‘Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, packs in quite a punch for the traveller on a short visit to the city’
Having just finished with an early Omani meal, we sit in the balcony of Bait Al-Luhan for a quick coffee before heading out to savour the magic of Muscat. A short walk down the winding road past buildings housing cafes and restaurants takes visitors to the Muttrah Souq, a perfect place to soak in the traditional flavour of Oman. Stop here to admire the calm sea waters right opposite where the Sultan’s liner, barges and dhows are parked. And then, traverse the labyrinthine lanes of the souq lined with tiny, packed-to-the-brim shops offering beautiful souvenirs, from khanjars, frankincense burners, scarves and jewellery. Don’t forget to pack in some traditional Omani sweets.
Not too far away lies the National Museum of Oman that offers a slice of the Sultanate’s heritage from early times to the present day through its numerous exhibits, including ancient manuscripts, arms and armoury and ancient dhows. Oman boasts a charming maritime history, and brings back days of Sindbad the sailor, who is believed to have sailed over the Sea of Oman. Do keep in mind that the museum shuts by 4pm.
Later, a drive through the rest of the corniche offers views of the picturesque blue-andgold Al-Alam Palace in Old Muscat. This ceremonial residence of Sultan Qaboos goes back nearly 200 years and lies close to the two 16th-century twin forts — Al Jalali and Al Mirani that were built by the Portuguese. These house a museum but, like the palace, are accessible only to dignitaries. Visitors are not allowed inside but can photograph them from a distance.
A bit of shopping can be squeezed in at the Avenue Mall-Lulu. To round off our first day, we head for the popular Karjeen restaurant whose quaint environs offer an interesting blend of the traditional Eastern with classical Western styles. The place offers quite a spread of Omani and Arabic cuisine, even for vegetarians.
The next morning we visit Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Comprising of a beautiful dome and five towers, the prayer hall here can house over 20,000 people. Look out for the dextrously woven Arabic carpet that was hand-made by 600 women over a period of four years and the 600,000-bulb Swarovski crystal chandelier that’s complemented by 16 smaller ones all across the hall. Non-Muslims can visit on all days except Fridays, between 8.30am and 11am. A modest dress code policy applies.
Post lunch at Turkish Diwan that’s famous for its grilled fish and succulent appetisers, we decide on another ‘must-do’ in the city, the Amouage Perfume Factory that lets you in on Oman’s centuries-old perfumery heritage. On your way out, pick up your favourite perfumes from the varieties created here. Amouage makes around 49 kinds of perfumes and produces more than 25,000 bottles a week. Another of Muscat’s must-visit structures is the Royal Opera House that came up in 2011 on the orders of Sultan Qaboos, himself a connoisseur of classical music, who wanted the city to house an opulent, world-class structure dedicated to music. Its velvety red Italian-inspired interiors can seat about 1,100 and among the many world-class artistes to have performed here is the legendary Indian violin maestro L. Subramaniam in 2013
Words : Purnima Sharma