Sunday, January 2, 2011

Travel to Oz

The first group of tourists visited Oman in 1983. Prior to that year, an official government invitation was required for any entry. At the time, there were only two consulates in Oman, British and Indian, and the ruling sultan Said considered the country’s membership in the United Nations unnecessary and suspicious.

A few decades later, the capital of Oman has a full assortment of five-star hotels; the buses, rental cars, and even cruise ships full of tourists arrive daily. What do they see? A land of powerful strangeness: architecture that defies description and style; surrealistic mountains in the middle of the city; lush flowers on streets; multiple portraits of handsome Sultan Qaboos. “Like being in Oz”, said Laurene, as we stood at the gates of the Royal Palace.

Oman is a prosperous country, where much revenue is generated by oil exports. There are state-of-the-art roads, impeccable service industry, clean beaches, and yes, McDonald’s. But there are no skyscrapers in Muscat, no starchitect-designed museums, no mega-malls, and no déjà-vu feel of a generic international metropolis. Whether by happy coincidence, or by ingenious planning, Muscat did the right thing, and managed to retain its own unique and peculiar character.

Considering that decisions about virtually everything in Oman are made inside the Royal Palace, the Sultan Qaboos must have a special design sense – just like the legendary Wizard of Oz.


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