Archive | September 2013

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Vast. Varied. Vibrant !

One of the most extraordinary and diverse destinations in the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has so much more to offer, to suit the specific needs of different kinds of travellers

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Acknowledged as the birthplace of Islam and called commonly “the Land of the Holy Mosques” – Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, and Al-Masjid al- Nabawi in Madina – the two holiest of holy places in Islam, Saudi Arabic, is perhaps most well known as the nucleus of Islamic pilgrimages. For, there is so much more to Saudi Arabic than only religious activities.

To experience genuine Arabian hospitality, culture and traditions, and so much more, a visit to this one-of-a-kind mega Kingdom is absolutely imperative. Just to give an idea of the size of this massive kingdom, Saudi has 4 international airports and twenty-two domestic airports, all fully functional. With approximately 2.15 km2 or 830,000 mi2 of land area, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabic is the largest Arab state in the whole of Western Asia, and the second largest in the Arab world, after Algeria, occupying a whopping 80% of the Arabian Peninsula. It is almost 9 times larger than United Kingdom!

To place the kingdom in a geographical perspective, it is a rectangular plateau of land gradually sloping eastwards until it reaches the sea level at the Persian Gulf. For neighbors, the kingdom is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the east, the Sultanate of Oman to the southeast and Yemen in the south.

Owner of the world’s largest oil, and sixth largest natural gas reserves, have endowed this kingdom with its enormous wealth. The country is also one of the largest producers of petrochemicals. With oil exports accounting for over 95% of the nation’s income, in a matter of mere decades, this has managed to successfully transform the once underdeveloped desert nation into one of the world’s wealthiest, that it is today. The vast wealth generated by oil revenues has also positively influenced the kingdom in a significant way. It has paved the way towards rapid modernisation, urbanisation, mass public education, and the creation of new media. The results are now for all to see.

The kingdom is taking concerted efforts to transform the image of Saudi from being only a centre of religious tourism, to one that offers many other attractions as well. The second most important reason is also to lessen the dependency of the country’s earnings based only on its oil and natural gas reserves. Towards this end, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, a state-run organisation, devoted to the development of the tourism sector within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with particular focus on encouraging and supporting domestic tourism through sponsoring and conducting tourism events across the country was formed in the year 2000.

While Saudi Arabia has been a travel destination for centuries, with millions of people visiting the Kingdom each year from around the world, most visitors have historically been Muslims undertaking pilgrimages. Given the size of this country, never mind most being desert land, one can still expect to see some variety in its offerings. The mountains, the valleys and the famous Red Sea beaches with their turquoise water are well known to have some of the world’s finest diving sites. Some other spots are hard to reach, yet spectacular, such as the Nabatean ruins, a four-hour drive from Madina, the nearest city with an airport.

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Saudi Arabia offers both natural and historical wonders, from the mountain resorts of Taif and the majesty of ancient Nabatean tombs, to the multicolored coral reefs of the Red Sea.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rich with ancient archaeological sites dating back to the prehistoric era. The precious antiquities of Saudi Arabia, found both in the museums as well on throughout the vast lands, are important evidence of the Saudi ancestors’ civilization and a reflection of the depth and authenticity of the ancient country’s past.

It must be noted that any travel within Saudi Arabic is a fun, easy and safe tourist experience.

Ancient Past

Archeological research and excavations have revealed human history dating back to millions of years. The Paleolithic Age was evident in Al-Shwehtya excavations in the Jouf Province. The Mesolithic Age, which dates back to 50,000 years B.C., was evident in the excavations at Jubba in Hail Province and in the Abar Hemm site in Najran Province. Moreover, remnants from the Neolithic Age dating back 10,000 years B.C. were found in the excavations of Hail, Jouf and Eastern Provinces.

History & Culture

The historic landmarks in Saudi Arabia include certain archeological sites that have been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List such as the Al-Hejjr (Mdaen Saleh), and Al-Deraeah.

Archeological Sites

There are several archeological palaces and forts in Saudi Arabia that reflect the country’s prosperous and thriving historical eras. These include Ibrahim Palace, Khzam Palace, Mared Palace, Hatim Tai Palace, Al-Redm Palace and Al-Ablaq Palace.

Sports & Adventure

 Off-road family camping trips, team sports, or one-off tests of skill on a Jet ski or quad bike, are all available for the daring traveler.

Water sports

For a unique perspective on Saudi Arabia, take to the water in the Red Sea or the Gulf of Arabia. The pristine waters provide aquatic adventures of unparalleled beauty and variety. Learning to sail at the Obhur Creek or enjoying the sheer exhilaration of speeding over the waves on a Jet ski are also favourite activities for tourists.

Football

The King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh is a world-class Olympic arena with a holding capacity of 80,000 people. On most weekends in the cooler months, it is full of soccer fans supporting their local clubs.

Thoroughbred Horse Racing

 Horseracing is held at The King Abdulaziz Track located near the King Khalid International Airport at Janadriyah, 40km northeast of Riyadh. The facilities are of international standards with a grandstand accommodating 5,000 race-goers.

Falconry

It is said, “As a man controls his falcon, so he controls his territory.” In the Northern Borders Province, this age-old tradition is still handed down from father to son as a lesson in patience and authority.

Hiking & Trekking

The winding roads and pathways of the forest of Al-Baha is one of Saudi’s most beautiful hiking trails. And the Raghdan forest is the most pristine in Al-Baha which is about 5kms north of Al-Baha city. Shahba Forest is also just over 5km north of Al-Baha. A narrow path winds through the park and there are plenty of small picnic pavilions with barbecue areas set in groves of pine trees and juniper bushes. Al-Geme Forest is a wild park overgrown with olive trees, acacia and juniper.

Asir Mountain Tours

The Asir Mountains provide outstanding sporting activities; professionally supervised paragliding; hang-gliding; rock climbing and mountaineering. Conditions are also ideal for hiking and mountain bike riding.

The mountains afford a spectacular setting for; hiking and biking around al-Soudah; rock climbing at Al Habala; and camel trekking and hot air ballooning in Tathlith.

Off-Road

Located on the edge of the Nafud Al-Kabir Desert and on an historical trade route, Jubba is an ideal base for safari operations. Activities could include visiting authentic Bedouin camps for coffee or for lunch or dinner with the family where one can gain some insights into the traditional Bedouin way of life.

Motor Sports

 Quad bikes and dune buggies are available for hire across Saudi Arabia. For the most challenging displays of mechanical ability, it is necessary to go to the desert or beach for Tat’aees. Tat’aees dune driving is a uniquely Saudi sport with distinctly universal appeal. It combines action, noise, speed and a hint of danger.

The other notable activities include, diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, caving, camping and even agri-tourism. The same geological conditions that provide oil to Saudi Arabia, allows for vast underground reservoirs of water. Cities like Al Kharj and Burraydah are particularly fertile because of it. Fun fairs, theme parks and the fabulous Riyadh zoo are must sees too.

 

Country Facts

Oman Air flies 39 times a week from Muscat to Dammam, Jeddah, Riyadh and Madina in Saudi Arabia and twice a week from Salalah to Jeddah.

Visa Requirements:  Advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter the Kingdom. Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are exempt. Also exempt from visa requirements are foreigners transiting through airports for less than eighteen hours. Exclusive Hajj (pilgrimage) visas are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Contact your travel agent or your local Saudi embassy for details.

Languages: Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom. English is also spoken widely. Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Tagalog are also spoken given the large number of expatriates who speak those languages.

Currency: The official currency in Saudi Arabia is the gold-plated Saudi Riyal, divided into 100 Halalas.

The Back Pack Journey Essentials!

Backpacking

We’ve all seen them in movies, the students setting off on a trip into the wilderness and rural areas with a little more than the cloths on their back and what they can carry in their backpack, to immerse themselves in new cultures and to discover the wonders of nature while eating and playing all the way!! But while many of them are intrigued by the concept and try to plan for such a trip, few really know what it takes to go on such an adventure.  So we at Oman Air have come up a few tips for you to consider before setting on your way

–          Road Map: While leaving the map behind may have worked for Columbus, for the rest of us it’s a sure shot way of being mentioned in the ‘based on a true story’ part of a horror movie. When you pick your destination, be sure mark the possible pit stops and ‘hot’  spots you’ll be stopping  along the way on a map. This will give the people at home a fair idea of where you’ll be and helps you pick out some great places for snapshots and well as a fair idea of how long the whole trip would take.

–          Pack light: One of the major mistakes that most amateur backpackers do while packing is, no matter how long you plan to spend outdoors, if it can’t be worn for three days without getting dirty, it doesn’t go in the pack. Also don’t pack any jewellery.

–          Don’t Go Solo: Rule number one when trying to avoid becoming a statistic, is to take a friend with you on your trip. Apart from the “safety in numbers concept”, it’s also great to have someone along to share the experience. If possible pick a friend with more travel expertise than you.

–          Read up: Somehow this can never be stressed enough. Read up on your destination before you set off.  This will help you pick the right hot spots to visit, which souvenirs are really work picking up, how to be respectful of the local culture as well as help you get a fair idea of what to look out for when dealing with the local guide.

–          Base camp: if camping is going to be a part of your backpack travel be sure to set up a base camp on night one and use the next day to relax and hike into the surrounding wilderness, but ensure that a token of human civilization is within walking distance in case of emergencies and take plenty of water.

–          Prep up: Prepare yourself both mentally and physically before you leave home, remember you have to walk a lot on your trip and getting exhausted every few minutes is a big no-no!! Also its good to keep in mind that a 5 star accommodation and hot shower may not always be available, so don’t let this ruin a great trip.

–          Communicate: Keeping in touch with loved ones back home is not just good family values but also a great way to ensure your safety. A call everyday may not be possible, but make sure you give someone back home an update every time you reach a pit stop on your map!!

Note: There always been a lot said about the natural beauty of Oman but for backpacking journey here are our recommendations

–          Jebel Shams: Home to the tallest mountains in Oman and best places in the world for off road driving and mountain climbing.  Jebel shams is the place to go when you pack your camping gear.

–          Sur: A must see for water sports enthusiasts with its simmering waters, pack your snorkelling gear when visiting here. Another nearby plus point is the turtle beach where green sea turtles from all over the world come to lay their eggs.

–          Salalah: A window into the unique culture of Oman.  Salalah ranks high on our list in trekking, mountain climbing and exploring the history of the gulf. Be sure to come during the kareef (monsoon) season as this natural wonder becomes an even bigger treat for the eyes during that time!!

Happy Trails!!

Tips for the Perfect Holiday

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Most of us always dream about that perfect holidays to a far off land, with pristine white beaches, cool breezes and loved ones by our side, but because of various reasons such as overbooking, time money etc, we mostly end up spending our holidays sleeping or at a relative’s place at a nearby land. The funny thing is the holidays always seem far off and when you least expect it…they seem to sneak up on you, So we at Oman Air have made a small list of ways you can have that once in lifetime holiday each year!!

–          Plan: The hardest part of any plan is the planning stage, start planning your perfect getaway at least 3 months in advance as an early booking is a lot cheaper than at the last minute one, and thanks to the internet you can pick up some great packages but once again its only first come first serve and besides, once it’s all planed and book it’s a lot more fun to just sit back relax and count the days until your flight away

–          Pick the right spot: Unless you’re traveling alone, picking the right destination should generally be a group discussions and you really should consider all the factors before setting off on your vacation, such as do you have kids, how long do you want to be away, do you want to see wildlife on your holiday, how much do you wish to spend etc, etc!  Try exploring the country you live in or near by neighbouring  ones, you won’t believe the gems one can find nearby with a little research.

London Ferris

–          Budget your destination: The biggest problem most vacationers have is over spending on their holidays; unforeseen expenses are always unavoidable but its better if you include everything (food, souvenirs and travel) in your budget when planning your time off.

–          Research you destination: When setting off on your destination, read up about it a bit believe us it pays in more ways, than one, apart from figuring out the real attractions from the tourist traps and the best place to pick up your holiday keepsake, the locals are always more friendlier if you’re respectful about the local customs and practices, plus you journey will be enriched when you understand the significance of the sights you visit.

–          Tour group V/s independent travel: When planning you holiday be sure to think carefully about whether you want to opt for a group tour or travel independently as each of them have their own pros and cons in terms of costs, number of sights you’ll be able to visit, security, travel language and the number of new friends you’ll be able to make when traveling, but whatever you chose, try to look beyond the websites and remember when you want to have the real information about your travel group, social media is your friend!!

–          Pictures: When you’re on a holiday carrying a camera is a must, but don’t make the rookie travellers mistake of taking too many pictures at a go, apart from draining your camera’s battery and boring your viewers when you reach home, you also tend to miss out on some great snap shots when your clicking away without a plan, so pace yourself when taking pictures or better yet delete the repeats when you retire  for the night as this will help plans the next day’s snaps but also save you one heck of a chore when you get back home

–          Foodie your destination: Be sure to eat the local cuisine when you travel, as life is all about trying new things and the memories you make on vacation despite the tummy aches will be well worth it, so be sure to pack the pepto bismol before you order.

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–          Pack right: you’ll be amazed at how many essential items are missed and unnecessary ones are packed on the tour, so be sure to pack the right clothes and consider each item carefully before it goes in the bag, apart from saving up on cabin fare, it will also cut down on your expenses when traveling, after all the most expensive tooth brush is the one you bought abroad!!

So this is our list of ways to make your holiday special, but most of all travel safe and enjoy every moment of it!

The Majestic Arabian Oryx

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Sometimes it’s sad when you realise how many animals in the world are either extinct or on the brink of it due to human civilization;

Take the Arabian Oryx for example. With black markings around its eyes and beautiful white pelt to ward off heat, the Arabian Oryx is perfectly adapted to the desert environment and, able to go for days without water yet has an uncanny ability to sense it for miles away. It can cover a distance of over 150 km in search of a new grazing pasture and can live without water for a long period just by drinking the dew or fog collected on the leaves and grass.

It’s hard to believe that this amazing creature had once been wiped out in Oman until a few decades ago!!

These beautiful creatures with its beautiful long sharp stunning horns that are responsible for the unicorn legend, were hunted to extinction in Oman just for their horns, pelt and even sold to private zoos, where they would die shortly after captivity.

Back in 1972, the last herd of Oryx in central Oman was wiped out due to indiscriminate hunting, leaving fewer than 15 left in the world, all of which were in zoos or in private collections. Then in 1976, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said issued a Royal Directive to save and reintroduce this beautiful animal as a protected animal back in Oman.

From there on, using just three Oryx rescued from an international organization (WWF) and 8 more donated by private collections from around the Arabian region, the Arabian Oryx were taken into a breeding program and formed the nexus of the world heard. Since then, the population grew and in 1982, the Arabian Oryx re-introduced into the wild in a protected area in Jaaluni and was until recently considered the Oryx’s best success stories.

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman (now one of the few places in the world with a free ranging heard of Oryx) can be visited by obtaining a visitors permit from The Advisor to The Office of the Conservation of Environment at the Royal Court Diwan (acedrc@omantel.net.om) and is located near Jaaluni a few miles from Duqm, but be advised finding this place is quite hard so be sure to take a good guide with you from one of the hotels in Duqm.

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