Tag Archive | Muscat

Weekly Photo Challenge – Let There Be Light

Prayer candles in the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium

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A Swarovski crystal chandelier, with the light from 1122 lamps reflecting into the cupola of the Prayer Hall at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

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Crepuscular rays of sunlit air, commonly known as The Hand of God, over White Beach, Oman

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How we did this

We flew with Thai Airways from Brisbane via Bangkok and Karachi to Muscat. There are better flights available from Brisbane to Dubai and on to Muscat with Emirates, and Brisbane to Abu Dhabi to Muscat on Etihad Airways, but the Thai flights were the only ones that matched our travel dates at the time.

Our guided tours were conducted by http://www.sunsandtour.com/. We did the Five Day Oman Adventure tour with our driver and guide Yahya. As you can see by my posts, it was fantastic and well worth the cost. It included our visits to Sur and the dhow factory, our overnight stays at the Desert camp and the turtle reserve, Bait Al Safah and Nizwa. We also did a day trip with Yahya to Jebel Shams and the Oman Grand Canyon. Yahya and Naseeb Habib Alraisi, the company’s manager, went out of their way to ensure that we were always comfortable, well informed and well fed! We went to places and saw things that we would never been able to on our own.

Unless you’re comfortable driving on the right side of the road in crazy traffic, I’d suggest that hiring a car in Muscat isn’t necessary. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, but make sure that you fix a price and agree on your destination before getting in.

So – have a holiday in Oman – it’s a beautiful country and the people are gentle and welcoming. You won’t regret it!

More Food…

One afternoon we visited Bait Al Safah (House of Peace) in Ras Al Hamra. This mud built home has been transformed into a museum showing traditional Omani ways of life.  The women cooked on open fireplaces in the floor. They toasted and ground coffee beans ready for brewing, and made rukhal bread on huge cast iron pans. “Do you want to try?” asked the woman making the bread, as she slapped the dough onto the pan with her bare hands. I could imagine my singed finger tips and declined politely. We sat in a room which was once the library and study to enjoy the coffee, ginger tea and dates that are always served to guests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date groves are everywhere in Oman and every part of the date palm is used. At this Halwa shop we saw the sweet cardamom flavoured dessert being made in a copper pan set into the floor. It’s usually served on special occasions and this almond embellished batch was for a wedding.

Jars and buckets of date syrup were for sale in the Souq in Nizwa while down another walkway was the spice market, where anything from preserved lemons to pumpkin seeds and whole nutmegs was for sale. Saffron, so expensive in our supermarkets at home, was packaged in a myriad of containers of all shapes and sizes. The vendor showed us the different grades of Saffron, and explained how the quality equates to the price. Even so it was much cheaper here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But of all the foods we ate in Oman my favourite was the rosewater milkshake at Fast Food and Juice. It was a pale pink, frothy concoction of milk, rose scented and rose flavoured – with a rose created out of ice cream floating serenely on the top!

 

Food Glorious Food!

There were many dining options as we travelled through Oman, from the traditional to modern international foods. On our first day in Muscat we had lunch at Fast Food and Juice on the Corniche just outside the Muttrah Souq. We’d heard about Shawarma – strips of meat grilled on a spit and then shaved, wrapped in a pita bread and served with tomato, cucumber and toppings like tahini or hummus. At Fast Food and Juice we could have had whole chillies in our wraps as well, but we declined! The menu is testament to the lunch choices available – and look at the range of milkshake flavours. We ate outdoors on the Corniche, and watched the passing traffic of cars and people with the sun sparkling on the waters of the bay.

 

 

 

One night we had dinner at The Turkish House. The food was simple and delicious and there was plenty of it. We chose our fresh fish from the fridge and it was baked whole and served with hot Turkish breads and salad platters, with lettuce, cucumber, Spanish onion and cheese. There was more than we could eat and at a cost of only seven Omani rial each, it was fabulous food at a bargain price!

 

 

 

 

 

Another night we visited the café that had been recently voted the best Shawarma house in Muscat. It was beside an Oman Oil service station, right on the freeway, with road works continuing into the night behind us, which made for a unique dining experience. But the voters were right – the Shawarma was delicious – hot, spicy and full of flavour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Bread Talk we saw not only bread in all shapes, sizes and flavours, but the most amazing cakes, lavishly decorated and named.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bateel Date shop sells gourmet dates, loose or in luxury gift boxes. They come plain, chocolate coated, or filled – it was difficult to choose because the range of fillings was so large. Finally we decided on ginger and apricot. Luscious!

 

                                                                                                                                                                                              

We also had fresh dates from my brother’s tree. He had picked them a few weeks earlier when they were still green and then kept them in the freezer. When they defrosted they were ripe and ready for eating – don’t ask me how this works but they were sweet, plump and tender and we ate them all!

On the beaches

We camped here on White beach, near Shab, on the first night of the New Year and the next morning watched a golden sunrise over the Gulf of Oman while the mountains rose up starkly behind us. Except for us the beach was deserted and we had time to explore and enjoy the serenity.

We swam here at Ras Al Hadd, on the eastern most point of Oman where the Arabian Sea meets the Gulf of Oman in a line of white capped breakers. The fishermen leave their boats pulled up just past the water line.

We saw green turtles here at Ras Al Jinz. The Sea Turtle and Nature Reserve, near the village of Ras Al Hadd, is one of the largest nesting areas for Green Turtles in the Indian Ocean. We stayed in a hut made from date palm fronds at the Turtle Beach Resort, and after dark, went to the Turtle Reserve where we saw the full circle of life – from turtles laying their eggs in the sand to tiny babies hatching and struggling to make their way to the relative safety of the water. Cameras were forbidden so these pictures come courtesy of Wikipedia.

Baby green turtles at Ras al-Jinz, Oman

Baby green turtles at Ras al-Jinz, Oman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Green turtle nesting at Ras al-Jinz, Oman

Green turtle nesting at Ras al-Jinz, Oman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  We fished here at Seeb. There is a local fish market on the beach and the fishermen lay out their fresh catch right on the sand. We didn’t have to buy this day as we caught our own beauty, big enough for a meal for four.

Keeping watch

There are more than 500 forts and watchtowers in Oman and there is at least one visible on the coastal horizon anywhere you look. Their Arabic architecture is beautiful in its simplicity and varies according to the time in which each was constructed. They were built to protect the coast from invaders and were often used as seats of power and administration. Many have been restored as records of the past while others have been left in their original state.

Rustaq Fort is the oldest and tallest and is famed for its towers. It is surrounded on all sides by date palm groves which appear lush in contrast with the desert beyond.

 

Nakhl Fort is more than 350 years old and has been restored with traditional materials, furnishings and household goods and it’s as if the inhabitants have just stepped out for a moment. The small dark rooms provide welcome relief from the searing heat outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fort at Bahla is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been undergoing restoration for more than a quarter of a century. Mystery surrounds the reconstruction though, as each time a section is completed it falls down again and experts have been unable to find a reason. The area has been a centre for black magic for centuries and local legend says that the spirit of a man stoned to death for wizardry in the seventh century wanders at night destroying what has just been built.

 

Nizwa fort is the largest of all and was built as a stronghold of defence. If attacking forces were able to get past the pits of poisonous snakes they were sure to be foiled by boiling date syrup poured from holes in the lintels above the doors. At a height of 45 metres the tower affords spectacular views of the city, the mountains and the desert. Inside there is a museum which features displays of traditional Omani clothing, jewellery and everyday artefacts, and photographic exhibitions of Omani crafts including the last indigo dyer and his workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today it’s the Ministry of Tourism that keeps watch over these ancient buildings, preserving them for all to experience.

 

Shopping anyone?

It’s shopping time any time at the Mutrah Souq on the Corniche in Muscat and it’s an amazing sensory experience. Frankincense pervades the Souq with its strong, sweet scent and it can be bought in all sizes of packaging, along with beautiful incense burners. In all directions colour abounds – in fabric stalls, clothing and shoe shops, glassware and jewellery. Decorative wares fill the walkways and this fat bellied brass frog is just asking to be stroked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vendors keep up a constant stream of chat to potential customers: “Madam, come in. Madam, what size? Madam, what colour? You try?” The pashminas are so tempting, in all the colours of the rainbow, silky, soft and luxurious. There are woven carpets from Pakistan, cushions and beaded shoes from India, silver boxes, rose water sprinklers and Turkish coffee pots delicately engraved and embellished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the more quirky and slightly weird side are the embalmed, mounted and framed creatures including butterflies, scorpions, centipedes and frogs. They’re not exactly to my taste but fascinating all the same.

 

One alleyway is devoted to the jewellers’ shops, which are much more upmarket and way out of our league. The solid gold and silver jewellery is priced according to weight and the current value of gold per ounce. We’re told by one shopkeeper that the local ladies like to wear these necklaces when they go to parties to show off their husbands’ wealth.

It’s best to go to the Souq in the afternoon when the rush of tourists off the cruise ships has gone. Then it’s cool, the light is dim and you have the time to browse and enjoy with all your senses, and even make a purchase or two. Would anyone like a fat bellied frog?

Lines of symmetry

I am a lover of symmetry, patterns and design and the arabic architecture of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque gave me plenty to admire. The Mosque is in Muscat, Oman, and its white Indian sandstone stands out vividly against the stark mountains which surround the city. It is open to the public, both Muslim and non Muslim, in the mornings from Monday to Thursday and the only restrictions are that visitors are asked to wear appropriate clothing which covers arms and legs and women need to wear a head covering.

 

  The ladies’ prayer hall is intimate and peaceful, while the main prayer hall is almost overwhelming in its decoration. There are ornate carved doors, tiled mosaics and Persian style niches. The carpet, which covers almost all the floor area is the second largest in the world and took four years to be hand woven in a single piece. All this is overhung by a Swarovski crystal and gold plated chandelier – the largest in the world, truly magnificent and perfect in its setting.

Outside we wandered at will, explored the colonnades and marvelled at the dozens of mosaic niches which tell stories from the Koran. Even the gardens were set out in straight lines with matching designs. Symmetry was everywhere and I loved it.