Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Freedom is……lazing on the beach.
An Elephant Seal, oblivious of envious humans, at Piedras Blancas, southern Big Sur near San Simeon, California.

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‘Who is taller’? The toddler guesstimating the red wood soldier at entrance to the 1906 red brick Western Market (Des Voeux Road Central and Morrison Street junction), Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.

The Edwardian style Western Market, a former British Post Office converted into a showpiece market place in 1991, is a combination of classical facades and kitschy shops selling toys, crafts, jewelry on ground floor. The real treasure is on first floor…bales of satins, silks, sequins, laces…..fabrics to splurge on.

http://www.womentravelblog.com

Astoria New York- the Suburban Essence ……Featured writer Indra Chopra of Travtrails.com tells us of her visit to Astoria, New York
Posted by Featured Writer on Friday, July 18, 2014 · 2 Comments

Tangible Memories

Posted: July 9, 2014 in IndiBlogger, Oman, Travel
Tags: , , ,

This post is in response to IndiBlogger contest titled Beauty has an Address based on Oman.

We lived in Muscat, Oman from October 1995 to November 2000 and the five years was an introduction to a culturally and typographically vibrant and irresistible.

Our entry into Muscat, the capital of Sultanate of Oman, had coincided with sublime weather, by Oman standards, as October onwards the hot air or the mistral disappears from over the crumbly slatey mountaintops. Also unknowingly, we had timed our arrival with the 25th year of ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the country’s National Day celebrations. The country was eulogizing the metamorphosis into a new era engineered by discovery of oil and the Sultan’s commitment to his people. The buntings and multi hued lights stringed along pillars and atop buildings added to the festive ambiance and after sunset Muscat turned into an Arabian Nights city with lighted minarets, streets and buildings.

It was the beginning of a never-ending love affair with a country that hitherto had been an unknown entity, a Middle Eastern country confined to desert lands of geography books. I am glad I did not listen to well wishers advising us against flying out without any contacts or friends to help out. We did not know anyone, except for my husband’s company contacts, and in a way it was a blessing as I was free from getting opinionated.

In five years time, 1995-2000, I came to know a country of majestic burnished mountains and blue-green waters snuggling up to an endless coastline, of undulating sky-line of buildings and rolling clouds, the souqs or markets reminiscent of ancient trade routes, of frankincense and dates, the swirling golden Wahiba sands, forts and mountain passes, of folklore and distinctive tribals. Evenings spent strolling along the Corniche, in Muscat, washed by waves and engulfed in the glow of the setting sun it was easy to imagine the lure of this entreport for sailors on way to riches of Asia. Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy of India (1898-1905) had labeled it as the ‘most picturesque place in the east’ and like multitudinous tourists down decades I too seconded the description.

In 1995 Muscat was a city of artistic roundabouts embellished with artifacts, majestic forts and palaces, traditional souks vying with modern hotels, civic installations and sprawling parks proclaiming an ancient history of political and military activities. The Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Grand mosque was being constructed ( since then completed) and has the world’s largest chandelier and a hand-woven Persian carpet covering 4.26 sq.km. It is one mosque where non-Muslims are admitted for a look around.

The children would spend weekends at the ice skating rink or freaking out on the serpentine drive to Qantab beach, an engineering masterpiece linking the mountains for passage to the sea. School vacations meant driving to picturesque mountain cities and villages, Nizwa cloaked in antiquity was my favored haunt, the Jebel Akhdar or the Green mountains, Musandan reminiscent of Norway fjords, the verdant wadis or valleys and crooning streams of Dhofar, the southern tip of the country.

Like any other Gulf country Oman has surfeit of glamour, money, labor, simple living but to me it was a multitudinous wrap around, unique and fantastically natural in all its heatness- beyond conditioned houses, conditioned cars, conditioned offices, shopping complexes and “Even are classrooms are air-conditioned”. This from children on first day at Indian School, Muscat.

Now, fourteen years later when asked what would I like to do and see on return…..I can only say ‘Oman in entity’ as it was and must be paradisiacal.

An unexpected sighting …a Caribou, oblivious to human awe. We finally sighted wildlife while visiting Jasper, Alberta, Canada. (2013)

Link to article http://travtrails.wordpress.com/jasper-a-summe…wips-hong-kong/

Finally some wildlife

Finally some wildlife

NizwaNizwa….a rooftop view from Nizwa Fort.

Oman – a country that was a ‘tonic place’for adventures unknown.This is an excerpt for Frizztext Letter Challenge A-Z. Letter ‘O’.

October 1995…The plane sashays through poof ball clouds, camouflaging jagged intimidating mountains glistening in the early morning sun, as it prepared to touch down at Seeb international Airport, Muscat. We would be seeing more of these mountains, omnipresent, eccentrically layered, at places sandpaper brittle ready to fall apart at mere touch or chameleon-like changing color with every slant of sun.

Our entry into Sultanate of Oman had coincided with paradisiacal weather, by Oman standards as October onwards the hot air or the mistral disappears from over the mountaintops. Unknowingly, we had timed our arrival with the 25th year of ascension of the present Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the country’s National Day celebrations. The country was eulogizing the metamorphosis into a new era engineered by discovery of oil and the Sultan’s commitment to his people. The buntings and multi hued lights stringed along pillars and atop buildings added to the festive ambiance and after sunset Muscat turned into an Arabian Nights city with lighted minarets, streets and buildings.

The Middle East, except for Dubai for its glamour and shopping, had never been on our travel itinerary and relegated to the never-never land for visits. So, when my husband sprang the news on us of moving to Muscat, Oman, he was greeted with skepticism. Three heads poured over an Atlas, Google search was unheard of, searching for the geographical position of the land we would be setting base in. There it was, cavorting alongside Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and the shape, ‘more like a shoe’. It was not very encouraging. “Who lives in a shoe?” questioned our nine-year old son to be reminded about the ‘Old Woman who lived in a shoe’* by his elder sibling. After much deliberation a hands-down vote clinched the issue in favor because it was still ‘foreign’ and gateway to other travels.

Personal misgivings pushed aside and attired in best of finery and attitude we boarded Gulf Air flight for Muscat. In a booking error the three of us, husband had left a month earlier, had been allotted separate seats in a packed flight and it was tough three hours in a never-ending surround sound of cheap deo, sweat and high decibel buzz. A collective sigh on a smooth landing and we disembarked to queue inside a neat, air-conditioned arrival lounge, an ideal setting for tourist-friendly gentrification.

We did something we had not done in a long time. Stand in a queue. In a way there was no getting out of it as it was said more in eye language and gestures than in word and there were no breaking lines and ‘me first shoves’. At that time it did not register but it was to be a phenomenon we would encounter throughout our stay, the fine-tuning of Indians. Visa and customs formalities over, my books flipped through, a casual check, and we exited to find husband beside a deep red Chrysler Inteprid. The day was made for my son on seeing a real version of one of his favorite cars and I could guess he was mentally composing a letter to his school friends back home.

Dazzling aquamarine sky, laundered roads (saw them being washed at night) bordered by layers of multi-hued flowers interspersed with date palms of one height and color…it was picture postcard scenery. I surrendered to the sanitized surroundings far removed from the romantic notions of a desert land of camel riding sheiks and swaying begums. On second thoughts there was certain fakeness to the scenery and my intuition was correct as later we learnt that the palm trees were transplanted along with the soil and flowers. Well it also proved a point….Omanis love green spaces and Muscat is a recipient of municipal awards for the cleanest city.

A few miles down the single tar road, connecting the International airport to the city, I was still looking for sheiks. But what I saw was a generic city of tree-lined roads, flower bedecked fancy roundabouts embellished with jars, teapots, books and forts, ‘white’ brick buildings, construction was fairly recent as this was a new developing city and from the air-conditioned confines of the car all very welcoming even the protective mountains. The country, except for the wadis or valleys and the coastal plain, is mountain dominated and in Muscat the rocky wall blocks any cool breeze entering the city. One can imagine the plight of residents before electric fans and air cons entered households and commercial buildings.

Wendell Phillips in his book ‘ UNKNOWN OMAN’ describes the invisible line as the ‘Eastern Hajar Mountains meet the sea directly in an apparently unbroken line of precipitous cliffs, rising diaphanous and opalescent out of the pale blue waters of the Indian Ocean’. The crusted jagged chain starts from the North, the Jebel Akhdar or the ‘Green Mountains’ and its highest point, the Jebel Shams or the ‘Mountain of the Sun’ protecting the terraced fields and fruit orchards and then curving from the North West (Musandam) to South East (Ras al Haad) with Central Oman as its epicenter. The Arabs refer to this section as a ‘man’s spine’ and the flat lands of the Batina region (coastal plains) as the stomach or ‘bread basket of Oman’. The area to the west of the hills, the Dhahira, is the back bone while further down South the mountains of Dhofar have their own agenda turning into shades of green from June to September and presenting an awe-inspiring facet of Oman. The setting dominates the scenery and I missed an opportunity of capturing the purple hues on lens as I was not into photography then.

Muscat in Arabic means ‘falling place’ and seeing the propping up by the majestic burnished mountains, the blue-green waters, the rocky coast and the undulating sky-line of buildings and rolling clouds, the image is of a place vying for attention. Mountains aside, a few days in Muscat and ‘It is so familiar” refrain was constant till we hit upon the reason. It is so sub continental or Indian minus the cows and insensate traffic of Indian cities. In the 1800s Muscat was said to have one foot in Arabia and the other in India ‘with the suq or market dominated by enterprising Indian merchants’. In 1995, in addition to the Indian population, Oman was a potpourri of assorted smells and sounds of different nationalities making themselves at home and a year later I too joined in the chorus “Muscat just grows into you”.

Getting a driving license turned out to be a full-fledged ‘war game’ what with right hand driving, reversing through drums and slope test. My 10 years of driving were inconsequential as I failed once in the road test for a ‘fast turn’ or was it a ‘slow turn’. There were no dearth of advisors and collaborators-in-distress with ‘We told you so’, “you must always turn at the right time”, “check the inspector’s mood” or “I was lucky and managed in one go” the last making me feel a nincompoop. Still I was few notches better than an acquaintance who got her license after seven tries. To majority Indians, driving in Oman means following traffic rules, no cutting lanes or sneaking in through gaps and maintaining a particular speed, giving way etc.

With driving license safely tucked in wallet and a Toyota Camry as gift from husband, I was on the road dropping children to school, meeting friends over coffee or simply discovering Muscat and its twin, Muttrah. The connecting road between the new and old cities passes along a natural horseshoe-shaped cove with jutting rocks and cliffs guarded by the Portuguese forts, Jalali and Mirani, towards the Corniche flanked by British and Portuguese constructions and the quintessential Muttruh souq flaunting an Arabic ambiance of cobbled alleys and old housing.

Muscat harbor was described as the ‘most picturesque place in the East’ by Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy of India from 1898-1905 and in 1507 Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese sea farer on way to set base in Asia had described Muscat ‘…a large and very populous city….there are orchards, gardens and palm groves with pools for watering by means of wooden engines…..’ Later on he would ransack the city, burning and pillaging, destroying the Arab fleet and laying the foundation stone for Portuguese take over of the city. As for me the five years, 1995-2000, were years of discovery of a country shaped out of a rustic and vibrant topography where the ‘historical recitative whistles through the whitened bones of somnolent ruins.’*

*”There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” is a popular English language nursery rhyme.

* Henry Miller in REMEMBER TO REMEMBER

indra

Coldspring along Hudson, New York…….

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