Muscat, Oman: An Undiscovered Middle Eastern Treasure
We were beginning our descent into Seeb International Airport, Muscat. At this point deciding I would have another flick through my guide book, I discovered a whole paragraph dedicated to the hassle of getting a tourist visa in Oman, advising visitors to expect to wait up to four hours. Not what I wanted to hear and I weighed up in my mind whether to break the news to my husband.
As the doors were opened, 108 degrees Farenheit (42 degrees Centigrade) hit us and it was only 7 am! What chance did we have in the midday sun? We began to realise why we had got such a good deal, clearly no one travelled to Oman in June.
By 7:45 we had made it to the hotel. We simply couldn’t believe our luck, straight through arrivals, visas no problems and a taxi driver who understood where we wanted to go who corrected our pronunciation. Apparently Chedi doesn’t rhyme with Jedi!
Despite having only driven from the airport, I had fallen in love with Muscat. The sky was the most brilliant blue and all of the buildings in a very traditional style sparkling white in the relentless sunshine. It was exactly what I had imagined.
The hotel staff were so pleased to see us simply because we were English – not something you find in many countries of the world and we were quickly led through to the lobby with it’s enormous tented roof and a seating area in the centre the size of a small football pitch piled high with cushions in vivid reds and oranges. I felt like I was part of a fairy tale. How would we ever explain this to anyone?
A local delicacy is a mixture of orange juice and mint and sitting on the Arabian Nights bed with an ice cold drink and an icy cold towel, England had never seemed so far away. This was pure bliss.
Muscat is wedged between the Arabian Gulf and the mountains so it seems no matter where you are the scenery is spectacular. The city is a sprawling mass and walking around to see the sites would be almost impossible. Mutrah has the main sights, but even they are spread out over a few miles. Although the city is modern, there are no high-rise blocks and even new buildings are required to be built in traditional Arabic style. Most roads don’t have names so people use landmarks to get around.
Once the tour was over we were allowed to have a look round on our own so long as we didn’t cross the carpet. I felt strange being in such a place. It was hard to imagine this room filled with the 6000 men it could hold for prayer and odd to think the whole thing was televised every Friday to allow the women to stay at home.
Although the Grand Mosque impressed me in a way I didn’t think possible I was relived to be outside the gates to remove my head coverings. I’d never felt so incredibly conscious of my every move in the mosque, being careful not to let my coverings slip, and believe me keeping your head covered in over 104 degrees is uncomfortable
The City Center
My husband had slowed down a little at this point and I wondered whether he had forgotten it was my birthday. Maybe he was just remembering my knack of taking him into a jewellers in every country we visit. Sure enough, an hour and a lot of haggling over a couple of dollars later, we left with a golden souvenir of Oman.
The Sultan's Palace
Before we left the walled city our guide insisted on taking us to the Al Burstan Palace Hotel “just to have a look,” an amazing hotel billed as the top place to stay, buzzing with every nationality. A stunning location with the most fantastic view, the gulf to the front and the mountains to the rear, another fantastic photo opportunity.
A White-Knuckle Dune Safari
We took the camera out for the first shots of the day but the heat was too much for it, either that or we’d let it get too cold with the essential air conditioning in our room. Panic set in.
As we turned off the main road into the desert the heat just seemed to intensify. We made a brief stop to photograph some camels while the drivers let their tires down to allow them to cope with the sand dunes we’d soon be bouncing over.
From the moment we turned off the road I was fascinated how the drivers knew where to go. It all looked the same to me. For about an hour and a half we carried on across the dunes and every time we reached the top of the dune I started to feel ill. I think it was sitting in the back and not being able to see when we would tip over the edge.
Our next turn off the main road took us into the wadi. Looking around at the dried out river bed with the sun beating down it was so hard to imagine there ever being any water in it. As we got deeper there were more plants and we reached a tropical oasis where we got out to walk. The heat was amazing with no shelter from the relentless sun. We found a small pool of water and within a couple of minutes all of us were paddling.
Dining Dos and Don'ts
We arrived at the restaurant; shoes off and were shown into a room with cushions all around the edge. We sat down on the floor and drinks were ordered. Iit was soft drinks all round – alcohol is not sold outside of the major hotels. The food arrived. Steaming platters of rice and then an amazing selection of meats each cooked in a different way.
All too soon it was time to pack our bags and the four-foot high coffee pot we had bought, convinced it would fit in our luggage. Heading back to the airport, unusually for us, we both agreed that although we had without a doubt seen the highlights of Muscat in just a few days we wanted to explore more of Oman and would definitely be back in the future.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Oman
Like this on Facebook: