- Pramod de Silva

If are considering a holiday in the Middle East, Dubai will automatically come to your mind. But there is a far more interesting destination that is emerging from the shadow of Dubai. It has become one of the world’s hottest (no, I do not mean the temperature though it can reach 40 C) destinations, earning accolades from Lonely Planet and other travel publications.

The destination is Oman, to which you can fly directly from Sri Lanka on Oman Air as well as SriLankan.Just four hours away from Colombo, Oman is an unforgettable destination. Oman is not a very big country, so you will be able to see much over 4-5 days. Oman (population 3.6 million) has terrain encompassing desert, riverbed oases and long coastlines on the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman. The port capital, Muscat, is home to the massive, contemporary Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the old waterfront Muttrah quarter, with a souk and busy fish market. The capital city has hard-to- beat sea views. The city still has vestiges of its colonial past – several Forts are still intact. If Colombo’s Forts were still intact, they would look much like this. Also visit the Royal Opera House in Muscat, one of the finest such facilities in the Middle East.

The country’s second city is Salalah, which can easily be reached by a domestic flight. Located on the Arabian Sea, this city is the administrative capital of the Dhofar Governorate. This beautiful and almost green city attracts people with its beautiful weather. The average temperature of Salalah is 25 0 from June to September. Salalah’s hospitality is completely heartfelt.

Oman has many other attractions. If you visit the Middle East, you cannot ignore the desert. And the best among them is the great Wahiba sands, longitudinal dunes 200 km long and 100 km wide running south from the Eastern Hajars to the Arabian Sea. The dunes are 100-150 metres high in shades of colour from orange to hues of amber. Bedouin camps can be found along the tracks and trails in this isolated desert.

You can then head over to Nizwa, the verdant oasis city with its blend of the modern and the ancient which was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th century. One of the oldest cities of the Sultanate, this was once a center of education and art. Nizwa has been an important cross roads at the base of the

Western Hajar Mountains connecting Muscat, Buraimi, and the lower reaches of Dhofar. Beyond Nizwa, the southern flanks of the Western Hajar Mountains can be readily seen rising over 2000 metres above the surrounding countryside. Within these mountains, rugged networks of wadi channels have carved networks of dramatic canyons and caves. The most fertile of these have been cultivated by the hardy shuwawis, mountain people, who have adapted to this harsh lifestyle under the tropic sun. In Al

Hamra, 400 year-old mud houses are still standing and occupied to this day. If mountains are your thing, head over to Jebel Akhdar which in Arabic means ;Green Mountains. This region is the most verdant outside of Salalah. One of the most scenic areas in Oman, coupled with the friendly local inhabitants, this region is a natural spot for tourism. Points of interest include the towns of Wadi Bani Habib, Saiq and Al Ayn, where local farmers raise grapes, pomegranates, apricots and walnuts. The climate is moderate year round as the mean altitude is about 1800 metres.

You can also follow the paths taken by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta to Fanja, the traders; crossroads, and the towns of Bid Bid, Sumail and Al Khobar, replete with castles and fortifications. If you want to escape the mainland, there is a solution - Masirah Island. It is idyllic for those who really want to get away from it all. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, 20 kms off central Oman coast just South of the Wahiba Sands. The stark rocky landscape is rimmed with isolated beaches whose only visitors are the logger head turtles that come to nest there. Beachcombers may come across a variety of shell fish and other specimens of marine life.

Oman is a fascinating and diverse destination that offers everything from nature to culture, a world away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Dubai.

Oman he alternative destination