March 30, 2007
Muscat, Oman, The Heart of Oman
; from Arabic masquat
means "cliffs". The city is aptly named for the sheer cliffs that form its boundaries. It is a friendly port where centuries-old tradition is pervasive.
Muscat is home to 2.4 million people, essentially all of them Muslim. It is the second largest state in the Arabian Gulf after Saudi Arabia. For over a century, Oman was something of a back-water-isolated and mysterious-until the present ruler of the country, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, took the throne in 1970. He transformed this once-feudal nation into the progressive country it is today. Oman has been more guarded in its rush towards modernity, preserving the language, customs, and architecture of its ancestors. In a twenty year period, virtually all of Muscat has been built in modern though ancestral style. Its port is not tourist-friendly
since tourism is still developing. Buildings are almost all white, roads are wide and clean, signage is Omani with much English to match.
It is divided into several quite distinctive regions, including the Old Town, whose boundaries are marked by gated walls which enclose the area around the port, the Sultan's palace and the harbor. Several forts guard the entrance to Muscat harbor.
There are few high-rise buildings, encouraged by the outward-not upward growth.
Dhow Twighlight Cruise
2 & 1/2 hours $92.00
Cruising the harbor and coastline north of Muscat in Dwoh boats,
built in the town of Sur. Dhow builders employ traditional Omani techniques that have been passed on for centuries from generation to generation; modern features and safety aspects being added in Muscat. We departed from the guarded pier for transfer to Marina Bander Al Rowdha. There apparently was no space in the marina for our boat, so we were tendered by private craft, 10 or so at a time to our Dhow boat. So little space in each that John had to sit in the captain's chair
but no stripes or captain hat. We cruised along the waters of the Old City of Muscat.
Our lady-guide, transplanted from India only 2 years ago apparently had not yet acquired all the traditional Omani party line. She volunteered that she was single and available for marriage, like, to the divorced
Sultan if he played his cards right. (more on this later) Along the way we were treated to soft drinks (no cocktails since the country was celebrating the birth of Muhammed) and lots and lots of canapes.
These scenic vistas of Oman's history; from Portuguese architecture at the Corniche, to the modern wonders of the Al Alam Palace. The sunset,
although obscured by a few clouds, was wonderful. The uniformed crew was attentive and the boat included 2 toilets. We took a short video of the beat of the waves and our rock-and-roll cruise.
4 hours $54.00
After a few delays some ladies had to return to the ship for proper attire. Due to Muslim tradition, men and women's necks, leg and shoulders should be covered; shorts are never allowed. We then were transported by air-conditioned coach through the exclusive Omani residential district of Shati Al Qurum to the Grand Mosque,
the largest and most exclusive mosque in Oman. Construction began in early 1995, completed six years later and inaugurated by the Sulton in 2001.
It can accomodate up to 20,000 worshipers, men and women separately. A major feature of the main prayer hall is a hand-made Persian carpet consisting of 1,700 million knots, weighing 21 tons and made in a single piece measuring 70 by 60 meters (about 210 by 180 feet). It was made in 4 years by 600 female weavers.
The whole interior of the Grand Mosque is panelled with off-white and dark grey marble panelling clothed in cut tile work. Ceramic floral patterns adorn arch framed mural panels set in the marble forming blind niches in a variety of classical Persian, predominantly Safavid, designs. The ceilings are inspired by those of Omani forts. The mihrab in the main prayer hall is framed by a border of Quranic verses and a gilded ceramic surround. The dome comprises a series of ornate, engraved stained glass triangles within a framework of marble columns, and a Swarovski crystal chandelier with gold-plated metalwork hangs down for a length of 14 meters.
Our guide, a strict disciplinarian instructed all of us, especially the women, on the strict rules of headware. After helping Cynthia do her scarf
, it had to be redone by a lady at the entrance (she didn't want her picture taken) (Incidentally, rules about picture taking of Omanis include the courteous practice of asking permission
As has been our practice, we took a shot inside the toilets in the mosque
remembering our guide's admonition to enter with our left foot. (one always enters one's home, mosque, temple, etc. with one's right foot and exits with the left, thereby leaving all evil influences outside, except for toilets, I guess, where you bring in evil spirits.)
As mentioned above, our guide was somewhat strict in explaining the 'rules' of behavior. You may recall (I didn't) yesterday our lady-guide disclosed the Sultan's marital situation. Today a lady up front who sort of monopolized questions of the guide, asked about the Sultan's divorce status. Well, the guide went balistic in an Arabian sort of way. "One does not
ask another about personal affairs, it is a sign of disrespect, one does not disclose personal affairs" etc, etc. Here's his picture again
in case you've forgotten what he looks like in his dish dasha
robe. He did, however, explain some personal information about himself; the fact that most Omani marriages are arranged by the parents, although he and his wife decided themselves to marry (with some parental help it seems), that most marriages are within the same tribe or at least, within the same tribe class
to avoid in-breeding, I guess.
Our next stop was the colorful market at Muttrah Souq where the scent of exotic Arabian perfumes and spices fills the air.
Here, a multitude of shops offer Omani khanjars, or daggers, as well as hand-made Omani costumes, (dish dashas
antiques, traditional silver jewelry, and handicrafts made from copper, camel bone, wood and leather.
We intended this stop to be a research expedition for our planned afternoon separate trip to do a little shopping. We decided that we'd postpone shopping until the next day in Salalah, Oman where most of the better incenses and spices were produced, and at a better price not having been shipped to Muscat. Well, we blew that shopping trip off since we (Cynthia) rightly decided that you folks wouldn't like the scent of burning incense (frank or otherwise) anyway. So we don't have a blog entry for Salalah because there really was nothing else to see there anyway, so we took the day off.
We next stopped at Bait Al Zubair, a private museum housing collections of traditional Omani items, including weaponry, jewelry, clothing, household items, books and photographs, paintings and maps. As usual John, underwhelmed, took a smoke break.
Driving along Muscat's pretty coastal road, the Corniche, completely built from landfill.
Our last stop was at the Sultan's palace
The absence of a flag in the far center indicates that His Majesty in not at home. We could get no closer from this side. Around the back however, (no video allowed) we
were able to get some (now deleted) shots including the royal logo partially obscured by the photographer's reflection.
This was a great 4-hour tour. Back to the ship.