You need a lifetime to experience Muscat; but if 24-hours are all you have at your behest, get set to take a quick walk down its memory lane, pause briefly by its contemporary edifices and retreat quietly into its inspiring vistas.
Clock your time – you have 24 hours to give Muscat its due salaam. Get on that taxi and whiz by the highway, catching glimpses of its modest modernization, its clean, clean roads, the flowering shrubs hedging the roads and the blue, blue horizon standing starkly against the sentinels called mountains.
Time strapped and so many places to go…
Welcome to Muscat!
Described as a jewel in the crown of Gulf, Muscat is garlanded by mountains and deserts, offering visitors a taste of all that is good in this world: from beauty-laden nature and history-seeped edifices to adventure-packed options and vantage points to unwind and relax. While all that cannot be packed in the rigid 24-hours, what you could do is zero on in your choice (adventure, history, sight-seeing, leisure…) and go about squeezing all that you want into the specified time.
Modernization might not have found an ally in tradition, owing to its ostentatious displays and authoritarian temperament, but Muscat pays only a subtle ode to the popular concept of modernization, as it seamlessly weaves tradition and culture into every facet of its life. Whether it’s the traditional costume standing out amidst big fashion brands in the malls, local eateries retaining flavors alongside franchised outlets or the forts and castles’ flanking present day architectural marvels, Muscat is a perfect confluence of the old and the new.
Wafts of times gone by linger in the by lanes and the old city precincts. They watch over modernity like an indulgent child, making room to help it realize its potentials to usher in development and grow into forces that reflect positive change. This representation of time is perfectly captured at the Muttrah Souq and the Corniche. The souq is a time travel, if ever there was one. It takes you to the times when Muttrah port was the point of entry into the country and the souq played the role of a trading destination. In the narrow lanes of the souq are telltale signs of Oman’s magnificent past, with present day artifacts jostling for space. Within the space of the covered souq is another world; one that is switched off from the bustling busy road just outside its main facade. A walk by the corncihe is like holding hands with modernity and tradition – a communion with time on a different level.
With Muttrah (or old Muscat) cradling the roots of Muscat, it is a must-visit destination for history buffs and even regular tourists who like to savor the essence of a country via preserved artifacts and treasures of a bygone era. Besides the souq, Muttrah also is home to Bait Baranda (open from Sunday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 6pm with an entry fee of RO1 for adults and 500Bzs children), Bait Al Zubair (Sunday to Thursday & Saturday from 9:30am to 6pm, and 4pm to 6pm; entry: RO2 adults and RO1 children), the Muscat Gate Museum (Sunday to Thursday 8am to 2pm; entry free) and the Omani-French Museum (Sunday to Thursday 8am to 1:30pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm; entry fee: RO1 non Omanis, 500Bzs Omanis). The museums are lessons in history, opening the country’s past in snippets that stitch together its nimble steps towards modernization.
Overlooking the Corniche is the famous Muttrah Fort, which has recently undergone renovation; presenting peeks into history, while opening little windows, literally, to the world outside – the Corniche, to be specific. The road along the Corniche will lead you to Al Alam Palace and to Sidab, the fishing village, which is home to several firsts, including the first school in the country. A drive along this road will open vistas of its glorious past.
Ruwi High Street
Some roads are story tellers – like the Ruwi High Street, which has been a candid witness to the passage of time and the changes in the fortunes of the capital city. Its pulsating, vibrant status may have been watered down as some businesses have moved yonder, but the long stretch of road still holds remnants of its initial splendor as shoppers thronged the street on the weekend. The roads may be less frenzied, but the essence of the street, held captive in the gold outlets, the Rial shops and the local eateries is resplendent even today.
A casual walk along this Street, a quick stop to purchase a little pendant or an electronic gizmo with some bargaining to boot, will give you a feel of the Street that breathes the exuberance of Muscat that was once contained in its long stretch. If time is a constraint, take a drive along this road from Hamriya, which is another world apart. It will take you through some of the oldest shops of the city towards the main Ruwi junction. Take the road to the right and opt to drive towards the Al Bustan Palace Hotel and ahead to Sidab and the popular Muttrah, or take the diversion on the road from Wadi Kabir to drive along the breathtaking Qantab road, which will present glimpses of Muscat Bay, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, leading you to the striking Yiti Beach.
A visit to Muscat cannot be complete without a stopover at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House. The Grand Mosque is open for visitors only between 8am and 11am on weekdays, and it is best to time visits to other spots following a visit to this most striking landmark in the country. The Opera House is also open during the weekdays until 5:30; however, if you are a connoisseur of arts and music, and if you have more time at your disposal than the specified 24-hours within the context of this blog, you could catch one of the shows, usually held at 7:30 pm during the season that stretches from September to May (provided you book in advance).
As the summer sun gains ground, a visit to the beach might not be an ideal suggestion, more so during the daytime, but if you are around as the sun sets in the horizon, get a ride to any of the beaches in town. They are picturesque destinations, with subdued waves lapping against the soft sands that have several vantage points to sit down and unwind from any kind of stress. With most properties of star hotels in the capital embracing the shoreline, there is no dearth of attractions if you are a beach person.
You could include a dolphin watching session into your itinerary, if you are strong enough to brave the heat, or go on a dhow cruise to get a quick taste of Oman’s seafaring tradition. The adventure sorts could check out the scuba diving and snorkeling options, with Muscat boasting some of the most striking underwater charms. Many adventure seekers are known to include Oman in their itinerary only to indulge in diving; others have known to visit it for game fishing too.
Muscat, in a 24-hour capsule, might seem like a city whizzing by, but it has its share (and more) of destinations that will make you pause and applaud nature. They will stay with you long after you have bid adieu.
To book your tickets with Oman Air, visit www.omanair.com