Frankincense burns in small brass braziers and spices perfume the air as you wander through the ancient alleyways of the Muttrah souk in Oman’s capital, Muscat.
It’s a traditional Omani market with stallholders selling everything from beautiful silverwareand jewellery to the softest cashmere scarves and pashminas as well as the cutest beaded Persian shoes and even kitchenware for locals.
Nuggets of frankincense nestle against rows of fragrant oils, hessian sacks of sandalwood and small tins of red saffron, while rose petals and spices perfume the air as you pass.
“Here feel this pashmina,” a merchant says thrusting a pile of soft scarves in every colour imaginable in front of me. “What about this beautiful khanjar (traditional curved dagger)?”
Another invites me to see his range of traditional Omani dress for men; an embroidered kimah or cap and the stark white robes or dishdasha, which is perfect for the heat. It come with a small tassel at the neck that’s for dipping in perfume.
There’s also a slight touch of kitsch such as singing stuffed camels and Grand Mosque. Temple clocks but they are rather on the cute side.
Bargain hard was our advice but the jovial stallholders don’t budge much however we do manage to reduce the price a little before we pay and it’s a lot of fun.
Muttrah is part of the old town area and also the capital’s main port.
Located on a picturesque corniche, it is a great spot for photographs with its latticed buildings and many mosques.
A visit to the colourful daily fish market also provides an interesting glimpse of daily life in Oman and is perfect for people watching.
The great museum Bait Al Baranda traces the history of Muscat explaining dress codes and the many types of historical weapons, which is excellent grounding for first time visitors to Oman.
Now one of the hottest travel destinations, the country is situated in the heart of the Arabian Gulf. It borders the United Arab Emirates countries of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Yemen.
It is a country of diverse character and landscape ranging from monsoonal coastlines, steep mountain ranges, arid deserts and fertile plains.
It is also a land of contrasts with rocky deep water fjords in the north, the spectacular dunes of Wahiba Sands and two large salt flats in the centre of the country and the lush green hills of Dhofar region in the south. Rugged coasts and beautiful beaches stretch along the 1700km coastline.
Muscat, known as a legendary city of mystery and romance, is located on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the rugged mountains. The city is a perfect blend of old and new where the traditional values of a 900-year- old city co-exist with a bustling metropolis.
There’s plenty to see and do in the city with the jewel in the crown, the amazing Grand Mosque.
A gift to the nation from ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said to mark his 30th anniversary, this is a must visit.
True to its name, it is the grandest of monuments in the region and is an amazing construction that accommodates 20,000 worshippers.
The main prayer hall has the largest silk carpet in the world that took 600 women four years to weave. The prayer hall dazzles you with its 35 Swarovski crystal chandeliers and magnificent tiles, think grandeur Omani style. Women must cover their heads and shoulders with a scarf to enter.
Muscat has some great beaches and there is plenty of sealife – head out on a dolphin watching tour where you may run into large pods diving through the waves.
Oman is home to hundreds of forts and watchtowers and there are some close by to Muscat that was built during the Portuguese period of 1501 to 1650.
Spend a few days in the capital soaking up the history and culture of Oman then head out to discover the countries many charms. You won’t be disappointed.
It’s a land of red desert and green wadhis, where camels and goats roam freely. Nature lovers and adventure seekers will enjoy Oman as well.
The desert is not as lifeless as it seems; in a survey done by the Royal Geographical Society and the Omani Government, it was revealed 180 species of plants and 200 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians live there.
Visitors are very welcome in Oman and you will be spoilt with traditional hospitality, a plate of fresh dates and a strong cup of qahwa Arabic coffee laced with cardamon is offered to guests in homes, offices and shops.
Remember to shake your coffee cup from side to side to indicate that you have enjoyed the hospitality which always results in warm smiles, even if English isn’t spoken.
Published under license from Well Travelled