May The Forts Be With You
Date: 26 July 2008
Usama Bin Karim Al Haremi Head of Corporate Communications And Media of Oman Air affirmed, that the world media remain fascinated by beautiful Oman, which is becoming a much highly thought of tourist destination worldwide. More than just an enchanted past, Oman tourism undeniably is moving up market. In the peaceable Sultanate of Oman, visitors will experience an enviable balance of deeply rooted traditional culture and welcome modern-day reality, a country where existing negative perceptions of the Middle East will be instantly swept away.
Emphasizing the fact that Oman is renowned for being a first-class safe, stable, and distinct tourist destination worldwide, Head of Corporate Communications And Media of Oman Air informed that The 2008 Global Peace Index annually compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in which was recently released, rated Oman for the second successive year the most peaceful country in the Middle & Africa. Globally as per the index, the Sultanate is sitting at 25 from 140 countries, higher than Australia's ranking while the United States scoring in the bottom third of all ranked countries for the second year in a row at 97, and among the least peaceful nations in the world. The index is composed of 24 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, which combine internal and external factors ranging from the level of respect for human rights, relations with neighboring countries, political instability, and nation's level of military expenditure to its relations with neighboring countries. As a result, the Sultanate is promptly establishing its self as a key safe destination for travelers.
Al Haremi further stated that Oman, the home of Frankincense and Myrrh, legends of Sinbad the Sailor and Queen of Sheba, charmed Greg Lenthen whom is considered as one of the anonymous hands penning the editorials, which appear each day on the letters page of The Sydney Morning Herald. In almost 20 years with the journal, Greg has been chief of staff, opinion page editor, features editor and travel editor. Al Haremi informed that Greg produced an article titled “May the forts be with you” on July 12, 2008 in The Sydney Morning Herald, recounting some of Oman’s numerous tourism potentials. Founded in 1831, The Sydney Morning Herald is Australia’s most prestigious and longest-running daily newspaper.
Highlighting scripts of the article, Al Haremi notified that Greg Lenthen supposed that with oil set for $200 a barrel and petrol $2 a liter, we might like to see how our money is being spent. Try Oman he suggested. Not the showy glitz of Dubai or the other shimmering Emirates up the road. Oman is agreeably low-rise and low-key.
Like the Gulf States to its north, Oman offers the usual "Arabian nights" stopovers: ride a camel, bash a dune, and sleep under the stars in a six-star tent. There are camping and trekking, surfing and diving, and just idling around the pool at luxury resorts. But beyond all that, there's history, a rich past coloring a bright future. You can't miss Oman. Head straight down the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and it's the last stop before the Arabian Sea. The sultanate's story is at once exotic and familiar; the broad strands of Oman's trade and culture weave into the wider narrative that draws together the ancient world and the modern, the East and the West.
Oman's trade was once in frankincense, the wise man's Christmas gift of choice. Now it's oil and gas. But not as much oil and gas as its neighbors, so Oman is busy adding know-how to resources. The man who decides how the money is spent is His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. My guide, Saif, tells me that health care is free, school is compulsory and university is not only free but students are paid to go.
In short, the urbane and cultured sultan is the kind of ruler who gives absolute monarchy a good name. His work is everywhere. At a lookout high in the Al Hajar mountains inland from the capital, Muscat, I know I'm supposed to be admiring that lush grove of date palms near that picturesque abandoned stone village but my gaze wanders to yet another new school and, beyond it, yet another new hospital.
Oman's present is every bit as fascinating as its past, a nation refashioned in the less than four decades since the sultan, as the writer noted took over, and set about rebuilding Oman from the sand up. The oft-quoted statistic is that there was just 10 kilometers of sealed road - Saif says he will show it to me - and now there are almost 9000 kilometers, including plenty of freeways (with, by the way, road signs in English as well as Arabic).
Oman has been a nation for centuries - indeed, in some sense, for millenniums - and for all that time has built forts and watchtowers to protect itself and guard its trade. Some forts date back to pre-Islamic times, others are more recent; some are no more than four walls, others are massive, with high towers and banks of battlements. All have an air of intrigue. Secret hiding places lead to secret escape tunnels. Intruders were dropped to their deaths through secret trapdoors or met a truly sticky end, doused with vats of boiling date syrup.
Despite the drama of their working lives, the forts are serene in retirement and very beautiful. High adobe walls are bleached to pale terracotta in the intense noon sun and warm to a rich copper by late afternoon. Battlements command broad plains once crisscrossed by camel trails, with views over silver-green palm groves to distant mountains, mauve and grey in the sticky-thick dusty haze of summer. But you won't go in summer when the temperature is in the 40s, that's the high 40s. Unlike me, you'll be sensible and go when it is cooler and the skies are clear blue and the mountains sharp-edged.
The restoration of Oman's enormous legacy of forts and watchtowers is a work in progress; some 250 are done with about the same still to do. Many are already open to the public and the list grows by the year. Some, such as the fort at Nizwa, explain themselves well, while others, such as the imposing stronghold at Nakhal across the mountains near Muscat, have little to inform the traveller. So, best take a guide.
The forts have been built and rebuilt over the centuries, in a traditional adobe of mud mixed with crushed stones and palm fiber. The biggest is the magnificent fort at Bahla, not far west of Nizwa, built before the advent of Islam. Restoration of its World Heritage-listed walls and towers is still not finished, despite a decade of painstaking work.
Bahla towers 50 meters over the surrounding town, too high by Oman's current standards. Sultan Qaboos likes Oman's architecture low-rise and Arab in flavor. In the new suburbs, more is definitely Moor. More tiles, more columns, more arches and definitely more battlements. Everything comes with battlements, from the Grand Hyatt in Muscat to the white plastic water tanks on the roof of the humblest home.
I find myself thinking, as we roar through the 'burbs of Muscat heading 1000 kilometers south to the city of Salalah, in the Dhofar region, exchanging date palms and dust for coconut palms waving along wide surf beaches. In Salalah, high mountains stop just short of the green Arabian Sea. In the monsoon season - and this is the only part of Arabia washed by monsoons - the mountains, too, are green. Hawaii with camels. The travel brochures must write themselves.
As long as 3000 years ago, spice traders hooked the wind and swung into the lagoon at Al Baleed, an ancient city being slowly uncovered along Salalah's beachfront. Girls on a school excursion to the site are as noisy as teenagers anywhere but modestly draw their veils as my guide and I catch up with them on the path to the adjoining museum, which in just a few galleries tells Oman's story in artefacts and audiovisuals. From dig to digital. The Queen of Sheba shopped here - for frankincense to send to King Solomon. Frankincense is actually dried tree sap. Gold, tree sap and myrrh.