Sultanate of Oman is a land of rich history and intriguing culture that dates back well over 5000 years. Lying to the east of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman borders Yemen to the south, Saudi Arabia to the west and the United Arab Emirates to the north-west. With a 2,000km coastline linking the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, the country has a long seafaring and trading history. Omanis have inhabited the territory that is now Oman for thousands of years. Stretching from the Hajar Mountains in the north to lush and temperate city of Salalah in the south, Oman — with its year-round sunshine and a stable economy — is one of the hidden treasures of the Arabian Peninsula.
Until His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said exiled the previous Sultan in 1970, Oman was an under-developed nation and introvert. Only upon his ascend to the throne began what many called and believe has been the “Blessed Renaissance”. Since then, modernization, infrastructure improvement, education and tourism have taken off throughout the country but has still managed to beautifully preserve its ancient culture till date.
Oman offers a rare chance to engage with the Arab world without the distorting lens of excessive wealth. Oman’s low-rise towns retain their traditional charms and Bedouin values remain at the heart of an Omani welcome. With an abundance of natural beauty, from spectacular mountains, wind-blown deserts and a pristine coastline, Oman is the obvious choice for those seeking out the modern face of Arabia while wanting still to sense its ancient soul. The Omani people have a well-deserved reputation for being amongst the world’s most hospitable. Their smiling faces testify to their eagerness to share their unique culture with visitors, and most travelers to Oman will have at least more than one story of remarkable local experience.
Here, you’ll still find traditional souqs selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, in the same way as has been customary for thousands of years. Over the centuries, cities and civilizations have been based on frankincense trade, as the ruins of Samahran and Khawr Rawri cities tell us. For nearly 5,000 years a rather unsightly Boswellia tree, which produces a heavenly fragrance was considered to be Arabia’s most precious commodity. During the height of its popularity the Boswellia – better known as the frankincense tree – rivalled gold, silk and gems in value and spawned a vital trade route that for centuries extended from Southern Arabia into West Africa and India. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba derived great wealth through trading frankincense with dignitaries in Rome which continue to use it at the Vatican today.
The culture of Oman is immersed in the religion of Islam. Oman has developed its own subsect of Islam, known as Ibadhism, however other strands of Islam such as Sunni and Shi’a are also practiced. With this in mind, the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, and other Islamic festivities are very important events in the Omani culture.
The cuisine of Oman is a mixture of several staples of Asian foods. Dishes are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice. Most Omani dishes tend to contain a rich mixture of spices, herbs, and marinades. Unlike that of many other Asian nations, Omani cuisine is not spicy, and varies regionally. Everyday meals generally have components such as rice, a wide variety of soups, salad, curry, and fresh vegetables. Being a seafaring nation fish and seafood tend to be very good – hamour is very common on menus, and kingfish, tuna, large prawns and lobsters feature. For dessert, many Omani people have a kind of sweet, known as Omani halwa. This is usually served before the consumption of kahwa, a preparation of coffee with cardamom, which is very popular and remains a symbol of hospitality along with dates.
With the exception of the southerly region of Dhofar, Oman’s climate is hot and dry all year round. Summer begins in mid-April and lasts until October. While Muscat’s mean summer temperature hovers around 33° C, the interior frequently registers readings above 50°C in the shade. Winter temperatures are mild and pleasant, ranging between 15°C and 23°C. Dhofar’s climate differs from the rest of the country because of the annual khareef or monsoon. While the rest of the Middle East bakes in the June heat, cool winds sweeping in off the Indian Ocean bring mists and rain to southern Oman. The moisture prompts lush, green vegetation to spring up until September when the rainfall recedes and the parched desert returns.