I landed in Muscat, Oman at 11:30 p.m. on Friday. After going through an entirely too long customs process (1.5 hours), the airline had lost my suitcase (!!) and didn’t find it for another hour. After picking up a cheap bottle of duty-free wine, I took an overpriced cab to the Grand Hyatt. After checking in, I ordered brinner (breakfast for dinner) and packed my bag for Saturday’s adventure. It was going to be a long 24 hours. Once room service came, I devoured my food and passed out for the night.
Around seven Saturday morning, I met Fahad, the driver my friend referred me to when he heard I was making my way to his side of the globe. Fahad was a fantastic tour guide. He was about six foot two and wore a traditional long white robe called a dishdasha. At first, he spoke so quickly about his ideas for the day that I didn’t realize he was speaking English, but once he slowed down a bit, he only had a slight accent and spoke rather clearly. He had a lively personality and was patient when I stopped to take photos. Any apprehension I had prior to meeting him quickly diminished.
Oman itself has a lot slower pace than say, Dubai, but it’s where the rest of the Emirates go on their vacations, so you know it has to be good.
Because Muscat basically closes down on Fridays, Fahad took me to the souqs (or marketplace) and the famous forts in Nizwa. We also went to Old Town and his village, and he even stopped to so I could photograph wild camels meandering through the open desert. It turned out to be an unforgettable experience, and I am grateful for Fahad’s insider knowledge of the culture and its customs and courtesies. I’m also grateful for his genuine interest in ensuring I enjoyed myself while learning about his country during my short stay.
Palm trees lined Nizwa Road as we began the two-hour drive to the city. As we progressed, Fahad pointed out the small villages that began to appear. The villages typically consisted of 30 to 40 buildings and became more frequent the further away we got from Muscat. As we approached the Nizwa Gateway with its double-arches and watchtowers, Fahad informed me we would be approaching the souqs soon. Although Nizwa is the second most popular tourist destination in Oman, it is fairly conservative. Fahad informed me that even though the people of Oman will respect others regardless of what they wear, they feel respected in return when visitors attempt to abide by local customs and dress modestly. I had brought a hijab with me, and Fahad helped me put it on before we entered the souqs. The souqs have a romantic feel to them with the bustling vendors and locals walking about, but there is also an overflow of imported souvenir magnets and tee-shirts. It was obviously tailored for tourists.
As we walked along the streets of the Nizwa souqs, we stepped into a shop owned by Fahad’s friend. The air conditioning was a welcomed relief from the heat, which was 35 °C (95 °F). Fahad’s friend and friend’s son offered us dates and kahwa (coffee), which I graciously accepted. After I finished my coffee and set down the cup, Fahad asked if I would like more. When I said no, he explained the custom of giving your cup a gentle shake to signal to your host that you’ve had your fill. I appreciated the insight, and we had a good laugh when I picked the cup back up and gave it a little shake.
Once we left, we looked around the shops a bit more and took a five minute walk to the Nizwa Fort. The forts were huge and had several museum-like rooms filled with displays of old guns and knives. There was also a television mounted on the wall that played a video of Omanis sourcing water for their village by attaching ropes to their farm animals to retrieve water from the ancient wells. Then I climbed to the top of the forts and beheld the views of the mountains and buildings nestled within the date palm oasis that surrounded the forts. As we prepared to leave, we saw two Omani women selling Khubz Ragag, a traditional Omani bread. It was a simple wrap filled with cooked egg, cheese, and honey, but it was incredible. The women were kind and allowed me to photograph them. By this time, it was noon and the shops had shut down. Prayer time had begun, so we headed to the car and drove to Muscat Old Town.
Muscat Old Town
Although the souqs are considered fairly conservative, it wasn’t uncommon to see female visitors with their hair down. In Old Town, however, upmost modesty is highly encouraged. In addition to Fahad’s warning, I saw several signs that encouraged modesty as we approached the rural village. The village itself was filled with traditional-style buildings and date palms saturating the gaps between the gardens and mountains.
The architecture of the ancient buildings and stone archways was beautiful, and the village, which has incredible views of the surrounding mountains, was very quiet. As we made our way through the village, Fahad stopped at the purification fountain to perform wuḍū (the ablution process), an essential step prior to fulfilling one of the pillars of Islam that requires prayer five times a day. He washed his face, ears, hands, arms, and feet in the water, cleansing himself before offering himself in prayer to God.
After his prayer, we walked along the falaj irrigation canals that lined the gardens and headed to garden’s hill top. Fahad led the way, pointing out the banana and mango trees. He spoke quietly and said it was best to keep our voices low so not offend the locals. At the top of the garden, Fahad took off his shoes and dipped his toes in the water of the falaj before we made our way back down.
At the village center, a few tourist group began to arrive, so if you plan to visit Muscat Old Town, I recommend getting there before or around noon so you can have the gardens (mostly) to yourself.
On the way back to the Grand Hyatt, Fahad asked me if I would like to go to his village and meet his sister. I agreed, and he let me know to put on my hijab before we arrived.
I was greeted warmly by all of the women in his family while Fahad met with his male family members. His sister served fresh juice and dates, and we sat on the floor of a large salon area surrounded by a multitude of brightly colored pillows. They wore colorful and vibrant headdresses (lihaf) and dresses over sirwals (trousers), and they had adorned their hands and wrists with gold rings and bracelets. Fahad’s niece taught me how to wear my hijab in a more traditional manner. It was a relatively short visit, and I was asked to not photograph the women, but the experience and hospitality I experienced was priceless.
In my experience, Omani people are some of the most kind and giving individuals who genuinely want you to experience their country in all of its splendor. It’s a beautiful location the photos don’t do justice. There are so many places I wasn’t able to explore, but given the chance, I will definitely go back. Oman itself has a lot slower pace than say, Dubai, but it’s where the rest of the Emirates go on their vacations, so you know it has to be good.
Thanks for getting lost with me. Stay tuned for spinoffs of where to stay and what to pack while in Oman.