Muttrah Souk, and its numerous shops and passageways.
As things stand, the Middle East happened to have been one of the few areas of the globe with which I was only vaguely familiar, so a trip to Oman and Bahrain was destined to put paid to that branch of neglect and see exactly what constitutes the true spirit of Arabia. Oman was as indicative and illustrative a place to start as any other on that score, and 4 nights in Muscat was destined to enable me to gain a further insight into the various components which collectively make up the fabric of the Arabian tapestry. One key element to the success of Oman being preserved in its natural format is that, barring the numerous shopping malls and relative commercialism of the airport, for the most part, those western trappings, such as leisure parks / complexes, skyscrapers, neon lights and the like are all conspicuous by their absence, and the elements of traditionalism have remained intact to a palpable degree.
Muscat gate - the entry point to the town proper
Another observation which soon becomes apparent is that the whole of Oman bathes in the aroma of frankinscence, which, love it or hate it, cannot be ignored, and the country's production of the world's priciest perfume, which is frankinscence-based, bears testimony to their usage of nature's resources to a commercially-profitable extent. Muscat is essentially a city divided up into roughly 4 areas - Qurum (beach and shopping malls), Muttrah (main souk and Corniche), Ruwi (commercial and business district) and Muscat proper (museums, forts and prominent buildings). All of these areas make up what I would loosely term 'greater Muscat', and takes at least a full day in possession of transport to at very least explore the highlights of. Opulence abounds at the Al Bustan Palace hotel, just outside Muscat, and this property, arguably Muscat's finest, floors the visitor with its gleaming appearance and grandoise atmosphere it basks in.
Al Alam Palace, Muscat
For my money, the real star turn of excursions in Oman must surely be a trek through the stunning setting which is Wadi Shab, which is essentially a scaled-down version of the Grand Canyon, with cooling pools contained within to benefit from when the heat makes trekking feel like too much of a push, despite the dramatic vistas contained therein. Furthermore, a trip to the fort and market town of Nizwa
provided further evidence of Arabian spirit, albeit on a smaller scale than Muscat, and calling in at nearby Jabrin Fort could easily have provided the final word in Omani fort-related culture, this being the country's prime exponent, in a nation more heavily fort-laden than any other per square mile. All in all, Oman charms with its traditional allure, relaxed and friendly society, and cultural tweaks which remind you that development is not forced to come coupled with commercialism of the kind which creates eyesores and blots on the city- or landscape.
Omani forts in miniature at a local museum
In short, I was struck by what I consider to be a criminally overlooked tourist destination, and every reason to consider looking further afield when it comes to the desire to feel fulfilled by an unfamiliar nation and all of its trimmings.