Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Changing face of Muscat

Muscat has been my place of residence over six years from 92-97. After coming back to Dubai in 02, I had an opportunity to visit Muscat twice. This gave me chance to see changing face of Muscat in last 6 years.

Most noticeable difference is at the border of Oman and UAE. Immigration post is now housed in new building with stained glass interiors, granite tiles, and water fountain in the middle. First impression of the country is often formed by Immigration and Customs. Oman made sure that even visitors by road get their first glimpse of this orderly country. Earlier, border post was crowded by Oman residents who were keen to flee to Dubai for shopping. It is heartening to see the opposite.

Road from border post to Muscat city is a dual carriage expressway without any major deviations. The road is in as much immaculate condition as it was. This area is known as Batinah coast and is most prosperous and populous part of Oman The road is lined up with farmhouses on both sides and if one were to take interiors of midway small towns, one could easily be camouflaged being in Konkan area. One can easily drive in excess of 160Km/hr if one can overcome the risk by getting caught by hidden speed radars.
Muscat is the cleanest city I have even seen so far and this is not just true with downtown but even remotest alley of the city. Oman seems eager to tap the tourist potential which she richly deserves and this is reflected in the way city is geared to handle the tourists. New hotels have spruced up – Grand Hyatt, Ramada, Holiday Inn with many beach resorts along the beach that now extends from Qurum to Intercontinental Muscat hotel. Winding road leading to Qantab beach used to be ‘sought after place’ for visitors to be with rocky mountains along the azure sea. Now this road is further extended and takes visitors right on edge of mountain cliff facing serene gulf of Oman on all three sides. New hotel project is underway and once this gets completed, perhaps Al Bustan palace - crown of Muscat appear pale in comparison. However, with Motor boats – tranquility of the Qantab beach has been lost.
Old malls like CCC – Prisunic seem to have been deserted with arrival of Lulu and Carrefour. Most of trees lined along the expressway have now grown to make an impression of boulevard. Most of round-abouts are revamped with concrete structure giving away to more natural looks. With expansion of commercial activities on both sides of expressway, green/maroon overboard bridges do come as a rescue to pedestrians but spoil otherwise natural surroundings. Qurum is no longer central point with vanishing outlets of Al Fair, Baby Shop, and Pizza In. This has given way to banks and smaller shops.

Some things have not changed– like Krishna Temple in Ruwi, Old Corniche, and Central Business District. Muscat has always been spectacular place with its meticulous cleanliness, well-manicured landscapes amidst backdrop of Rocky Mountains and friendly people. The place is now even friendlier. Once Khushwant Singh had commented – “See Muscat before you die.” I agree with him – anyone who visits Dubai, must add Oman to their travel. Two days are more than enough to see this jewel of gulf.


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