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Sultanate of Oman

by Art on

View from our hotel room We flew into Muscat, Oman, not really knowing what to expect. It was planned as a technical fuel stop for a few days on our way to India. I had no idea what Oman was about other than I'd heard the name before and knew it was 'somewhere over in the Middle East'. I had hazy memories of watching some old movie with guys wearing robes waving swords on horseback across the desert. I was partially right.

The flight in from Dubai was only about 190 nm but because of a low in the Gulf of Oman, the weather was IFR in clouds, haze and dust. We also had big delays getting out of Dubai as it was an international airport with all sorts of big airplanes coming and going. Our group of five smaller airplanes were difficult to feed into the flow. Once airborne, everything went fine on the the way to Oman. On decent from FL230 we picked up some ice which would seem strange for the Middle East but just goes to prove that ice happens in clouds no matter where you are as long as the temperature is low enough and there is some moisture. The Oman ATC wasn't very good (probably because IFR weather is rare in this part of the world) and vectored us for the wrong runway and instrument landing system. After a few tries, he got the right one and we landed safely.

Deserts. Our hotel, The Chedi, was a beautiful enclave along the beach with peaceful gardens and fountains. Our suite was very comfortable, had all the usual amenities (including high speed internet) and lovely view of the area. Dinner was really nice as the menu choices included items from the Middle East, India and Asia and they had three different cooking areas behind glass filled with chefs making all the goodies for you (including on area dedicated to fancy deserts).

The next morning, Tracy was still not feeling 100% so she elected to stay behind at the resort and hang out at the beach while I went along on the city tour. The Sultanate of Oman is a country with a single ruler, Qaboos bin Said al Said .The current Sultan got his job by overthrowing his father in 1970. The bone of contention between him and his father was whether to open the country up or keep it closed to outsiders. The father wanted to keep it closed, the son wanted it open (I think the smell of outside money helped his thought process a bit here). Oman is a strict Muslim country whose laws are interpreted according to Islamic law (i.e. religious doctrine). While they allow other religions in the country (a very small minority) everyone is subject to the Islamic laws.

Our tour included a visit to the Sultan's palace to take photos from the outside as well as a visit to a Souk (open-air market). The Souk was kinda dirty and smelly so I didn't stay long (I'm not much of a shopper either so no great loss to me). We stopped at a historical museum which was very interesting and showed how the swordsmen (see I was right about the guys with swords in the desert) of Oman were renowned in the Middle East for not only their swordsmanship but for their swords as well. In later years those skills turned to prowess with rifles in terms of marksmanship and rifle building. The museum had wonderful examples of knives, swords and rifles along with some nice artwork and a sections detailing typical domestic life in early Oman with copper vessels, pots and cooking utensils.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque The highlight of Oman for me was the visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which, contrary to other mosques we've visited on this journey, was completed only seven years ago in 2001. It is large enough to hold 20,000 worshippers at once and is very modern and beautiful. In fact, it's the most impressive building I've ever seen anywhere in the world. It has the worlds largest chandelier (8.5 tons, 42 feet in length and 24 feet in width), the world's largest hand woven carpet (600 woman took four years to weave) and is faced with an incredible amount of the purest white marble you've ever seen. The place is kept immaculately clean and in perfect condition with scores of workers polishing and cleaning continuously. The finish work everywhere is absolutely perfect. I looked for flaws and could find nothing wrong whatsoever. While I don't subscribe to the Islamic religion, I have to say this was the most fantastic building I've ever been in and it will be hard to top on this trip (although the Taj Mahal is coming up soon on the journey so stay tuned).

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