Amid Omanisation, Hindi reminder of old bond (Muscat Diary- with stories on PM visit)

November 9th, 2008 - 11:24 am ICT by IANS  

Muscat, Nov 9 (IANS) Indian, Pakistani or people of various other nationalities might be behind the wheels of taxis in major cities of the Gulf. But not so in the Omani capital.Muscat’s taxis are operated only by nationals wearing the ‘dishdasha’, the traditional Arabic robe, and are proof of a successful Omanisation drive by the authorities here.

With Oman sharing very old sea links with India and many Indians having settled down in Oman for generations now, Omani taxi drivers are fluent in Hindi.

Taxis are not metered though and fares are usually negotiated ahead of the journey. Better still, one should be in the know of fares from one point to another before hailing a taxi and fixing the fare.

At 500,000, Indians form the largest expatriate community in Oman and are involved in a wide variety of professions. They include skilled workers and technicians and professionals such as doctors, engineers, bankers, finance experts and senior management officers.

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Even as other major cities of the Gulf are witnessing a construction boom as they compete with each other for economic development, this capital city of Oman offers a quaint contrast.

As modern gleaming glass and concrete towers sprout across urban heartlands of the region, Muscat is determined to keep its Arabic heritage and culture prominent in its look.

“High-rises are a strict no-no and no building can have more than 11 floors,” an Indian professional, who has been living here for the last five years, says.

“Authorities here would rather like the place to expand horizontally than vertically,” he added.

The buildings mostly conform to Arabic architecture and the most striking feature is the colour.

Most commercial buildings and residences - if not all - are either white or beige, which, one learns, is a means to keep the scorching summer heat off.

Street roundabouts are marked by large sculptures of traditional Arabic coffee pots and frankincense holders and roads run through well-manicured carpets of green grass dotted by colourful flower beds and tree-lined avenues.

The city’s landscape is dominated by the western Al Hajar mountains on one side and the Gulf of Oman on the other.

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It has been more than a year since cyclone Gonu struck the Oman coast but the telltale marks of the effect it had on parts of the Omani capital are still there.

Reconstruction work is still going on along a patch of road running past the picturesque Qurum beach, a favourite hangout place for locals.

The road was breached by the cyclone and Muscat had lost a beautiful part of its beachline.

“Most other parts of the city damaged by the cyclone have been repaired and this is the only major reconstruction work left,” explains the driver of the car taking this journalist from the airport to the hotel.

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There is halwa and then there is Omani halwa. Halwa is an important part of Oman’s traditional cuisine and there are various varieties of it.

But there is a special etiquette involved in serving and partaking of this sweet dish.

Omani halwa is served in bowls carried in a cloth by two attendants or in small bowls carried on a tray.

The halwa is taken from the bowl using the tips of the two fingers of the right hand without lifting the bowl from the tray or from the cloth.

After eating the halwa, the fingers are washed with water poured from a silverware by an attendant and the hand is dried with a towel or napkin that is provided.

So, the next time you are in Oman, you now how to go about it.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at aroonim.b@ians.in)

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