A Guide To Muscat For History Lovers, Culture Buffs And Gourmands

Well-connected by direct flights, Muscat makes an ideal getaway for a long international weekend break from India
Landscape of Mutrah Corniche in Muscat, Oman
Landscape of Mutrah Corniche in Muscat, OmanJahidul-hasan/Shutterstock

My flight to Muscat from Hyderabad was less than three-and-half-hours and it was a breeze. When I landed, the city welcomed me with its elegant beige-coloured buildings while date palms and bright-hued bougainvillea added colour to the dignified cityscape. Orderliness and discipline, simplicity and sophistication reflected in its people and the land.

Things To Do

Visiting exquisite mosques, forts, well-curated museums and bustling souqs can make an interesting itinerary while simply taking a stroll on the silken beaches can be very relaxing. But exploring the amazing local food is a “must do” for it is unique and delightful.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Sultan Qaboos Grand MosquePhilip Lange/Shutterstock

An Architectural Gem

I started with a guided tour of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, an outstanding architectural creation of Oman. From outside, the Grand Mosque looks like a huge ball of gold glistening in the bright sun, but once I enter, the sheer opulence is overwhelming. Built from 3,00,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone, it can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers.

The main prayer hall is breathtakingly beautiful with a high central dome adorned with exotic chandeliers that fill the place with soft light. A gigantic (46,750 sq ft) Persian carpet covers the entire hall. Weighing a massive 21 tonnes, it is said to have taken 600 women four years to weave. The dress code is strict; you should be fully covered. For ladies, abayas are available for rent.

The Royal Opera House in Muscat
The Royal Opera House in MuscatEQRoy/Shutterstock

The Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House is a prestigious art and culture venue that reflects the sophisticated taste of Oman’s royalty. With locally sourced limestone and stucco, the edifice mirrors the distinctive grand style of modern Omani palaces with tall decorative archways leading to the main foyer. The interiors are stunning with scarlet and gold; the grand staircase is majestic and strikingly beautiful. The museum of costumes and musical instruments is fascinating and educative.

Eating Out In Muscat

Muscat has much to offer for gourmands. At the Al Angham restaurant, the meal starts with a welcome drink of cold water infused with frankincense and proceeds with delicacies like Omani Shuwa (roasted lamb marinated with spices); Mdafen Samak (Omani special take on the classic kingfish); Harees Laham (wheat slowly cooked with lamb); Markat Al Dijaj (chicken stew, lightly flavoured with garlic accented with fresh coriander), and the dessert is a selection of fine local sweets like Omani Halwa, Mahoo, Sawiya but the show stopper is the frankincense ice cream, which I never heard of.

Rozna restaurant is themed after a castle with an exotic ambience, the experience is unique and I am drowned in Omani hospitality. Seated under the majestic high ceiling, I watch women make Omani flatbreads (rakhal), smearing the dough on a pan and flipping them effortlessly. Stacks of these arrive at my table, crisp and thin to be eaten with exotic meats and delicious vegetables. Authentic Omani food drowns me in drowsiness and a platter of various desserts served at the end makes me sink into a deep slumber.

The Amouage Perfume Factory
The Amouage Perfume Factory@amouageofficial /Instagram

A Lingering Fragrance

You can visit the Amouage Perfume Factory, a homegrown perfume brand that uses exotic ingredients like frankincense, roses, saffron and spices to make their most valued perfumes. The detailed tour helps me to understand how these glamorous perfumes are processed. The Frankincense tree in the courtyard draws my attention and evokes my curiosity. There it stands, stripped many times but still renewing its bark and recreating itself, ready to spread the fragrance selflessly. Much in awe, I click multiple pictures of the Frankincense tree.

An antique goods shop in Muttrah souq in Muscat
An antique goods shop in Muttrah souq in MuscatJahidul-hasan/Shutterstock

Shopping In Muscat

Roaming through Old Muscat, learning about its centuries-old history and Oman’s culture is fascinating: strolling in the same narrow alleys of the Arabian markets where merchants walked hundreds of years ago is a dream-like experience. When sea routes were the only way to reach distant lands, Muttrah Souq witnessed great trade taking place between Oman, India and China. The smells of frankincense, perfume oils, fresh jasmine and spices transport me to times gone by.

Stalls are filled with Omani silver jewellery, khanjars (daggers), embroidered Kummahs (caps worn by men) etc. Indian goods like Kashmiri shawls, Gujarati and Rajasthani scarves, dresses, etc. sold by our brothers speaking in Malayalam, Hindi etc. makes me feel back at home in a bazaar. Some of the high-end air-conditioned souqs have exotic lamps, incense burners, Omani halwa in its many avatars, pretty and petite ceramic coffee cups, and many other souvenirs that are too tempting to resist. 

The blue of the sea in Muscat is stunning
The blue of the sea in Muscat is stunningJahidul-hasan/Shutterstock

By The Sea

I take a walk along the harbour and spot the royal yacht parked in the peaceful waters. At the seafront, latticed buildings and mosques are bathed in the evening sunlight. At the gates of Al Alam Palace, I admire the elegant facade of gold and blue and the simplicity of the royal property. After dark, the floodlit 16th-century Portuguese forts Al Jalali and Al Mirani, mosques and monuments, all look surreal. The anchored dhow boats are largely unchanged since the days of the Omani Empire; some of them still carry goods to distant lands. I reflect on our ancestors who travelled to Oman on long and arduous journeys not only to trade spices and silk but to exchange cultures and create friendly bonds.

The Information

How to reach: Short, direct flights from all major Indian cities. Bonus - quick e-visas.

Best time to travel: October to March when the weather is good

Dress code: The general rule to follow is that clothing needs to cover shoulders, upper arms and fall below the knees. It is also not recommended to appear in public dressed in tight trousers, bare-backed tops or low-cut clothing.

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