AREA: 309 500 km2
POPULATION: 2, 8 million inhabitants
POLITICAL SYSTEM: Absolute Monarchy
RULER: His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Bu Said
CURRENCY: Omani Rial (OMR)
The Sultanate of Oman has borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arabic Emirates. It has about 1700km coast line along the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Oman. The Musandam Peninsula forms the Hormuz straight with Iran.
The city is located in northeast Oman. It is the capital of the country and its largest metropolitan city. The water along to coast of the city runs deep, creating two natural harbours, in Muttrah and Muscat. The hills in the area are mostly lacking vegetation but are rich in iron. Crabs and spiny crayfish are found in the waters of the Muscat area along with sardines and bonito. The Al Sultan Qaboos Street forms the key artery of Muscat, running west-to-east through the city.
Jebel Shams, the highest peak of the country reaching 3009 m, lies in this mountain range. The mountains are wealthy in plant life with regard to most of Arabia, and include a lot of endemic species. Fruit trees like pomegranate and apricot are grown in the cooler valleys. A range of birds are seen in the mountains such as Egyptian and lappet-faced vultures. There are 11 marked trails / routes of varying intensity (between Grade 1 to 3) and duration for trekking and hiking.
It is a low hilly and rocky area located between the Western and the Eastern Hajar. It has always been the key way to cross the mountain range. It is now dominated by a modern tar highway. There are numerous small settlements and larger centres along the route, the Sumail, Bidbid and Fanaj are just a few.
It hosts wadi Dayqah, the wadi with the bigger flow in the entire Oman. It is in this area where we can find the last remaining Arabian Tahrs, animals which resemble wild goats. The rest of the range is a wide plateau and highest point is around 2400m. It is a very dry place and it houses a very scarce population of Bedouin shepherds. However, many of the valleys flowing from here are splendid canyons blessed with a lot of water flowing all year long making them green and luxuriant.
Sea Of Oman
It is a strait connecting the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz and it runs to the Persian Gulf. The coast west of Muscat is a coastal plain approximately 40km wide. The water flowing from the mountain trickle into it and can be drawn lower down for agricultural purposes. It is a densely populated area. East of Muscat, along about 50 km, mountains dip into the sea and form a wonderful landscape made of abundant wild secluded coves. Further east, the sea is dominated by the high plateau of the Eastern Hajar.
The Empty Quarter
The Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) is the renowned wide desert of Arabia, the most arid and inhospitable of the world. Mainly located in Saudi Arabia, it goes beyond the Omani border. A salt desert, Umm As Samim, lies not so far from the border with the United Arabian Emirates. The coast of the Indian Ocean is very wild and provides different landscapes. Spilling across four Arab nations, it is the world’s largest sand desert.
Dhofar has a diverse climate, fauna, and flora. It has a dry season and a rainy season. The Monsoon’s tails hit the mountains of Dhofar and the region is then foggy and all green. Followed by the rainy season, all the greenery dries and the leaves of the trees fall. The place has a unique monsoonal climate from July-September, the Khareef, with regular rains cooling the air. It can look as if like a world away from the rest of Oman. They boast off one of Arabia’s oldest and most cosmopolitan cultures.
It is located on the northern border of the Sultanate of Oman. The high mountains in this region rise for more than 2000 metres above sea level. This area also has the most vital waterway, The Strait of Hormuz. Archaeological sites also flourish in this area. The combination of sea and mountains is well thought-out as one of the exclusive features of this area.
Fauna & Flora
In spite of its dry nature, Oman is home to different kinds of plants and animals. Shrubs, grasses, and hardy trees such as the acacia grow naturally. Grapes and apricots are grown on the slopes of Al Jabal al Akhdar. Some of the richest fishing regions in the world are seen off the coast of Oman; sardines and tuna are among the principal catches there. On the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, a protected breeding ground for giant sea turtles has been set aside.
During the antiquity, Dhofar was a very rich kingdom. Production and trade of Frankincense, in addition to the particular climate allowing breeding livestock easily, gave it wealth and fame. It was described by Roman and Greek travellers under the mythical name of “Arabia Felix” (Lucky Arabia).The northern mountain were then known as the Kingdom of Majan. It was linked with the more advanced civilizations of Mesopotamia, and it is thought to have been an important provider of copper.
In its entire history, Oman hasn’t been linked a lot to foreign occupation. However, the Persians deeply influenced Oman with successive occupations. They are said to have built numerous ways in the mountain, and primarily brought the irrigation system called “falaj” which is a key element of Omani culture.
Omanis are proud to have been one of the first people to adopt Islam. It was also the beginning of a prosperous period. Blessed with a 1700km long coastline, the guardian of the Strait of Hormuz opens towards Asia as well as Africa. Oman developed with trading posts in India, Pakistan, and East Africa. The Omani sailors quickly took control together with the Yemenis and the Egyptians, of the maritime trade on the Indian Ocean. They used the monsoon winds to navigate, following an annual cycle leading them to India, Africa, and then back to Oman.
At the beginning of the 16th centuries, the Portuguese went through the Cape of Good Hope and reached the eastern African coast. The legend says that Ibn Majid, the most famous Omani sailor, guided the Portuguese to India. Some years later, they came back, with the knowledge they learned from Arab sailors and European boats which were better armed than Arabic ones. They quickly dominated the trade on the Indian Ocean. They took advantage of the divisions among Omani tribes to quickly triumph over Omanis. Their influence on Oman was limited as they were only interested in controlling trade. They just occupied the main ports of the country and never settled inside.
Followed by one century of Portuguese domination, under the impetus of Imam Naser bin Murshid Al Ya’aruba who dealt with uniting the tribes, Omanis drove the Portuguese out. It was the starting point of a novel period of prosperity for the country.
Quickly Omanis took back their former possessions in India, Pakistan and East Africa, and again dominated the trade routes in the Indian Ocean. The Empire of Oman reached its climax at the beginning of the 17th century when they introduced the growing of cloves in Zanzibar.
In 1970, Sultan Said bin Taimour Al Bu Saidi, rather conservative, was toppled by his son, His Majesty Sultan Qabous Bin Said Al Bu Saidi, actual ruler of Oman. It coincided with the first incomes from oil and marked a turning point in the history of Oman. Sultan Qaboos quickly established peace in the country, putting a stop to the communist rebellion in Dhofar and granting amnesty to the former rebels.
In opposition to neighbouring countries racing for modernity, Oman chose a more balanced development which we could qualify as “sustainable”. Sultan provided his country with modern facilities, but ensured that they keep their traditions. He particularly worked out to develop all the regions to avoid a depopulation of the country side. He supports traditional agriculture. Above all, he developed a good network of public services (hospitals and schools) reaching even rural and isolated areas. The development of road infrastructure follows the same track: highways are built to link the bigger cities of the country, as well as smaller roads and tracks to serve up to the smaller hamlet.
PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
Population density is very low in Oman (15 per Km2 (40 people per mi2). The current population is 4,736,029 as of Monday, June 12, 2017, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Nowadays, people mostly live in cities even when the cities are quite small and resemble an aggregation of villages. Many of the Omanis live in Muscat as they work there but still maintaining their attachment to their village.
Omani has a tribal society. The surname in Oman is the name of the tribe and all tribes’ names have a meaning. There is a majority tribe in every village, wilaya, or town. Omanis give a lot of importance for it and when 2 people meet, the story of tribe is one of the first subjects they talk about.
Oman has many different ethnical groups. Here are the main groups:
- Arabs: They are said to have originally come from Yemen and Mesopotamia a long time ago. Among Arabs, there are also diverse groups like bedouins (mostly living near sand desert) and chawawis (people from the mountain). Despite many cultural differences like clothes, dialects, and customs, they have a lot in common.
- Dhofaris: They live in Dhofar and are also Semitic people. Those living on the coast are a mix of Africans. They are mainly Sunni, and have their own dialect.
- Baluchis: They come from Baluchistan, former Omani colony that is now belonged by Pakistan. They talk baluchi, a language of Persian origin.
- Omanis from Africa: They come from former colonies or trading posts, mainly from Zanzibar.
In the near recently, a lot of immigrants found their home in Oman, mainly Indians (many coming from Kerala), Bengalis, Pakistanis, and also Malays, Indonesians, Yemenis, Egyptians, Sudanis, and Africans. And now they represent about 20% of total population.
Oman is a strong Muslim country, mostly Ibadhis. They refuse to fight other Muslims and have much respect for “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) who pray the same God. Some Christians and Hindus (all of them foreigners) also live in the country and they can practice their religion freely. In fact, the Ministry of Religious Affairs even helped them to build Churches in Muscat.
As Oman is an Islamic state, alcohol is not freely sold in the nation. On Fridays, all businesses (even restaurants) are closed during the collective Friday Prayers. During Ramadan, restaurants are closed during the day. The bars and hotels are not supposed to sell any alcohol (even at night), and it is prohibited to drink, eat or smoke in public.
Arabic is the official language of Oman. However, many dialects (all with an Arabic base) are talked in each region. And the language for business in the area is English. Language has been a great part of the Omani culture. As English is adopted as the second language of the country, the tourists have absolutely no trouble in communicating with the Omani people.
HOLIDAYS in Oman
- Eid Al Fitr : It starts at the end of the month of Ramadan which marks the end of fasting
- Eid Al Adha : This celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham
- Eid Miloud : This is to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohamed
- Awal Muharram : The Muslim New Year
- National Day : The Birthday of Sultan Qaboos
- 23rd July : The day to celebrate when Sultan Qaboos got the ruler ship
ECONOMICAL AND SOCIAL SITUATION
Oman is a rich country with incomes from oil exploitation helping them to quickly develop since 1970. His Majesty Sultan Qabous is a wise ruler with careful thought process letting his Omani people to maintain a financial stability. Nobody is hungry in Oman and public services (school, hospitals and roads) are free for all Omanis. Importantly, the services have reach to even secluded and difficult to reach places. Access to water and electricity is also maintained good and the people with financial constraints can have free consumption.
Talking about the schooling, the Ministry’s vision is to oversee the development of the education system and make sure that it reaches all parts of the country. Also they encourage access to education from all sections of society.
On the other hand, there are only a limited number of places in public university which is provided to the best students. So young Omanis would be rich with a good cultural background but many don’t have any specialized qualifications.
Oman is located in the northern hemisphere and here are the seasons:
- Summer is June – August
- Autumn is September – November
- Winter is December to February
- Spring is March – May
Oman’s high mountains have an altogether different climate with significantly cooler than the temperatures elsewhere in the country during winter. In northern Oman, rainfalls are irregular and occur at any time during the year. There can also be thunderstorms in the mountains.
Dhofar has a totally different weather: a dry season and a rainy season. The Monsoon’s tails hit the mountains of Dhofar and the region is then foggy and all green. Followed by the rainy season, all the greenery dries and the leaves of the trees fall. The place has a unique monsoonal climate from July-September, the Khareef, with regular rains cooling the air.
During Jul–Aug, the Salalah Tourism Festival celebrates the rainy season in southern Oman with entertainment and shopping.
FOOD & COOKING
Omani breakfast is more often salty (bean, broad beans, eggs, with Omani bread). The national breakfast drink is milk tea. You can also find Indian breakfasts at restaurants: Dal (lentils), Kheema (mince, tomato, and peas)
Lunch is the most important meal for Omanis. It is made of rice that would be cooked in many different ways and never wonder why they are so delicious: Some choices include Mandi, Kabsa, Maqboos, Kabuli, Biryani that usually comes with meat, chicken or fish.
Dinner is usually lighter than lunch which includes meat or vegetables with bread.
Fish is abundant, diverse, and very cheap. Many types of bread are seen in the country: Omani bread, lebnani, tannoor, Chapatis and Barotas.
- Thiridh : meat or fish cooked with water and vegetables mixed with Omani bread
- Halva : a very typical confectionary usually had with Omani coffee (qahwa)
- Harees : chicken and wheat
- Arsia : rice paste and chicken or meat
- Midlouk : date paste with butter before Omani coffee (Qahwa)
- Awal : dried shark
Some special Omani dishes:
- Laham Maqli : Fried meat cooked with garlic and spices
- Laham Shua : Goat, mutton, or beef meet braised and cooked inside a big hole for long hours
The people of Oman are always proud of their rich cultural heritage and swank a strong sense of identity. A tour to Oman provides visitors a rare glimpse into the Arab world. It is quite common for the visitors to be invited into an Omani home.
The national drink of the country is Coffee “Qahwa”, a light cardamom-flavoured coffee. Omanis don’t mind drinking it at any time of the day. They usually serve fruits, then dates or halva before drinking coffee. Despite the number of guests, it is always served in 3 cups and usually each one drinks after the other one. Note that it is never sweetened. And the Tea is usually served with sugar and milk which is called “Chai”.
Delicious and quite cheap fresh fruit juices are easily found in Oman. As there is no problem with water in Oman, visitors can whole heartedly try them. Alcohol is not freely sold in the country as Oman is an Islamic state. However, the non-Muslim expatriates can ask for licence to buy alcohol in Muscat shops. And guests don’t need to bother consuming alcohol in hotels and bars with licence to serve it. Please note that it is obviously forbidden to drink in public places.