Greater Muscat

Most cities go around in concentric circles. Muscat, the capital of Oman, is quite different. Being built in the valleys hidden between the coastal rocks, it stretches on and off along the coast for some 30 km, forming in the process the Greater Muscat.

And surely the most important concentration of the urban activity is in the souk, a covered market, which is located right next to the Mutrah port of Muscat. The souk has several entrances. This is the parade entrance, from the Mutrah waterfront:

As I was staying in the valley connecting Mutrah to Ruwi, my preferred entrance was the back entrance of the souk.

This is it:

Broad street-like passages inside the souk:

The salesmen shout at you insistently trying to lure into their shop:

I got lost in the streets of the souk. Normally I don’t get lost, but although the streets here look straight, in reality they curve at imperceptible angles and soon enough you lose your sense of orientation. I tried to find the exit using my phone’s GPS, and still it took me a while to get out! It smells there like in a church – frankincense everywhere, the glory of Oman.

This is the entrance of a small mosque inside the souk.

What do they sell in the souk?

The spices are the key attraction. Oman used to be the world’s capital of the trade in such spices as myrrh and above all frankincense. The presents offered by the Three Kings to baby Jesus were myrrh, frankincense and gold. Frankincense was forgotten in the West for several centuries before being rediscovered during the Crusades.

The streets that leads towards my hotel:

A barber shop on the way:

And my hotel shining in the night:

The next day I set off to visit arguably Muscat’s top attraction – the Sultan Qaboos mosque. It is some 16 km from the centre. The taxis in Muscat are apparently controlled by a monopoly as the prices are ridiculously high – and so it was more efficient to actually buy a ticket for a Hop On Hop Off style bus (something I never normally do, repelled by the sheer superficiality of this formula). In Muscat I did make an exception and in the morning took the red bus in the direction of the mosque. In truth I did have to cover a stretch of the way by taxi as the bus actually does not go all the way – despite there being advertisements to the contrary. A rather modest entrance gate of the mosque:

The fountains in the entrance courtyard:

The proud mosque:

First internal courtyard:

As if the walls were reflected in the water. The absolute cleanliness of the mosque is constantly ensured by the army of (obviously immigrant) cleaners.

The second internal courtyard:

The minaret:

In fact the first hall you enter on your visit is the women’s praeyr room. The Muslims pray separately.

The main prayer room – of course, meant for the men. Rather impressive, I must say!

The huge candelabra famously made from Swarovski crystals.

Mihrab – the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. A preacher would preach in front of it looking towards the audience.

I happened to visit during an interesting spectacle – out of nowhere this strange spider-like machine appeared and started to reach up towards the lamp. Obviously it lifts up the men who would replace the light bulbs.

We observed the process holding our breath.

And a couple of other observations from the top of the bus as we drove around Muscat. The mountain roads that connect various parts of the capital:

A super modern opera building built in the Qurm area at the whim of the Sultan – a rather exotic hobby for an Arab ruler! Various world opera stars do visit from time to time – no doubt drawn by the magic of the location.

A rare public beach in the Qurm area:

Business area of Ruwi. The buses from Dubai terminate here:

A random car as seen from the bus window. As you can see, the beloved Sultan Qaboos is on the back window:

My bus tour finished after the dark. The Mutrah waterfront in the night:

I had my dinner in one of the restaurants from the previous photo. Oman is a sea country and so incredibly tasty fish is on offer. This one is called hammur and is unbelievably tender.

Pomegranate juice to accompany the fish:

The Omani national dish is in fact shuwaa – meat specially cooked on a slow fire for two days. I tried it in Ubar, a traditional restaurant in the Qurm area.

Their signature dessert is a frankincense ice cream! What a strange idea.

And to top it off, a wonderful date smoothie that I tried in a traditional café well hidden inside the souk.

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