Date: 25th October 2014
This past October, I won a chance to fly to Oman, courtesy of Oman Tourism. This wasn’t an invite per se, but a contest win. Indiblogger.in held a contest sponsored by Oman Tourism a few months back and my submission was chosen as one among the three best. Three bloggers won the chance to visit Oman on an all expenses paid guided tour of Oman.
The flight was, of course, by Oman Air.
My flight was early morning and Bangalore was cold and foggy
But it was all sunny and fine above the clouds
Soon after take off, we were served breakfast.
After a nap, I woke up to the sight of Oman
Two things Oman is famous for: clear blue seas & rocky landscapes
Very mountainous country
Can’t imagine life in the middle of all this… but there is
We were about to land at Muscat airport
The visa was arranged by Oman Tourism but we were only sent an e-copy. I had to collect the original from Muscat airport’s visa on arrival section. I had to go back and forth, one counter to another for while, but all was good in the end and I was out in about 30 minutes time. Unfortunately, when I went to the arrivals area, I couldn’t find anybody holding a board with my name on it. It was only after 5 minutes of walking around, I noticed a guy and a girl who looked like they could be Indian bloggers looking just as puzzled. We finally met the man assigned to pick us up as he was holding a board that said “Indiblogger winners”.
The two other bloggers that won the contest aside from me were Aseem Rastogi and Manjulika Pramod. We hopped in the car and made our way to the hotel.
Looking out, Muscat didn’t seem as fancy as Manama (Bahrain) or Dubai on first impressions. But still, it felt good to be back in the Gulf :)
We were going to be staying at the Radisson Blu in Al Khuwair the next two nights
I believe it’s a 4 Star hotel
Since it was an early check-in, all three of our rooms weren’t available, so we had to wait in one that was available. I left my luggage in there and chose to step out.
I needed to get a local SIM card
Al Khuwair looked pretty normal, but no matter which GCC country I land in, they all start to the look the same and the sights, the roads, the buildings — all bring back memories of growing up in Bahrain.
I went in to this mobile store and picked up an Oman Tel SIM card and used it to message my family
Small businesses all around
By the time I got back to the hotel my room was ready.
The hotel has 153 beds
For someone who is more used to staying at hostels in his travels, this was a welcome upgrade :)
The room had all the amenities. A mini fridge with the usual suspects, electric kettle, water bottles, ironing board, steam press. In the toilet though, I found the bath water wasn’t draining out easily. Oh, and they provided all other toiletries — except a tooth brush, but you can always call up reception and ask for one.
After freshening up, we were a bit confused as to where we had to have our lunch. Our itinerary said lunch was at a restaurant called Kargeen Caffe, but we were confused as to how we would get there.
So went to the Olivos restaurant at the hotel and sat down there
We were on the verge of ordering food when we were finally contacted by our tour organizer in Muscat and told us that a driver is coming to pick us up and take us to Kargeen. We had to cancel our orders and we waited for our driver at the lobby.
It was the same driver from morning, and we drove a bit to get to the restaurant. Gave us the opportunity to see a bit more of Muscat. Hills all around.
When we arrived at Kargeen, we finally met our tour organizer, and expressed our grief over the lack of communication. We exchanged phone numbers and he would give us the details for the next few days of touring.
It was a buffet lunch of Omani food… which looked awfully familiar to Indian food
I missed Arabian cuisine, so I vowed to make up for it in the next 5 days
The interiors were nice
Kargeen has an outdoor area modeled along the lines of a typical Arabian coffee shop
Post lunch, a new driver received us from Kargeen and took us for a tour across Muscat city
We stopped for a bit at this view point, which our guide told was an old village
We were the 3 winning bloggers. L-R: Aseem, Manjulika and me. And no, my tummy wasn’t that big after lunch. That’s just wind making its way inside my t-shirt.
There were other tourists on the same route
Our first stop on the tour was at Bait Al Zubair, a museum complex housing 3 attractions.
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside and so I had to leave the DSLR in the car. Inside Bait al Zubair was Bait Al Bagh, the main museum. It gives visitors a good run through of the history of Oman. From relics belonging to the sultans, old paintings, maps, coins, weapons, clothes, way of life, etc.
Bait Al Oud
After that, we went to Bait Al Oud next door. This three-storey building contains a large exhibition hall and reception area on the ground floor, with early European maps of the Arabian Peninsula and typical Muscati furniture on the first floor. The second floor includes early prints of the Arabian Peninsula and photographs of Muscat with an exhibit of historic cameras. The third floor also housed a rather large collection of old coins. Again, no photography allowed inside — which was sad, because Bait Al Oud was quite impressive!
After Bait Al Oud, we went inside Bait Al Daleel, an old house restored and renovated to give visitors an idea of how Omanis lived in the past. The house included a majilis (guest lounge), bedrooms and domestic date store. Bait Al Daleel also houses a coffee shop and art gallery – showing Omani artists work that can be purchased.
This is the living room (and that’s our guide posing for us)
The bed room
The coffee shop area
Oryx art installations. The Arabian oryx is the national animal of Oman. We left Bait al Zubair and drove to our next stop.
We were going to see Al Alam Palace
Now for some royalty
Al Alam Palace is also called the Royal Palace, but this is not where the Sultan lives
Al Alam Palace is the ceremonial palace
These ceremonial grounds plays host to parade marches and large gatherings for special occasions
A panorama of the ceremonial ground
We then drove behind the palace
Our guide told us this was a police fort
We drove down the marina road
A mosque by the sea
Our guide parked the car across the road and we walked to the marina
That’s the Sultan of Oman’s mega yacht, called Al Said
Next we crossed the road to go to Mutrah Souq
I checked the prices for some souvenirs just to gauge what to expect from the other shops inside Mutrah Souq
Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest souqs (markets) in Muscat. So you find shops selling perfumes, scents…
… and frankincense and a lot more
Mutrah Souq has narrow bylanes on its sides
Looking at the roof, Mutrah Souq looks like it has seen some renovation work
All sorts of funky jewelry
The bent sword designs you see are khanjars. A khanjar is a traditional dagger originating from Oman.
You get enough signs this souq easily caters to tourists more than locals
You have an extension going left and right. We went left
Loved the decor
There are a few general stores, but hardly saw anybody buying their daily groceries here. Many of these general stores looked like they were run by Gujaratis, who have been in Oman for decades
Each extension has stores selling more of the less the same thing
More frankincense shops
We reached the back exit of Mutrah Souq
More shops outside
We went back in and made our way back to our taxi
On the way back, we saw a confectionery shop. I picked up some Turkish (compound) chocolates from here.
Before leaving Mutrah Souq I picked up some souvenirs
I was tempted to pick some Arabian scents too, but didn’t know if these shops were all selling genuine stuff
Our tour was done for the day
Dinner was back at the hotel, and I ended the night with some fish & chips
First impression of Oman? Not very exciting, but trust me, that would change in the coming days. I went to bed early as I didn’t get much sleep since last night. Tomorrow, we were hitting the seas to see dolphins!