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Impressions of Oman

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On an Arabian Peninsula dominated by Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman is a modest player, both in size and economic importance. But it was not always like this. Until British colonial force broke Omani sea hegemony, the Sultan had solid control over part of what is today Pakistan and long stretches of the East African coast, mainly at the expense of Portuguese colonial ambitions. Actually, the Omani Sultan even moved his court to Zanzibar in 1840, but that was when the economic force of mainland Oman was already showing signs of weakening. Still, even nowadays, Oman's sea empire has not completely faded away, genuine empires never do : one clearly senses the flair of tradition in Muscat and elsewhere in the country, one notices the spontaneous cultural self-consciousness and pronounced identity of Omani people, all deeply and solidly rooted in the pride for a remarkable and rich history.


Today, Oman is not a major oil producing country like its Saudi and Emirati neighbours, its legendary incense and myrrh are no longer crucial commodities in world trade, but Oman has kept a level of importance, be it simply for the command it has over the Straits of Hormuz, through which about one fifth of the world's oil supplies are channelled from production to consumption markets.


The numerous castles, one more impressing than the other, scattered all over the country, bear witness to the turbulent history of Oman. It is difficult to imagine that many of the places we visit in the so-called Interior were more or less inaccessible until well into the 1970s, the consequence of wars, dynastic rebellions, ideologically motivated insurrections, all of it against a background of British protectorate rule. Fortunately, that all belongs to the past; nowadays, Oman is a welcoming, peaceful and very rewarding country to travel in.


For, also nature holds plenty of great surprises here : the fjords of Musandam, the spectacular coastlines near Sur and Salalah, the majestic sand desert of Wahiba, the nesting beaches of thousands of sea turtles near Ras al Jinz and the un-Arabic climate of the Khareef monsoon season, with thick mist and heavy clouds enveloping the Dhofar coast in Oman's deep South, towards the border with Yemen.

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To the West of Salalah similar landscapes of lush greenery unfold, contrasting on occasion with patches of dry, arid land in valleys where the moist of the Khareef fog does not have any effect on vegetation. Camels freely wandering about this changing landscape of green and arid valleys, must be as puzzled as I am. Things are different at Ayn Razat, though, as the natural springs, some of them perennial, others only during the Khareef season, produce enough water to form large pools, their surface covered with lilies. Above the pools and the valley of springs a large gaping cave hides a sanctuary of local pilgrimage.

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