Arabian nights in Oman

Witness the beautiful Omani mountain, sea and desert come to life at night
Arabian nights in Oman

Blame it on Scheherazade and her stories of grateful genies and bejewelled princesses. But even decades after we first encountered magic lamps and flying carpets, Arabia is associated in our minds with enchantment and glitter and mysterious women peering at the world through diaphanous veils.

Travellers in Oman may not bump into Sindbad or stumble upon Alibaba&rsquos cave of treasures. But they will certainly spot familiar scenes&mdashcolourful souks and storybook castles jewelled lamps and shops piled high with frankincense. The men wear bright white dishdashas and turbans or little embroidered caps. Visitors are invariably greeted with a tiny cup of kahwa coffee and sticky dates. Indeed, sitting in a Bedouin tent in the Sharqiya Sands or picnicking in a date-palm-fringed wadi, it is easy to believe that we have stepped back in time and into the pages of our beloved, well-thumbed copy of One Thousand and One Nights.

And a trip to Oman does offer up some unforgettable Arabian Nights&mdashso spectacular and luxurious that you don&rsquot even miss the sorcerers and thieves of fiction. You can watch a red sun set beyond the black mountains and white houses of Muscat, as you sail along the coastline in a traditional wooden dhow. Or beam as newborn turtles scuttle towards the sea on the dark and windy beach of Ras al Jinz. Or enjoy the starry night from the stunning, palm-lined infinity pool at the Al Bustan Hotel in Muscat.

Here are some extraordinary Arabian Nights for the upmarket traveller to Oman. From sublime music to dense silence, and from the darkness of a desert night to underwater phosphorescence, these experiences cover the entire gamut.

A night at the opera
The 73-year-old Sultan Qaboos, who rules Oman, is passionate about music. He has put together a 120-member orchestra that sometimes travels with him, and has also built an astonishing Royal Opera House in Muscat.

The three-year-old Opera House is a sumptuous affair&mdashcarved wooden boxes, intricate doors and velvet and gold leaf interiors. It is the first Opera House in the world that has small screens in front of each seat&mdashon which the audience can read instant translations. Over the last couple of years, it has attracted artistes like the famous cellist Yo Yo Ma and Indian violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam. It has hosted international orchestras and ballets. In fact, when we were in Muscat in March, the city was queuing up to buy tickets for the operatic version of Romeo and Juliet being staged by the Fondazione Arena di Verona.

We were lucky enough to get tickets for this elaborate production, and to watch the drama both on and offstage. For the opera clearly is a place to see and be seen&mdashperhaps the best place in Oman to spot new fashions, designer gowns and beautiful people. Most of the Omani women were in black but incredibly elegant abayas&mdashsome edged with lace, others cut like kimonos and embellished with applique.

After gawking at the shimmering dresses, we headed over to our seats in a cloud of strong perfume and glamour. Minutes later we were ensconced amidst expats in designer gowns, watching the Capuleti and the Montecchi play out their 13th-century Veronese tragedy. Indeed, we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in the heart of West Asia.

After the opera, we headed for Kargeen Restaurant, a local hotspot that offers both indoor and outdoor dining. Sitting at a low table in the garden under coloured lamps and palm trees, we had an enjoyable dinner a platter of falafal, pita bread and dips like lemony hummus and a satiny mutabbal. Alongside these Lebanese specialties, the restaurant served a refreshing salad of avocado, pomegranate and lettuce and a delicious bread stuffed with olives, zatar and labneh cheese. The highlight of the meal was the traditional Omani dish, lamb shuwa&mdashthe lamb is wrapped in banana leaf and then cooked in a charcoal oven for 12 hours. After this, the more adventurous members of our group lingered over a green apple-flavoured sheesha while the rest of us listened sleepily to the Arabic conversations around us.

The information Muscat

Where to stay The Al Bustan Palace Hotel (from OMR185 doubles in Muscat, with its awe-inspiring octagonal lobby full of chandeliers and a private beach.
What to see & do
The Royal Opera House, as much for the music as for the architecture, clothes and excitement.
Where to eat
The Kargeen Restaurant, with its succulent kebabs, refreshing lemon-mint slush and other local delicacies.

A night in the mountains
Just a few hours away from Muscat is the towering mountain, Jebel Shams. The drive past brave acacias, dramatic rocks and tiny shops proclaiming &lsquoFood stuff Sale&rsquo and &lsquoLaundry&rsquo is a hot, sunny affair. But standing atop the rocky peak, and peering down into the sheer canyon&mdash&ldquoTen km long, two km wide and one km deep. It is the biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon,&rdquo rattles our guide from Zahara Tours&mdashwe feel a little shivery. This has partly to do with the cool air, and partly to do with the dizzying drop.

Visitors to Jebel Shams usually trek along the gorge in the evening and then return to their hotel. The View offers upmarket rooms and gasp-worthy vistas, while the Jebel Shams Resort provides chalets and basic tents and a crackling bonfire perfect for ghost stories. But the most memorable aspect of a night on this rocky, barren mountain is the impenetrable silence that comes along with twilight&mdasha heavy blanket of quiet that covers the night.

The information Mountains

Where to stay Stay at a chalet or in a tent at theJebel Shams Resort (from OMR 70 doubles or in bedouin-style tents with all mod-cons at The View (
What to see & do
The deep ravine carved by hotwinds and rushing water, slicing through rocks over millennia.
Where to eat
The food at many Omani hotels is an unexciting mix of salads, Indians standards and stolid pasta. So it makes sense to carry a little picnic hamper with you from the Muscat Bakery (a country-wide chain). Baklava has never tasteds o good as when it is consumed on a rocky ledge overlooking a dramatic canyon.

A night on the sands
Miles and miles of golden desert, distant dunes and a toffee-and-strawberry sunset. This is the Arabia of the imagination.

Amazingly, it is also the Oman of reality. For the sands in Oman are truly beautiful. And you can drive endlessly through shimmering, unspoilt expanses and spot at most a grumpy camel or a Bedouin tent. Or, of course, a couple of tourists indulging in some dune-bashing.

After riding up and down dunes for a bit, we headed for Arabian Oryx, the Bedouin-style camp where we were staying in luxury tents next to an enormous sand dune. Camels, sandboards and buggies were on offer. But we decided to trudge up the dune and watch the sun dip below the wide, wide horizon and then scamper down the velvety slope.

After dinner&mdashthat inevitable spread of pita bread, hummus, a couple of Indian curries and pulaos and custard&mdashthe camp provided some traditional Omani music. Much more compelling, however, was the starry darkness that whispered tales of Alladin and the Caliph of Baghdad. And recalled memories of rich caravans undertaking journeys across the glorious but unforgiving sands.

The information Sands

Where to stay Stay at the swanky Desert Nights Camp (from OMR 165 doubles or in the ultra comfortable tents of Arabian Oryx (
What to see & do Stroll around the golden sands.
Where to eat Once again, you can supplement the restaurant buffet with some fancy Iranian goodies bought at the local bakery.

A night amidst the corals
Imagine watching a brain coral opening up andwaving its tentacles about for its dinner. Or various crustaceans taking their evening constitutional. Or imagine the phosphorescent flashes emitted by irritable plankton that light up the dark waters of the night. Night-diving is becoming increasingly popular in Oman, for many reasons. The underwater flashlights bring out the true colour of the fish and corals. The phosphorescence in the waters is extraordinarily high. There are many excellent dive sites in and around Muscat&mdashespecially the Damaniyat Islands with its pristine coral gardens and abundant sea life. Also, the water never gets uncomfortably cold, so you don&rsquot need to freeze and shiver in order to enjoy these nocturnal miracles.

There are many ways to dive in Oman. Beach Resorts like the Al Sawadi, upmarket hotels like the Al Bustan in Muscat and individual diving outfits like Omanta Scuba (from OMR 30 for daily dives are all happy to help you with your underwater adventure. So, go right ahead and take the plunge.

The information Amidst corals

Where to stay The Barr Al Jissah (from OMR 105, the Al Bustan or the City Season (from OMR 45 doubles in Muscat.
What to see & do
The crayfish, parrotfish and coral after dark.
What to eat
All the hotels offer spectacular breakfasts. So make sure to visit all the counters, order the pancakes and stuffed omlettes, and sample the cold cuts, muffins and teas.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller