The pearls of this Middle Eastern country are gradually opening up to travelers
There are places that present themselves to the guest like on a silver platter, promising happiness, shining beauty and boasting of wealth. Especially in the Middle East. But beauty is hidden, and happiness is not in gold. “Around the World” was convinced of this by going to Oman.
A glittering car pulls up to the door of the Oriental-style hotel. A young woman comes out. A welcome bowl of dates, a cup of coffee from a traditional dalla coffee pot, an aroma lamp smoking in the foyer… “Salam alaikum!” says a silk-browed Oman woman in a black hijab. “Welcome!” – smiles the cook in a white cap. “Greetings” – the waiter bows … “Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to Oman! Or rather, on board a plane flying to the country.
The moment you make sure your carry-on is in the overhead compartment, on the screen, a gracious driver in a turban and long shirt is loading a solo traveler's bags onto the roof of an SUV. The video on the security of the Omani airline is extremely original.
The four-minute video promises happiness, showing the most vivid impressions that await a tourist in Oman, wittily accompanying the picture with standard text about the rules of conduct in flight. So you fasten your seat belts – and the SUV rushes along the dirt road between the mountains to Wadi al-Arbain. Here the family froze in admiration at the edge of the gorge in Jebel Akhdar, and the breath of all three stopped from what they saw. But then oxygen masks automatically pop up. Breathe normally!
Wadis are turning blue, date plantations are bearing fruit, streams are flowing in falaj – irrigation canals, the life of marine life is in full swing, pieces of incense are pouring into the palms of a happy traveler. And now the incense is already being smoked in the market in Salalah, and the girl inhales the incense with pleasure. Meanwhile, the voice of security kindly reminds of a “non-smoking flight” and toilets equipped with smoke detectors.
A tourist buys a bag of selected incense, asks the price of silver in a jewelry store, the walls of which are hung with khanjars – traditional curved daggers. A few selfies – and here she is at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. In a beautiful dress, the girl walks along with her companion in an abaya along the aisle in the stalls made of airplane seats, and oriental lamps, lighting up along the path, indicate the way to the nearest exit. There are eight emergency exits, which is clearly demonstrated by the constellation of the aircraft, woven in the night sky over the Bedouin fire in the Sands of Sharqiya.
The stars fall “for good luck”, the girl in the tent makes wishes. And we set sail with her on a yacht, and a swarthy yachtsman in a life jacket demonstrates “blowing valves”.
The yacht cuts the water surface – and now the tourist finds herself in front of the Great Mosque of Muscat, then at the Nizwa Fort and, finally, fed up with cultural and natural attractions, resting on a sunbed by the pool of a luxury hotel. On the recommendation of the voiceover, the girl elegantly moves the back to a vertical position, and the tablet to flight mode …
A resourceful and capacious presentation of Oman in just over four minutes reveals all the most important things that guests need to know about it: about what a generous and rich, hospitable and safe, beautiful and diverse country it is. And now you fly towards it with the delight of anticipation!
— What is that long wall?
— Police station.
Such a dialogue was repeated several times on the way from Muscat airport towards the Jebel Akhdar mountains, until I stopped asking the same question to the jeep driver. Later, Faizel simply nodded towards the next monumental fence, saying: Police station.
Faisel is a serious, taciturn 34-year-old Omani with a large build. He wears a long white dishdash shirt and a traditional kumma cap. Judging by the embroidered ornament, this is a set. Faizel's colleague, thin and nimble guide Khalfan, who is already well over 50, has a cream-colored dishdasha and a multi-colored turban. Faizel and Khalfan are driving a small group of journalists in two jeeps.
We are going south. General plan: the landscape is not very pleased with the diversity and beauties promised by the video. On both sides – a highway with excellent, I must say, coverage – grayish-beige folded mountains float near and far and rocky wastelands with power transmission towers spread.
From time to time, nondescript boxes of shops with bright inscriptions appear along the road or small settlements from white and beige houses with the obligatory three monumental buildings: the local government, a school and a “police station”. But here is a new turn, we soar along the dirt road to the hillock – a sharp zoom in of the camera… – and go out to the site…
Vertigo effect. Below, framed by hills with falajs running along them and with dilapidated watchtowers on the peaks, lies an oasis. Under the canopy of lush panicles of date palms, banana leaves turn green. Like toy modern mansions whiten like islands among the palm sea, and under the iridescent arches of the mountains opposite, the ruins of old clay residential buildings and the remains of a fort are nestled.
This is Birkat al-Mauz. The name of the place is translated as “banana pool”, but this is not important. Another thing is important: in four minutes that you stand on a hill, admiring the oasis, you begin to get to know Oman much deeper than from a security video. It's like a secret door has been opened.
From Birkat al-Mauz, the road turns to the right, to the Jebel Akhdar mountain range, which means “green mountain”. Immediately, a police post appears as a gateway to beauty: every car entering the nature reserve is checked. It's not even about conservation, it's about safety. You can enter Jebel Akhdar only by jeeps. If you have an ordinary car, leave it in the parking lot and rent an SUV.
Road safety is the top priority of the Royal Sultanate Police. Rules are strictly enforced, vehicles are regularly inspected. It is no coincidence that in 2019 Oman came in second place in the ranking of the safest countries for tourism according to the World Economic Forum.
— Peace be with you! Welcome! What's the news? – A close-up of the policeman's head in the window of our car. According to Khalfan, these three phrases are traditionally said at a meeting. If you don’t ask about the news, it means that your dad raised you poorly.
Courtesy opens doors. And so we rush along the serpentine higher and higher, to the Saik plateau. CUT – and I go out to Diana's Playground, hanging over the canyon. With Diana's pointoffers one of the most magnificent views of Jebel Akhdar. Lady Di and Prince Charles, having arrived here by helicopter in 1986, spent several hours on the edge of the fault. By that time, their marriage was also on the verge of breaking. The prince painted, Diana read, the marriage was not saved, but the place fascinates with beauty and love. Now this pearl at an altitude of 2000 meters is hidden behind the gates of the highest luxury hotel in the Middle East.
SECRETS OF HAPPINESS
God help you
“If you do good, you are doing good for yourself. And if you do evil, then you do harm to yourself”
The Holy Quran, sura 17
It is impossible to be happy if you disturb the balance of life, the Omanis believe. And to maintain balance and maintain universal happiness, you need to help each other. In addition to the obligatory alms & nbsp; – zakat, which is paid at the end of the year by every able-bodied Muslim (2.5% of the income received) in favor of the needy, & nbsp; – there is voluntary charity, sadaka.
It is sadaka, as an act that is not obligatory, but approved, according to Sharia, promises a person a reward from the Almighty. Charity & nbsp; is a personal matter for everyone, most often it is not advertised. And it manifests itself in different forms. You can help not only financially – with money and things, – but also with deeds, a good attitude, a word, a smile.
Every day you get to know Oman more and more doors open. The fact of the matter is that beauty here does not jump out to meet you with open arms. It is secret, you have to go to it, climb, make your way & nbsp; – over stones, water, sand, sometimes through police posts.
And when you make this “pilgrimage”, beauty will either unfold in front of you with a majestic immense panorama, or it will captivate you with a string of curves, opening up gradually, playing and enticing. Another door.
The theme of doors in Oman is special. They can be collected, they can be hunted. Wooden with carvings, iron with forged patterns, multi-colored, with ornaments, figures of animals and birds. Even wandering around the abandoned villages among the picturesque ruins -and the Omani ruins are picturesque in a special sense: they are alive and organically inscribed in the landscape -you will certainly stumble upon a beautiful door. Zooming in on the camera: here is one hovering in the opening above the dilapidated staircase. We are in an abandoned village clinging to the rocks in Wadi Bani Habib.
Wadi is one of the main words of Oman. A place where there is water. Not a river, but a channel that fills up during the rains. Where the wadi is, there is life, there are villages. Two hundred steps down, to where pomegranates and walnuts bear fruit, then almost on all fours up, over crumbling stones, to empty adobe houses.
— Residents left the village in the 1970s, when Sultan Qaboos, who came to power, launched construction, took care about roads, hospitals, schools. People began to get new housing, – says Khalfan. – These houses, built of stones, clay, mud and dry grass, are 300-400 years old. And they are all worth it.
There are many such open-air “museums” in Oman. Some are hidden in mountains or in the shadows of monumental forts, others are adjacent to new neighborhoods in cities and villages. Here are the empty gaps of the windows, and here are the tightly closed patterned doors.
In the village of Al Ain, surrounded by rose plantations in the Jebel Akhdar mountains, the doors are especially good. Photographing one after another, I get lost in the labyrinth of streets, climbing deeper and deeper, and suddenly I see a red flash ahead. Dress! From under the hem, anklets gleam yellow. Turn and the beautiful vision disappears.
Flashback: On the way to this village, we passed a group of Omani women walking down the street in black abayas and headscarves, and I just aimed my camera as Faizel said:
– It's better not to do it. If an Omani sees someone taking pictures of women from a car, he can write down the number of the car and call the police. There will be trouble. It is impossible without permission.
Faisel is always in white, but every day in a new one. This can be seen from the color of the embroidery on the dishdash and kumma: sometimes brown, sometimes bright blue, sometimes green. Frant.
– Do your women always wear black?
– Black is a formal color. Omanki also love bright clothes.
For the first couple of days in the Sultanate, I saw women exclusively in formal. And here it is, the secret: a flash of red in the gateway, beckoning like a flower from a rosary.
Through pink plantations, along the edge of the falaj, the path leads to the edge of the canyon, to the panorama of the man-made terraces of Jebel Akhdar. With the onset of winter, all the slopes bloom with lush greenery. It is no coincidence that the ridge is called the Green Mountain. A canal leads to each terrace.
Bounty of water
The unique falaj system in Oman, the aflaj, began to take shape over 4,000 years ago. Over the centuries, it has expanded and improved. Without sophisticated equipment, but observing the stars, sunrises and sets, guided by the laws of gravity, people built channels from high mountain underground springs to plains and developed the principles of a fair distribution of water resources.
The country cuts through over 4,000 falaj systems. About 3000 of them are functioning. Five systems are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The canals stretch for 2,900 kilometers and irrigate half of Oman's agricultural land.
The system is wisely arranged: first, water is supplied for drinking, then it passes through mosques, forts and public baths, and only then it enters open areas for various purposes, including land irrigation. Often in the villages you can see an announcement that the water from the falaj is not suitable for drinking (personal needs). This means that it has already come a long way and is only suitable for watering. But in every village you will find where to quench your thirst.
I go up from the pink terrace along the stone steps to the houses and around the turn I stumble upon the “traveler's corner”. At the porch is a tank of drinking water. Right there on the shelf is a thermos of coffee, cups and a large bowl of dates. All this: water, coffee, dates – absolutely free of charge for both a neighbor and a stray tourist.
Impressive wrought iron door close-up. I freeze … And then a miracle happens. It opens a little, and the hostess comes out on the threshold – an elderly woman in a burgundy scarf and a long burgundy-brown dress with a turquoise flower at the hem. With her, a one-year-old baby, most likely a grandson. The woman smiles and sits on the porch. She does not understand English, but she allows herself to be photographed. A young girl in a bright scarf peeps out through the gap between the doors, and immediately hides.
I mentally rejoice that I am dressed in a long one. It is in cities and resorts that tourists can walk as they please. There is a dress code to follow in villages.
Mixer. At the entrance to Misfat al-Abrin, one of the most colorful villages in Oman with houses growing out of rocks surrounded by date palms and falajas, instead of a barrier, a five-meter-high stand was installed with a greeting to guests and a request to follow the general rules. They are as follows: respect the norms of behavior and traditions of clothing (women and men must cover their knees and shoulders); respect Omani peace and silence (don't make noise); ask permission before photographing people and entering private property; do not pick fruits or vegetables, as this is a source of food for the villagers
A separate road sign with a dress depicted on it repeats the requirement for clothing. Having safely passed the cordon, you find yourself (oh yes!) In the wonderful world of floating houses, bizarre stones, honey beehives in palm trunks, murmuring falaj, fat dates, crooked alleys and magical doors behind which secret private possessions lurk. But here again is a reminder sign for the distracted: “Please make sure you are wearing long trousers and skirts, and your shoulders are covered.” And the seat belts are fastened…
Dress code in Oman will be useful even while swimming. Wadi Bani Khalid, where water flowing from mountain springs is collected in sky-colored pools, attracts not only tourists, but also residents of the neighboring village. Out of respect for the latter, a dress code has also been introduced here.
Immediately after the sign with the recommendation to leave the wadi in case of rain (due to the danger of a mudflow), there is a “clothing sign”: “Dear visitors! Respect the local culture, dress appropriately when swimming.” The picture shows a man and a woman in wetsuits that cover their shoulders and knees.
However, swimming in the central recreation area, where Omani families with children walk along the bridges thrown over the water, is not the best option. It is worth walking three hundred meters deep into the wadi along a rocky path above the riverbed and swimming to explore the narrow water corridor whimsically carved into the polished white rocks. At the end of it, a lifeguard-observer will certainly sit. It is important. Because safety is above all. Accompanying services will be offered at the parking lot if you are not with a guide.
But our Khalfan is with us everywhere. Even in Wadi Shaab, where he refused to take us for a long time under the pretext that it was too difficult that we would not reach it. sometimes clinging to rocks and bushes. The views are amazing, but two and a half kilometers under the sun, when it is almost 50 degrees in the shade, & nbsp; – this is a test that turns out to be harder than it seems. But the reward awaits.
Influx I plunge into clear water right in my clothes and trekking sandals. Not out of respect for the local culture. A shirt – so as not to burn out, sandals – to move from pool to pool along the gorge on slippery stones. It is deep in places, but you can always hold on to the smooth limestone wall. And here is the local lifeguard sitting on the shallows. Next to a car tire …
Ahead is a spacious pool and like a dead end. But no: a crevice gapes in the rock hanging over the water. When the water is high, there is only one option: dive and swim about five meters under the rock. But I was lucky: the head just fits into the crack above the water. I make my way down a narrow passage -short blackout -and swim into a spacious cavern. From the “window” from above, sunlight pours and … a waterfall. Here it is, a reward worth the effort.
< h2>Final Cut
Moonlight night. Somewhere a kilometer away from me, the sea splashes. Around the sandy plain framed by mountains, visible a little further away. I am in Ras al Jinz. An employee of the Saud reserve leads the first group of curious people to the shore. He handed out flashlights to us and warned us not to use a flash, not to smoke or talk loudly. We are going to the main nesting site of the chelonia mydas green turtles. Closer to the shore, the legs begin to bog down in loose sand. Already a beach.
Saud makes a sign and lines us up in a semicircle. Under the red light of his flashlight, we watch an intimate moment. A large turtle, wielding its rear flippers, buries its eggs.
Saud says that the whole process – from the release of the reptile from the sea to the burying of the masonry – takes about two hours. Before that, the turtle can swim hundreds of kilometers to the treasured nesting place. Having come ashore, she digs a hole. Sometimes the sand is very dry and crumbles. Then she has to start again. The turtle can swim away and return the next day. In general, within two weeks, she is able to make several clutches, about a hundred eggs each.
Saud draws the process of creating a nest in the sand:
– First, the female digs a hole about half a meter deep. Then, in this large hole, with its hind fins, it digs a small one, into which it lays a portion of eggs. Having covered everything with sand, the turtle crawls two meters forward and digs another hole, fake. So she hides her masonry from predators. If the fox then digs open this fake nest, it does not find anything.
The incubation period lasts two months. The sex of future turtles depends on the temperature of the sand. If the mother lays eggs closer to the sea, where the temperature is less than 28, then only males will be obtained. If more than 29 – then females. In between – both of them.
According to statistics, there are only two or three surviving cubs per thousand eggs. Survivors means those who made it to the water, despite the dangers of gulls, foxes and crabs. What will happen to them afterwards is unknown. But if the female cub survives, then, having reached the fertile age (35-50 years), she will swim to lay her eggs in the place where she was born. This miracle is called natal return. I see the miracle of overcoming —another tortoise, which, with its last strength, is already digging a third hole, because two have collapsed.
I see the miracle of finding a newborn baby turtle running into the water because the reserve staff took care of its safety. And this is where the puzzle finally comes together. It seems to me that I understood something subtly important about Oman, which is almost impossible to convey either in words or in the frames of the commercial. Something secret. Something about the path, overcoming, beauty, fate and the unchanging order of things.
Square 309,500 km² (70th in the world)
Population 4,520,000 people (125th place)
Population density 15 people/km²
SIGHTSJebel Shams – the highest point of Oman (about 3000 m) in the mountains of Jebel Akhdar, Sands of Sharqiya, Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, Jabrin Fort, Bahla Fort, Misfat al-Abrin village, Sultan Qaboos Great Mosque in Muscat.
TRADITIONAL DISHES shuva – goat or lamb baked in a hole in banana leaves, mutabal – eggplant puree with tahini, mahalabiya – milk pudding.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS kahwa (coffee with cardamom), karak (tea with milk and spices).
SOUVENIRS ceramic aroma lamps, khanjars, incense, dates, Amouage perfumes.
< p>DISTANCE from Moscow to Muscat ~ 3960 km (from 5.5 hours in flight)
TIME ahead of Moscow by an hour
VISA single entry, can be issued through the Oman Police website
CURRENCY Omani rial (1 OMR ~ 2.6 USD)
Photo : SIME (X6)/LEGION-MEDIA, HEMIS (X6)/LEGION-MEDIA, LAIF (X2)/VOSTOCK PHOTO
Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 2, February 2020, partially updated in January 2023