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Sleep Well!

In today’s fast-paced world, the idea of a good night’s sleep seems to have fallen down our list of priorities. But adequate rest plays an absolutely essential role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Health experts warn us that we can’t function to the best of our abilities without sleep – and we should be doing everything we can to make sure we ‘get a good night,’ every night!

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Why do we need sleep? Scientists have many theories on why humans need to sleep. (In fact, many health resources explain that reasons for sleep are only partially clear and the subject of ongoing research). What we do know, however, is that humans must sleep and many essential things happen to us while we’re doing it:

  • The brain has a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to lack of activity.
  • Sleep gives the brain an opportunity to re-organize information to help find solutions to problems; process newly learned information; and ‘organize’ memories.
  • Sleeping is a time for genuine rest. While we’re asleep, our metabolic rate and energy consumption is lowered.
  • The cardiovascular system also gets a break during sleep. Researchers have found that people with normal or high blood pressure experience a 20% to 30% reduction in blood pressure and 10% to 20% reduction in heart rate.
  • During sleep, the body has a chance to replace chemicals, and repair muscles and other body tissues and aging cells.
  • Growth hormones are also released during deep sleep. But the most obvious reason why we need sleep is to consider what happens when we don’t get it. We’ve all experienced the moodiness, reduced alertness and concentration, reduced work efficiency, lack of motivation, poor memory etc, associated with a bad night’s sleep. The more serious consequences are accidents as a result of fatigue (falling asleep while driving, for example); depression; an inability to learn and process information at an effective level; health consequences as a result of weight gain; reduced skin health; and forgetfulness. Some studies also show that patients who suffer from a lack of sleep appear to have a significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

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Sleep tips…

  • Stick to the same bedtime and waking times, even on the weekends. This habit regulates your body’s biological clock and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, every night.
  • Practice a relaxing ‘bedtime ritual’ before sleep time. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety which make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Exercise daily. Even light exercise is better than no activity. But avoid exercising at the expense of your sleep, of course!
  • Re-evaluate where you sleep. Experts recommend that the room where you sleep should be coolish (around 20 degrees Celsius); free from any disturbing noises; and free from any light.
  • Sleep on a comfortable, good quality mattress, and use a pillow that is comfortable and supportive.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine and heavy meals in the evening. Some wellness experts even say we should avoid eating for up to 2 to 3 hours before sleeping.
  • Your body needs time to shift into sleeping mode. Before going to bed, spend some time doing a calming activity like reading, drawing, or some light breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Using an electronic device such as a laptop or Smartphone can make it hard to fall asleep because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.

Omani Souvenirs – I

Jerz axe making

6The craft of Jerz making is unique to Musandam, and the local men here carry this long-handled axe as part of their traditional costume. In days gone by, the Jerz was used for chopping firewood; as a support stick while walking and climbing over Musandam’s rocky terrain; and occasionally, as a weapon of self-defense against wild animals. Jerz making falls under the metalworking or blacksmithing craft in Oman – something which the Sultanate’s people are famous for. A typical Jerz is just under a meter in length and a few centimeters in diameter. The axe head is about 10 centimeters long.

 

Silversmith crafts

7The silversmith craft and culture in Oman is unique and fascinating. This is due to the fact that over several centuries, the silversmiths and metalworkers of Oman have taken design elements in silverware manufacture from all over the world – especially India, East Africa, China, various Middle Eastern centres and even Europe – and come up with a unique style of their own that is inspired and influenced by the Omani culture and identity. Nizwa is renowned for its high quality silverware, but silver products can be found throughout the Sultanate.

 

Kohl making

8Throughout Oman’s history, women have worn kohl around their eyes. The function of khol is a cosmetic one – and it is said to give a woman’s eyes more expression. Kohl is a paste traditionally made from finely powdered sulphide of antimony mixed with rosewater – and in some cases, wood ash mixed with vegetable oils. These days, kohl is commercially available, but the traditional, hand-made version is held in high esteem, and worn with pride. An Almekhala is a small metal bowl (it is sometimes made of silver) used to contain kohl.

Balad Sayt Village

Longitude: 23° 11’ 28.2” N Latitude: 57° 23’ 15.6” E

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Balad Sayt is a mountain village located just over 200 kilometers west of Muscat, approximately on the border between the A’Dakhiliyah and A’Batinah Governorates.

The village is an exquisite example of what ‘Old Oman’ was like – a trip here feels like a trip back in time to an era where you might never want to return from!

The village is located on the slopes of the Hajar Mountains near the highest peak in the Sultanate of Oman, Jebel Shams.

The town of Rustaq is located just less than 60 kilometres away (about an hour’s drive) from Balad Sayt, and is a good place to stock up with supplies for the day, or for a camping trip.

Due to the relatively high altitude, Balad Sayt enjoys moderate daytime temperatures – even during the peak summer months.

The village is surrounded by the awe-inspiring peaks and valleys of the Jebel Shams mountain range. A camera is essential!

There are some spectacular natural camping sites next to the few kilometers of road that ascend towards the village. Campers need to bring all amenities and supplies with them – including lots of water.

Many of the village buildings are constructed in the vernacular style – they have been built the same way for hundreds of years using locally sourced clay, mud, stone and date palm fronds.

The village itself is next to the local people’s date palm plantations and agricultural terraces.  The final approach to the village involves a steep climb, followed by an exhilarating descent into the mountain and valley oasis.

Due to its inaccessibility and out-of-the-way location, Balad Sayt’s natural and cultural beauty is unspoiled. Balad Sayt is accessible only via rugged mountainous roads, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended.

Bimmah Sinkhole

There are many sinkholes in Oman, but Bimmah is the most impressive. Since it is only an hour’s drive from Muscat, it is also one of Oman’s most popular tourist sites. It is well worth a visit.

Longitude: 23° 03’ 44.8” N Latitude: 59° 07’ 19.41” E

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Bimmah Sinkhole has been attracting travelers and locals to its crystal clear waters for a long time. A walk down the stairs to the water’s edge – and even a swim in the Bimmah’s refreshing waters –is something too enticing to miss.

Bimmah Sinkhole was formed by the collapse of a large underground cave, due to natural erosion. Remnants of the cave can be seen at the base of the hole. Access to the sinkhole is free, and there are picnic and toilet facilities available.

After a site-seeing trip to Bimmah, travelers often continue their drive through to the coastal town of Sur, which is the traditional home of dhow building in Oman.

Tiny fish can be found in the pool and sometimes, they gently nibble on your toes. The sinkhole is approximately 60 meters by 80 meters wide, and about 25 meters down to the sinkhole is located the water level.

In Hawiyat Najm Park, which is about an hour’s drive south-east of Muscat, and just off the Muscat-Sur road. Bimmah sinkhole is only about 600 meters away from the Sea of Oman shoreline.

A park and viewing platform have been built around the sinkhole – as well as a stairway that leads down to the water’s edge. The natural lighting conditions at the sinkhole and the iridescent blue-green color of the water make for wonderful photographs.

The sinkhole contains salt water that is crystal clear – with underwater visibility up to 20 meters at certain times.

Diving the Daymaniyats

The Jewel in the crown of undersea Oman

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Oman and its people have a long and rich history with the sea. For thousands of years, Omani merchants and sailors have journeyed into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean in search of trade and adventure. In modern times, Oman has become well known for its spectacular diving potential. The jewel in the crown of Oman diving is the Daymaniyat and Sawadi Island chain, which is located about 75 kilometers east of Muscat, beginning just off the coastline at Barka. While the Sawadi Islands are always worth seeing, the nine main islands that make up the Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve, which are further out to see, are the most impressive. From Nabucco´s Al Sawadi Beach Resort to the uninhabited island group, it is just a 45 minute trip with the Extra Divers Worldwide dive boat. (The Extra Divers Al Sawadi centre forms the closest base from which to dive the Daymaniyats).

The islands begin about 18 kilometers out sea, and are clustered together in three groups – often referred to as the Western, Central and Eastern (including the Southeastern islands) sections. There are between 20 and 30 dive sites scattered around the area – all of which are accessed via boat. However, the nature of the undersea terrain means that at almost any point, there is a fascinating array of marine life to experience, and underwater features like caves, drop-offs, huge boulders and underwater swimthroughs to explore.

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During the trip out to the islands, dolphins are also often encountered.  Coral reefs with dozens of hard and soft coral species cover up to 70% of the dive sites. The marine life is prolific and there are all kinds of colorful reef fish and large pelagic fish in abundance. Various types of sharks and rays, and numerous other large and small marine creatures (including the much-loved seahorses) are all part of the experience.

Whale Sharks are also frequent visitors here during the summer months – from around July to September. ‘There is not much in the world that can compare to an encounter with a whale shark,’ says Gerrit Schneider, from Extra Divers Worldwide. Turtles are common too, with many returning during the summer months to lay their eggs on the island’s white, sandy beaches If you aren’t a qualified scuba diver, you’ll still be able to experience the marine life and sea creatures by snorkeling. Typically, you’ll join a boat of divers heading out to the islands, and while they’re busy underwater, you’ll be able to explore the shallower patches of coral reef in the area. Under the water, or at the surface, the Daymaniyats are not to be missed!

Omani Souvenirs

Khanjar Dagger:

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The Khanjar is the traditional dagger of Oman, and forms part of the Omani man’s formal dress. The blade of the dagger is curved, sharpened on both edges, and is carried in a handsomely decorated silver sheath worn around the waist. Khanjars are held in high esteem in Omani society, and a Khanjar appears on the flag of Oman, as part of the national emblem.

Pottery:

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Oman is famous for its pottery, and Bahla, in the A’Dhahirah Governorate, is considered the traditional home of this highly regarded craft. Omani pots are made out of clay gathered from the floors of wadi river beds, and they are used to store water, dates, honey and other household items.

Kumah Caps:

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The Kumah is the traditional cotton cap worn by Omani men. Due to the intricate embroidery required in the design, and the length of time needed to produce each one, they are highly prized and can fetch very high prices. However, mass produced Kumah caps are commonly sold at lower prices from souqs and malls.

Delightful Omani Dishes

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Salads

Farfina Salad: Watercress salad with white onion and cherry tomato garnish with lime dressing.

Eggplant Salad: Roasted eggplants with garlic flavor, garnished with chilies and coriander.

Awal Salad: Duo of sun-dried baby shark meat flakes and green mango accented with white onion, dressed with fresh tomato coulis.

Soups

Harees Laham Soup: Creamy whole wheat soup, slow cooked with lamb pieces seasoned with hints of cardamom and cinnamon.

Tomato Soup with Dry Limes: Omani take on classic tomato soup, slow cooked with whole sun dried Omani limes to flavor.

Alkarasea Soup: Traditional clear goat leg soup slow cooked with vegetables, lightly spiced with ginger and red chilies.

Rice Mains

Omani Shuwa: Traditional roasted lamb marinated with special ‘shuwa’ spices and vinegar, covered with banana leaves and slow roasted overnight in an underground pit.

Arsia Laham: Mashed rice with lamb, flavored with cardamom with special sauce ‘turshe’.

Qabuli with Camel Meat: Rice cooked in ‘qabuli’ spices served with camel meat.

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Meat

Maraq Ma’ajeen: Sun dried meat stewed and lightly flavored with garlic and coriander.

Maraq Mashakik: Mashakik meat cubes stewed in tangy tomato sauce.

Mahmas Laham: Sautéed lamb with roasted onions and tomatoes flavored with a little ginger.

Sea Food

Marqat Pablo: Light king fish stew with onions, tomatoes, green chilies, saffron and lemon juice.

Salqat Al Samak: Broth of hamour fish with onions and tomatoes with hint of zaatar (thyme).

Samak Mtafai: Pan-fried king fish served with tangy tomato and tamarind sauce.

Chicken

Marqat Al Dijaj: Chicken stew, lightly flavored with garlic, accented with fresh coriander.

Marqat Al Dijaj Bil Narjeel: Chicken stew with a creamy coconut and tomato sauce lightly spiced accentuating the flavor.

Salqat Al Dijaj: Broth of corn fed chicken flavored with lime and zaatar.

Vegetarian Hot Dishes

Marqat Al Dal: Classic lentil stew with distinct Omani flavor.

Dengu Mqashad: Lentil stew prepared with onions and lightly spiced with cumin seeds.

Garlic Jareesh: Creamy broken wheat slow cooked with milk and onions, flavored with garlic.

Desert:

Omani Halwa: Gelatinous Omani sweet, made from fine ingredients, flavored with saffron, cardamom and rose water.

Asida Bi Dibs: Soft crumble flavored with cardamom and saffron, served with dibs (date syrup).

Khabissa Bil Findal: Sweet potatoes prepared with sweet dough.

Wadi Dayqah Dam

Latitude: 23° 05’ 04.5’’ N Longitude: 58° 50’ 56.4’’ E

Wadi Dayqah Dam is the Sultanate of Oman’s largest dam. As far as man-made bodies of water are concerned, it is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful as well.

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Wadi Dayqah is about an hour’s drive south-east of Muscat, and one of the most accessible sites in the Sultanate. A walk along the gigantic concrete dam wall, followed by a picnic on the grass adjacent to the dam, makes for an ideal half-day trip and an absolute ‘must-do’ item for travelers.

One of the defining characteristics of Wadi Dayqah Dam is that it is surrounded on all sides by the peaks of the Hajar Mountain Range. The combination of this huge body of water, and sheer cliff faces on all sides (some over 1 500 meters high), is spectacular.

On a clear day, the dam and surrounding areas are a paradise for a photographer.

There is a small restaurant at the main lookout area, but you’ll also be well off bringing your own picnic lunch or breakfast to enjoy at the garden area, where there are grassy and shaded areas to sit around.

Wadi Dayqa had for centuries been the source of irrigation for a system of aflaj open irrigation canals in the area. Now, this ancient system is fed from the new dam reservoir

Swimming in the dam, in the vicinity of the wall, is prohibited. However, it is possible to take a refreshing dip in the rock pools below the dam wall during the summer months, when hardly any water flows from the dam

For the adventurous, there are a few informal trekking paths leading north along the dam’s shoreline.

Originally, about 120 wadis flowed into the area that now contains the dam. There is still a year-round low of water through the dam, with winter being the peak period.

The storage capacity of the dam is about 100 million cubic meters. The entire expanse of water covers an area of 350 hectares. The dam wall itself is 390 meters long, and just over 73 meters high.

A walk along the top of the dam wall gives a literal bird’s eye view of the entire area: Views of the dam, the mountains, and the wadi and small town below the wall. Access to the dam wall and picnic area is free.

Original Omani Food With A Modern Touch!

The Omani people are passionate about their food, and this is evident wherever you travel around the Sultanate. Thankfully, there are restaurants that create exceptional Omani food and unforgettable Omani eating experiences. Al Angham restaurant happens to be one of the finest. It does original Omani food, with a modern Omani touch. Wings of Oman’s Paul Winter went to investigate.

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In the best eateries all over the world, it is very often the little details – in the service, the food, and the décor and design of the restaurant – that set them apart from the rest.

Al Angham is one of the restaurants in the Sultanate that consistently gets described as a top venue to experience traditional Omani food. And just like at some of the best eating venues around the world, the fine attention to detail here (along with the food) seems to be one of the reasons it does what it does so well.

Some of these details included the ‘Royal Omani Guard’ who welcomed me at the door, and who was impeccably dressed in the traditional Omani attire (complete with silver Khanjar dagger); the exquisite silverware, fresh roses, and embroidered napkins that adorned the dining tables; the original Omani artifacts and décor items that are placed at various points around the rooms; the interior architecture of the restaurant, and many more things.

Treating guests like royalty and making sure everyone feels special is one of the things that Al Angham’s staff (who all wear traditional Omani dress) take a lot of pride in. I got a feel for this as I was taken on a welcoming tour, like most guests are, around Al Angham’s four private dining rooms and halls – named Al Zabarjd, Al Turayia, Al Majlis, and Al Sabah. These are all separate from the main dining hall; all have their own character and design; and feature superb examples of Omani décor.

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Original Omani food – With a modern touch

After the above introduction to Al Angham, I now faced the most difficult part of my time spent at the restaurant – negotiating my way through the restaurant’s menu. As a food-loving expatriate living in the Sultanate, I have become relatively familiar with what ingredients makes up traditional Oman-style uisine. So being able to identify each dish on the menu, and talk about some of the combinations of flavours being presented, is something that comes naturally. The difficult part was dealing with being overwhelmed with what was on offer.

My goal at Al Angham had originally been to sort of ‘taste my way through’ the full spectrum of the Sultanate of Oman’s cuisine. But of course, this proved impossible in just one sitting! I settled for selecting a few dishes that were recommended by various food reviewers who had previously been to Al Angham.

Many of the dishes at Al Angham are presented and laid out according to an innovative and modern aesthetic. My halwa turned out to be the perfect example of this.

Fine Omani Dining

Some food reviewers have suggested that Al Angham restaurant represents the very best in fine Omani dining, and it’s hard not to agree. Plenty of professional service, and warm, friendly hospitality – which is typical of the Omani experience – accompanied each of my dishes.

The food, of course, was spectacular, and the highlight for me was knowing I was eating classic, original Omani food, prepared and served in the traditional way (with, as mentioned, some modern Omani touches).

When I was done, the Al Angham experience ended off with the cherished Omani custom of rinsing my hands with rosewater. It was the perfect ending to what will surely be a very long love affair with Omani food and Omani food culture.

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True Omani Cuisine

Having been at crossroads for world trade and travel between the Middle East, Africa and the Far East since ancient times, Oman’s cuisine has been influenced by many food cultures. But over hundreds of years, it has also naturally evolved into something original and unique. One of the main examples of this is that Omani dishes are not as hot as those of other cuisines from neighbouring regions.

Traditionally, Omani cuisine is prepared with liberal use of marinades, spices, herbs, onions, garlic and limes. These are combined and fused with the base ingredients of chicken, mutton, cooked vegetables and fish. (The abundance of fish and seafood dishes in Oman is also a reflection of the rich maritime tradition that the country has procured over hundreds of years).

Omani cuisine also includes a wide variety of soups prepared from vegetables, legumes and meats. Various types of vegetable and non-vegetable salads are also standard. Main courses very often include vegetable curries, which are combined with barbequed kebabs, and grilled or curried meat, chicken and fish dishes.

Musandam Peninsula: Land of Mountains, Seas & Adventure

Located at the northernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula is a magical combination of mountain and maritime landscapes. Some say it’s the most spectacular travel destination on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s hard not to agree.

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Exploring dramatic fjords on wooden dhows, snorkeling with dolphins and a fantastic array of marine life (sometimes Whale Sharks), sea-kayaking, and taking in some of the planet’s most breathtaking mountain and sea scenery – this is what the Musandam Pensinsula is all about. In fact, Musandam is often referred to as the ‘Norway of Arabia’ – due to the rocky, arid Hajar Mountains that rise up directly out of the deep blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. A maze-like series of steep-sided fjords (known locally as chores) and inlets is the result – with most of them being only accessible by boat or traditional Omani dhow.

‘Old World Arabia’:

Picture perfect coastal drive getting to Musandam is a highlight in itself. The thirty kilometers or so from Bukha to Khasab must be one of the world’s most spectacular drives, as the Khasab Coastal Road weaves its way along the edge of the clear Arabian Gulf waters and its many soft sand beaches, and right next to the sea cliffs and mountains of the towering Hajar Mountains.

Along the way, you’ll also see picturesque little mosques with their beautiful minarets near the coastline, tiny fishing villages, herds of goats, palm frond shelters where fishermen sort their catch and maintain their nets, and the hulls of old wooden dhows. This is ‘Old World Arabia’ at its very best. As you approach Khasab itself, you’ll begin getting views of the spectacular fjords and inlets. You’ll also see flat-roofed, mud-coloured houses dotted around the villager’s date palm plantations.
(There is also a collection of prehistoric rock art – etchings of warriors on horseback and other creatures – near Wadi Qidah). At only thirty kilometers you can do the drive at a leisurely slow pace – and stop now and again on the side of the road to take in the scenery and take photos.

Musandam

History, Culture & Adventure:

The Musandam Peninsula has been the home of extremely isolated communities for centuries, and many coastal villages here can only be reached by boat. Some of these fishing villages are tiny – and surrounded on all three sides by coastal cliffs, and by the sea in front of them. Life here is probably very similar to what it was like many years ago. When visiting Musandam you seem to get a sense of travelling back in time to a world of what would have consisted of dangerous trading adventures and merchant voyages, rumors of mythical villages and people, and fantastic piracy and smuggling stories taking place in the secret coves and bays below the rocky, mountainous headlands. And this all seems to add to the mystery and charm and sense of adventure you get from travelling here.

What to do:

Two classic Musandam experiences A dhow cruise, offered by one of a handful of ecoadventure operators in the area, should be on any traveler’s essential to-do list for Musandam. Full or half-day dhow cruises to explore some of the biggest fjords and inlets in the area are available. Snorkeling equipment can be provided for the day, and overnight options – where you can camp on a secluded beach – are also possible. Whenever you’re on a dhow cruise in Musandam, you’re almost guaranteed to be intercepted by a friendly and inquisitive pod of dolphins. Most dhow trips also make a stopover at the interesting Telegraph Island, which is a small rocky island that, in the 19th century, was used as a base to boost messages along the London-to-Karachi undersea telegraph cable. Another classic Musandam experience is a guided four-wheel-drive tour up the region’s highest mountain – Jebel Harim. The absolute high point is used for military purposes (the altitude is 2 087 meters), but it is possible to drive to within a few hundred meters from the summit, to a height of around 2 000 meters. From here the views of the mountains and the Arabian Gulf waters are spectacular.

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