One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Amman is a curious mix of ancient and modern, and is known for its welcoming residents
The seven hills of Amman are an enchanting mixture of ancient and modern. Honking horns give way to the beautiful call to prayer, which echoes from stately minarets. Gleaming white houses, kebab stalls and cafés are interspersed with bustling markets, and the remains of civilizations and ages long past.
Sunset is perhaps the best time to enjoy Amman, as the white buildings of the city seem to glow in the fading warmth of the day. The greatest charm of Amman, however, is found in the hospitality of its residents. Amman is built on seven hills, or jabals, each of which more or less defines a neighborhood. Most jabals once had a traffic circle, and although most of these have now been replaced by traffic lights, Amman’s geography is often described in reference to the eight circles which form the spine of the city. Amman has served as the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 7000 BC.
Most of Amman’s noteworthy historical sites are clustered in the downtown area, which sits at the bottom of four of Amman’s seven hills. The ancient Citadel, which towers above the city from atop Jabal al-Qala’a, is a good place to begin a tour of the city. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath- Ammon, and excavations here have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr (“the Palace”), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. To the north and northeast are the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds. Close to al-Qasr lie the remains of a small Byzantine basilica. Corinthian columns mark the site of the church, which is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century CE. About 100 meters south of the church is what is thought to have been a temple of Hercules, today also known as the Great Temple of Amman. The temple was built in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), and is currently under restoration.
Also on Citadel Hill, just northwest of the Temple of Hercules, is the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This small museum houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th century. There is an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of the Mesha Stele and four rare Iron Age sarcophagi. Downhill from the Citadel and five minute walk east from downtown, the Roman Theatre is the most obvious and impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. The theatre, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a necropolis—or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the amphitheatre at Jerash, and can accommodate 6000 spectators. The theatre is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.
Two small museums are built into the foundations of the Roman theatre. The Jordan Folklore Museum is in the right wing of the theatre and displays a collection of items showing the traditional life of local people. At the other end of the theatre stage, the Museum of Popular Traditions displays traditional Jordanian costumes, including fine embroidery and beautiful antique jewellery. It also houses several sixth-century mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.
The Museum of Popular Traditions is open daily 09:00-17:00, and closed on Tuesday. The Jordan Folklore Museum is open every day from 09:00-17:00, except Friday when its hours are 10:00-16:00. To the northeast stands the small theatre, or Odeon, which is still being restored. Built at about the same time as the Roman theatre, this intimate 500-seat theatre is used now as it was in Roman times, for musical concerts. Archaeologists think that the building was originally covered with a wooden or temporary tent roof to shield performers and audiences from the elements. Heading southwest from the theatre complex, Philadelphia’s chief fountain, or Nymphaeum, stands with its back to Quraysh Street.
Much of the fountain, which was completed in 191 CE, is hidden from public view by private houses and shops. The Nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meter pool, three meters deep, which was continuously refilled with fresh water. From the Nymphaeum, the short stroll to the King Hussein Mosque bustles with pedestrians, juice stands and vendors. The area around the King Hussein Mosque, also known as al-Husseini Mosque, is the heart of modern downtown Amman. The Ottoman style mosque was rebuilt in 1924 on the site of an ancient mosque, probably also the site of the cathedral of Philadelphia. Between the al-Husseini Mosque and the Citadel is Amman’s famous gold souq, which features row after row of glittering gold treasures.
Visitors to Amman – and the rest of Jordan, for that matter – are continually surprised by the genuine warmth with which they are greeted. “Welcome in Jordan” is a phrase visitors will not soon forget.
The Kathmandu Valley was once widely believed to be the fabled Shangri-La – a fictional, earthly paradise and utopia, isolated from the outside world. Because of this, a visit to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu has often been claimed as a rite of passage for ‘serious’ travellers. To call yourself a proper traveller, you would have to have been to Kathmandu!
Indeed, since Nepal opened its doors to the outside world in 1950 (due to a change in the country’s political situation), Kathmandu has enjoyed a dedicated following among modern travellers. When talking about Kathmandu, most travellers are actually referring to the Kathmandu Valley – made up of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and its sister cities Patan, Kirtipur, Thimi and Bhaktapur. Together, these form the most populated and developed region in Nepal. Nepal itself is famous for being a centre point for Hinduism and Buddhism as it is home to many sacred temples for both faiths. One of these is the revered Buddhist pilgrimage site of Lumbini – the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, who was the ‘enlightened one’ on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Nepal also contains eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, with Mount Everest, on the Tibet-China border, the tallest. Nepal is landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region in the north, and the India in the south, east, and west. At some travel destinations, there seems to be a prevailing sense of urgency to get through a list of ‘must-do’ activities. Kathmandu can be best enjoyed by just ‘being there’ – without feeling the need to progress through any sort of busy itinerary.
In Kathmandu, as well as the rest of the country, it is common to greet people with a warm ‘Namaste’ with palms together, fingers up – in place of a hello or goodbye. It should only be said once per person, per day. Roughly translated the word means ‘The divine in me salutes the divine in you’.
Valley of Treasures
Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the place can be wonderfully overwhelming for a first time traveller. To a certain extent, due to Kathmandu being the largest urban centre of Nepal – complete with congested walkways, traffic delays, over zealous street traders etc – it is easy to think it is just another developing world city. But it isn’t. And once you’re settled, and begin exploring Kathmandu’s back streets, alleyways, little courtyards and older parts of the town – some of which seem to have been untouched since the Middle Ages – the real spirit of Kathmandu comes alive.
In fact, the Kathmandu Valley is an enormous treasure trove of art and culture and tradition – with much of it in the form of statues of the gods, goddesses and iconography of Eastern spirituality and philosophy. And it is hard not to be deeply affected by it all. There are well over a hundred monuments in the valley, with several Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites, including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Durbar Square is the traditional heart of Kathmandu, and has been in active use since around 1000 AD. It is crowded with palaces and temples, and the most spectacular of Kathmandu’s traditional architecture. Durbar is one of three loosely linked squares – all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Perhaps the best-known building here is Kasthamandap – a three-storied temple built in the pagoda style by the early sixteenth century King Laxmi Narsingha Malla. The whole temple is built from the wood of just a single tree, and covered with the shrine. In a special ceremony held every year here, people stay up all night to share legendary stories about the temple, while feasting on traditionally prepared food.
Thamel is the commercial nerve centre of Kathmandu. It is a haven for tourists and although some consider it to be overcrowded, the streets of Thamel are fascinating. You can buy almost anything at the many markets and shopping stalls lining the streets and alleyways. Some favourites are incense, prayer flags, and cultural artefacts like Kukri swords or Hindu and Buddha statuettes. There are also bookstores, clothing shops, outdoor outfitters, internet cafes and banks in this district – and of course dozens of hotels and restaurants.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the magnificence and grandeur of some of the sites around Kathmandu – like the sacred and highly revered Buddhist sites of Swayambhu and Boudha; as well as the important Hindu temple, Pashupatinath. There is also the Garden of Dreams (called Kaiser Mahal) near Thamel where you can relax in a beautiful and peaceful walled garden next to the former Royal Palace. At the Budda Neelkanth site, an idol of Bhagwan Vishnu in a sleeping position, surrounded by water, makes for an extraordinary cool and calming spectacle.
The so-called Freak Street was once a gathering point of western hippies seeking enlightenment during the 1960s and 1970s. But these days, you’ll just a find a few restaurants and hotels here.
Kathmandu Valley is referred to as the ‘gateway for travellers into Nepal’ – and many visitors use it as a launching pad for their trekking and mountaineering adventures, holy pilgrimages or sightseeing tours into the rest of the country.
Dhulikhel is a scenic town situated 30 kilometres east of the city on the Kathmandu Kodari Highway. From here one gets a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. If you would like to see some of the Himalayas from Kathmandu itself, it is possible to spend a day or two walking out of the valley to various view points, from where you can gaze up at and photograph these magnificent peaks. Most trekking companies in Kathmandu can also organise longer, more intense treks into the mountains.
Water sport is now a rage all over the world. All countries plan different strategies to develop this sport by enhancing the sports facilities to attract more water-sports enthusiasts. As far as this sport is concerned, Oman is a paradise and is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of water sports. Hence, special focus is being accorded to develop and upgrade facilities for it. A key element of the strategy set out by the Ministry of Tourism calls for a major diversification of the tourism product. This strategy has helped Oman to successfully host the Asian Beach Games of 2010.
Water sport is one of the popular sports in Oman with more than 3000 kms of coastline and clean unpolluted waters; there are several fascinating aqua sports which are popular in Oman.
Diving: Oman has an amazing world of colour in its waters. There is a wealth of scenery, wildlife, and thrill beckoning the more intrepid underwater explorer. Yes, diving is a major activity in Oman. The relative remoteness of pockets of the rocky coasts and secluded fjords has helped to preserve their natural beauty and wildlife. These areas offer greater access with nature and exciting opportunities for exploratory diving. And the balmy water and mellow currents make Oman a favourite diving destination. Its breathtaking underworld features rock falls, scenic walls and reefs. So to explore the crystal waters and be with the amazing corals, visit Bandar Jissa, Bandar Al Khyran, Damaniyat Islands, Fahal Island, and Al Sawadi. All these places serve as a natural magnet for snorkelling and scuba diving enthusiasts alike. Night dives are popular and divers are often astounded by the amount of phosphorescence found in Oman’s nighttime waters. The phosphorescence is green/blue and emitted by microscopic plankton as a result of a chemical reaction issuing from vigorous movement.
Sailing: This sport is the latest rage in Oman thanks to recent successes of Omani sailors and teams in premier sailing events around the world. There are regular regattas held in the waters of Oman. The Marina Bandar Al Rowdha or Capital Area Yacht Club draw up plans for sailing. Sailing initiative, Oman Sail along with the Ministry of Tourism, aims to tap the maritime tradition by developing and training a core crew of Omani sailors who will then represent the Sultanate at sailing events in Europe and Oman. The aim is that Oman Sail will help to attract tourism and promote the Sultanate as a world-class sailing destination.
Parasailing: It is an adventure sport that blends the exhilaration of flying, parachuting and sailing into a single experience. Parasailing is yet to take off on a big scale here. The dhow sailing is also adventurous and the dhow sailing races are without a doubt the most spectacular and gracious events on the water sporting calendar.
Surfing: How does it feel to ride on the white waves and feel the high of surfing in the aquamarine waters of Oman? Great! Beaches in Oman are ideally suited to enjoy surfing. One of the best places to surf in Oman is Masirah Island, reached only by ferry from the village of Shanna on the mainland. Masirah with surf of four to six feet is also an ideal area for windsurfing, particularly during the Khareef (monsoon season – June to September), when warm, strong winds sweep across from the southern region of Dhofar.
Kite Surfing: This water sport has been around for a while but has started to grow quickly in the last few years. The sport uses the wind as the propelling force. Oman is among the best places in the region to kite surf – the summer season, from May to September, is ideal. The wind is consistent and on an average, 20 knots plus every day from Ras al Hadd south makes for perfect conditions for kite surfing. Masirah is popular with both kiters and windsurfers while the town of Aseela, 16 kms from Al Ashkarah, is very popular for kite surfing.
Kayaking: This is a relatively recent introduction into Oman and is currently limited to the Capital Area. Explore the fjords and coastal waters of Muscat as you gently glide in 1 or 2-seater kayaks. Kayaking on the warm waters of Oman makes for an adventurous experience. One can kayak among the fjords of Bandar Al Khyran. Musandam is another striking location that springs up in the mind when kayaking is mentioned.
Game Fishing: It is being promoted in right earnest in Oman considering the element of excitement involved in the sport. Angling is expected to find enthusiasts and those looking for new ways of adventure. Omani waters abound in a great variety of fish like Tuna, Swordfish, Queenfish, Cobia, Sailfish, Barracuda and Black Marlin.
Other water sports: Jet ski, canoeing, etc. are slowly finding a place on the domain of water sports. In the coming years, Oman is set to become an ideal destination for water sports!
With visitors flocking in from all over the Sultanate, the GCC, MENA, Levant regions, Europe and even further, this is undoubtedly Oman’s best festival yet!
To say that the Muscat Festival is truly the pride of all festivities in Oman would be a gross understatement. Over the years, the Muscat Festival has evolved to become so very popular that the citizens, residents and visitors alike look forward to being in Muscat to share all the joy and fun of the festivities.
The Muscat Municipality that drives this annual festival extravaganza leaves no stone unturned to ensure that year-after-year, the Muscat Festival stays ever fresh in its different offerings to the public. The Muscat Festival comes in many parts, all offering wholesome family entertainment. For starters, the various activities are spread across the city at two main venues of Naseem Gardens and Amerat Park besides numerous other locations.
There will be something of interest to every age group. Besides the major sporting spectacle in the form of the Tour of Oman, the Muscat Festival will also host a spectrum of colourful activities celebrating the Omani, Arabic, as well as International Culture, the Oman Food Festival, the International Festivities of Arts, the Heritage and Creativity, the Muscat International Folklore Festival, the Architects of Air, the Festival of Lights, the Festival of Arts, Laser Shows, Fireworks, Handicrafts, fun and frolic!
Tour of Oman
One of the key international highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Tour of Oman. 128 of the world’s finest cyclists will group together as 16 professional teams, to race over 935.5 arduous kilometres across 6 stages spread over 6 days. The Tour of Oman continues to be a major hit with the international media given Muscat’s breathtaking natural beauty of stark mountains, azure beaches and world-class road networks, dotted with some mesmerising monuments along the routes.
This venue in Barka, just a short drive from the Muscat International Airport, will feature one of the region’s largest outdoor international shopping pavilions during the Muscat Festival. Many nations from the Central Asian to South East Asian countries, the Eastern Bloc, the Baltic countries, African and the Middle Eastern nations will be present to offer their countries signature products for sale at very attractive prices. Besides shopping, Naseem Gardens will feature a large multi-national food court, a huge children’s entertainment arcade with many rides and other attractions. Every evening there will also be laser shows and a colourful fireworks display over the park’s precincts, providing for some wholesome family entertainment.
Al Amerat Park
One of the key highlights of the Muscat Festival is the Omani Culture and Heritage Village, with an accurate re-creation of a traditional and ancient Omani village, complete with its own ancient souq, fort and live lifestyle demonstrations. This year, all these will happen at the Al Amerat Park. Besides Omani, the park will also host the International Festival of Arts, Heritage and Creativity where over 150 artisans from 25 different countries will be present to demonstrate live handicraft performances. Also many other outdoor entertainment activities like the International Folklore, Live Musical Shows and performances, Children’s entertainment activities will take place here.
An all-time hit of the Muscat Festival has to be the Oman Food Festival, where the authentic tastes of Oman will be served to the world, will be held at this venue. Traditional cuisines, live cooking counters, dine-in and takeaways will make the offerings complete. Other notable highlights at this venue are the Muscat International Folklore Event and a series of theatrical presentations organised by the Royal Opera House Muscat. Besides all of the above, the Muscat Art Festival, a celebration of the fine arts will be held across the capital city in various museums and art houses. The Festival of Lights would convert the city into a veritable magic world, where Muscat’s many Forts, Gates, Monuments, Buildings and other select structures would be lit up attractively. With all this and more, the Muscat Festival surely promises to live up to its well earned reputation as one of the major crowd pullers of the region.
Get ready to be part of Muscat Festival 2014 and if you are planning to visit Muscat, and you couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit, then book flights to Muscat on omanair.com to join the festival.
Oman Air is the official carrier for the Muscat Festival 2014
For complete programme listings please refer to www.muscat-festival.com