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6 February 2024

Fishing With Dolphins in Oman

Fishing with dolphins
Yves de Contades took a luxury tour of the Sultanate of Oman and went fishing with dolphins.
Oman is the on the south eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula facing India. It is known for its economic and social stability and has only really opened up to tourism in the last decade. There are more luxury hotels starting up in the next few years and they are in the middle of building a vast new airport in Muscat just next to the present one. The legendary Sinbad the Sailor is said to have come from Oman’s Sohar Port and the country is pure 1001 Arabian nights, with endless deserts, volcanic mountains and ancient Dhows cruising the Arabian sea.
The peak season for tourism extends from October to February, as June to September is regarded as too hot, though if you are by the sea or pool the heat is just wonderful, enveloping you like a warm blanket as you step from the air conditioned environment the Omani’s love so much. Amusingly the Omanis talk about the weather as much as the English only in reverse; they bemoan the heat and dream of cool rain. Oman has 360 days of sunshine a year; if only we could swap seasons for 6 months of the year!
Muscat is the capital of Oman and was the starting place for our luxury tour. The Omani people, while appearing taciturn, are warm, kind and welcoming. They have strong views on hospitality, proffering the very best home grown dates (240 different types of dates) and deep strong aromatic coffee to all new visitors to their shop, hotel or home. They wear the Dishdash which is traditional long tunic in grey, beige, black or white for business.
Omanis pay no taxes, health care is universal for all Omani citizens and they have 8 main hospitals in Muscat. Women can start businesses, borrow to start a business, own houses and there are three women ministers in the government at present. For the petrol heads, let it be known that petrol here is 12 pence per litre. Camel racing is the big sport in Oman and a top racing camel can sell for half a million pounds.
I stayed at the Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz Carlton Hotel, which was originally built as a Palace by Sultan Qaboos to host the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in 1985. The lobby is a vast magnificent Arabian Art Deco vault that takes your breath away on first entering and the service is impeccable. It has acres of lush gardens along a private beach overlooking the sea of Oman backed by the Haijar Mountains; it is the “jewel of the Sultanate.” There is even a special floor known as the ninth floor with its own lift access where only heads of state may reside, indeed Prince Charles has stayed there.
Visit the Mutrah Souq in Muscat, one of the oldest markets in the world, chock full of silver, jewellery, necklaces, old George VI coins, cashmere, silk, old sailing sextants and pocket watches. It is like Aladdin’s cave, a mix of bling, tat and real treasure. They are rightly proud of their silver work and the necklaces are works of inlaid filigreed art. Especially the traditional Omani dagger that can retail up to two thousand pounds for the most ornate.Take a set amount of money and splash out. You will have gems, spices and gifts a plenty for yourself, friends and family for the next year.
Wahiba Sands, Desert Nights Camp is 2 hours from Muscat and well worth the trip. You drive through the lava granite desert, scattered with the invincible Acacia trees that get their water from the dew, until you come to the camp nestled between towering orange sand dunes. Take the quad bikes out to watch the sunset and then follow up with a camel ride in the early morning after breakfast.
Wadi Bani Khalid is about 200 km from Muscat. It is the best-known wadi of the Sharqiyah region, which is a mountain water pool oasis surrounded by palm trees and sheer rock mountains on all sides. Swim in the pools and trek up to see the caves.
I highly recommend a visit to the Dhow Factory on the river in Sur, old traditional boats made from Teak wood, the boats are stunning and the yard a vision straight out of National Geographic, as the skilled indian craftsmen go about their centuries old art of Dhow building. Also worth a visit is the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a tour de force in marble with huge Swarovski chandelier.
I would also recommend the five star Chedi Muscat Hotel which offers the most succulent food imaginable from all corners of the globe, they even have their own master chocolatier, the range and quality is mouth watering. You must try the lemon and mint mocktail, the perfect drink to dispel jet lag and revive the mind. The hotel is right on a beautiful sandy beach and has just opened a new thirteen-suite Balinese spa, they also have three swimming pools, including the 103-metre long pool surrounded by blazing fire lanterns, glorious at night.
Lastly check out the Shangri La Resort which is three majestic hotels combined, designed in traditional Dhofari Arabian architecture with pools, canals and date palms everywhere. This is like an Arabian Vegas in a luxury modern style. There is so much to explore that you could stay for weeks and still find new corners to relax in every day. There is even a river with slow moving current that takes you around the hotels through the gardens in lazy comfort. Bliss. The award winning Shahrazad restaurant is dazzling, straight out of 1001 nights, serving splendid authentic Moroccan cuisine.
On the last day I went off with a friend and Captain Abdullah in a fast speedboat to play with the Spinner dolphins in front of the Sultans Palace. We had barely left the port when Captain Abdullah shouted and lo and behold we were surrounded by a hundred dolphins chasing their favourite breakfast, tuna, across the glittering sea. The fishermen here actually follow the dolphins like hunters with hounds to find the tuna shoals. We watched in awe as the baby dolphins leapt about playfully while the adults occasionally showed them how it was done, twisting and spinning up in the air above the glittering sea before turning and diving back into the silky undulating water.
The diving here is here real treat and you can expect to see numerous species of Sting Rays, Moray eels, squid, Reef sharks, Batfish, Parrot fish, Angel fish, Snapper and abundant colourful soft and hard corals. Muscat in particular is known for it’s turtles and there is even a Turtle Ranger at the Shangri La Hotel whose job is to protect them when they come to lay their eggs so they are not disturbed. You can watch them hatch on the beach and scuttle for the water from the comfort of your sun lounger. Keep an eye out for my all time favourite sea creature, the chameleonic, multicoloured seahorses, they are very hard to spot but very visually stunning when you do find them. Be sure to take in the dive areas around Muscat and the Daymaniyat Islands north of Muscat which are a dive paradise and have been placed under the protection of UNESCO. The best water clarity is generally between April and October, though it’s pretty good all year round.
Oman really is the ideal place for families or couples who want a relaxing luxury holiday in a fascinating culture with a warm and genuine welcome.