Apr 15

Oman 2014: Sultan Qaboos mosque (Muscat’s Grand Mosque)

Date: 27th October, 2014

Today we were going to drive out of Muscat and head off into the desert mountains. But before leaving Muscat, our guide (a new one) took us to see the Sultan Qaboos mosque, a.k.a the Grand Mosque.

Driving to Grand Mosque Muscat

The Grand Mosque was a short drive from our hotel

Gardens Grand Mosque Muscat

There is no entry fee, but the mosque is only open to public from Saturday to Thursday

Ladies robes Grand Mosque Muscat

If you are a lady, you can only enter if you are covered from head to toe

Visitor guidelines Grand Mosque Muscat

The rules

Lawn Sultan Qaboos mosque Muscat

The lawn was really nice

Open area Grand Mosque Oman

Inside Sultan Qaboos mosque Muscat

We walked around a bit before going inside the main prayer hall

Islamic architecture window designs Muscat

I was appreciating the Islamic design

Islamic architecture ceiling design Muscat

The mosque is built using 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone

Shoe rack Grand Mosque Muscat

We removed our shoes, placed them on the racks…

Door Sultan Qaboos Mosque Muscat

… and entered the main hall

Prayer hall Sultan Qaboos mosque Oman


Grand Mosque chandelier Muscat Oman

Look at that chandelier!

Faustig chandelier Sultan Qaboos mosque Oman

The stunning chandelier was built by a German company called Faustig. It is the second largest chandelier in the world.

Prayer hall Sultan Qaboos mosque

The main prayer hall can accommodate 6500 (male) worshipers

Carpet Sultan Qaboos mosque Muscat

This carpet is the second largest single piece, hand-woven carpet in the world. Made in Iran. The largest is in the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.

Muscat Grand Mosque wooden ceiling

Everything inside was impressive

Ornate Islamic art Grand Mosque Oman

Grand Mosque pillar Muscat

The mosque took 6 years to build

Lights Grand Mosque prayer hall Muscat

Chandeliers Grand Mosque Oman

Still, I couldn’t help but look up all the time. The lights are truly astonishing.

Grand Mosque interiors Muscat Oman

Truly amazing inside

Inside Grand Mosque dome GoPro Oman took

I took this photo using my GoPro before leaving

Womens prayer hall Grand Mosque Muscat

We made a quick stop next door to see the lady’s prayer hall. It’s much smaller.

Grand Mosque dome Muscat Oman

This is what the exterior dome looks like

Grand Mosque Muscat Oman panorama

A panorama of Sultan Qaboos mosque exterior

Islamic architecture hallway Oman

We made our way out

Outside Grand Mosque Muscat

Just as we were on the way out, a bus load of tourists had entered the premises. So I’d say it’s a good idea to visit the Grand Mosque early, say before 10am.

Toyota Prado Muscat Oman

We returned to our Toyota Prado. We were going to leave Muscat now.

Highway to Nizwa Oman

We hit the highway to head to our next stop: Nizwa

That will be the next post.

Previous post(s) in this series:

Oman 2014: Dolphin watching tour in Muscat

Oman 2014: Landing in Muscat; Al Alam Palace, Mutrah souq and more

Oman 2014: Muscat bay viewpoints, Qurum beach, The Cave restaurant

Apr 15

Amrut Distilleries factory tour (with Vir Sanghvi)

Date: February 12, 2014

I was invited to visit the Amrut Distilleries factory on Mysore Road, just outside of Bangalore city. I was going to get to see the manufacturing process for making the famed Amrut whisky — with a special guest in tow. Noted journalist, writer and TV personality Vir Sanghvi was going to drop by the factory for a tour.

Amrut whisky display Bangalore

The award-winning Amrut whisky range

Barley peat for whisky

Barley to the left, peat to the right

Amrut distillery office awards display

We were waiting for Vir Sanghvi to arrive

Amrut awards Jagdale old photo

Gave me enough time to check out the awards and the history of the company Shri Radhakrishna Jagdale founded

Amrut distillery test lab Bangalore

This is the lab where they sample and test whiskies — Amrut’s own production batches and the competition

Jagdale gifting flowers to Vir Sanghvi

Vir Sanghvi had arrived, and so had the present chairman of Amrut Distilleries, Mr. Neelakanta Rao Jagdale. After a formal greeting, the Amrut team led us all to the factory.

Amrut factory tour with Vir Sanghvi

Senior VP Surrinder Kumar led the factory tour

Storage silos Amrut whisky distillery Bangalore

These silos store the grains

Inside Amrut factory Mysore road

We went up to witness the manufacturing stages

Amrut factory grain pulley

The process of making whisky begins here. The grains are brought in using this conveyor.

Malt mill Amrut whisky tour

Then the malted barley is ground into powder in the malt mill

Grains grinder Amrut factory

The flour then moves down

Amrut factory whisky making Bangalore

We then moved on to the fermentation process and to large vessels (on the left hand side)

Fermentation vessel whisky making Bangalore

We were asked to take a look inside these fermentation vessels

Fermentation yeast Amrut whisky making

Hot water is added to the barley and this breaks down the starch content in the barley. This liquid mash is called wort. Later, yeast is added.

Yeast rising fermentation process whisky

The yeast causes fermentation of the wort and creates alcohol. The mixture rises after a few weeks of fermentation.

Copper pot stills Amrut factory

The next stage is distillation of the liquid in these large copper pot stills. Amrut distills twice(?). Basically the pot stills are like large kettles that heat the liquid causing the alcohol vapours to rise. These vapours turn back into liquid and what is essentially spirit.

The spirits are then poured into oak barrels for the maturation process.

Maturation chamber oak barrels Amrut whisky

This is the maturation chamber (one of many) where barrels of spirit are left to mature over a period ranging from one to three years

Maturation room temperature Amrut whisky

They note the temperature and other stats daily

Amrut whisky tasting maturation room

Vir Sanghvi samples the spirit that has only matured for a few months. I had a sip too and it really doesn’t have a taste to it… but it’s got quite a kick! It’s pure alcohol.

Amrut whisky maturing chamber panorama

I took a panorama of the maturation chamber before leaving

Amrut whisky bottling factory

We then moved to the bottling unit

Amrut whisky bottling machine Bangalore

Here is where the end product is bottled

Corking Amrut whisky factory


Amrut whisky workers factory


Amrut whisky boxed

And boxed

Amrut factory warehouse

After which these boxes are shipped. Unfortunately, they turned down my offer to ‘ship’ one box of Peated whisky to my house free of charge :)

Vodka bottle inspection Amrut factory

This is the bottle for Amrut’s Muschovy vodka. One such bottle is being inspected for sediments.

Amrut distillary bottling factory Bengaluru

This is a second factory where they package other products such as their rum and vodka offerings

Maturation chamber Amrut whisky factory

We stopped by some other maturation chambers where Amrut is experimenting with new flavours and techniques

Oak barrel charring process India

Then we saw something really special. The process of charring the oak barrels.

Barrel charring Amrut whisky Bangalore

It’s done by this guy who is among the very few in India who does barrel charring professionally

Oak barrel charring process Amrut whisky

The barrel spins as it gets charred on the inside

Fire oak barrel charring Bangalore India

It’s quite a sight

Charred barrel whisky making

The fire is put out quickly

Inside charred oak barrel Amrut distillary

And this is the end result. You can smell the oak and it’s this char that gives the spirit its dark colour over the maturation period

Used oak barrels Amrut whisky

There’s a limit to how many times Amrut uses one barrel. These are used barrels they sell off.

With that, the tour was over and we returned to the head office for lunch.

Jagdale presenting Vir Sanghvi Amrut whisky

Post lunch, Vir Sanghvi was gifted with a limited edition “Naarangi” variant of Amrut whisky before leaving.

Amrut appreciation dinner Bangalore

Later in the evening, we all gathered at the JW Marriott Hotel on Vittal Mallya Road for an appreciation dinner hosted by Amrut Distilleries

Guests Amrut dinner party

The evening saw special guests from Bangalore high society invited to join Vir Sanghvi and sample some Amrut whisky

JW Marriott Amrut dinner Bangalore guests

The event saw the Amrut folks talk about their whisky and educate the guests on savouring whisky in the right manner

Food at JW Marriott Bangalore chef

The food served was an all-gourmet affair with some top-notch dishes

JW Marriott hotel lobby Bengaluru

I left the JW Marriott hotel once the night’s festivities were over

A big thanks to Amrut Distilleries for inviting me to the factory and the appreciation dinner. I enjoyed both and I loved getting an insight into what goes into making an exquisite bottle of Amrut Whisky.

Feb 15

Oman 2014: Muscat bay viewpoints, Qurum beach, The Cave restaurant

Date: 26th October 2014

After the dolphin watching tour, our driver told us he would take us to a viewpoint beyond Marina Bandar Al Rowdha.

Muscat highway Oman

We drove along the highway

Consultative Assembly of Oman Muscat

Drove past the massive Consultative Assembly of Oman building

Uphill road Muscat Oman

We drove uphill

Road to resorts Muscat

And then downhill to a resort complex at the edge of the hill

Blue waters Muscat Oman

The waters are so blue (Took this on my phone)

Viewpoint Oman bay Muscat

We drove back and kept stopping at every nice looking viewpoint. Down below was a very small beach, which seemed only accessible by boat

Muscat open viewpoint Oman

This was another. We walked towards the edge.

Muscat mountains Oman panorama

Took a panorama

Majlis Oman from mountain top Muscat

Zoomed in on the majlis

Muscat rock mural road Oman

We then drove back to Muscat city

Dhow roundabout Muscat Oman

We were planning to visit the incense burner monument

Incense burner hill Muscat Oman

But when we got there

Gates locked incense burner monument Muscat

… gates were locked. Shucks!

PDO beach Muscat Oman

So we drove to a viewpoint near PDO beach

PDO is the Petroleum Development Oman, the nation’s primary petroleum company. And the above is the company’s private beach — for their employees and their families. And if a private beach wasn’t enough of a company perk…

Ras al Hamra golf club PDO Muscat Oman

… PDO owns a golf court too! Ahhh, oil money.

Palm tree shade picnic Oman

Besides that, this viewpoint is a popular picnic jaunt

Luxury houses by sea Muscat

A lot of luxury houses facing the sea

Qurum beach white sand Muscat Oman

Next, we drove down to Qurum beach

Qurum beach Muscat Oman

It’s near PDO beach but open to public

Qurum beach clear blue water Muscat

Very clear water

Al Shati beach road Muscat Oman

After that, it was off to the popular Al Shati beach road. A lot of coffee shops by the beach here.

Al Shati beach Muscat Oman

Al Shati beach in itself is okay

Crowne Plaza hotel Muscat Oman

The Crowne Plaza hotel is the big white building at the edge of the beach

Royal Opera house Muscat Oman

The next stop was the Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House Muscat sign

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could see of the Opera House

Inside Royal Opera house Muscat Oman

This was just a lobby, we couldn’t enter the main hall… but we were told it’s impressive! :-)

Royal Opera house ceiling

Impressive interiors

The Cave restaurant Muscat Oman

Done with the day tour, we went to The Cave for lunch. Looks like something from The Flintstones doesn’t it?

The Cave restaurant choices Muscat Oman

You have many choices for restaurants inside The Cave

Unfortunately when we entered, there was no reservation in our names. So we had to contact the travel agent to speak to the front desk and sort things out.

The Cave restaurant buffet Muscat Oman

We settled for the buffet

Pita bread cold cut starters The Cave buffet

What I started with

Rice spring roll The Cave Muscat

Had a bit of everything

Tiger prawns mussels The Cave Muscat

We had ordered some seafood as well

Desserts The Cave restaurant Muscat

Desserts — yeah, I love my sweets!

The Cave restaurant interiors Muscat

I can’t vouch for the menu but the food we had was pretty good and the interiors of The Cave are what really sells this place

After a sumptuous lunch, our driver decided to go for a smoke break and left before us. The rest of us washed up, took some photos of the restaurant and before making our way out. But when we tried to exit the restaurant, we were stopped by one of the staff. When we asked why, she said we have to “pay first”. Stunned, we were (again) perplexed by the lack of communication. We tried to convince her that this was an organized lunch courtesy of Oman Tourism but she called the manager instead. When the manager came, we told them this was being paid for by Oman Tourism and fortunately he knew deal and understood the situation. He then just asked one of us to sign the bill, which I did.

Inside The Cave Muscat Oman

Our driver finally came back to the surprise that we were still inside. That’s him talking to the lady who stopped us from leaving. She later apologized.

Anyway, once we were ‘set free,’ we walked back to our car.

Muscat village Oman

The Cave is situated atop a hill, and this was the view from parking lot

Lulu mall Muscat Oman

Post lunch, we were dropped off at Lulu Hypermarket

Baklavah Lulu supermarket Oman

I wasn’t planning on doing all my shopping now itself. So I just prepared a list of items I planned to buy, and their prices. Baklavah was one of those items!

Grand mall Muscat Oman

After Lulu, we hopped across to Grand Mall

Inside Grand Mall Muscat Oman

Which… wasn’t that impressive to be honest. Another reminder that Muscat cannot be compared to the likes of Bahrain and Dubai when it comes to malls and shopping..

Grand Mall did have a Carrefour and Daiso though. I made note of the prices at Carrefour as well, and realized Lulu Hypermarket was cheaper (in general), and then left after buying some stuff from Daiso. By sunset, we were picked up by the driver to be dropped back at the hotel.

Saravanaa Bhavan  Muscat Oman

Saravanaa Bhavan is in Muscat too!

Tiger prawns fries dinner Radisson Muscat

Dinner was at the Radisson Blu

This was our last night at the Radisson Blu. Tomorrow we would check out, visit the Grand Mosque and leave Muscat for Jebel Shams. Now I was really excited to see what more natural wonders and history Oman had to offer!

Previous post(s) in this series:

Oman 2014: Dolphin watching tour in Muscat

Oman 2014: Landing in Muscat; Al Alam Palace, Mutrah souq and more

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