It is not that often an international news agency drafts and disseminates feature reports eulogising the beauty of a destination. But it is not completely unheard of, if the destination in question truly deserves the mention. Usama Bin Karim Al Haremi, Head of Corporate Communications and Media, Oman Air highlighted the recent report sent out by The Australian Associated Press (AAP) on Oman, and was carried by various journals there.
"The report titled “Oman A Land Of Beauty”, has been prepared, and distributed by AAP, one of the leading News Agencies in the world to the journals in Australia, and also to customers through AAP’s commercial partnerships with all major international news agencies. We captured this report, which was beautifully illustrated from The West Australian newspaper. The report gives in a nutshell the unique attractions of Oman and why one should visit this country," Al Haremi said. The report starts with a Q&A-format introduction, where the reporter writes that a mention about a trip to Oman was sure to result in a sequence of questions that invariably starts with ‘where?’ You explain it runs along the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, then wait for the predictable response.
Q: What do you want to go THERE for?
A: Because it is fabulous.
Q: Isn’t it just desert?
A: No. It has mountains, fertile valleys, superb sandy beaches, fiords, a vibrant capital, exquisite Islamic architecture (including the jaw-dropping Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat), an ancient and fascinating culture that remains largely intact, an array of budget and world-class hotels and some of the best souqs in Arabia. Yes, there is plenty of desert, much of which happens to be very beautiful, plus oases, date palms, camels, ancient forts, archaeological sites, wildlife watching and plenty more.
Q: Is it safe?
A: You are quite safe in Oman, which has a very low crime rate and a population of polite, gentle people who don't hassle you and who seem genuinely happy to have you in their homeland, of which they are very proud.
Q: But what do you do there?
A: Experience all of the above without the attendant masses of tourists you get in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. If it sounds like I am sold on the Sultanate of Oman, you have it in one. It is not for every traveller. Oman is generally hot and, with the exception of the monsoon months in the remote southern region of Dhofar, dry.
Al Haremi further mentioned that The Australian Associated Press (AAP) is Australia's national news agency that holds a unique and enviable place in the media. "The work of its journalists provides the foundation stones of content in all daily newspapers in Australia; forms the backbone of radio news bulletins; and provides the background detail for talk-back radio shows and television news bulletins. AAP's domestic news coverage is complemented by alliances with the major international news agencies. In this detailed report on Oman, there is a list of must-do things and must-visit places that the reporter finds impressive," Al Haremi said. Here is a taste of what else you can do.
Muscat: Visit the Corniche at Muttrah, one of three cities that make up the sprawling, blindingly white capital of Muscat. It is an ideal starting point to get a feel for what Oman has to offer. As the name suggests, it is a crescent of coastline that is a modern working port, with a fish market, banks and hotels, yet it retains a romance that on first sight will make you catch your breath. The town is framed by a striking backdrop of bare mountains and the minarets of two beautiful mosques. At night, when the locals - the men in immaculate dishdashas and the women in beguiling, ankle-length abbayas - stroll along the waterfront to catch the sea breeze, and the mosques are lit in ethereal shades of green and red, the effect is quite magical. Half-way along the Corniche is Muttrah Souq, said to be one of the best in all Arabia. It is like plunging into a parallel universe of silks, frankincense, silver jewellery and tubs of the addictive Arab sweet halwa. Haggle all you like then take a seat, sip a glass of tea, and watch the passing costume parade.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Muscat): Truly, this is one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in the world. Marvel at the sublime lines and symmetry, at the sheer scale of it, at the one-piece, football-field sized carpet that took 600 Iranian women four years to weave, at the crystal chandelier the size of a block of flats, at the carved wooden doors and panels, at the cool corridors of receding arches, at the superb mosaics, at the soaring minarets and sculptured gardens. It is an active place of worship, with room for 6500 in the main prayer hall alone (men only - the women have a smaller prayer hall to the side where they can watch the imam on CCTV). It is one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims, so act and dress with respect. Women must have head coverings and all visitors need to remove their shoes.
Desert Nights Camp (Central Oman): Spend a night in the fabled Wahiba Sands. Ride a camel or a dune buggy, watch the sun set from one of the surrounding high dunes or - better still - get up before dawn and watch the sunrise over the desert. The camp is the most luxurious of several offering overnight desert stays in central Oman. It is within easy four-wheel drive reach of Muscat. The falling Australian dollar makes it expensive (around $800 a couple for dinner, one night's accommodation and breakfast), but considering you are in a desert, it isamazingly luxurious. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Cruise the fiords: (Musandam Peninsula): Play Sinbad the Sailor for a day by cruising in an Arab dhow through the fabulous waters in the very north of the country. These adjoin the Straits of Hormuz, the strategically sensitive oil route between the Gulf States and the outside world. Watch dolphins surf the bow wave, snorkel on the reefs, marvel at the bare mountains and gaze at ancient fishing villages that remain accessible only by water.
Live like a king (Muscat): Stay a night at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa on the coast just outside the capital. There are 680 rooms spread across three hotels: the family oriented Al Waha, the coolly stylish Al Bandar and the super-luxurious six-star Al Husn, which is perched like a fortress on the headland with a commanding view of the mountains and private resort beach. The hotels are linked by the so-called Lazy River, an aquatic travellator that you can catch at any time and be carried to your destination in blood-warm water. The ambience is of restrained opulence with service levels to match. Rooms from about $350 up to the 500sqm Royal Suite in the Al Husn. If you have to ask the rate, you can't afford it.
Head of Corporate Communications and Media, Oman Air also noted that although the main focus of AAP, like any other news agency, is on breaking news, it also distributes 'soft' news, colour stories, feature stories, opinion, filler material and photographs. "Australian Associated Press employs almost 200 journalists and photographers in 15 locations. AAP has bureaus in all Australian capital cities plus offices in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
This particular report that has been published in most of Australia’s journals also contained a segment on travel tips that gave useful information from a Western perspective to the prospective visitors to the country, Al Haremi highlighted few.
- Oman is quite safe for Western travellers and presents no great health risk (the water is OK to drink, though bottled water is cheap and plentiful.
- The towns have modern, sophisticated medical centres. There are English-speaking doctors and the costs for a consultation and prescription drugs are very reasonable.
- English is widely spoken.
- There are plenty of ATMs with international links, and most hotels have internet access.
- Hire a car or 4WD to drive yourself. Otherwise, hotels or Omani tourist can put you in touch with local guides.
- The up-market hotels are expensive by Australian standards, especially when you add 17 per cent tax and service to the advertised price. But you can easily get about Oman on a traveller's budget. Clean, adequate hotel rooms are available for less than $100 a double, and car hire charges are similar to home. Petrol is about a quarter the price.
- If you travel independently its worth hiring a guide for a day or so to get a different perspective.
The West Australian newspaper is the flagship company of West Australian Newspapers Holdings and is published Monday to Saturday. The West Australian was first published in 1833 and it now sells an average of approximately 200,000 copies Monday to Friday and 350,000 copies on a Saturday.