Archive | August 2013

Salalah’s Summer Surprise!

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Known commonly throughout Arabia, Salalah is also called ‘The Garden City’ and is most certainly a nature lover’s paradise!

One of the most visited places in the entire Gulf region, Salalah offers visitors lot of things to do from shopping, to cultural and heritage tours, to adrenaline-pumping adventure activities, further reinforcing its claim as the “best summer destination in the whole of the Middle East.”

It’s different

For anyone flying, or driving in to Salalah from Muscat or elsewhere from inside the GCC or beyond, during the ‘Khareef ’ (monsoon) season, it would be unbelievable even to imagine that Oman’s first and second largest cities are located within the same continent, let alone the same country ! That is how diametrically opposite the climes will be between these two regions.

While during the months of June – September in the northern parts of the Sultanate the peak summer heat will be at its oppressive worst. Yet, during the very same period, down south in the Dhofar region, the area gets transformed into a veritable paradise, with mist, drizzle and gentle showers washing away all the heat and humidity.

Its location on the Indian Ocean makes Salalah quite different from the rest of the region – this is as tropical as one can get, without having to cross the seas – with an abundance of coconut palms lining the streets, banana and sugar cane plantations creating thick leafy barriers and an ambiance that echoes a truly ‘tropical paradise’.

Monsoon Magic

Salalah is the only place in the entire Gulf region that receives the much awaited and hugely anticipated monsoon showers. Every year, the southwest summer monsoon sweeps westwards across the Indian Ocean, from the subcontinent of India. As the heavy monsoon thunderstorms race across thousands of kilometres between the Dhofari and Malabar coasts, they diffuse into a misty, wet breeze, refreshing the entire region where these monsoon winds blow. This season has been aptly called the ‘Khareef ’, meaning ‘winds of plenty’.

The Khareef season is in full rush when the monsoon clouds from India bring a constant drizzle to the area and, as a result, the stubble of Salalah’s surrounding jebels (mountains) is transformed into an oasis of misty green pastures.

The Khareef season is the trigger for tourists from different regions to flock to Salalah. During this time, flights go fully booked, tour agencies flourish, hotels are overflowing and some people even choose to drive down, while others prefer pitching their tents at the foothills of the Jebels at the Atteen plains.

Towards the end of June through to the end of September, the Khareef season sweeps over the Southern part of the Sultanate dropping temperatures to and below 23°C.

As the monsoon rains wash the region of Dhofar and the mystical fog wafts refreshingly over the land, the result is some of the world’s most stunning natural scenery.

Salalah Tourism Festival 2013

Upon the arrival of the month of July, the Salalah Tourism Festival rolls into town to delight the city with oodles of family fun in the form of cultural, traditional and modern artistic shows, all encased in an ambiance of cordiality and hospitality.

This amalgamation of idyllic weather and carefully planned celebrations leave visitors content that they have experienced something truly different and unique.

To celebrate its rich heritage, every summer during the Khareef season, the Dhofar Municipality organises this magnificent summer festival. This year, the Salalah Tourism Festival will commence from the second day of Eid and will go on for around 26 days until September 26, 2013, a good one-and-a-half months more than the usual, due to Ramadhan.

The theme for this year’s celebrations will be ‘Oman: Giving and Loyalty’. Many interesting activities have been planned to be held revolving around this theme, including lectures in religious, scientific and cultural fields.

Some of the other more popular attractions of these festivities would include the ‘Cultural Village’, where a variety of competitions would be hosted amongst the Wilayats of Oman and a host of traditional performances conducted by the traditional troupes of the Sultanate as well as the other GCC countries. Child Village, Electrical City, Fine Art Festivities, sporting spectacles, fireworks, theatre performances by local and Gulf troupes, exhibitions conducted by public and private sector organizations, besides the ever popular Consumer Exhibition and a special exhibition titled ‘Oman, the Land of Friendship and Peace’ are the other notable events that have been scheduled during this festival. The other art events and exhibitions would be those that are held under the auspices of the Omani Women’s Association and the Al Wafa Social Centres in the Wilayat of Dhofar, where over 1120 artisans would showcase their traditional skills.

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And much more …

Actually, there’s more to Salalah than just the Salalah Tourism Festival. Salalah is in fact more famous for its ancient and rich history, archeological remains and numerous frankincense trees.

18 Its Oman Salalah is acknowledged for its rich heritage that has left an indelible mark in the history of Oman. The citizens of Salalah take pride in their glorious history and their rich traditions. The central part of the Salalah is surrounded by mountains. The pleasant tropical climate and the lush greenery of the tropical landscape attract the guests to experience the town that abounds in marvels of nature. Salalah’s unspoiled nature has made it a wonderful place for outdoor lovers.

A nature and beach lover’s paradise, Salalah has a beautiful landscape with wide white sandy beaches, mountains, lush vegetation, coconut palms and wildlife. With papayas, bananas, guavas, oranges, custard apples, avocados and coconuts, Salalah abounds with a choice of fresh and juicy tropical fruits and vegetables.

This second largest city of Oman also offers good chances for exciting activities like scuba diving, trekking and bird watching. In the colourful souqs of Salalah one can buy beautiful Omani handicrafts and the famous frankincense resins.

The sheer variety of adventure and recreational activities available in Salalah encourages tourists to discover the many marvels of nature that this city is generously endowed with. And the time is here and now to experience and enjoy them all!

A Piece of History: The Omani Dhow

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Since time, ancient Oman has been a sea faring nation, with the earliest recording of an Omani dhow reaching China for trade in the 8th century, the dhows are as much a part of the country as the Frankincense Mountains or the sand on its beaches!! These ships were instrumental in establishing Oman’s maritime dominance in the ancient world, causing the silk and porcelain trade to flourish in the country and enabled the Omani rule to stretch as far as Zanzibar.

Traditionally made from a combination of the local wood called simir and teakwood imported from India ( via road routes during ancient times) and rope made from coconut fibres, the Omani ship builders fashioned these humble materials in to variety of designs to suit the needs of their sea faring customers and last for over 60 odd years!

The most common types of the larger Dhows requisitioned to build were the Baglah, Ghanjah and Boum. These were built for trading voyages as they had a capacity of up to 300 tons, and were distinguished by its stem head and trefoil crest. Another trading vessel commissioned was the Sambuq with a capacity up to 150 tons. This was used for diving to collect pearls but now used for carrying cargo and transporting passengers and is common to the Saham and Sur regions. Most will be familiar with the Al-Boum which is popularly used in the city for dhow cruises and can be easily identified by its high, straight stem-post set at 45°, its load varies between 74 and 400 tons. For the common fisherman a small dugout canoe was made called the Huri, these, despite the changing times are still in use and are the most common one spotted in the Omani waters.

Apart from the ones mentioned before, Dhows also change their design based on the region they were made in, the fishing crafts made in Salalah are called the Shashah, the 35 feet long Baggarah originates from the Batinah coast and finally the ‘Sohar’ type which was used in 1980 to travel to china the old fashion way (wind sails) needs no explanation about its region.

Sadly with air travel on the rise and the influx of cheaper and shoddier modern crafts Dhow building is a dying art but fortunately there are stiff pockets of carpenters in the indigenous regions of Sur Oman who still keep the tradition alive. When one takes a simple stroll among its roads dotted with aesthetic forts, lively souks to its awe inspiring harbour where you can still see hardworking carpenters chiselling away and bounding their boats with fibre and in the evenings the whole town comes to life when the sailors leave for the sea!! After all as most of the locals will proudly tell you Sur is still a fisherman’s town and was instrumental in establishing Oman as a sea faring nation.

So the next time you’re in Oman, be sure to take the dhow cruise that almost everyone will recommend and while you enjoy modern amenities on this craft of ancient design, feel happy that you’re doing your bit in preserving a piece of world history and Omani culture.

The smell of freshly baked muffins…

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Did you know that the Oman Air Catering Division not only caters to Oman Air but to Lufthansa, KLM, Sri Lankan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines Swiss Air and numerous other carriers amounting to preparation of more than 20,000 meals a day!

To handle the volume of business, the place has been modernised with the latest equipment, highest standards of quality assurance, safety and hygiene and qualified staff out of which 67% are Omanis. The facility is also certified by the Institute of Environmental health, UK as a training center. They cook up 20,000 fresh meals a day, approximately 300 meals are served in First & Business Class lounges and approximately 200 people eat at the Majan lounge at Muscat International Airport every single day.

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Tons of fresh products arrive every single day at the kitchens out of which 110 are locally produced. They receives 200,000 kilos of fresh chicken breasts, 30,000 kilos of fresh eggs, 250,000 kilos of fresh orange juice, 75,000 kilos of lemons, 35,000 packets of cornflakes, 120,000 kilos of Basmati rice, 50,000 kilos of fresh king fish, 100,000 kilos of cucumbers and 8 different types of coffee come in every single year. All meals are prepped 24 hours before the flight and cooked 6-8 hours before the flight. The meals are then rolled out 90 minutes before the flight.
In the Oman Air Catering Division, all meals are designed by a special team according to the time of flight and the customers on board. The division works like clockwork with each department from the receiving area, storage, hot kitchen, cold kitchen to the delivery area work in coordination with each other to ensure meals are freshly prepared and delivered on time.

It is clear to see that there is a system in place which guarantees smooth operations at all times and all this runs smoothly under the expert guidance of Omani chef Fuad Al Hinai and his team.

 

Lucknow: The city of Nawabs and Kebabs

Lucknow

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Oman and the Indian sub-continent have a history together spanning several centuries; from the earliest recordings of trade from Mysore in 1750, to the early education of his royal highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Pune, the two countries have always have and will be bound in friendship.

For these reasons we take a gander at our travel routes to India starting with the City of Nawabs: Lucknow! This is a city rich and varied in history, culture, wildlife and of course food!!

It’s hard to pick where to begin when exploring the city but for those who love history and architecture I’d recommend starting with the Bara Imambara, a marvel of Mughal architecture. This structure is best known for its ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’ a labyrinth of hundreds of narrow staircases, passages and corridors which were built to trap assassins. It’s easy to get lost in there so be sure to take a guide with you! Next on the list of historical sites to visit is the ‘Rumi Darwaza’ also known as the Turkish gateway. Students of architecture will instantly fall in love with the awadh styling of the arch with its intricately carved flower buds and water jets designed to look like a gateway to paradise.

The next stop on your cultural tour should be the fabled ‘Hussainabad Picture Gallery, featuring the artworks of some of the greatest Indian artists of the 18th century. One of the most amazing feature that you will notice is that that the shoes, heads, eyes of the picture seem to move with you no matter which direction you travel in from, right to left or left to right.

These are just few of the many historical and architectural wonders to see but for the sake of space let’s move on to something for the little ones. This is the city of kites so be sure to visit during the ‘Jamghat’ festival (November 4th) when the sky will be dotted with hundreds of colourful kites, a delight for the young and old at heart alike!

With a nature tour in mind one of the first stop should be the Lucknow zoo, which houses over 400 types of mammals such as elephants, black bucks, giant squirrels, Bengal tigers, white tigers, wolves etc and around 97 different species of birds. It’s an easy way for children to spend an entire day especially if you visit them on the touch table program on Friday where they can see for themselves the skins and eggs of various species of animals from around the word. Also be sure to let them ride the toy train there which allows them a tour of the zoo via a 1960’s era train setup.

Next on your nature trip, you have a choice of the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary, the Kukrail Forest Reserve or the famous Parijaat Tree. To start with the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary is a photographer’s paradise.In the months of November to March one can easily capture many migratory birds which travel to India from as far as Europe and Siberia apart from the local avian community who themselves are delight to capture via camera. The Kukrail Forest Reserve is a deer farm and crocodile nursery to see baby crocodiles as well as variety of deer such as the rare back buck, the common spotted deer   and sammbar when one visits. Reputed to be over 1,000 years old the Parijaat Tree is mentioned several times in Indian mythology, this may be attributed to its flower which rarely blooms but is a sight to behold.

When Lucknow is in the conversation, food has to be mentioned. With the city keeping the legacy of the Mughal royal chefs intact, one can easily dive into an unlimited variety of kebabs (veg and non-veg) tandoors, naans (breads), curries and of course biryanis which most claim is a purely Lucknowi creation!! So when taking a culinary tour, be sure to start your day with an empty belly and lots of loose clothing!!

Last on our places to visit is the famous Lucknow Chowk, one of the city’s oldest markets and a treasure house of culture and history. It was recently established as a centre of handicrafts where all sorts of items made from bone, ivory, gold, leather and chikan garments (embroidery) are bought and sold by shops styled in the nawabi glamor of old. The chowk is also the centre of nawabi cuisine so one can easily combine the culinary tour with the shopping spree.

So next time you visit the Indian subcontinent be sure to visit this colourful city, and let us know how it went!

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