Before Oman became what it is now – its grand mosques, white sand beaches and mud castles are haunted by tourists from far and wide thanks to the explosion in tourism – it used to be a flourishing Middle Eastern destination for Indians seeking better wages. It still is, in many ways but it has opened up so much it seems virtually impossible for me to identify with the Muscat it is now. Because I spent three years in the country and its capital Muscat working in an automobile conglomerate.
The work was nothing much to rave about – it seemed to me that I am no more than a glorified office assistant – and the living conditions were strictly ok. I was put in an accommodation facing an empty ground past which stood a lifeless, craggy mountain face but I loved the privacy my room offered. I made long lasting friendships – many of them still are my friends – and the experience sort of shaped me up as an individual.
Perhaps owing to its oil wealth dwindling, Oman decided to go the tourism way. Because even when I was living there between 2003 – 2005, I knew the country had potential as an offbeat touristic destination. Regardless of what Muscat offered me in life and what I gave the city in return, I loved the country’s pristine beaches. Despite the humiliation an Indian might suffer at the hands of a local businessman selling trinkets at the Muttrah souk (these rings are for women, said one strictly to me when I dug into the basket of silver rings), I loved its vibe. There could be nothing authentic about the crowded alleyways of Ruwi and its jeweler shops or its nut sellers but scratch a bit deeper, the real Oman will reveal itself in layers.
The abandoned mud castles from centuries ago, the country’s green patch Salalah, the world class roads and the automobiles and the fast-as-the-wind drivers are part and parcel of the country that so staunchly did not want to leg go of its identity in the region. Well good for them, Oman is increasingly being perceived among the top must travel destination lists by glossies. Backpackers destination it is not. It is being marketed as the travel destination for the luxury vagabond.
In a similar vein, Bollywood is waking up to Oman now. In 2004, an insipid Akshay Kumar movie named Aan: Men At Work was only one of the few movies to be shot in the country. Now though increasingly Bollywood wants a piece of Oman.
Revisiting Oman is sure on my list, albeit not on a priority list. And when I do, I want to retrace my footsteps and to witness the changes (if any) the country has gone through in the years since I left it.
Here are a few pictures, courtesy Sreelesh, a friend from my Omanese days..
Have you been to Oman? What do you think? Leave a comment.
Access more of Sreelesh’s photographic awesomeness here.