Incentive Travel in Oman
A Magical Night in Nizwa
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It was May….that means very hot in Oman. I had travelled to Oman to make final preparations for an incentive trip for one of my Middle Eastern clients. Three members of the group had joined me the day before so that my team could review all logistics with them.
Earlier in the day, we had travelled to Nizwa, an oasis town up in the mountains, 1 1/2 hours away from Muscat. Nizwa was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th centuries.
We were greeted at our mountain hotel by an enthusiastic staff who provided an unexpected hot towel service and welcome drink that one would expect to find only at a five star hotel. Arup Singh Deo and his staff lined up when we arrived and gave us the warmest welcome I have every received at any hotel. The rest of our party would not be arriving until late in the evening and really early the next morning so we had a bit of time to kill. We had spent over an hour browsing in some of the shoppes. Now, most of the shoppes were closed.
By 9 PM, the Sheikh, Krystina and I were sitting at a table under a huge tree in the Nizwa Souq sipping coffee. It’s one of those moments that one would say is not plausible if you saw it in the movies. Abdul, who worked at the hotel, had dropped us off 1 1/2 hours earlier and he soon joined us. We sat talking, relaxing and taking in the night air. The Sheikh and Abdul were speaking Arabic. Even though we couldn’t understand what they were saying, they seemed to be having an interesting discussion. The Sheikh was absolutely fascinated. So, I asked “What are you talking about?” He replied “It’s what I was telling you about before….the fact that Nizwa is known historically for black magic”.
Abdul started telling us some fascinating stories. There was a tale about a child travelling from Nizwa to Bahla (another town historically known for black magic) by sliding down a tree. Then, there was the book that will tell you all the secrets about magic if you read it at one sitting. “If you don’t read it at one sitting, you’ll go mad.” He told us that nearby there was a street that had been known for black magic historically. “If you walk there you’ll immediately start to feel nervous”. He also told us that 2 of Oman’s oldest mosques in the country are located in Nizwa. Abdul continued to tell us tales about jins and unusual experiences. During one of his stories, he mentioned a falaj. Krystina and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. After all, I am from Jamaica and I was raised in Canada and she is Polish Canadian. So, when Abdul asked “Shall I take you there and show you?” We immediately said “yes”.
We spent the next 2 hours touring the backstreets of Nizwa, we climbed up the stairs to the 2 mosques including the So’al Mosque built in the 2nd century. It had an outdoor rooftop area in which people worshipped. Abdul had been raised in that area and shared some of his fond childhood memories with us. He pointed down a lane to the street where one starts to feel nervous. Krystina and I headed boldly in that direction. We stopped when we noticed that the Sheihk and Abdul weren’t joining us. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Abdul said that during the day it would be fine but he would not venture there at night.
We passed a huge mound of dirt. He said it had appeared there magically one night. A man made the mistake of removing some of the dirt with a wheelbarrow and he was paralyzed for life. He also pointed to another area in which a house had appeared in the middle of a field mysteriously overnight.
Abdul took us to the Falaj Daris, a Unesco World Heritage site and the largest falaj in Oman. We soon learned that the 2000 year old aflaj irrigation system was the main source of water in Oman. It is a network of man-made subterranean channels that taps into underground water. We climbed right down into it and let the cool refreshing, water flow through our fingers. Then we strolled through the beautiful garden park at Shariya.
The next day, after our entire party had arrived, we had an early morning GPS treasure hunt around Nizwa, a shopping challenge in the Nizwa Souq, and a tour of the Nizwa Fort .
It was Friday so we experienced the excitement of the weekly cattle auction.
The Sheikh’s team was no where to be found. Had they succumbed to the powers of one of the evil jins that Abdul had told us about? It was a great mystery until they showed up at the rendez-vous point to depart for lunch with an Omani family and abseiling in the mountains. The Sheikh had found a local taxi driver to take his team on the same incredible adventure that we had shared the night before.
To tell you the truth, the unplanned night excursion down the backstreets of Nizwa was so special and memorable that it was definitely the highlight of that trip to Oman. If I had been on the ball, I would have given early risers the opportunity to share the magic. This experience was the inspiration for the first of my 10 tips for incentive travel to Oman.
When in Oman, always build enough time into your itinerary for the impromptu.
Oman is an appealing destination for incentive travel for a number of reasons. Our clients from other parts of the Middle East have told us that they enjoy Oman because it reminds them of their childhood and some of the traditional sights that they rarely see anymore in in their own countries. Such is the price of progress sometimes. We lose what is most precious. Oman has managed to save that. For North American and European companies, Oman will offer a truly unique experience that sets it apart from other incentive travel destinations.
The terrain in Oman is also rich and varied. You’ll see everything from beaches to desert and wadis to towering mountain ranges like Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhtar from which the view is nothing short of incredible.
Due to a decree of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has ruled Oman since 1970, there has been a great emphasis on preserving and restoring Oman’s historical and cultural sites.
He has also decreed that commercial establishments can have no more than 7 floors and residences can’t exceed 3 stories in height. All new buildings must conform to traditional Middle Eastern architecture.
Most of the men wear long, pristine white dishdashes and neatly wrapped muzzars (turbans).
For these reasons, while one has access to modern technology and convenience, Oman feels like it is frozen time.
The best time to explore most of the country is from October to April when temperatures are comfortable.
Places to See in Oman
Muscat is Oman’s capital and commercial centre. In Muscat, you’ll find an interesting blend of the modern and the traditional.
The intricate irrigation network makes it possible for flowers, trees and other vegetation to grow in what was once just desert and rocky mountain.
From the beautiful designs that decorate the roundabouts to the traditional architecture, Muscat will enchant you. Muscat has some truly exceptional and luxurious beach resorts.
These resorts feature 5 star accomodation, large guest rooms, huge bathrooms, spas, a wide variety of function rooms for meetings and conferences, recreational facilities, and lavish buffets with a variety of cuisine that ranges from traditional Middle Eastern to European continental.
There are many attractions that are a must see in Muscat and neighbouring Muttrah. Bait Al Zubai Museum where you can see traditional furniture, clothing, utensils, handicrafts, pottery, and a garden with a barasti (traditional house) and a falaj, and lots more. Other places you won’t want to miss include:
- The National Mosque – shorts are not permitted and women must wear modest clothing with arms and knees covered.
- The Corniche
- The Fish Souq
- The Muttrah Souq
Nizwa, Oman’s capital from 751-1154, has played an important role in the country’s history. It has a number of attractions that will help you gain a sense of the country’s history.
In Nizwa you’ll also see the book roundabout, another landmark and photo opportunity.
One of Nizwa’s key historical sites is the Nizwa Fort. It was built during the 1650s by Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’rubi. At the top of the fort there are 24 openings from which weapons coud be fired. Its round structure houses an intricate maze of corridors and staircases, leading to a well, rooms to safely house families, and underground cellars for storing food and weapons.
An interesting feature is the long vertical shafts down which boiling oil could be poured to fight off intruders. Today, the fort houses many treasures and exhibits that give you a sense of how people lived in the past.
Near the fort is the Nizwa Souq, a traditional Middle Eastern souq in which you can browse for treasures, barter and bargain. You can purchase spices, souvenirs, pottery, incense burners, silver jewelry, and handicrafts. On Fridays, the Souq really comes alive during the early morning livestock auction.
We’ve devoted an entire blog entry to Salalah, the perfect area to explore during the summer. When temperatures are soaring in the rest of Oman, Salalah is comfortable due to the gentle mist from the
See You in Oman
There are many other places that you and your team can explore during your time in Oman. For example, your team can explore the desert and even stay in a luxury camp in the desert.
We haven’t even touched on the dolphin watching, turtle island and scuba diving that are available. I hope that I have shared enough to wet your appetite and get you on the right track as you consider Oman as an incentive travel destination.
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Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly organizes incentive travel and executive retreats in Oman. They provide one stop shopping service with a personalized approach to incentive travel for corporate groups of up to 60. Customized itineraries include travel, transfers, hotel, tours, team activities, and special events.