We have had two days at sea to recover from the hustle and bustle of India. The seas were back to a lighter shade of blue and calm.
Coming into Muscat harbor was totally different than where we have been. Orderly white buildings nestled along the coast, framed by desert mountains. About 3 million people live in Oman, almost half in Muscat, spread along the coast and canyons. Building code is beige or white only, under 14 stories to preserve the harmony with the landscape. A Mosque might have splashes of blue or green title. Most buildings were in the 5-10 floors range. Even the rubble is organized. (See picture). The streets are all clean as its jail time and a big fine to litter. The Sultan (14th of his line) rules most things, the parliament is advisory only, but felt a lot more open than Brunei. Education and health care are provided. Oil of course is the big money maker but have 20 more years of it left. Our guide, Fatima kept emphasizing that women have equal status, access to education, jobs, voting rights but we didn’t really see that many women around except for shopping. The women wear black Habib and alba when outside the house. Its up to the woman if she wants to cover her whole face or not. Most did not have their face covered. While shopping at the Souk (market), we saw lots of very colorful women’s clothing but only black on the street.
First stop was a drive out to the Grand Mosque. Built 1996- 2002 of sandstone and marble, it can fit up to 20,000 on its grounds for prayer. Fatima stated the main hall fits 6,000 men and 750 women. Its better for women to pray at home. The marble on the ground outside is a special type that stays cool even in the heat so it can be used for overflow prayer space and not get too hot. She had us touch it and its was COOL even in the sun! The mosque was very beautiful from the patterned floors to the wood work in the ceilings. Our tour did not include going inside. We heard it was spectacular.
Back into town to go to the souk (market). This is a “dark” souk which means it was covered. The ceiling was carved wood and the walkways, patterned tiles or stones. Inside were whole stores, not just the booths we have seen in the Asian markets. Everyone is very nice and the goods colorful. It’s the first time the US$ was less than an Oman Real – over 2 to one. 2 Real for a can of Frankincense equaled about $5.00. Over course we went in saying we needed nothing, but walked out with Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Saffron, pillow cover, kids T-shirt, ornament, and two hand made scarfs. We couldn’t resist. We keep trying to figure out which clothes are not coming home with us to fit all the souvenirs.
Next stop was the Bait(house) AL Zubair museum. It’s a house converted to a museum showcasing the culture of Oman over the centuries. Oman has a sea faring culture rather than the desert culture of much of Arabia. It makes it more open to other cultures and influences. Lots of knives, swords and riles on display. Again, the wood work on the doors and windows is wonderful. No pictures allowed.
Our last stop is the courtyard in front of the Sultan’s palace. From the courtyard you can see the old Portuguese forts and other older parts of Muscat. Nice landscaping and all the stone work is thoughtful and high workmanship. It was a nice serene, open space as was much of the places we went. SO, so different than anything previous on this trip.
With the oil running out, Oman is boosting its tourist business. Beautiful beaches, desert landscapes, clean, modern facilities, friendly people… Mel and I wished we had more time here. A very delightful surprise.