OmanPride: Telegraph Island in Musandam
March 26, 2017 | 7:15 PM
by Shruthi Nair

Nestled in Oman’s rich Musandam peninsula is one of Oman’s most strategically placed islands, which played a significant role in international communications in the 19th century. To this day, it remains one of the most underrated historic landmarks of the Sultanate, due to its prominence.

Also known as Jazira Al Maqlab, the island is an enormous curved rock located about one mile from Musandam’s coast. Back when India was a British colony, it took at least one month to have a letter delivered by mail, which was later shortened to a few hours using a telegraph line.

After the failure of the Red Sea and Indian Telegraph Cable Company in 1859, the Indian, Persian, and Turkish governments joined their land telegraph companies using a submarine cable laid in the gulf. The Indian government then contacted the Gutta Percha company to manufacture the core, while Henley Telegraph Work constructed the armouring, after which a 2,400km long cable was laid, passing through Musandam to Karachi.

Finally in 1864-65, the cable was laid on a huge rock on the Elphinstone inlet (which is why the salt concentration here is still extremely high) a little away from the mainland inlet, to avoid intrusion from locals, and a repeater station was built on Jazira Al Maqlab, which came to be known as Telegraph Island.

The island then played a vital role in making communications between the two nations easier and more efficient. However, Telegraph Island remained a station for no longer than three years, and there are many theories behind the reason for its failure.

For instance, because the island was in such a remote location it was thought to have caused mental and physical strains upon the operators working there, which apparently led to the coining of the expression “going round the bend” to describe their difficult “mercy missions”.

Another theory suggests there was much opposition from tribesmen. Finally, in 1868, the cable was diverted to Iran and eventually, in 1870, a new cable was laid from Mumbai to Aden, removing the Arabian Gulf from playing a role in communications.

Today, Telegraph Island is a tourist attraction for people visiting Musandam on a dhow or when dolphin watching, as guides stop near the island to explain its story, before letting tourists dive into the salt waters.

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