atop many houses and buildings must be obscured from
public view by any of three approved stylistically sensitive
enclosures, all of which are white.
The dwellings that date from the pre–air-conditioning
era have outer stairways that lead to flat roofs where sleepers can catch what little cool breeze there is in the hot and
humid four-to-five-month summer season. Many have
lovely walled-in gardens. The gates into the gardens are
often spectacular, whether they are the traditional wooden
hand-carved designs from Zanzibar or newer, modern-looking metal ones. Both new and old are likely to boast
understated calligraphic motifs that convey an image of
modesty, a reflection of the predominantly Muslim beliefs.
Behind these gates are gardens of roses, apricots and
pomegranates, watered by the centuries-old falaj irrigation system of communal channels (aflaj ) designed to
creatively. According to Al Monitor, a Gulf newsletter, the
sultan “ordered the government to create 50,000 jobs and
pay every job-seeker $386 each month.” Not a bad rate con-
sidering there is no income tax in Oman.
See the Country
Oman is one of the cleanest countries in the world. When
driving along the highway or side streets you can occasionally see a Vespa or small motorcycle with two large
sacks. The driver retrieves litter — it’s his sole purpose.
Oh, and if your car is dirty in Muscat you will get a ticket.
Controlled change has transformed Oman. Its infra-
structure is stellar, including approximately 18,000 miles
of paved road, excellent transportation, more than 1,500
The sultan ordered the government to create 50,000
jobs and pay every job-seeker $386 each month.
The domes and minarets on the mosques are likewise
striking. The royal color is lavender, but pale and bright
green, royal blue, peacock blue and vibrant gold are also
used. In keeping with a decree by the sultan, the dome
and the minarets on a building must always be the same
color. Green is revered, as it has been associated with Islam
and serves as a symbol of the religion itself. In the Gulf,
blue is considered a protective color. White, symbolizing
purity and peace, is also associated with Islam.
schools and over 250 hospitals and medical centers.
International hotel chains have opened properties that
embody Arabian hospitality.
Flowers and Fashion
The flowers that bloom along the roadways are breathtak-
ing, carefully chosen for color. Hundreds of thousands of
petunias — lavender, white, pink and purple — have been
tenderly planted and are weeded and nurtured to form a
mass of orderly color. They often seem to bounce off the
blueness of the sky and the café au lait color of the desert.
Every detail has been considered and executed thoughtfully.
Fashion choices are limited. Men with khanjars (dag-
gers) around their waists move in their dishdashas, the
national male attire. These ankle-length, collarless gowns
have long sleeves and a distinctive thin tassel not seen on
the traditional robes of all other Arab countries. The khan-
jar is a symbol of male national identity.
In public most women wear an abaya, a modest black
dress or cloak over the clothes, and the hijab, the typi-
cal Muslim hair covering. At home, the Omani woman
sometimes wears a long dress with ankle-length pants and
a leeso, or scarf, covering her hair and neck. Lively-colored,
loose-fitting tunics called jalabiyyas are also worn at home.
For all that uniformity, when tumult gripped the region
with the Arab Spring in 2011, Sultan Qaboos responded
The summers are blistering hot, so winters are the
best time to visit Oman. Start in Muscat, considered the
capital of Arab tourism and ranked second only to London
by several travel guides. There are hundreds of forts,
castles and towers, some dating back to the 13th century,
a time of fierce invasions and tribal rivalries. In the souks
of Mutrah, Nizwa, Rustaq and Salalah, trading is a way of
life. You can take a pulse of an Omani town by exploring its
souks, or covered markets, where you will find stalls filled
with incense, produce, spices and antiques.
There is scenic hiking in Oman’s version of the Grand
Canyon in the Wadi Ghul Mountains. You can take a traditional Omani boat called a dhow and sleep on board. Or
drive into the 5,000 square miles of Wahiba Sands, stay
in a Bedouin camp and in the morning join a caravan of
camels to travel deep into the desert. Thanks to four-wheel-drive vehicles, you can see camels in their natural
habitat without having to ride one to get there. For those
who prefer a beach vacation, Oman’s coastline measures
1,922 miles with an abundance of nearby wildlife, including whales, dolphins, turtles, sea horses and flamingos.
PAIGE PE TERSON
In this part of the world, progress can be painfully slow
and fundamentalism still prevails. And yet the United
Nations Economic and Social Council, during an annual
review published in November, announced that the Sultan
of Oman was the best leader in the world. It’s not a sentence that you expect to read in a piece about the Arabian
Peninsula, but then Oman isn’t like other places. m
Opposite, clock wise from
top left: Dwellings from
era have outer stairways
that lead to flat roofs where
sleepers can catch what
little cool breeze there is;
Musandam Peninsula at
the northernmost tip of
Oman; this Bedouin tent
is available for men only;
Paige Peterson; a young
Omani couple walking
through the Mutrah souk
in Muscat; view of the
Cornish in Muscat.
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