Muscat is a stunning port city and the capital of Oman. It is home to people from all across the world, including India, Iran, Baluchistan, Phillipines, East Africa, Zanzibar and Europe.
As we drove toward the city of Muscat from the airport, we took in the clean roads, green parks, luxuriant flower gardens, and a whole lot of low lying pastel hued houses. Muscat has an old world charm which is novel and inviting.
Mosques and Museums
The city is dotted with mosques. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the best known, and is named after the current ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970 after he overthrew his father Said bin Taimur in a palace coup. He is the eighth sultan of Oman. On his website, it is said that he built more than 100 mosques at his own expense.
With its dome and four minarets, the Grand Mosque is an architectural splendor. The building was undertaken in 1992 and finished in six years. It is reputed to have been constructed from 330,593 tons of Indian sandstone.
It does seem like the autocratic ruler has indeed made way for development where the city’s trade and beauty is concerned.
With a huge Indian population residing in Muscat for decades, it is little surprise to come across two Hindu temples—a Shiva and Krishna temple with a host of Hindu devotees around.
Muscat houses a number of stunning museums. Oman National Museum is a jewel in their crown where we can see Oman’s well preserved rich cultural heritage, including an 8th century letter from the Prophet Mohammed to the rulers of Oman.
Sand and Dunes
The pristine and fun beaches of Oman with its stunning cliffs, attracts tourists from all over the world. The Qurum Beach is very popular for fishing and picnicking. There are many café and coffee shops around the beach so a lot of youngsters can be seen in the area.
The summer comes with heat and humidity but calm seas. Kantab Beach is the perfect place if you wish to have a BBQ, play a game of throw ball, swim, snorkel, or simply laze around on the beach.
And if you are a dolphin lover, then head straight to the Marina Bandar where you can watch spinner dolphins horsing around. It’s a treat for the eyes to see the friendly creatures taking spins and leaps.
We drove around the Mutrah Corniche and harbor. This is a 1.9 mile stretch with flowers and water fountains. At one end of the Corniche is the dhow harbor where fishermen can be seen unloading the catches of the day. The Muttrah Corniche was part of vital trading routes since ancient times and, thankfully, the old city hasn’t been replaced by grander buildings or newer inventions. The Muttrah souk or market alongside the Corniche carries traditional items for sale and you’re likely to get a good price here, if you’re up for some bargaining.
Standing guard over Muscat’s harbor are the massive Mirani and Jalali forts or museums (overlooking the Royal Palace), built way back when Oman was a major military base in the 16th century. The ancient cannon protected forts are still operated by the military and the palace is essentially the seat of Oman’s government.
Ruwi is a preferred commercial hub of Muscat and it includes a massive marketplace which has a number of fine jewellery shops, cloth merchants, craft shops, grocery stores, export goods and small local designer malls.
The Muscat Clock Tower, located in Ruwi is the oldest monument in modern Oman and showcases the Sultanate’s commitment to modernization.
If you are the adventurous kind, then try dune bashing in the desert which is about a two-hour road journey from Muscat city to Wahiba Sands where the Wadi bashing desert safari is located.
On the way to the safari, at the Wadi Bani Khalid, we took a walk along cascading riverbeds and peered into crystal clear waters of blue-green pools. All of this is surrounded by picturesque limestone hills. If willing to go further, one can also check out the Turtle resort which is a hit with most kids. It’s a turtle nesting ground to watch turtles hatch or lay eggs.
Culture and Commerce
Muscat is considered a progressive and modern city in the Gulf and has stylish women who love to shop and men who flaunt their gadgets and cars. The main shopping area is situated in the Al Qurum commercial area; however there are shopping malls throughout the city and boast world class brands.
People here love tradition, which is why, annually, for four weeks, the Muscat Festival is held to showcase the country’s heritage, culture, and arts in several outdoor venues around the city. In 2016, the festival takes place from January 14 until February 13. The event sees a huge number of visitors from around the globe. The festival is a mix of poetry recitals, folk music, dance and acrobatic acts, handicraft and firework displays from Oman and surrounding countries. Omani jewellery, costumes, weaponry, camels and dates are very popular so one can pick them up in souvenirs.
Football is the favorite sport in Oman. Young boys in Muscat are passionate about the game and can be seeing playing around their houses. Crowds come out in thousands at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex to watch their national team play.
The typical Omani food is rich, delicious and heavily flavored with herbs, spices, garlic, and lime, and show Arabic, Indian, and African influences. Also popular is the Omani sweet or halwa made of dates and sprinkled with dry fruits.
Omanis love diverse food and this is obvious from the fact that there are a host of restaurants in the city with cuisines from all over the world.
One of the best Indian restaurants in the city is the Mumtaz Mahal which serves outstanding Indian food and musical entertainment alongside a panoramic view of the city from its hilltop.
When packing gifts or souvenirs for kith and kin, don’t forget to buy boxes of dates or date chocolates/date sweets. If you get a chance, pick up baked goods from the famous Muscat Bakery Shop which makes some melt-in-the-mouth cakes, biscuits, breads and confectionaries.
There is no rail or metro network in the country. So traveling must be done by road (taxi/cars/buses) or by air. However, this is not a reason for you to shy away from exploring this exciting destination. So take your next holiday trip to Muscat and live this dream.
Kavita Wadhwani is a dreamer with nine years of writing experience on subjects ranging from fashion, fitness, décor, to food and travelogues.