Princely past beckons

Princely past beckons

Omani heritage

Princely past beckons

Just a five hour drive away from Dubai, Muscat, which is the capital city of the Sultanate of Oman, is quaint, pristine and relaxed. The serpentine roads that run through its hilly terrain, sometimes with the Indian Ocean on one side, are truly spectacular.

The city has no sky scrapers, its buildings are quite flat — because of a decree from the Sultan himself — and as a result one’s eyes can see as far as they wish to, which is itself a remarkable feeling and something that is impossible in Dubai.

The city is also blessed with rich heritage and has quite a lot of palaces, museums and forts. The Zubair Museum — a private museum founded and funded by the Zubair family — is one of the most reputed as well as an informative one. The Zubair family is one of the wealthiest families in the country and has been quite close to the royal family. The museum has a diverse collection of items from yesteryears including maps, attire, arms and ammunition, ships and cameras amongst other displays.

Among the exhibits is information relating to the Al Busaidi dynasty, which includes portraits of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, the ruler of Oman, and that of the previous Sultans. There are four galleries on the ground floor that exhibit excellent examples of the khanjar, (the Omani dagger), traditional attires of Omani men and women, swords, firearms and antique jewellery. There is also a garden, which comprises a barasti (Arabic word for a palm frond) and a falaz (an ancient Arabic water distribution system).

The section on maps is perhaps the most fascinating, given its collection of ancient maps of the Arabian Peninsula. The maps provide a sense of the regional political landscape before the creation of distinct Arab countries such as Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Two centuries ago, the Arab land extended in one straight line from Morocco on the West African coast to UAE on the Persian Gulf coast. It still does, the difference being this belt now passes through a host of independent nations.

This also explains why Arabic is the staple language even in African countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Arabian Peninsula attracted world’s attention only after the discovery of crude oil, and today, it accounts for 40 per cent of all global energy supply. It is also interesting to note that during the 17th and 18th centuries, Arabia was largely a region of intrigue and mystery for the Europeans.

Another section, which is interesting is the one about attires, which focuses largely on different types of dresses worn by local Omani tribes. Oman is actually divided into 11 distinct governorates called wilayats, and interestingly, each wilayat has its distinct dress style — the diversity is quite uncannily reminiscent of our own India.

Moreover, certain regions practice more conservative dressing than others with ladies covering up their nose and mouth as well, in addition to wearing the traditional abaya (the black dress worn by Muslim women). Such distinction is largely attributable to a large and well spread native population, with ethnics forming about 70 per cent of Omani population. This compares with only about 15 per cent in the case of the neighbouring UAE, which is quite thin in local population.

In short, the tour of the Zubair Museum will take you right back into the past and is a thoroughly enjoyable and learning experience. It took me about three hours to see the entire museum, but I was glad to have seen and learnt something new in a new city.