Home Gulf Tour 2009 A taste of Omani hospitality
A taste of Omani hospitality
Written by Sarah Clarke   
Thursday, 02 April 2009 14:23
View from Saiq Plain at top of Jebel Akhdar


Omani hospitality is world renowned. And our experience this week has been no exception. In fact, we've spent the last two nights enjoying the hospitality of Hamad bin Nasser Al Hashimi at his Traditional Village on the outskirts of the town of Bahla. 

Mr Hamad is 17 years into a 20 year project to create a cultural centre celebrating traditional Omani crafts; providing a place where tourists can learn about Omani culture while enjoying a range of facilities. When it's completed, there'll be 45 guest rooms in traditional, Bedouin and modern styles, a Bedouin area show casing Bedouin life including live stock and farming techniques and a hall for enjoying traditional Omani food and drinks. 

He's already built a conference room, lecture hall, a room decorated for weddings and a number of rooms displaying Omani crafts such as reed mats, basket weaving, pottery and metal work. 

Through his centre Mr Hamad hopes to share his extensive knowledge of Omani culture and traditions which he is afraid will soon be lost if steps are not taken to educate people about his country's unique culture and train them in the various skills. 

The welcome we've received at the village has not been an isolated experience today. This morning our first stop was the magnificent castle at Jabrin, just 5km from Bahla. This amazing building stands impressively alone on the plain before the foot hills of the Hajar mountains. It is one of a few castles in Oman designed as a residence and was built by Bi'arab bin Sultan, an Imam of the Ya'aruba Dynasty. 

Bi'arab was known for his admiration for scholars and poets. He is buried inside the castle which has been sympathetically restored to its fully glory and has finely decorated ceilings, beautifully ornate archways and delicately carved balustrades. Those who climb to the highest point in the castle (some 5 stories up and a lot of steps!) will be rewarded with a breath-taking, panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. 

Returning to terra firma, we were delighted to be invited by the castle tour guide Hamad Al Raba'ani for coffee and dates.  

Potter Saeed at work

Sadly all too soon we had to move on to our next stop, a pottery in Bahla, and bid farewell to the castle before we could disgrace ourselves by eating too many of the dates (anyone would have thought we hadn't had breakfast) though Mr Hamad must have thought we were hungry as he sent us off with a pack of dates!   

Bahla is a delightful town surrounded by a 12km long wall much of which still stands. The wall has seven main gates, protecting the town from invaders. The town is renowned for its potteries and the one we visited was an excellent example of a traditional Omani pottery. Potter Saeed bin Abdullah bin Al Adawi, who learned his craft from his father, gave us a wonderful impromptu demonstration of his craft while owner Hamad bin Nasser Al Hashimi provided us with an explanation of the various stages of pottery making.  

Sarah and Taha discussing the route up Jebel Akhdar

We just had time for a quick visit round Bahla's souq, where we saw silversmiths, cobblers and pot makers working on their wares, before heading up Jebel Akhdar (meaning Green Mountain) to the Saiq Plateau. But not before Mohammad our guide pointed out a fascinating falaj (meaning water channel) which runs behind a renovated mosque dating back to 1649 at the foot of the mountain. The falaj is used by worshippers to conduct their ablutions before prayer.  

The steep, winding road that took us from sea level to around 2,200m up Jebel Akhdar was awe inspiring, zig-zagging through the most amazing purple, green and black rock formations until it gradually leveled off onto the Saiq plain. A 4x4 is essential for this drive, which takes about 45 minutes, and you're required to stop at a police check point to pick up safety instructions before heading up the mountain. 

You should also take a sweater (sadly we forgot!) as the temperature drops 15 degrees from the foot of the mountain to the top. This is certain to be delightful in the heat of the summer when it's a sweltering 45 degrees at the bottom.  

Hamad offering team dates at Jabrin Castle

The mountain and plain are surely a walker's paradise but sadly we didn't have time to don our hiking boots and hit the trails. However, the team was in "photographic heaven" taking pictures at every opportunity of the myriad of stunning vistas, one of which "Diana's Overlook", was admired by the late Princess Diana. 

On reaching the village of Saiq, we experienced our third helping of Omani generosity; a spur of the moment visit to Abdullah bin Saif Al Saqari's rose water factory. Mr Abdullah gave us a fascinating explanation of the intricacies of the manufacture of rose water which takes an incredible 60kg of rose petals to make one large jar of water! 

We ended the day with a visit to the souq at Nizwa, the old capital of Oman, where we found all manner of souvenir and crafts, together with fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. The souq is next to Nizwa fort which we plan to visit tomorrow. 

Abdullah at work in the rosewater factory