April 22, 2010
Muscat has been known since ancient times as a trading port and commercial center serving the Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Muscat is a world class capital city blending the best of old and new. Its historical landmarks reflect the city’s role over the ages. The houses of ancient merchants, souqs (markets), towers, gateways and forts of the past have become major tourist attractions along with the new monuments such as the Grand Mosque in Muscat. The old city of Muscat enclosed by walls and gates display a mixture of traditional and contemporary styles. Muscat can be considered as a city surrounded by mountains, steeped in history and brimming with present day wonders including the Grand Mosque.
As I was keen to explore the monuments, old and new and natural beauty of Muscat and surrounding regions during my brief stay in Muscat, my host drove me in his vehicle to some of the exquisite places. First of all he drove me through the mountainous road known as Jebel Sifah to the beach. The barren volcanic mountains stretching on both sides of the road transported us to a different kind of world. The long winding road presented spectacular scenery of the valleys and mountain ranges. At three different intervals on the route I could see blue lagoons branching out of the Gulf of Oman in the lake like formations which are being used as fishing bases and for leisure boating. As we travelled further, we could see cluster of traditional Omani villages with small houses. At one place I saw a group of men holding meeting outside a house and goats roaming around.
After an hours’ journey we reached the beautiful sea front with sandy beach. The clear blue water washing the sand in small waves was a pleasure to see. By the sea side I could see some boats used for fishing. There were few Omani village women sitting on the beach. When I tried to click their pictures, three of them just turned their face away from the camera. However, three of the children playing on the beach obliged and posed for the picture.
On another day, my host accompanied me to nearby places of interest. During this trip, first we came across the statues of four golden horses, two facing opposite directions at the center of the road and two on high pedestals on two sides of the road at Wadi Kabir. A little further,I could see a Roundabout with typical Omani pots and still further before the Al Bustan Royal Hotel another Roundabout with a traditional Omani ship in the center. In the Gulf countries, it is common to have Roundabouts with traditional cultural motifs at the center.
Next we entered the gate leading to Al Bustan Palace Inter Continental Hotel set against a dramatic mountain backdrop on 200 acres of private beach and lush green gardens. The hotel is extremely impressive which was once the Palace of the local ruler. The Al Bustan Palace is in an amazing location just in between two mountains with a fantastic bay and an exquisite beach.
The Marina Bandar Al-Rowdha Yacht Club was our next destination. It is Oman's premium marina opened in March 1996 and is located in a truly beautiful setting. The marina has a unique picture-postcard beauty. Presently, the marina has both wet and dry berths, which are fully serviced by modern launch and recovery equipment. Charter boats are available for coastal cruises, whale and dolphin watching, sports fishing and sunset cruises. There is also an on-site scuba diving operator.
From the Marina Bandar we proceeded further towards the Al Alam Royal Palace, one of the most beautiful buildings of the city. The architecture of the palace manifests grace and chasteness. The Al Alam Royal Palace is the official estate of the ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos. Tourists and visitors are allowed only until the gates of this grand palace. They are not allowed to enter the interiors of the palace. The Al Alam Royal Palace was built in the year 1972 after Sultan Qaboos ascended the throne of the Sultanate of Oman in 1970.
Proceeding further we came across the Muttrah Corniche and harbour. The Muttrah harbour is circular, deep water, natural anchorage, where tankers, barges, ferries and cruise ships can be seen along with traditional Arab dhows. At the northern end of the Corniche there is a fish market and the dhow harbour, where the dhows anchor to unload the catches of the day. The Muttrah Corniche is a beautiful place.
Towards the east of the harbour is the Kalbooh Park with high mountain in the background and the blue waters of the harbour in the foreground. From this park we could see a giant replica of incense burner on top of a hill. Its beauty can be seen in all its glory during the sun set and after its lights have been switched on during the night. The Kalbooh Park is a place of leisure where people go for spending their evening and enjoy the pleasant sea breeze and the beauty of the reflection of the street and building lights in the sea waters. When there is no rush, some of the local boys use the open space in the park for playing football.
We took a walk along the waterfront of Muttrah promenade known as Corniche which stretches for about three kilometers along the harbour. We found the pristine gardens and fountains along this stretch. The gold-topped cupolas and well polished granite statues of different verities of fish such as dolphins at regular intervals on the promenade are added attraction. The Muttrah Corniche depicts the history of Oman since 1970. Maintaining a pace with the current development, this part of the Sultanate still holds its old charms.
The visit of any tourist to this part of the city of Muscat is incomplete without a stroll in the cool dark alleys of the Muttrah Souq (market). One could see the samples of old Arabian style lamps suspended on strong wooden beams along the vaulted alley. The small shops on either side draw the attention of the visitor with their displays of verities of traditional, historical and modern wares such as shawls, cloth, caps, beads, gemstones, khanjars, ornaments, artifacts, wooden chests, coins, royal swords, neckpieces, masks, headgears, coffee pots, incense holders, decorative items, earrings, bangles, chandeliers, copper and silver plates. At one spot reclined against the canopy pillar, I notice and took picture of an Omani selling traditional coffee known as ‘khawa’ and another Omani sipping it from a cup.
After viewing these traditional and historical places, one would be disappointed if he has not visited the Grand Mosque of Muscat, believed to be the landmark of modern Muscat. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque complex is located by the main road between Muscat and Seeb. Work began on the construction of the Mosque early in 1995 and was completed six years later and inaugurated by the Sultan in May 2001.
The entire Grand Mosque complex covering 40,000 square metres is constructed on a raised podium. It was built from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone. The main prayer hall is square with a central dome rising to a height of fifty metres above the floor. The dome and the main minaret (90 metres) and four flanking minarets (45.5 metres) are the mosque’s chief visual features. The main prayer hall can hold over 6,500 worshippers, while the women’s prayer hall can accommodate 750 worshipers. The outer paved ground can hold 8,000 worshipers and there is additional space available in the interior courtyard and the passageways, making a total capacity of up to 20,000 worshipers. It has a huge library which can hold up to 20,000 books.
A major feature of the main prayer hall is the hand-made Persian carpet consisting of 1,700 million knots, weighing 21 tonnes and made in a single piece measuring 70 x 60 meters and covering the 4,343 square meter area of the prayer hall, all in a single piece. Twenty eight colours in varying shades have been used, the majority obtained from traditional vegetable dyes. It is believed to be the second largest single piece carpet in the world. This hand-woven carpet was produced by Iran Carpet Company. From design stage it took four years complete this carpet. It is said that around 600 female weavers from province of Khurasan in Iran were involved in weaving this gigantic carpet. The chandelier of different sizes, the largest being 14 meters tall hanging under the main dome above the prayer add to the beauty of the interior of the Grand Mosque. The space outside the chief mosque building within the complex is utilized for landscaping with beautiful gardens and lawns.
On the whole, the visit to these exquisite tourist spots in Muscat was a treat that will remain in my mind for a long time. While the ancient mountains with medieval forts are the common sight in Muscat, one cannot ignore the tremendous development that has been taking place in the city with modern amenities and comforts such as well laid network of roads, malls and hypermarkets, luxurious cars and uniform coloured buildings coexisting with the surrounding mountains.
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