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Mandaps in the Middle East

Sonam Kapoor in a faux turban and oversized shades, pouting with her girlfriends against a sunny beach, blew up Instagram late 2015 as the hashtag #SashSam suddenly had more hits than the wedding had guests. But the real star of the show was not the bride and groom or their movie star friends — it was the location. With its sandy beaches, stunning rock formations, conducive weather and laidback aura, Oman was suddenly trending as a destination wedding favourite, and it is holding strong to date.

Often referred to as the jewel of Arabia, the Sultanate is one of the choicest picks for Indians to host nuptials. Its majestic mountain ranges, verdant oases, and breathtaking coastlines, together with the country’s rich heritage and the hospitality of its people, have given it the edge in the Gulf.

Luxe beaches and more

“Just Google ‘Turtle Beach Oman’,” laughs Saurabh Malhotra, co-founder of ShaadiSquad, when we ask him why Oman has become the go-to option for Indians looking to tie the knot abroad, and continues to be in demand. Malhotra’s company gets credit for the Pinterest-worthy wedding of Samarth Bajaj and Sasha Rawal, at the Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, which had an enviable guest list of Bollywood stars, fashion folks and socialites.

“The country’s scenic beauty made us choose it for our son’s wedding,” shares Bunty Bajaj, Samarth’s mother. “Oman was recommended by one of our family members,” she adds.

Mandaps in the Middle East

Earlier that year, the same hotel also hosted the wedding of the Virani scion, and the family took over the Al Waha hotel to host their 1,000 guests — which led to it being renamed as ‘Virani Castle’ during the four days of the festivities.

“The setting, combined with the dry, chilly climate in winter, would be one of the reasons to choose Oman as a destination,” says interior designer Vikram Phadke, who had done the décor for a wedding there. “The infrastructure available, in terms of sound and lights, is of a far higher standard than in India. But it is only the high-end hotels that can provide the necessary settings and resources,” he adds.

And star hotels, Oman has plenty of. While the two Shangri-La properties, Bar Al Jissah and Al Husn, might be the most well-known, there is also the Al Bustan Palace, which resembles an Omani fort (said to be re-opening later this year), the Millennium Resort Mussanah, which comes with its own private marina, the Anantara property nestled on Oman’s fabled Green Mountain, and many more.

Nature, next door

“You can plan a big wedding or an intimate affair by the shores or against the picturesque backdrop of the mountains. Or set sail on a luxury yacht with a small group and discover the dramatic coastline with its secluded coves and private islands,” explains Lubaina Sheerazi, India Representative, Ministry of Tourism, adding that although Muscat is the capital city and the first option for many, the country’s versatility sets it apart.

Mandaps in the Middle East

“You get to have the best of both worlds — a beach wedding with middle eastern influences,” agrees Mehak Sagar, co-founder of popular Indian wedding blog, WedMeGood. “It’s hard to find places which are three to four hours by air from our country which can provide the kind of local understanding you need to host an Indian wedding. Thailand used to rule the roost earlier, but with people looking for more exotic options, Oman may be in the best position to dethrone it,” she muses.

Hospitality matters

It is also the hospitality of the people, which include a lot of expat Indians working in the service sector, that sets it on a pedestal even over other Middle East destinations like glitzy Dubai or Abu Dhabi. “The staff at the hotel went all out for us, going above and beyond their contract,” recalls ShaadiSquad’s Malhotra, adding that the high celeb count was easily managed thanks to their efficiency.

Spoilt for choice
  • Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa: A celeb favourite, since it is situated by a stunning bay along the Gulf of Oman shangri-la.com/muscat/barraljissahresort
  • Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa: A sister hotel to the Al Jissah property, this one has the most luxurious rooms to impress guests shangri-la.com/muscat/alhusnresortandspa
  • Kempinski Hotel Muscat: This brand new property at the Al Mouj boasts 6 km of coastline kempinski.com/en/muscat/kempinski-hotel-muscat
  • Grand Hyatt Muscat: designed in the traditional Arabian architectural style, it is located in the diplomatic district of Shatti Al Qurum muscat.grand.hyatt.com
  • Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar: Located on the rocky contours of the Saiq Plateau, it offers stunning views of Oman’s Green Mountain jabal-akhdar.anantara.com

“We have trained teams to cater to the most demanding guests and our banquet kitchen team is headed by chef Vijendra Mertia, originally from Jaipur, with 17 years’ experience in international hotels across different continents,” says Camila Semeraro, Director of Events Management at Shangri-La.

Any concerns regarding sourcing raw materials and wedding related products, including Indian culinary requirements in an Arab country, are put to rest by Krupa Khimji, founder of Mosaic Events LLC and the go-to wedding planner in the sultanate.

Mandaps in the Middle East
 

“Oman and India have had strong relations for thousands of years. Indian roots are strong here and sourcing various elements for weddings is not very difficult. We have worked with suppliers and vendors over the last few years who are now familiar with the requirements,” says Khimji, whose team has organised over 12 weddings in Oman, many of them high profile, in the last four years.

Proximity to India is another attractive feature that makes the country a leading choice in the Gulf. The government’s recent announcement to introduce visa-on-arrival for Indians with valid visas of USA, the UK, Schengen, Canada and Australia is only bound to make planning a wedding in the Sultanate easier.

— With inputs from Elizabeth Mathew

The writer is the editor of Signature, a luxury lifestyle magazine from Oman.

weekend@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 8:33:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/luxury/mandaps-in-the-middle-east/article23270723.ece

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