Destination: Focus Oman

Oman, travel

Muscat Shangri-La beach (Getty Images)

In an effort to highlight places of interest in countries across the world, their varied culture, economy and history, The Statesman brings to you a Weekly Focus on countries with which India shares diplomatic ties and friendship. This week's focus is on Oman. Know all about it.

Capital: Muscat;  Currency: Omani Rial, Language: Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu and Indian dialects. Religion: Muslim 85.9 per cent, Christian 6.5, Hindu 5.5, Buddhist 0.8, Jewish less than 0.1, others 1, unaffiliated 0.2 (2010 estimates) Ibadhi and Sunni sects each constitute about 45 per cent and Shia about 5 per cent of population.

Climate

The climatic conditions are as varied as the geography. From October to April, the weather is warm and sunny and temperatures range from a very pleasant 25°C to around 35°C during the day. It is cooler at night and ranges from 17°C to 19°C.

From May to August, it is very hot and humid at the coastal areas, while the interior generally remains hot and dry. Most of the rain falls during the winter months and varies according to the region. The coastal areas and the interior plains average 20-100 mm of rainfall annually but this can rise to around 900 mm in the mountains. It is common to see snowfall on the mountain peaks during the winter.

Economic & commercial relations

ilateral trade with Oman has steadily grown during the financial year 2013-14. However trade declined in 2014-15 by 28 per cent owing to various factors but mainly due to falling global oil prices. In 2015-16, Oman's exports to India declined by 4.52 per cent while India's exports to Oman registered a decline of around 8 per cent. Major items of Indian exports are mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, textiles and garments, machinery and equipment, electrical and electronic items, chemicals, iron and steel products in addition to traditional items like tea, coffee, spices, rice and meat products and seafood. Among the Indian imports are urea, LNG, crude oil, polypropylene, lubricating oil, dates and chromite ore.

There are over 2,900 Indian enterprises and establishments in Oman with an investment of over $4.5 b. Among Indian financial institutions, SBI, Bank of Baroda, HDFC Ltd and ICICI Securities and the PSUs like Air India, Air India Express, LIC, New India Assurance Co, TCIL, Engineers India Ltd. (EIL), Engineering Projects India Ltd (EPIL) and NBCC have presence in Oman. Wipro, L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji, Jindal, Aditya Birla Group and others are some of the private sector companies engaged in various projects. Indian companies and their joint ventures in Oman continued to win contracts for building infrastructure projects, gas pipelines, and storage facilities and are actively present in the healthcare and agro industries.

Spices from India, staples from Arabia

The spices used in stews and soups come to Oman through trade with India, but the traditions of grilled meat and preserved fruits came by land from the Arabian peninsula. As a rule, Omani cooking is less spicy than in other parts of the Gulf. Locals eschew alcohol in favour of strong coffee flavoured with cardamom and served with dates and other sweet treats. Some of its specialities are Ruz al Mudhroub, Maqdeed, Muqalab , Arsia , Shuwa, Maqbous, Halwa and Lokhemat.

Every fifth person is India

Indians constitute almost 20 per cent of Oman's total population. Indians in Oman belong to various professions such as engineers, bankers, financial experts, managers/executives and businessmen. There are around 2,000 Indian doctors in Oman, who work in different hospitals and healthcare centres. The majority of the Indians in Oman come from south India, constituting almost 80 per cent of all Indians living in the country. Out of these, Malayalees alone account for 60 per cent of the population.

400 flights a week

Currently, among the Indian carriers operating in the area as Air India, Air India Express, Indigo, Spice Jet and Jet Airways fly. Also Oman Air is operating flights between India and Oman. There are a total of more than 400 direct flights per week between Oman (Muscat and Salalah) and a dozen destinations in India. So reaching Oman is pretty easy. Travel time is usually three to four hours only.

Eid and other celebrations

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha or the "Sacrifice Feast" are Muslim holidays celebrated in Oman each year. National Day (18 November) is the birthday of the sultan, Qabus ibn Sa'id and is the principal non-religious celebration of the year. Other festivals celebrated are Islamic New Year, traditional boat race, Muscat Festival, Salalah Tourism Festival and Sultan Camel Race Cup.

Fort and palaces

Muscat

This city is home to forts, palaces, museums and markets.

Main highlight is Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace, for a close view, head to the harbour. Standing guard over the palace are the twin forts of Al Jalali and Al Mirani, which have been converted to museums and are open to the public. Non-Muslim travellers can also visit Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque on most mornings, admiring features like an enormous crystal chandelier, marble wall panels and the second largest Persian carpet in the world.

Nizwa

In the sixth and seventh centuries, the city of Nizwa served as the capital for Oman. Best known for its incredible fort, which was built in the 17th century under the direction of Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya'ribi. The highlight of the Nizwa fort is the enormous cylindrical tower. Other highlight is Jebel Shams, perfect place for camping or trekking.

Salalah

In southern Oman is Salalah, a destination sometimes known as the second city to Muscat. Salalah is particularly important today because it is the ancestral home to the Sultan Qaboos, the reigning sultan in Oman since 1970. On a visit to Salalah, highlights include the incredible Qaboos Palace, and older architecture in the Old Town, known as the Haffa and Al Baleed archaeological site.

Other tourist destinations are Khasab Fortress, Musandam Fjords, Masirah Island, Bahla (oasis, Bahla Fort), Ras al Jinz (turtle reserve), Wahiba Sands, Jebel Akhdar (popular for hiking), Nikhal Fort, Jabrin castle, Samail Castle and Misfat al Abryeen (mountain village).

(Compiled by Kunal Jain (kunaljain@thestatesman.com)