The Switzerland on the Arabian Sea, Oman, Middle East
The Sultanate of Oman, in my eyes, is really like Switzerland because of its order. The roads are in perfect condition, even in the hinterland. In Muscat, the capital city, traffic is thoroughly monitored, people are friendly and always smiling, and the Arab-European style villas are all as white as snow. The gardens are filled with flowers in blues, pinks and violets, and there is no petal that is not fresh and well-maintained.
Travellers can admire this synthesis in the flower beds that line the streets and that an army of gardeners is always busy pruning. They told me that Sultan Qabus learned to love flowers during his studies in England. This might explain why there is so much attention paid to their presence along the streets of the city. The banks, large public buildings and offices of companies have been fashioned after a modern architectural style, similar to that of the Mediterranean. Stained-glass windows and white plaster dominate. The Great Mosque, one of the largest of the Arabian Peninsula, is built entirely of white marble from India, sparkling under the strong sunshine and the carpet inside, reputedly one of the largest in the Arab world, was handmade in Iran.
On the other hand, the old town of Muscat and its port are enchanting because everything is small and follows traditional Arabic architecture, exuding the unique mystery of the places that traders have sailed to since ancient times. The colour of the sea is a deep blue that contrasts with the rocky hills and sandy coast, where the desert ends. Within the old town is the main residence of the Sultan, decorated in colours of turquoise, white and gold, while the villas in the area are surrounded by even more flowers, rather than by high, forbidding walls.
My guide, an impressive Bedouin, had studied in England, and he had been the first cartographer of the Sultanate. I simply loved the stories he told me about the lifestyle of the Omani that has totally changed in recent decades. When he was a boy, he used to come to Muscat from his village in the desert on the back of a camel, part of a caravan. Now he visits his village in a modern jeep with so many switches on the dashboard that it reminds one of the cockpit on an Airbus jetliner. His village was typical of those found in the desert, surrounded by huge sand dunes with sand so fine that it seems like flour, and we encountered camels out on solitary walks.
Before entering the desert, there are the old towns with their casbah, ancient forts, mosques and Coranic schools, each with a beauty completely its own. Most are located within the mountains or valleys that protected them from ancient enemies. Once through these mountains, one gets to the border shared with Saudi Arabia, and the immensity of the desert, which very few people have succeeded in traversing. It is called the Empty Quarter and is the largest desert in the world.