Oman has History, Mountains, Deserts — and Camels!

by Elaine Earle, Publisher, Prescott LIVING Magazine

Who goes to Oman for a holiday?

Well, I do! Why not? It was one of the best trips in my life (and also country No. 45 for me).

How do you get to Oman? 

Oman is just a short three- to four-hour drive from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is very easy to get to from all over the world; or, if you prefer to fly from Dubai, about an hour flight. Alternatively, Oman Air has easy connections into Muscat from all the major European capitals.

Where is Oman?

It is right in the Middle East, bordering the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and has marine borders with Iraq and Pakistan. Many other often-thought-of-as “scary” places are also close including Iran, Afghanistan, Kuwait and many other Middle Eastern countries.

Is Oman safe?

Oman is often called the Switzerland of the Middle East, and never once did I feel unsafe in my five days there.

About Oman

The current capital, Muscat, has been a principal trading port of the Persian Gulf region for centuries and is also among the most important trading ports of the Indian Ocean. Oman has sizable oil resources, which provides a good quality of life for the people.

Until his recent death in January, 2020, the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said was highly revered. He was the hereditary leader of the country, an absolute monarchy, since 1970. Sultan Qaboos was the longest-serving current ruler in the Middle East and the third-longest current reigning monarch in the world. 

A significant portion of its economy involves tourism and trade of fish, dates and certain agricultural produce. Oman is categorized as a high-income economy and ranks as a peaceful country.

Oman is an Islamic country both in religion and in politics; sharia law is one of the sources of legislation. In our journey around the nation, we were told there are over 16,000 mosques to serve the total 5 million residents. Even with immigration and expatriates, over 85% of the population is Muslim and essentially 100% of Omani people are Muslim,

Oman Housing and Life

Every Omani is entitled by the constitution to a piece of land for either commercial, farm or residential purposes, though there is a backlog of applications for plots in some areas. We saw very nice, quality housing throughout the country (and mostly fancy, resort-looking homes). 

We also learned Islamic families prefer to live together in multigenerational environments. Arranged marriage (including selection from birth) and men having multiple wives still exists and is practiced in Oman – up to four wives are allowed. What we’ve heard about Islamic traditions such as the role of the woman are still enforced as well in Oman — women wear modest clothing, can’t shop in certain places and certain hours, need permission from their husband to get a job, etc. 

The economic system seems fair and equal for the people, and there appears to be little financial stress. Omani people have a very good quality of life, especially for families; the quality of health care, education and entertainment is considered high.

What is there for a tourist to do in Oman?

Nizwa, a city with ancient and historical significance

Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman and was its capital in the 6th and 7th centuries. It was a center of trade, religion, education and art. Its Jama (grand mosque) was formerly a center for Islamic learning.

We visited the cattle/goat market there, which was interesting to say the least. Men, including juvenile boys, sell cattle and goats by walking them around a circlular pen, and people bid on them like an auction. In other parts of the market, men sell chickens, birds, cats, fish, fruits, dates, vegetables and many other things. There are not any women shopping in these markets, (they can only shop at given times and locations). We were among a handful of tourists watching this live auction and market.

The “Desert”

In Oman, the whole country is what we would call a desert, similar to the southwestern U.S.; however, only the sand dune area is called the “desert.” In the Wahiba Sands area we stayed in a Bedouin luxury tented camp and went “dune bashing” in a 4-wheel drive closed vehicle. This was great fun, and I was very thankful for an experienced guide who confidently went up and down the dunes (often backwards) in our 4-wheel drive with no fear at all, although I was a bit scared! 

The “Empty Quarter”

Roughly the size of France, the Empty Quarter holds about half of the sand that the Sahara Desert has in comparison. Very few people live in this area due to the extreme heat and lack of water and infrastructure. We did not visit this area; however, there are tours available, including some by camel.

The Mountains

Oman has a rocky and mountainous terrain in certain regions, including toward the Sea of Oman in Muscat. We visited Al Jabal Al Akhdar, which rises to about 10,000 feet. You can only drive in the area in a 4-wheel drive even though it is a paved highway that leads you up the mountain. We stayed in a mountain resort that was unbelievable in quality and mountain vistas. Previous visitors include Princess Diana, and that visit provided the name of one mountain viewpoint; Diana Point. 

Muscat, the capital of Oman

Muscat is the capital and largest city in Oman. Significant investment in infrastructure makes Oman amazingly pristine, elegant and world-class. It was actually quite unbelievable. This is where you solidify your view of Oman as the Switzerland of the Middle East. 

In Muscat, we visited the Grand Mosque, which the Sultan has opened up for tourism (unusual for Islamic mosques). With long sleeves and a veil on my head, I was able to tour both the outside and interior. Along with our guide, we were also provided coffee, dates and some books about Islam. I do believe that it is important for one to understand the religions of the world. I am not converting anytime soon, but I cherish the knowledge that I gained on this tour.

Bedouins

The definition of a Bedouin is “a nomadic Arab in the desert.” Despite today’s technology and infrastructure, including wealth offered by oil-rich Arab nations providing for its citizens, there are still a number of surviving pure Bedouin tribes. They choose and want this life; it is pure and they are connected to the desert spiritually and physically. 

In Oman, the government has the wealth to provide for all of its people. In our travels around the country, we saw some “social housing” that looked more like townhouses. This is housing provided to Bedouins so they can travel out of the mountains or desert and educate their children. Still, in so many ways, the Bedouins prefer to live in the desert with their camels and tents, surviving off the land. 

Lastly and most importantly, let’s talk about the camels!

Oh man, the CAMEL! I am so impressed with the camels! I liked the camels so much I could make this whole article about them.

We were told the camel is not an animal; it is “one with man.” 

Before the discovery of oil, which created major wealth in the region, Oman and a majority of the Arab world was made up of Bedouin tribes living off the land. The camel was an essential part of life. Camels are working animals especially suited for the desert environment and a vital method of transportation for people and goods. Camels provide milk and meat (if necessary), and we were told they can sense a source of water within 40 km, whereas camels themselves require little water to survive. Their bodies can also withstand extreme heat conditions. Their hair provides felt and fibers for textiles. 

Camels are emotional creatures who connect especially with their owners. We were also told that a camel will sit at an owner’s grave after they die and appear to be in mourning. 

I found all this about camels to be true. I had the opportunity to ride a camel raised and trained by Bedouins. The camel looked me in the eye and it almost seemed like it was smiling! They are very keenly aware of humans and easy to interact with. At first, I was worried about the infamous camel “spit,” but fortunately it did not happen.

The camel is highly revered, and we were told so many stories about the animal, including that sometimes they are even more revered than family members or children in the tribe. The camel is absolutely essential to the Bedouin tribes and their survival. 

In modern days, there are camel races that have brought some new wealth to the tribes, and funny enough, there is a 17-day camel beauty contest happening in Abu Dhabi at the time of the writing of this article.

Let’s go to Oman!

Want to go to Oman? I would go back with you. I would take my children there. It is a good education and experience for all to see this part of the world.

About Wild Frontiers

This trip to Oman was handled by Wild Frontiers. I would highly recommend them for private tours in many parts of the world, including Oman. For information, visit www.wildfrontierstravel.com or call Tori Ward at 928.254.9968 (tori@roxtravel.com). 

(Source data: Wikipedia)