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Tracing the historical connection between Kerala and Oman

As a Keralite who grew up in the Middle East (Bahrain to be specific), I always wondered how and why people from Kerala were in large in numbers in the Gulf region. As I grew older, traveled more, visited Jew Town in Kochi, read up on the Spice Route, etc. I began to learn more about my state’s role in Middle East history.

Indian immigration, past or present, has been for money. In the past it was trade, mostly by sea. The Gujarati traders dealt with textiles, and the spices predominantly came from Keralite traders. Pepper was once called “black gold” and Kerala was, and still is India’s largest pepper producer. The global spice trade owes a lot — then and now — to Kerala. And traders from the Middle East sourced much of the spices from traders from Malabar (north Kerala). But where does the Sultanate of Oman come in to all this?

Being at the tip of the Arabian Gulf, Oman is the Middle Eastern nation traders would have first landed at sailing the Arabian Sea from India.

Arabian sea mapIn 2006, my father was posted in Sohar, south of Oman, for a year-long engineering project. When he landed in Oman and drove from Muscat to Sohar, he told me about what he had seen. Oman, unlike other Gulf nations, had coconut trees! (You will most likely only find palm trees and date trees everywhere else in the Gulf). He had later visited a region called Salalah and told me about the many banana plantations he had seen there. That really piqued my interest in Oman.

How did the banana’s reach Oman? Coconuts have an island history, and are known to travel

Banana coconut market Oman
This is a market in Salalah, Dhofar (Image source)

the seas because of its buoyancy. Did Keralites bring in crops, besides spices? Did the Malabar traders grow the first banana plantations centuries ago? Kerala, after all, is famously associated with the fruit (we produce LOTS of it). Kerala also has a history of visitors from Oman and vice versa. Salalah is the capital town of southern Omani province of Dhofar. An old king from Kerala, Cheraman Perumal, died in Dhofar. I’m not saying he’s the man credited to bringing bananas to Oman, but I’m sure the cultivation of certain tropical fruits and trees could have some historical connection tracing back to Kerala.

History aside, research more about Oman and you’ll be amazed by what you see.

When I saw photographs of Salalah my father took, I was amazed by the lush greenery in some parts of Oman, especially in the South. Oman even enjoys a monsoon season (or khareef as they call it), a rarity among Gulf nations, whose geography doesn’t offer much besides scorching heat and desert sand. So if I were to ever visit Oman, Salalah would definitely be on my ‘must-see’ list of places. It would be fun to share photos of myself at a coconut vendor, share it on Facebook, but tag the location to Oman and see how my friends react. πŸ™‚

My friends in Dubai had also told me about Musandam, another beautiful region of coastal Oman, known for its pristine waters, dolphin sighting tours, and scuba diving. My friends being legal residents of the UAE, would drive to the border of Oman (with passports in tow), spend the weekend in Musandam and then return to UAE. Ras Al Jinz at the eastern tip of Oman is famous for its sea turtle reserve and conservation of marine life. I’d love to try and capture a photograph of a huge turtle on the beach sand!

Of course, as soon as I land in Muscat, the nation’s capital, I’d want to check out the city too. Visiting Muscat’s many museums would definitely help in learning more about Oman’s history and its trading past with India and other neighbouring nations. Then there are the souqs (markets), watching the sun set at Muttrah Corniche, and enjoying some great Omani cuisine for dinner. (Read my travel blogs and you’ll know how much I love Middle Eastern food).

The more I research about Oman, the more amazing I find it to be. Check out this video taken by an Indian who visited Jebel Shams — dubbed the “Grand Canyon” of Oman.

Salalah Oman camel coconut trees
Where else but Oman can one find a camel amongst coconut trees?

Although I’ve seen my share of vast desert sands in the Gulf, Oman with its unique natural landscape, unspoiled shorelines, lush green hills and biodiverse vegetation, seems to be a GCC nation like no other. After 2010, I honestly had no desire to visit the Middle East, as Dubai is the absolute pinnacle of a Middle Eastern city. But then I was enamoured by the beauty of Iran. And now Oman. At least in Oman, you’re not just stuck inside malls and gawking at materialism that’s out of most people’s reach (a la Dubai). Oman has a history I would be very curious to learn more about. It would be interesting — and refreshing — to visit a GCC nation that is quite remarkable and geographically different from the rest. Maybe it wasn’t just spices traders from Kerala brought to Oman. And I hope I this Keralite gets the chance to do discover Oman’s history one day!

This entry was made for Indiblogger’s Beautiful Oman contest.

Introducing Jifi at IndiBlogger Meet, hosted by Kotak Mahindra Bank

This past Sunday (23rd March), I attended my third IndiBlogger Meet in Bangalore. Only this time, this was the first IndiBlogger meet to be simultaneously held in Mumbai and Delhi as well. What was the special occasion? Kotak Mahindra Bank was using this simulcast meet to launch Jifi, a new social banking service. A first of its kind if you may — but more on Jifi later.

The IndiBlogger meet in Bangalore was held at The Biere Club, on Vittal Mallya Road.

Biere Club Bangalore
The pub is famous for being the first joint in Bangalore to sell home-brewed beer, setting the trend for many others to follow in the city
Indiblogger meet Jifi Bangalore
Like all IndiBlogger meets, we could tweet about it and they would display our tweets on screens
Biere Club IndiBlogger meet Bangalore
Activities began even before the meet officially began, with the first task being a contest to judge the best #OscarSelfie (go look it up)
Biere Club Bangalore Indiblogger meet
The turn out was great
Prateek Indiblogger Bangalore meet
Prateek was our MC and he got the Bangalore crowd pumped with a chant-y Rammstein song
Mumbai Indiblogger meet
Our ‘usual’ MC, Anoop, was handling the Mumbai meet — which was being broadcast live

Then we had a surprise guest, who was brought in by Kotak Mahindra Bank to debut Jifi. Who was it? A celebrity? A popular actor? Well, they asked us to guess and the only clue we were given was that he was a “nerd”.

I immediately guessed Chetan Bhagat! Seemed like the only obvious choice to endorse a bank.

And lo and behold…

Chetan Bhagat Indiblogger meet
The writer himself!

Chetan Bhagat then began talking about how the times have changed and how banking should too. This was segued into the video introduction of Jifi. (You can view the promos here)

Chetan Bhagat Indiblogger meet Mumbai
After a bunch of videos highlighted the salient features of Jifi, Chetan called on an executive from Kotak Mahindra Bank to talk more about Jifi and take questions from the Mumbai audience and from Twitter
Jifi Indiblogger meet Bangalore
Then it was back to Bangalore where another Kotak Mahindra exec would take questions from the audience right here
Buffet at Biere Club Bangalore
Once the Q & A was over, it was time for a sumptuous buffet lunch!

Overall the IndiBlogger meet was well-organized, the food served was great, drinks were on the house and a great time was had — all thanks to the fine folks at Kotak Mahindra Bank who hosted the event! Continue reading “Introducing Jifi at IndiBlogger Meet, hosted by Kotak Mahindra Bank” »

Are we Indians the only ones who ‘smell’?

When it comes to bad body odor, us Indians are often the subject of much stereotyping around the world. That stereotype has its reasons. In places like Singapore, the snarly stereotype made by the majority Chinese are that Indians “stink”. Of course, having been to Singapore and taken the trains, I can see why the non-Indians say that. Many labourers that work in Singapore’s construction industry are South Asian, and their cheapest mode of public transportation is either the bus or train (MRT) — both packed with people during rush hours. This means sweaty people all around. But given the nature of their work (and how little they earn to spend), it’s no wonder why many commuters don’t like standing next to the construction workers. Continue reading “Are we Indians the only ones who ‘smell’?” »

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