Amen, Oman

Muscat Travel Blog

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Rather embarrassing to confess ignorance around Oman when I’ve already been there.  Mark escorted me to the splendid Musandam peninsula when I visited in 2004, but I had no advance notice and so there was no research.  But now I find myself blissfully cramming and Oman becomes more inviting with each page I turn.


It is a shame Oman doesn’t have higher visibility, because it would probably improve the world’s take on Arabic cultures.  One of the most remarkable aspects is that the bulk of the populace practices the Ibadhi tradition of the Muslim faith, a form of Islam which pretty much exists only in Oman (there are a handful of adherents in North Africa).  Despite being such a minority, Ibahdi is one of the oldest strains of Islam, born from the schism which divided Sunnis and Shiites.  The split was driven by a dispute over the rightful heir to lead the religion a little over twenty years after Muhammed’s death.  The majority of the faith today are Sunni, who believe that any Muslim who is dedicated and a fervent believer of the religion’s tenets may serve as caliph, or leader.  Shiites (representing about one fourth of the Muslim population), feel the caliph must be a direct descendent of the Prophet.


This divide caused great violence between the two groups, and the Ibahdi faith was driven by a belief that Muhammed desired true belief without dogma and bloodshed.  In other words, be sincere but accept those with other beliefs (a perspective most every religion would benefit from).  Though my history of Ibahdi is brief, the key take-away is that it is tolerant, and this wonderful notion survived thanks to geographic isolation.


Despite being the second largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman’s population is under three million, reinforcing that much of the land is uninhabitable – Oman’s next door neighbor, Yemen has a population exceeding 23 million!  Inhospitable terrain is what severs Oman from the rest of Arabia.  Much of the nation consists of the vast desert known as the Empty Quarter.  If you were striving to reach Oman and managed to survive crossing the merciless desert, there remains the towering Hajar mountain range to traverse in order to reach the bulk of Omani population along a narrow strip of the coast.  Thus Oman has been “double sealed for protection” across the last millennium.


The isolation has engendered some remarkable endurance.  After kicking the Persians out in the middle of the eighteenth century, Oman has been under the constant rule by the Al Said dynasty – Oman is one of two existing sultanates today (Brunei being the other).  Incredibly, Oman and the United States have formally recognized each other since 1833, underscoring the duration of this steady rule.  Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has been in charge since removing his father in a bloodless coup in 1970.  The sultan’s father was a control freak who kept Oman pretty much in the dark ages, but Sultan Qaboos has been working wonders for four decades now.


Since Sultan Qaboos seized the reins he has been progressive and encouraging of Omanis to work together and forge a better future.  Among his key initiatives are public education and equality for woman.  Indeed, Oman stands apart as an oasis for woman in Arabia and the sultan issued a statement thirty five years ago proclaiming the obvious: if woman are repressed, society loses half of the talent which can improve things.


Such enlightened views have witnessed great strides for Oman - there were only six miles of paved roads throughout the nation in 1970!  The sultan has also opened the borders to tourism and the world reaps this benefit.  I hope to provide you with a full report in a month, but there is wealth of natural and cultural beauty here.  From the souks of Muscat to the hundreds of restored forts to the amazing range of mountain treks, attempts to pin down an itinerary have been torn by remiss at what you have to sacrifice.


However, the basic game plan is to head for Muscat and spend a day touring this ancient icon (Muscat is actually a tiny port village amidst a cluster of villages where most folks reside).  Then we have lined up a guide to lead us for two days on a pair of exceptional hikes through Snake Canyon (where we apparently need to make a 12-meter leap into a pool of water at one point during the descent and swim through a cave at another!) and Jebel Shams, the highest point in Oman at over 10,000 feet.  After this we head to Nizwa and have left an open agenda to ramble about and explore on our own – there are way too many options and we felt it was best to decide after we had a chance to gain some exposure.  The only target during this stage is to attend the Friday morning ‘camel market’ outside Nizwa.


Can’t wait to share the tale!

boxinbcn says:
This is super, I'm starting to get enthused about going there. On to the next page... :)
Posted on: May 26, 2011
ken2010 says:
Hi Vance! Lokking for blogs about Oman, and the first one was yours! :)
My wife and I plan to visit Salalah in Oman next January. Have you been down there? Thankful for any hints. :)
Posted on: Jun 27, 2010
johnnyk says:
Looks like it's going to be a very cool trip.
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010
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photo by: JP-NED