Riviere is of the firm belief that Oman should be seen before mass tourism takes a toll on its charm. This was the case
with Tunisia which he first visited in 1973
OUR eyes are full of beautiful pictures and lasting memories.” This was the impression from a French couple who didn’t have any clue of a desert country before they ventured on a trip to the Sultanate. The retired couple was privileged to visit many ‘exceptional locations’ where smiling faces greeted them where ever they went.
Jean-jacques Riviere and his wife Françoise from Issy-les-Moulineaux, a commune in the Paris region, have carried with them sweet memories of their journey to Oman.
It was Riviere’s friend, who had been on a holiday earlier highly recommended him about Oman. Planning for nearly five months with Martine Gohier, a French tour operator who runs M&N Tours in Muscat, the couple set forth on the journey spread over two weeks.
Riviere knew what he wanted to discover! “It is very difficult for me to give advice because a trip is extremely personal. A ‘burger’ won’t taste the same even if it is cooked by a great chef,” he says.
It took several years for them to decide upon a visit. ‘Why the Sultanate?’ they were asked before they set out finally for their 2,500-km long journey to the Sultanate.
After their stay at Sharm El Sheikh in 2007, the couple studied travel catalogues of Oman and admired the beauty of Six Senses Zighy Bay.
After preparing a road-trip they concluded that many places (sea, sand, mountain, desert and animals in their natural habitat) seemed to address their interests. The couple with great taste for spaces had finally found their match in a country with its abundance of wilderness and nature.
Many questions however crossed their mind. How the Sultanate stood out from its neighbours for its architecture and unlike her neighbours is a country with bare luxury.
Riviere was of the firm belief that this country should be seen before mass tourism impacts its charm. This was the case with Tunisia which he first visited in 1973. The couple avoids group travelling as it helps them enjoying the journey better. “When we think about our friends we could possibly travel with, we find it hard to choose. Even if they are friends, our interests are not the same.”
He explains further: ‘One will like the museum and the history, others plants and animals. Another may like to still idle on a beach or water sports.”
During trips, they prefer to visit local markets or joints as that allows them to meet the ‘real people.’
Once in the Sultanate, what they saw really stunned them. From the breathtaking terraced farms at Nizwa to the magnificent canyon of Jabal al Akhdhar, and natural wealth in Masirah Island, they fell in love with Oman.
Françoise, a retired high school math teacher, felt a little uncomfortable, though she liked the landscapes during the trip. More so in certain places they were alone with only the noise of nature. She helps with homework for children who don’t speak French. However, she admits that as a woman and outside the ‘resorts’, she felt uncomfortable not meeting Omani women. More so as the only ones that she met wore black ‘abaya’ and ‘hijab’ if not a ‘batoola’.
“Even in a car, you can’t see them behind the tinted windows. Children were always hiding and it was impossible to see smiles, joys and innocence in the eyes that reflect the charm of childhood,” she recollects.
As a philatelist Riviere’s biggest regret was not in collecting new stamps from Oman. Unfortunately, this was also the case in Dubai. An avid photographer, he clicked nature, architecture, flora and fauna during the trip.
Besides, travelling the couple adores music in all its forms. Riviere worked for construction and public works mainly public buildings, especially the ‘Villes Nouvelles’ (News Towns) around Paris, and takes keen interest in the architecture wherever he visits.
He specially treasures beautiful, colourful mosaic patterns and Islamic architecture of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which he was able to shoot from his camera. He regrets not visiting Salalah especially Al Baleed and Samahram. As he sits recollecting the trip, he mulls possibilities of undertaking his second visit soon.
Text by Liju Cherian and
pictures by Jean-jacques Riviere