Oman for amateurs...Part 1 Muscat

With the Eid weekend arriving and the weather cooling, to a level that allows one to reduce their sweat rating from profuse to mildly visible, it was time to get into the car and embark on a road trip. Destination - Oman.

Oman is tucked away in the South-East coast of the Arabian Peninsula and is bordered by some heavy hitters such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Gems like these awaiting you in Oman

 Some basic facts of Oman are as follows;
Highly decorated call to prayer tower

  • Annual rainfall in Muscat is 100mm (3.9 in) per year
  • Total population is 2.773 million people (2010) of which 1.96 million are Omani nationals
  • Over half the population are Ibhadi which is a form of Islam distinct from Sunni and Shia denominations.
  • Total size is 309.501 square kilometers
  • Currency is Rial
  •  Oman is an absolute Monarchy ruled by the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said
  • In 2010, Oman was listed as the nation most improved in the past 40 years from 135 countries worldwide 








  



As with any road trip involving border crossings, it is imperative that all the required documentation is in order well before the departure date. If entering Oman from the UAE it is necessary to have car insurance for Oman, even if using a hire car. Border crossings are tedious at the best of times so having all the paperwork ready, and allowing time for the whole process, is highly recommended.

The distance between Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Muscat (Oman) is approximately 438 kilometers and will take you from the high mountain ranges through to the rocky desolate ecosystems that cover the vast majority of the country. 

Having come from Abu Dhabi I was shocked to see a lack of overbearing sky scrapers, concrete jungles and a complete detachment from the environment. A smile soon followed when the apparent design of Muscat clearly showed that it has embraced is natural environment and possibly even encouraged it.

Hard to believe but this is downtown Muscat
Mountains, plenty of trees and the ocean being just a stones throw away made Muscat my new favorite capital city. With the weather still being warm, it was decided that home base was going to be at the Muscat Corniche. Water views, souks, gardens and ancient ruins were a combination that made it hard to say "no" to staying there and was a decision that I did not regret. 

Muscat Corniche

Looking skyward

  
Muscat harbour with Dhows
A walk along the corniche is a great way to get a feel for Muscat and it encompasses many statues and cozy shops willing to sell you all sorts of wares or a great shawarma. At sunset all the locals are casually strolling the water's edge deep in discussion or contemplation. Unlike all the other corniches I have experienced, this one was by far the most relaxing and the energy in the area was warm and tranquil.   

Sculpture on the corniche

Sunset on the corniche

Even the man hole covers are decorated!

Over looking the corniche is the Mutrah fort. Sitting high on the mountain range, this impressive monument allows you to view and appreciate the history of Oman. It is one of many forts and guard towers that dot the city and its surroundings. During my visit it appeared to be closed for repair, but other forts along the corniche were open for viewing and would provide sensational view points of the city.

Looking back towards the city

Mutrah fort over looking the corniche
With the history and natural aspects of my daily check listed ticked off, it was time to explore the old town and the souk to see if I could grab some bargains. The souk, although recently renovated, has an old school feel to it which is something hard to find nowadays. However, I would recommend having a walk around the side streets before entering the souk. The local residential areas definitely have a 'maze' feel to them and surprises lurk around every corner. Having said that I encourage everyone to be respectful to the local residents and don't go taking photos of them working away indoors or other aspects of personal daily life. After escaping from the maze it's time to enter the souk and ready oneself for the onslaught of compliments, "free trials" and enthusiastic shopkeepers. 

back street beauty

Souk entrance

Flooded souk proved interesting and well worth it
Oman has a reputation for producing some of the best frankincense in the world, and this souk is the place to buy it. The ancient form of haggling flourishes here and inevitably with a little give and take, a good price can be had. Items for sale range from Kasmiri scarves, ancient artifacts and antiques, rare gems and jewelry and even tacky postcards. On this particular day strong storms in the north had caused flooding in the souk, which was slightly unpleasant, but part of the adventure of traveling.

With a good night's sleep and a good local breakfast, the next day was spent seeing some of the other sites Muscat has to offer. First on the list was the The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Unfortunately, this mosque is only open to Muslin worshipers; a view of the outside is quite impressive in itself. With it holding upto 20,000 worshipers it is able to balance size and beauty perfectly without completely dominating the skyline. Green gardens surround the mosque and it is easily found on any basic map.

Main dome of the mosque

Mosque as seen from the outside
Following the mosque was a visit to the Al Alam Palace. The palace is the residence of the Sultan of Oman and is not open to the public but is a nice area to walk around and enjoy the gardens. With the palace being nestled deep in the mountains and surrounded by forts, it gives you a real sense of the balance between old world and new world Oman. I suggest taking your time there and enjoy the little details of the place as well as the grandeur. Early morning arrival will help you miss the swathe of tourists and depending on the time of year, the blistering heat .

Entrance to the Palace
Take the time to appreciate the detail of this place

Mosque entrance

Palace wall detail
On that note I will leave part one of this blog. For a first time visitor I cant speak highly enough of Muscat. The relaxed lifestyle, relatively cheap food and accommodation, vast abundance of history and beautiful scenery make it hard to find fault with this place. Muscat is modernized, but not westernized which makes for a city that hasn't been vastly influenced by external countries. All in all Muscat ticks a lot of boxes.

The heavens
Soon to follow with be the second part to this blog. Until then safe travels and warm tidings


- Rob