I couldn’t imagine a better start to my Arabian adventure than my flight with Oman Air, excellent service and food and very comfortable, if the rest of the trip lived up to the journey there I knew I would be in for a good time.
Despite the early arrival, the outside temperature was 35C and so in order to beat the heat, and not get caught up in the Morning Prayer’s I was taken straight to the Grand Mosque. It is incredible. Towering white marble walls to rival the Taj Mahal, glittered against the backdrop of the brilliant blue, cloudless sky. It doesn’t have the romance of the Taj but it is equally if not more impressive in terms of architecture and décor. This unfortunately meant that the visit to the fish market came a little too late in the day for my nose to appreciate. Pungent is a word that sprang to mind, again and again, but the locals in traditional gear, didn’t seem to notice as they strolled between the stalls, calling out to friends and bargaining for the best price.
Muscat is a delightful combination of the old and new, traditional clothes, the lovely old buildings of Old Muscat contrasting sharply with the new and extraordinary Opera House, one of the newest additions to the city and already one of its most popular. I also got a great photo shot of the Sultan’s private yacht (for yacht read cruise liner) with a traditional dhow in the foreground.
The following morning I left the luxury of the Shangri La hotel, situated along the gently curving cove of its own private beach and slightly regretted having gorged on the fabulous breakfast as I got my sea legs aboard the speedboat. My feeling of sea sickness was forgotten as soon as I was surrounded by a pod of dolphins, dancing in the water and sending spray into the air.
Next stop, just over a one hour flight away is Salalah in Southern Oman, which threw me even more into the more traditional Oman. A wonderful old city, no high rises here and the souk, more traditional and selling mainly dates, perfume and frankincense (for which the area is famous) was just as pungent but in a much more palatable way than the previous fish market!
Here the scenery was of the low lying mountains graduating down to vast expanses of beach, but ones that are still inhabited by the locals, local wildlife that is. Camels wondered aimlessly, not realising the impact that this soon to be expanding destination will have on their lives.
I stayed at the Rotana Salalah, which has pristine white beaches stretching on either side for as long as the eye can see. My one regret on the trip was leaving such beauty to visit the camel meat market, my least favourite of them all.
The one surprise of the trip, apart from the magical mosque and opera house and stunning scenery all mixed up with an age old sense of tradition was the local delicacy of camel meat. We did try it and it wasn’t too bad, but don’t tell the camel you meet on the beach, it might have been his cousin and who needs a camel with the hump!