 non-indigenous communities in London. Indeed, part of London’s character and strength lies in this very cultural dynamism.
If you are a first-timer to London, here is a breakdown of the most famous tourism spots.
Right, so you have landed in London and are raring to go. What to do first in this incredibly busy city? It is worth drawing up a day plan to cover your stay in London. For example, dedicate two or three days to seeing the sights and soaking up the sheer weight of history. Do not forget to fit in a visit to some of the famous art galleries and museums. Then allow for some serious shopping time at world-famous venues such as Harrods, Hamleys and Oxford Street. Finally, soak up some culture with a visit to Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and Camden Lock. For a hair-raising day out, take in the Tower of London and the London Dungeon, and then relax with some laughs at lifelike replicas of some of your favourite celebrities at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
If you are only going to be in London for a short time, say a week, it makes sense to stay in Central London and use public transport. This will save you time and money in getting around, and most of the major tourist attractions are in the central area anyway. It is very easy to use buses and, of course, the London Underground, and it is worthwhile investigating ticket options, such as the London Pass which is a fixed rate sight-seeing pass that allows you to visit more than 50 attractions.
Double Decker bus
In England, double deckers are either a chocolate bar, or a big red, double layered bus. We are talking about the buses here, which are an iconic feature of London, almost as much as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. They are a fantastic and fun way to get around the city, whether you just want to go shopping or be taken on a guided tour. For open-top sight-seeing tours, book at http://www.theoriginaltour.com. Tickets are usually valid for 24 hours and allow you to hop on and hop off whenever you want.
If the top deck of a bus just isn’t high enough for you, aim for a bird’s eye view of London with a ride on Europe’s biggest Ferris Wheel, the 135-metre high London Eye. Once described as London’s Eiffel Tower, the Eye has 32 eggshaped passenger capsules and one complete rotation takes about 30 minutes, so no stomach-churning rush here! However, it carries more than 10 000 people every day so make sure to book your trip. It is situated on the south banks of the Thames in Jubilee Gardens, Lambeth. Book at http://www.viator.com
Where better to start than with the seat of royal power, Buckingham Palace, the official residence of British kings and queens since 1837. Check to see if the Queen is home by looking for the royal standard on the flagpole on the roof! The Palace was actually built in 1702 by the Duke of Buckingham as his London pad! The Palace – one of the few remaining working palaces left in the world – has 775 rooms, including 19 State rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms, many of which contain priceless works of art, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto and sculptures by Canova. During summer months visitors can tour the 19 State rooms, the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery. Entrance is by timed ticket so book at http://email@example.com, or ring +44 (0)20 77667300.
A must-see if you are going to Buckingham Palace is the famous Changing of the Guard, which is when the soldiers who guard the Queen, called the Queen’s Guard, come off duty and are replaced by the new guards. They wear a full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins. When mounted, they wear white riding-breeches, black leather boots, which are called jack boots, having been “jacked” or reinforced against sword blows. Changing of the Guard takes place at Buckingham Palace every day between May and July at 11.30am and last for about half an hour. It also takes place at Horse Guards Arch, daily at 11am, and 10am on Sundays, at the Horse Guards Parade by the arch of Horse Guards Building. Be advised, there is no Guard Mounting in very wet weather. Be sure to get a photo taken of yourself standing with one of the Guards. Their discipline is legendary and the Guards are under strict instructions not to react to the public, so please do not taunt or annoy them. After all, they are guarding the Queen! It is a short and easy walk from Buckingham to other major landmarks, for example, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, St James’ Palace and 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s official office.
Houses of Parliament
Also known as Westminster Palace, the Houses of Parliament are the seat of government, containing the House of Lords and the House of Commons. A royal palace was first built on the site in the 11th-century and the area was the residence of the first kings of England until the 16th-century. Major reconstruction work has been repeatedly carried out after damage from several fires and bombing during the Second World War. The Houses of Parliament are open to the public and guided tours are available most days. For more information, visit www.parliament.co.uk.
The clock tower, built in 1288, on the Houses of Parliament houses a main bell known as Big Ben. Although the clock tower is a symbol of London and all things English, and a massive tourist draw card, the actual interior of the tower is not open to the public. It has featured in countless films and TV programmes, and is the largest fourfaced, chiming clock in the world. Did you know that when the clock tolls, a person listening to the sound on the radio in Sydney, Australia, will hear the sound before a person standing at the bottom of Big Ben. Thanks to the speed of radio waves.
Every year, more than a million people are drawn to this beautiful 700-year-old Gothic architectural masterpiece, which stands next to the Houses of Parliament. Over 3 000 people, including kings, queens, scholars, authors, poets and musicians are buried in the building and it is indeed one of the country’s supreme honours to be buried here. It is believed that the first structure on the site was erected in around 624AD, although the first proven records indicate that a community of Benedictine monks were housed here in about 960AD. Westminster Abbey is where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066. The Abbey also features in Dan Brown’s bestseller, The Da Vinci Code! It is open to the public daily from 9.30am-3.45pm, except Wednesdays when it closes at 7pm. Saturday opening hours are 9am-1.45pm. Closed on Sundays. 90-minute guided tours start at the North Door several times a day. Visit www.sacreddestinations.com/england/london for more information and costs.
There are more than 300 art galleries and museums in London and most are free to enter. If you are on a short visit, be sure to visit the Tate Gallery, which houses British art. Fascinating museums, great if you have kids, are the British Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, both of which have informative, interactive displays. For more on art galleries and museums, A great way to spend an evening in London is by going to the theatre, whether you are in the mood for fringe entertainment or classical hits like Phantom of the Opera, Cats or Oliver. For a great website offering bookings and guides, visit www.londontheatre.co.uk
In many ways, London is a string of villages each with their own characteristic high streets, shops, restaurants and parks, all of them reflecting the flavour of their immigrant communities. It would take a lifetime to properly explore all that the city has to offer, but even just spending a week or two there will probably have you agreeing with old Mr Johnson!
Know before you go
For valuable information on accommodation, tourist spots, shopping, fairs, theatre, visit the following websites:
As well as being famous for being a city where fashion leaps from the catwalk to the clothes rail, Milan is steeped in history and that certain quintessentially Italian way of life.
According to the Roman historian Livy, a Celtic village was first founded in this area in the sixth century BC. Conquered by Roman legions in 222 BC, “Mediolanum” attempted to rebel, becoming an ally of Carthage, Rome’s enemy. But the Romans won and, towards the end of the first century BC, Milan became a part of the state of the Caesars.
Fast forward to the present day, the tiny but geo-politically important town has become the centre of all matters to do with media, fashion, publishing and finance in Italy. It’s also a fantastic place to get out and about and soak up la dolce vita.
Where to begin:
Most of the main attractions in Milan are located in the city centre and there is plenty to see. Amongst the many sights not to be missed is the simply enormous Milan Duomo – the third-largest cathedral in the world, taking some four centuries to finish; the Castello Sforzeco – a fortress built in 1368 that later became an elegant and stunning Renaissance residence; the Teatro alla Scala Opera House – completed in 1776 and hosting some superb theatrical productions; and Santa Maria delle Grazie – an elaborate church dating back to 1463, where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting ‘The Last Supper’ is on display.
There are also numerous art galleries and museums in Milan, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery – housing one of Italy’s most important art collections; the Villa Reale and Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna – featuring masterpieces by famous artists, such as Grassi, Matisse and Picasso; the Palazzo Bagatti-Valsecchi – considered to be one of the finest museums in the whole of Europe, with many outstanding displays and collections; and the Civic Archaeological Museum – where you will discover the world’s oldest wooden plough still in existence, dating back around 4,000 years.
Shop till you drop:
One of the most famous streets in Milan is Via Montenapoleone, where many of the worlds’ leading Italian and international fashion designers are concentrated. Throughout the year there are numerous exciting and important fashion shows in the city, where the latest collections go on show. There are also many other popular celebrations both in and around Milan, including the Gran Premio di Monza – the Grand Prix of Italy held at nearby Monzo, Carnevale Amrosiano – the longest carnival in the world, and the Fieri di Chiaravalle – a famous fair in the bell tower of the Chiaravalle Cistercian abbey.
Not to be missed are the many splendid and unforgettable lakes nearby Milan, offering superb facilities for visitors, with shops, restaurants and cafés lining the lake fronts. Some of the most popular lakes in this region include Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda, the three largest lakes in Italy. Shopping central No Milan city break is complete without shopping in the world-famous Quadrilatero d’Oro (‘golden quadrilateral’), a fashion square around Via Montenapoleone (‘Montenapo’), home to Armani and Versace. Brera, north of the Duomo (the cathedral), is popular for its boutiques and elegant art galleries. Browse clothes and fabrics at the Viale Papiniano street market, south of the centre, and find trinkets at the Fiera di Senigallia flea market along the wharf. Pick up antiques at canalside Naviglio Grande, southwest of the centre.
Rustic trattorias, designer restaurants and canal-side bars, Milan is a food and drink Mecca. Specialities include costolette Milanese (veal cutlets) and saffron-flavoured risotto alla Milanese. Trendy Brera, north of Duomo, serves everything from pizza to sushi. The southern Navigli and Ticinese canal quarters are packed with romantic restaurants while Milan’s Chinatown, tucked between the Porta Romana and Bocconi University quarter, dishes up ethnic cuisine. Afternoons are for espresso sipping in Zucca’s mosaic-decorated cafe on Piazza Duomo.
The Brera district and canalside Navigli and Porta Ticinese are buzzing with great meeting places. Evenings start with a passegiatta (stroll) before heading to jazz clubs in the Navigli quarter or clubs like the chandelier-adorned Il Gattopardo Cafe, north-west of the centre and set in a deconsecrated church.
Como is the ideal starting place to explore the picturesque towns and villages dotted about the shores of the lake. You can get to them by road taking the Strada Regina – an old Roman road – which borders the western shore of the lake, sometimes at the water’s edge, or in more comfortable style on a boat.
The gentler scenery and luxuriant vegetation of the west side of the lake, with the town of Como at its bottom tip, contrast with the more rugged landscapes of the Lecco arm. But both offer villages of Roman origin, medieval towns, ruins of imposing castles perched on panoramic outcrops, and splendid villas and gardens to visit.
Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat and Milan.
Raiya Al Habsi is the first Arab woman to compete in Britain’s world famous 611 mile offshore Fastnet Race.
As one of the pioneering sponsors of Oman Sail since 2008, Oman Air has shared in many of the successes this national initiative has achieved. Surely one of the key highlights of the partnership is the iconic image of Raiya Al Habsi with arms victoriously stretched out against the soaring sails of Oman’s flagship MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam as she crossed the finish line of the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race.
It is the classic triumphal pose of many great circumnavigators returning to port. Having the honour of victory as crew aboard the 2013 handicap winner of the race’s MOCRA multihull class featuring some of the biggest, fastest and most radical yachts on the planet, gives her a unique distinction of her own.
It is a defining moment the 25 year old Omani will cherish forever but perhaps no less so than another just two years previously that decided the course that led her there. That earlier moment Raiya describes as a “whim”. It was simply “on a whim” she says, that she wandered down to the beach in response to an Oman Sail poster inviting women to try sailing at a one-day taster session. At the time she was a customer services assistant at Bank Muscat happily spending her free time at drama classes and making handicrafts. Boats were what her father and brothers went fishing on.
But the sport of sailing so utterly captivated her that by day’s end she had enrolled with the inaugural Oman Sail Women’s Programme and was soon among the country’s first 21 women to successfully complete an instructors sailing course accredited by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). She is now a proud member of the country’s first ever national women’s racing team and even though she knows it is just the beginning, she is humbled and overjoyed to be part of the exhilarating journey that has fast tracked her to the pinnacle of sailing in Oman.
The rare honour of racing aboard such a high performance “flying machine” as Oman Air- Musandam in a premier event like the Rolex Fastnet Race so early in her sailing career does not escape her: “I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race because I was so excited and nervous in equal measure. My family watched every minute of the live coverage back in Muscat and I think they were even more nervous than me.”
Held every second year, the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race is signalled by the deafening blast of the Royal Yacht Squadron cannon in the heart of Cowes, the famed home of sailing on Britain’s Isle of Wight. And while the magnificent sight of the massive flotilla of this year’s record 342 yachts would stir the emotions of even the most hardened sailors it is not surprising that Wayne Pearce, chief executive officer of Oman Air, the 2013 new sponsors of yacht Musandam, was also bursting with pride to see Oman’s hope leading the fleet into the Solent on Sunday 11 August. The national airline of the Sultanate of Oman has been a long-time partner of Oman Sail having previously sponsored Oman’s highly successful Extreme 40 campaign, and as has become customary, Pearce avidly followed Oman Air-Musandam’s progress from start to finish.
“The Fastnet has a classic course past the legendary Needles into the English Channel to Lands End and on across the Irish Sea to the infamous Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland. It then returns past the Scilly Isles to the finish off Plymouth. Skipper Sidney Gavignet and his eight-member mixed crew of European and Omani professionals can be proud. They sailed a textbook race!
“It was heart stopping stuff when Oman Air-Musandam briefly led the giant multihulls Sprindrift 2 and Banque Populaire which are almost double the size of our 70 foot trimaran. In fact it is remarkable that they finished only 83 minutes behind them in the early hours of Tuesday morning and a great honour that they won their class of 11 entries on corrected time,” said Pearce.
Gavignet was full of praise for Raiya who he described as tough, willing to learn and impressive in the way she handled the pressure of top level racing alongside the biggest boats – and names – in international yacht racing. If she was ever cold or nervous she never showed it. “This was the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I am used to sailing comparatively slow mono hull yachts less than half the size of these trimarans which are really big and very fast. It was something completely new and different for me. It was a little bit hard when we had some bad waves and the motion was quite violent but the guys were amazing – they took good care of me and taught me a lot. It felt good to be part of such a successful team,” said the diminutive Raiya. She says sharing her experiences and inspiring fellow sailors back home is easier than trying to explain it to family and friends who remain mystified as to why she might want to spend almost two days cold and wet sailing to a rock in the middle of the ocean.
“They think I am crazy but they are very supportive,” says Raiya, who has 11 brothers and sisters. “My parents are always encouraging me to try new things though I think they might have been a bit concerned. Many of my friends don’t fully understand – they think racing is like cruising or fishing – so I have to tell them how complicated it is and how I must always think about techniques and about the wind, always using my mind and my muscles.
“I tell everyone how amazing Oman Air-Musandam is – it is crazy going so fast on that boat. And I tell them about going around the Rock too. The Fastnet Rock is a tiny little island and looking back to see the rest of the fleet of over 300 boats going around that little rock was amazing.