A FLOWER IN THE DESERT
n a flight out of Delhi, the Oman Air Boeing commenced its descent soon after it left the Karachi airspace and entered the waters of the gulf of Oman that would ultimately guide it towards the SEEB International Airport at Muscat. By the time I could sight the coastline of Muscat the airplane was about 5000 feet above the sea level. The flight was maintaining its height when I sighted some buildings nestled within the confines of a hilly terrain over which we were flying. I was expecting to see some desert and some sand dunes but was surprised to see white colored buildings all around spread within the level portions of the terrain that was mostly hilly. Later I would find that all buildings in Oman are colored white on the outside. The hills were barren, of course being rocky, and no sight of any vegetation over or around. My first reaction was that it is not what I had been expecting all along. I remembered the advice from my son who called from US and cautioned me that the landscape would change several times during the course of the day, as winds blow the sand dunes around. I would be surprised during my sojourn in the city that nothing like that was ever true. The desert in fact is quite a distance away.
When you visit another country it is but natural that you start a study in comparison with where you come from, be that about the place or the people or its character. As my host was driving me from the airport on the Sultan Qaboos road to our place of residence at Al Qurm the first impression I got was that I am really driving down an interstate route in the United States. But I was not there really. I registered the fact that the road we were driving upon was well laid and certainly well ornamented with signage. I was not surprised when my host told me that during his last 25 years of stay in the city he had hardly witnessed any repairs to this road and it was in perfect condition even to this day and may be so for another quarter century or more. During my entire stay I noted that there was more cleanliness on the roads, its environs and in the whole city than we can ever expect in our own. This clearly states the character of the people who inhabit it.
My visit to the city was during mid December till mid January giving me the pleasure of celebrating the New Year with my host and a small community of Kashmiri Pandits numbering about fifty families and an undocumented number of singles who do not mingle with the rest. Climatically it was like the summer season in the Kashmir Valley and I was spared the agony of the real Arab summer when the temperature soars to mid forties. The Sultanate of Oman is a small country with an area of around 310,000 square kms with a coastline of about 3100 kms and a population of about 2.30 million. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos is the head of state, a disciplinarian and a visionary who always finds things to upgrade the state from within. A lot of activity is seen around to improve the infrastructure for the people, and a community living that includes a code of conduct strictly maintained. The economy of the state is sustained by the income that accrues from oil, which is about 80,000 BPD and trade between the six member states of the United Arab Emirates. Sadly I did not find Tourism as a passion for the people, though you cannot miss the visitors to the capital city of Muscat. Indians form a sizable community here and the local unbiased print media reports all-important events in India.
Hajar Mountains, Oman
|An Industrial township has been created about 150 kms north of Muscat at Sohar that further connects the city to Dubai. The road to Dubai, close to 500 kms, is almost a straight route, well laid out as per international standards and the entire stretch properly lighted. The country’s Al-Hajr mountain range is rocky and about 400 kms long and sustains most of the population that lives close to the base to avoid maximum exposure to the sun. Quaint little villages are seen all along the route and facilities like schools, health care and trading centers are established everywhere. Being a desert nation Oman does not have rivers and lakes to supply potable water to its inhabitants, but water is available across the state from its desalination plants that change seawater to sweet water. There is currently no rail service available in Oman, but in a recently held 29th GCC summit hosted by Oman at Muscat on December 29-30, 2008 it was mandated that such facility will be created soon in addition to an expressway link to the other UAE territories. |
On 31st December night a gathering of all resident Kashmiri Pandits was organized at a restaurant in the city to celebrate the New Year. There were a few guests like me who joined the community to be together and affirm our status in this foreign land. I got introduced to a host of members who have gained prominence in the country in their field of work. We should acknowledge their strength and resolve to maintain a high moral standard and deliver the best that is expected from a community like ours. It was heart warming to see the younger generation perform skits and dramatic sequences that was at one time the hallmark of a Kashmiri lifestyle. The third generation may not have understood the concept of the presentation but for us life was fun all over again. We had dinner together and that included Kashmiri delicacies as well. My host indicated that they plan to have a registered body to take care for all the community needs on all fronts. Amen to that effort.
Oman is a young country and their oil reserves were discovered only about 30 years back. This initiated its development on a war footing. The nomadic lifestyle of the people changed with time and people gave up a desert type living. This amply proves its resolve to perform well and be recognized as a fast developing country in the world. It must be understood that it is a Muslim nation but the effect of religion is positive oriented rather than one of a hard-line kind. This is the reason how a Shiva Temple stands in a Muslim locality in the midst of the old town and a Krishna temple a distance away. It has one of the worlds biggest mosque (Grand Mosque) with a seating capacity of about 50,000 for whom a single carpet adorns the inside of the mosque on which prayers are offered. The ruler of Iran gifted the carpet. Upon realization of a faux-pa the Iranians made a bigger carpet than the one gifted for their own mosque. The Sultan has several palaces after he gave up living in the old forts that are still preserved. You can see many beautiful gardens with various flower arrangements and a host of other beautiful architectural structures all around the city. All parks and amusement centers are laden with ornamental flowers and designer waterfalls that make Oman itself a flower in the desert. The Mutrah souk (market) is conveniently located at the Mutrah waterfront that resembles the Mumbai Marine Drive, but of a much smaller size. Once inside the souk you get the feel of Chandni Chowk with small shops on both sides of the narrow lanes criss-crossing other lanes where you shop for anything that you normally find in Chandni Chowk in Delhi.
B. L. Dhar was born and educated at Srinagar. Did Master's degree in Mathematics. Took up appointment with the Civil Aviation Sector of the G.O.I. as a gazzetted officer and later joined the PSU, Airports Authority of India (AAI) from where he retired as General Manager in 2000.
At present residing at Delhi with frequent visits to the US and Europe where his kith and kin reside. Has interest in writing.
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