Oman can, at times be a rather faceless country. The vast majority of its territory is made up of sprawling desert that looks like the surface of the Moon. For this reason, driving can be a rather mundane experience. There are the occasional roads that run along the coast or wind through the mountains. However, there is also hundreds and hundreds of miles of straight highway that leaves the average motorist feeling unbelievably bored. Clearly, someone close to Sultan Qaboos and the Omani government noticed this a few years ago and embarked on a fascinating project – the beautification of the country’s roundabouts.
The highway between Sohar and Muscat is a fine example of the bring terrain and the way in which the roundabouts have livened it up a little. The road is about 15km from the coast and runs through the small coastal towns between the two major cities. I would regularly use the stretch of highway between Musannah and Muscat, which runs through the towns of Maladah, Barka and Seeb. None of these towns are anything to write home about, but and the drive would have been mind-numbing had it not been for the roundabouts en-route.
The first roundabout I would encounter on my regular journeys to the capital was at Musannah. It was always easy to stop from at least a kilometer way. It was about 50m in diameter was covered in lush green grass, that I was regularly watered by sprinklers. Atop that lush lawn sat two giant stone pillars topped with models of Omani dhows. Apparently, according to locals, these dhows were in celebration of the local fishing industry in Al Suwaiq - a small village nearby. These dhows and their large sails were not only very pretty, but they also helped me to navigate my way back home. On the’ first few trips back from Muscat, I was worried about losing my way and finding myself halfway to Dubai. However, I soon learned that the sails were the perfect beacon and helped me navigate my way home.
The general rule amongst the roundabouts on that particular highway was that the closer you got to Muscat, the more lavish they became. In the more remote towns, they may feature a small statue or floral display. However, as you neared the capital, they got more extravagant. For example, one of them was crowned by a giant archway with large pillars. The whole thing was covered in delicate, symmetrical tiles. It was as beautiful as many of the mosques you would see around the country. Additionally, outside the gates to Sultan Qaboos’ Palace stands a giant dark blue and white minaret that could almost be a tourist attraction in its own right. These wonderful creations are unbelievably well maintained with crew of Pakistani laborers assigned to each one to keep them clean and to trim the grass on a daily basis.
The highway to Muscat is home to some of the more spectacular pieces of design work. However, there are also some other smaller examples around the country. Probably the best of these are in the coastal town of Sur. The main roundabout in the town is dominated by a model of a dhow. However, there is a ocean theme across the city with flamingos and dolphins at several junctures.