016_G19_Tourism

Global

Global Insight Tourism Detail of Mamluk niche at Sultan Grand Mosque, Muscat Frankincense crystals and essential oils at Salalah Souk Detail of a rafter in the living quarters at Jabrin Castle, dating to the 17th century Corniche. Opposite, anchored in the harbour, ocean-going dhows once sailed as far as India, Indonesia and China to deliver incense, while importing teak, spices, silk and ceramics. One can still see working dhows edging between modern shipping and little motorboats bringing in the catch to Muttrah’s fish souk. Oman came late to tourism, learning from the mistakes of others. Speaking at the first Arabian Travel Market Conference, held in Muscat, the then Omani Director General of Tourism, Mohsin Anchored in the harbour, ocean-going dhows once sailed as far as India, Indonesia and China to deliver incense, while importing teak, spices and ceramics Khamis Al-Balushi, said: “Naturally we are promoting tourism to achieve economic gain, but we are determined to preserve our heritage, our cultural and Islamic integrity. We are promoting our country as rich in cultural values by targeting up-market tourism. We will avoid mass tourism with all its negative values, though ours is not a closed, narrow-minded society. Tourism has educational value – by sharing our culture, we are enriching the human heritage.” Leaving Muscat, I travelled between the mountains and the sea to the old town of Sur, passing the archaeological site of Qalhat, formerly an important port, with 13th-century arched cisterns built by the princes of Hormuz. The cisterns stored water brought there from the hills by a system of channels still criss-crossing Oman – falaj – irrigating the land on a time-share basis. Sur was the main port for trade with Oman’s east African empire, with a racy past involving running slaves and trafficking in arms, along with importing ivory, cloves and ostrich feathers. Now the creek is lined with listing, half-built dhows, their pitch melting under the blazing sun. Time was when the shipyard was famous for building magnificent ocean-going baghalas, resembling Portuguese galleons. One evening, from the top of an enormous sand dune, I watched the colours of the desert deepen as the sun set, and tuned into the total silence. I was at the edge of the Sharqiyah desert, known as Wahiba Sands, where the dunes ripple along over 200 km, some of them 100 metres high. After consuming lamb kebabs we danced under the stars to live Arab music. I walked back that night across the sand to my barasti (palm-frond) hut. The silence was infinitely profound, the constellations above impossibly bright. As Sultan Qaboos has said: “Tourism, yes, but not any kind. What we want is quality, not quantity. We have a culture to take care of.” Juliet Highet is an author and photographer specialising in travel, the arts and culture four 16 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


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