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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

11/2: A Quick Gander Through Muscat, Oman

After several days enjoying the sights of Doha, Qatar, we flew today to the neghboring Gulf state country of Oman and its capital, Muscat. This time, when we rented a car at the Muscat airport, we made to sure to get one with GPS after our experience trying to navigate around Manama, Bahrain without one. You can't say we didn't learn from our experiences there! We were going to be traveling around a wide swath of the country for five days so wanted to minimize getting lost as often as possible.

Muscat was located on the shores of the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman and is in close proximity to the strategic Straits of Hormuz. The city of 1.5 million was surrounded by mountains and desert, and its sights stretched out for about twenty miles close to the sea. Photos as we drove from the airport:

The airport reminded us of Denver's:
Oman is an absolute monarchy. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970. He is the longest-serving current ruler in the Middle East and sixth-longest current-reigning monarch in the world. Virtually all the highway overpasses had photos of Sultan Qaboos.

Since our rental car had an almost empty tank, we were happy to see the combined Shell gas station and the McDonald's so we could fill up both the car and ourselves! Unlike in Bahrain, we soon discovered that gas stations were plentiful and their locations were also very well marked not only in Muscat but throughout the country.
Unlike Doha, we saw no highrises but instead, a sea of mostly white two or three story buildings.

We shortly realized that we were never far from the rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains that dominated the landscape of Muscat. 

Our hotel was close to the port and many of the city's older sights so, after checking in, we drove close to the nearby Mutrah Souk or bazaar so we could wander around.
We had read that no matter where we were in Oman, we would never be far from some kind of traditional fortified building. There are an estimated 500 forts in the country as well as innumerable watchtowers, fortified houses, walled towns and villages and other reminders of the city's turbulent and unsettled past. The precariously-perched Mutrah Fort atop a rock outcrop high above the sea was but the first of many forts we saw and that you will also see in my upcoming posts about our fabulous journey through Oman.

At last, the entrance to the souk:
Unfortunately, it was mostly closed as it was mid afternoon, the time when many businesses in the Arab world shut down for a few hours. 
Though modern as concrete shops replaced the original palm structures in the 1970s, I read that the souk still remained as one of the most authentic in Arabia. After stopping at a few of the open stalls, we soon became familiar with the smells of frankincense and sandalwood which offered a glimpse of Oman's past.

The end of the souk took us to the city’s small port and the Corniche, the waterfront path, so we strolled along it for a while.

Several forts dotted the skyline along the Corniche.
There was a Gold Souk near here but we figured we had seen enough gold already in Doha's Gold Souk so we gave it a pass and retraced our steps to the original souk as it was opening up. 
Many stalls had what we soon discovered was the typical male Omani hat for sale.

We saw masses of plastic banners in the colors of the country's flag as well as balloons with Sultan Qaboos' face throughout the souk. In no other country had we seen so many images of the country's leader as we did throughout Oman.

None of the souk's merchants were Omani; all came from India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Many of the men we talked to came from the state of Kerala in the south of India as had been the case in Doha.
I couldn't resist buying a small bag of frankincense though we have nothing to burn it in. It was just too neat to pass up! I didn't buy much else as I found the vendors' hard pressure selling tactics uncomfortable. They didn't 'allow' us to look at their merchandise and see if anything appealed but rather tried to stick items in our hands for possible purchase. That was nothing unique to the Mutrah Souk but it resulted in my not wanting to spend much time there.
Outside the souk we saw these traditionally attired Omani men playing cards as we walked back to collect our car.

Some photos from the car as we drove to our next stop:

One of the city's most interesting museums was Bait Al Zubair, a heritage museum that comprised three airy traditional homes. Unfortunately, we only had time for a quick look around at Bait Al Bagh, the main museum building, before they shut their doors for the day. 
I loved the brightly colored oryx statues outside.
No photos were allowed inside the museum. I was interested in the displays and information about traditional Omani clothing after seeing the men outside the souk. The normally white robe worn by Omani men was called a dishdashah; the most popular hat was called a musar and made from cotton or wool; the simple cap was a kummah and consisted of two pieces of cloth sewn together with a circular top and a rectangular strip attached to form the sides. It was normally made by women for men and is embroidered and highly decorated. We only had time for a quick glimpse of a stamp collection and a historic collection of coins and manuscripts dating from the 16th century. What a shame we didn't have any more time to really appreciate it and the other museum times as just the one certainly piqued our interest.
Wish I could tell you what this beautiful building was but I have no idea!
Since none of the sights were still open, we walked along more of the Corniche before returning to our hotel.

We had initially so hoped to see more of Muscat that afternoon but soon realized that, since the city was so spread out and the sights closed early, we had to be content with having seen just the souk and a small area of the Corniche. We couldn't wait until tomorrow morning to explore some other areas of Muscat before later venturing to another city.

Posted from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, 2016. Steven and I hope that all of you who celebrate the American holiday are surrounded by loved ones especially today. We will be thinking of and missing our loved ones half a world away.

1 comment:

  1. Did Steven buy one of the hats? Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. Hurry home. Lil Red


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