Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
114Trip End May 23, 2008
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· GMT +4:00hrs
Lift off. Lift off
I won't say too much about our flight(s) from Mumbai to Muscat apart from the fact that they required us
"Do you smoke hashish?" Pat was asked by the official as he poked his hand in and out of every part of Pat's bags, smelling his fingers for suspicious substances as he went. Clean as a whistle.
Once we got all that out of the way, and had put our bags back together, we soon realised that it's pretty hot here in Muscat, the capital of the Persian Gulf oil rich country of Oman (officially called the Sultanate of Oman). Pat still doesn't know why we're here and now that we've spent a whole
So with all said and very little done we decided this afternoon to check out of our hotel a day earlier than planned and make for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a 6 hour bus journey away. We had to reassure the hotel clerk that we were not checking out early because of a problem with the hotel (but we stopped short of telling him that the reason we were checking out a day early is because we were bored with his city... God only knows how they punish that over here). We're on the bus right now and I think Pat is still wondering why we came to Oman at all. I guess it was curiosity that brought me here and Pat, the trooper that he is, followed along. And we all know what curiosity did, don't we? Of course, it killed the cat. The Mus-cat. Boom boom (sorry).
Day 236 & 237 Observations (April 5th & April 6th 2008)
With India still fresh in our memories it just seems right to attempt to explain what it's like to visit Muscat (and Oman) by way of comparing it to India. So here goes (and excuse any sweeping generalizations I may make here and the haphazard order in which I present these points).
- The visa process
The Indian visa process required a week of our time in Kathmandu, Nepal and €30 of our money. The Omani visa process involved paying the 6 Omani Rial (€10) fee upon arrival in the airport arrivals hall. Simple.
India is thronged with non-beef eating Hindus wearing Saris (women), pastel coloured trousers & check shirts (men) or almost nothing (religious freaks). Oman is sparsely populated by non-pork eating Muslim Arabs wearing burqa (an outer garment, typically black, worn by women for the purpose of cloaking the entire body) or jalabiyya (long robe, sometimes hooded, worn by men).
India is full of temples, shacks and buildings that haven't been tended to in decades and that look like they would crumble at any given moment. Oman is full of mosques and pastel coloured buildings that look like they were painted yesterday.
India is hot (low 30's Celsius). Oman is hotter (mid to high 30's).
- Getting around
Indians drive beat-up TATA's on either side of asphalt-challenged roads blasting their horns as they hurtle along at 30km per hour. In Oman they drive new cars from all over the world on smooth, pothole free roads following road rules that say they are to drive on the right hand side of the road (we've yet to hear a horn being blown).
- Stress factor
India would give an aspirin a headache. Oman would put you to sleep.
- Man's best friend
India has cows. Oman has camels.
India has €5 guesthouses with questionable plumbing & electric's and very questionable cleanliness (and if you're lucky a little comfort). Oman has €40 hotels with no cockroaches, clean comfortable bedding, air-conditioning, non-hazardous electric's, clean, tiled bathrooms with plumbing that actually dispenses cold water from the cold water tap and hot water from the hot water tap.
In India they eat curry and nan bread and cook in a tandoor oven. In Oman they eat shwarma (grilled meat - lamb or chicken - sliced from a spit), hummus (thick spread made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and garlic) and falafels (small croquette of mashed chick peas or fava beans seasoned with sesame seeds).
In India beer is widely available. In Oman it isn't.
India sells rice, textiles and call centres and whatever money the country seems to have benefits only a tiny percentage of the population. Oman sells oil and its people seem to be doing just fine, thank you very much.
· Gulf Air
We flew here with Gulf Air, a nice, no nonsense and good value airline that employs great looking air hostesses. We got our first taste of hummus on-board and it whetted our appetites for what lays ahead. The downside? No beer on board.
· Air Force One?
When we were taxying to the small arrivals terminal of Muscat International Airport yesterday we saw Air Force One parked outside a nearby hanger. We were not sure if it was the one George W himself was using (there are 2 of them after all) but we did learn later on thanks to our satellite TV hotel room (and BBC World) that he was in the area on route to a meeting with Valddy Putin.
· 0.145 Rial
It is 0.145 Omani rials for a litre of petrol over here. That's about €0.25 cents. That just seems an appropriate, albeit boring, observation considering the part of the world we're in/passing through at the moment.
This place is quiet enough outside of the hours of 1-4pm but it's almost graveyard quiet during those mid-afternoon hours. Everything closes and everyone, we assume, stays indoors either praying, eating or sleeping.
· Eminem & 50 cent
But not everyone stays indoors. Yesterday afternoon we got taking to local who was, like us, sheltering from the sun in a bandstand on the Muscat corniche (waterfront). He was eager to converse with us although his English was at best patchy. During our conversation he managed to tell us that there is so much more to Oman than Muscat (maybe he sensed we had nothing to do), that his MP3 player, something he was very proud of, was full of Eminen and 50 Cent and that he was waiting for a nearby internet cafe to open, somewhere he goes on a regular basis to escape his parents. We seemed to find a jalabiyya wearing local who listens to 50 cent and who goes to an Internet cafe to escape his parents funny, certainly funnier than it reads.
Sitting at a corniche cafe yesterday evening watching the locals come and go (they come out at night) was quite the spectacle. It was the first time we got a look at more than a sprinkling of Muscat locals and the first time we saw on mass the habits and dress sense of a staunchly Muslim country. Men and women never mix, with women in particular moving in large groups between shops while the men while away the evening socialising in cafes. While taking in the sight of women shuttling past covered head to toe in by their burqa's and carrying shopping bags, we commented that it reminded us of a Halloween evening at home. It's a sight we still have to get accustomed to and will have plenty of opportunity to do so over the coming weeks.
Where I stayed
The Corniche Hotel