The moment we met
I knew that God and Allah
shared a single light
First impressions count and a moment of beauty can remain in the memory, to be shared and enjoyed forever. This moment for me came during my first visit to Oman a few years ago when I arrived into the country at nightfall and en route to my hotel encountered the breathtaking Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque, majestically overseeing the capital city of Muscat. It was not long afterwards that I penned the short poem accompanying this image. You see, for me, my initial perception of Oman was not only the obvious beauty of its scenery (the mountains, the sea, the traditional buildings resting quietly in between), but also the generosity and friendliness of its people and apparent tolerance towards other faiths and cultures. Hence, the sentiments in the words of the poem which reflect an ethos of encompassment at times not fully appreciated in a wider context.
At the time I also discovered something equally inspiring in the form of ‘His Majesty’s Wisdom’: words from the then Sultan Qaboos bin Said, accessible every day on the front page of The Times of Oman and surely a source of motivation for readers to incorporate the characteristics of fairness, empathy and tolerance espoused by the Sultan himself. Certainly for me, a former teacher and writer, the words quoted gave me much to think about for the day that lay ahead.
Over the past few years I have had the privilege of visiting a number of Middle Eastern countries and although I shouldn’t really have a favourite, there is definitely something very special about Oman. Perhaps it has to do with the controlled heights of the buildings, therefore retaining that sense of tradition often lost when modern skyscrapers start to appear in city skylines. There is something rather lovely about visiting a country that is proudly holding on to its heritage and traditions despite the pressures of the modern world to do otherwise. Or perhaps it’s the warmth and gentle nature of the Omani people, characteristics that I have always felt are genuine and sincerely held.
Muscat with a view towards the Grand Mosque
Up until the beginning of the pandemic Oman had become a favoured tourist destination for cruise ships but the hustle and bustle of the once busy port of Mutrah, which depended so much on these visitors for their economy, was suddenly quietened. Hopefully, sailings will resume again soon and offer people the opportunity to have a fleeting glimpse of the country through day trips, but in my opinion, by far the best way to visit is over land. Muscat is worth several days of adventure on its own. The obvious places of interest within the city include the Royal Opera House, the Grand Mosque and the National Museum, but there are many more less famous (and perhaps even more interesting) places to discover if you are willing to look beyond the obvious.
Sunset over Mutrah
Not surprisingly, Oman offers stunning mountain scenery only a short distance beyond Muscat city centre. Drive on for a few hours and you will arrive at the ‘Green Mountain’ where you can find hotels like the Alila Jabal Akhdar which is 2,000 metres above sea level and only accessible if you have a four wheel drive car. The hotel is very environmentally friendly and so cleverly encorporated into the cliffside that you could almost miss its entrance. But what a view.
At this time of year here at home, when the weather can be unpredictable and cold (maybe not this week!), a lot of us start to think about holidays for later in the year. There are many favoured destinations in Europe of course, and the Emirates are becoming increasingly popular, but if you’re willing to add a little more adventure onto your travels then Muscat is just an hour’s flight from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. I wouldn’t recommend visiting during the summer months, which are obviously scorching hot, but certainly the temperatures are bearable during our autumn and winter seasons. For us females, there are expectations regarding how to dress. For example, unlike Dubai, you can’t wear shorts and a sleeveless top when you’re out and about, but I am always very comfortable donning a knee-length dress with short sleeves, or a blouse and loose trousers. You don’t have to wear a head-covering unless you want to shield your head from the sun.. When I’m there I feel very safe when out walking on my own, the only blip being that every other car driver offers me a lift because they are so not used to seeing anyone (man/woman/child) walking anywhere!
So, I hope that in some small way I have whetted your appetite to visit this beautiful, interesting and unique country. Flights with Emirates or Etihad leave twice a week from Dublin and you can get a connection in Dubai or Abu Dhabi for the short onward flight to Muscat. It pays to shop around though, as I have sometimes found that the cost of a ticket from Dublin to Muscat (via Dubai or Abu Dhabi) is less expensive than the cost of the direct flight from Dublin to Dubai or Abu Dhabi itself!
It’s different. It’s adventurous. It’s a lot of fun.
Happy and safe travels to one and all.
Lynda Tavakoli’s poetry and prose are widely published.