Monthly Archives: January 2012

Muscat Festival 2012: Omani Craftsman at Oman Heritage & Culture Village

One of the best parts of Muscat Festival is being able to see the traditional Omani lifestyle in the Oman Heritage & Culture Village of Qurum Park.  I love seeing these displays of talented craftsmen working away at simple tasks in pretty much the same way it’s been done for hundreds of years.

What is this gentleman making exactly?  You can see a pile of the finished products on the left side there.  Are they for boats? for use with agriculture?  Anyone out there want to enlighten me?  Here’s a short video of this scene:

Embassies Participation (Bazaar) – Muscat Festival (Qurum Park)

If you are reading this from within the vicinity of Muscat, I hope you’ve had the chance to enjoy Muscat Festival by now.  This evening (Mon., Jan. 30th) will be the 5th day of its running.  Anyone who knows me will guess that I’ve already taken a million pics of the festival by now and that is true, but there is something I wanted to share with you as soon as possible before this gem of an event finishes up at Muscat Festival in the next few days.

This area is located on the left side of Qurum Park’s “lake” as you walk from the direction of the main entrance.  Until Thursday (some said Friday?!?), embassy staff from several of the embassies here in the Sultanate of Oman are providing information and food from each of the respective embassies.  Did you hear what I said?! Free authentic dishes from several embassies!  In many cases, you also have an excellent opportunity to meet and greet ambassadors and embassy staff from Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries stationed here in Oman.  A lot of fun!  If you time it right, they occasionally even have live cultural entertainment on the small stage there.

These gentlemen are from the Islamic Republic of Iran and are at the first table on your immediate right as you enter the “embassy participation” area.  They have artifacts and posters from some of the more popular locations of Iran.  It was great talking with Mohammed (on the right) about my wonderful experience in Iran in 2005.  Don’t listen to all the hype out there.  Iranian people are some of the warmest people I’ve ever met.  If you make it here, don’t hesitate to chat these guys up.  They love it!

This Iranian chef with a giant smile is Hamed and he hails from Isfahan.  He was generously serving up a famous soup from Isfahan known as “Ash soup” (with lentils and noodles). This soup alone is worth the trip!  My wife and I made a great team.  I would chat up the embassy staff and take pics.  They would then offer up one of their traditional dishes, and my wife would gladly sample the food, haha! 🙂

This Pakistani Mouton Biryani was a big hit at the festival!

Dr. Fatih and friend offer up warm greetings at the stall for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Dr. Fatih was extremely gracious and offered me free pamphlets, tourguide info and even a DVD with info on Jordan when chatting with him.  I love Jordan and the Jordanian people.  I still have fond memories of my visit there in 1997-1998.  I couldn’t agree more with the Lonely Planet’s report on Jordan as “One of the most open, friendly and welcoming nations in the Middle East, Jordan is an example to other states in the region of how to modernise while preserving cherished ancient traditions.” (Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries for 2012)

This is Ibtisam from Sudan who is ready and able to answer any questions you may have about Sudan.  Everyone was more than happy to have their photo taken, but as a common courtesy it’s always good to ask, right?  🙂

Wario has been with the Kenyan Embassy in Oman for only 3 months now.  Nice chatting with him.  Great guy!

Wario with Yabesh Monari, “Chargés d’affairesfor the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Muscat.

Tanzania and Zanzibar– a colorful and complicated history that is connected to the past glory days of Oman.  So much to learn!

People from the Algerian Embassy

This last pic is of two Yemeni gentlemen.  I only got the chance to talk with  Akrim Mohammed who is on the right in the pic.  That’s an interesting khanjar he’s wearing there but actually in Yemen it’s known as the Jambiya.

If you are in Muscat and want to visit some fascinating countries, try new food and learn about different cultures, art and traditions without the hassle of visas and hotel arrangements, head down to Muscat Festival in the next few days!  🙂  A great learning opportunity for anyone!

Fanja – Gateway to The Al Dakhiliyah Region of Oman

Fanja is 53 kms west of Muscat on the road to Nizwa.  I must have driven by here dozens of times and have always been impressed with the wide wadis, mountains with old mud homes upon them and the lush palm trees of this area.  I recently decided to explore this town with a population of a little over 20,000 and am glad I did.

Fanja is the first city of the Dakhiliyah Region as you drive from Muscat.  There is a lot to see and plenty of places to explore in this charming town if one doesn’t mind the occasional narrow roads  which only have space for one car at a time.

I can never get enough of the old dishdasha scarecrows one can see driving through the farming towns of Oman!

There were two older female shepherds tending the flock in this wadi near the watchtower I was exploring.  One can be seen here on the left.

Bidbid Fort

Bidbid is a small town with a population of around 20,000 and is located about 40 kms from Muscat International Airport as you drive towards Nizwa.  Bidbid Fort is the only thing to see in this small town (no disrespect intended to any of you reading who happen to be from Bidbid! 🙂 ) and some would argue that it’s not even worth getting off the main road.  As someone who enjoys exploring, I’d disagree.  If you get lost looking for this place like I did, remember that the easiest way to find a fort (especially one this small) is to keep your eye out for an Omani flag!  🙂  Here’s a map to give you an idea of where it is.

 The main entrance to Bidbid Fort was closed and locked.  This was at 10am on a weekday (Monday).  The Ministry of Tourism should ensure that such tourist sites are open at their scheduled times.  This has happened to me on several occasions…

Cannon from the 17th or 18th century still standing guard over the fort.  Notice the local Omani lady working away on the left side of the photo (pulling weeds I think).

The walls of Bidbid Fort are around 100 feet (or 30 metres) tall.  There are a total of 3 towers; the large one you see here and the 2 smaller, more rounded Western towers in the back.

Forty towers once defended this area and many still stand, the most famous of which are Fanja Tower and Bidbid Fort.” (from Concise Guide to the Dhakiliya”, Ministry of Tourism GuideThe GPS co-ordinates of Bidbid Fort are: N23″24’45 E58″07’35 (from Jerzy Wierzbicki’s great Photography/write-up on Bidbid Fort in Y Magazine’s Dec 13th Edition, 2011 on page 32)

Al Husn (“The Castle”): Oman’s Only 6-Star Resort Hotel

Al Husn is an impressive adults-only hotel in Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.  Many people are unaware that there is even a 6-star hotel in the Sultanate.  Shangri-La itself is listed as a 5-star hotel but actually consists of 3 hotels: Al Bandar, Al Waha and Al Husn.  Al Husn is the only 6-star hotel of the 3 and currently the only 6-star hotel in the entire Sultanate.

This pic is from the Shangri-La website.

This pic (from www.clubairtravel.co.uk) is of Al Husn’s sweet private beach!

All of Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa’s 3 hotels are in Entertainer Oman 2012 with “a complimentary night when a night of equal or greater value is purchased coupons”.  Have any of you reading this stayed at Al Husn?  If so, how was your experience?