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My birthday Present, Oh Man, Oman

My wonderful wife gave me a trip to Oman for my birthday. It was kind of a last minute thing. I dropped a hint that my B’day was coming in a week, and I think she had forgotten.

Mary Ann is the designated travel agent in our house. She finds the best fares, hotels  and tours like a tornado finds trailers. At first she was planning a trip to Cairo so I could check off the pyramids from my bucket list. It was going to be a five day trip. She had not requested any time off of work. She has the vacation time accrued, and her office would have been cool with it, but I wasn’t. My insecurities left over from the working world said “lets do Cairo another time.”  Instead of just cancelling plans she said “we could do Muscat for a weekend”. Wow, great idea.

Muscat is the capital city of Oman. Oman is right next door. It is also another world. Yes, it is a Muslim country, but the culture is very different.So is the History. So is the Geography.

Oman is a Sultanate. The Sultan is named Qaboos ibn Said.

 

The Sultans picture, while on the money of course, and in some establishments is not as ubiquitius as the Emirate's here or the King in Thailand.

 

Qaboos took power at the age of 31 from his father with the help of a social upheaval in Oman.  I wont go into the long fascinating history of the rule of the Said family (Qaboos was the 12th Said to rule) except to say that even with the influx of petrobucks, Oman was wallowing in the middle ages when #11 was replaced by #12. For instance…#11 closed the gates to Muscat at night, no one could enter or leave.

 

Replace this road with a dirt path and you can imagine it is 1970.

 

In 1970 there were only three graded roads in the entire country. There were  three schools. There was not a single  newspaper. No radio or television There was  no civil service. All of Oman had only one 23 bed hospital. Life expectancy was 47. Qaboos had his work cut out for him. He had been educated at Sandhurst. In fact at the time he took over, in order to get a decent education, Omanis had to leave Oman. Many, most in fact, did not come back. It was a classic brain drain.

He inherited a country that had just started accumulating big bucks. Make that BIG bucks. But the country was at war with itself. The people were  tired of living in the middle ages. #11 wanted no western influence in Oman. He forbid anything that could taint his world. This included cigarettes, for which the penalty was death, and he even forbid sunglasses. In the desert. No wonder the people rose up.

 

40 years ago I would have been shot for this.

 

His son #12 started to transform the country. He brought back Omanis trained abroad to run the country. He built roads, opened schools and built hospitals. The WHO ranks Oman #8 in the world for healthcare. His desire, which has panned out, was that Omanis run Oman. They do the work, have the jobs. This has resulted in a country with a population that is 80% Omani and 20% foreigners. This opposed to the UAE which is 80% foreigners and 20% Emiratis.  And now, the people can enjoy a cig and wear sunglasses!

Also, he has developed a music appreciation program. He has encouraged that Omanis learn to play music of all types, and at the present time is building an Opera House, which I am sure will be world class.

So, big petrodollars streaming in has let Qaboos develop his country and bring it firmly into modern times. He has used what is HIS money to improve the lives of his people.  Literacy is at something like 90% Omanis get  free medical care and an education. He gives out free land if you are going to build a house and Oman has full employment. However, with the amount of money coming into his accounts, he cannot give it ALL away.

 

This is Qaboos' nice little yacht. This is how he gets to Europe for his yearly vacation. There is a second boat, a naval vessel that travels with him. It carries his cars and protects him along the way. This is his "new" boat. The "old" boat was given to the national Tourist authority to run tours to India and along the Omani coast.

 

 

If you look closely, you will see this is a caravan of 18 wheelers. This is how the Sultan goes camping. The day we went there he was leaving for the desert for his yearly month of Arabian experiences in the dunes.

 

But he does not spend all his excess income on fun and games. The following pictures are of the Grand Mosque in Muscat. I have never been in the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Cathedral. I will someday, promise. So up to now I must call this Grand Mosque the most impressive religious building I have ever seen. It has the worlds second largest carpet. It is absolutely beautiful. It has over 1,700,000,000 knots.  It weighs over 21 tons.  It measures over 70 x 60 meters in size. 6,600 faithful can and do use it to pray on.  My photography cannot begin to capture the grandeur of this Mosque, or the carpet, or even the central chandelier. The pictures will not show you that the chandelier itself is over 14 meters tall. The area sroounding the mosqu has another 40,000 square meeter for the faithful to gather, during the highest holy days, the place is a sell out, kneeling room only.

 

Approaching the mosque

 

 

Courtyard

 

 

Courtyard from other side with one of the five pillars representing the five pillars of Islam

 

 

Just a small sample. I was surrounded by carpet when i took this.

 

 

An attempt at capturing the magnificence of this rug

 

 

This center Chandelier is made of Swaroski crystal with gold plated metal work. It is 8 meters in Diameter and 14 meters tall. It contains 1.122 lamps, and weighs 18 tons

 

 

Mary Ann (covered) and I inside the Mosque. If I look stunned, it is because I am.

 

OK, enough on history and culture. My next post will take you along on our whirlwind tour of the Muscat area. A fish auction, forts, a nice beach and Cheney’s bunker.

So stay tuned. Thanks for reading and please make a comment!

 

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6 Responses so far.

  1. John Viator says:

    Forest, I spent some time in Oman during Operation Desert Shield when I was a young naval officer. Fortunately, I had some autonomy when I was there and was able to visit areas of Muscat. I usually stayed at the Al Bustan, an amazing place. Your photos brought back memories.

  2. Toni Sacca Roscoe says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful pictures!

  3. Brian VanderZwet says:

    Happy Birthday Forest! Excellent blog and photography. The architecture is awe inspiring. Mary Ann, you look like “Sister Mary Katherine” with your head scarf on. Your travels evoke many fond memories of our travel experiences, the people and years working in Doha, Qatar. This will be a life changing experience for you, as it was for Adrienne and I.

    Cheers,
    Brian

    P.S. – Oman has some of the best Suba Diving locations in the Arabian Sea..

  4. Mary Ann says:

    Forrest, please add photos of the Mosque library to your next post. It is open to all Omanis, stunningly beautiful and I would consider donning a head scarf to work there. Mary Ann

  5. Mary says:

    Oh how dull your life in Bocas must now seem!

  6. Janny says:

    Hi you two, wow, some birthday present Don Forrest. Mary Ann you look great, suitably covered suits you, no no, I don’t mean that, I mean you look GREAT…I think Shajah and Oman suits you, And birthday boy, you DO look stunned!! Belated many happies old chap. From the land of the canal..

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