We were in Muscat for just two days, and when a friend offered to take us to the Souk (of which we had heard in plenty from her), we jumped at the opportunity. Not that we expected to do much in the couple of hours we in hand, but the promise of some great bargains was too much to resist. And we enjoyed every minute (in addition to the considerable damage caused to our wallets).
The Mutrah Souq is located just off the scenic Mutrah Corniche, and despite the influences of modernity around the city, has managed to retain the pulse and feel of a chaotic Arab market, despite the advent of concrete and electricity. Once off the main street, the market is abuzz with activity with touts hawking everything from imitation antiques, scarves, perfumes, incense, semi precious stones, to some exceptionally authentic antiques for those with the interest and the riyals to spend.
There are a good selection of antique shops selling a mixture of Indian, African and Omani artifacts among the usual textile, incense, hardware and gold shops. Be prepared to haggle, though it may not really get the prices lower, but it’s certainly worth a try. And certainly be prepared to dig through piles of little silver curios or precious stones and amber, if you are hoping to take home something different.
The souq is locally called Al Dhalam (Darkness in Arabic) Souq, perhaps because of its crowded narrow lanes and low roofs that in the days of palm thatch hardly let any sunlight permeate through. It is perhaps amongst the oldest markets as Muscat was a centre of maritime trade since the days the Arab dhows ventured across the seas. In the old days, the souq was the source of most household needs, mostly imported, and also locally produced fruit, vegetables, dates and textiles.
The souq captivates you with its vibrant colors and a heady mix of smells including frankincense, perfume, traditional coffee and spices. Little shops bursting to the brim with Omani silver and other artifacts, stalls of gleaming white dishdashas and colorful abayas, beautiful fabrics and silk scarves, and some genuine antique khanjars beckon the avid curio hunter. And the hospitable Omanis are quick to offer a warm welcome topped with a hot cup of ‘gava’ – traditional Arabic Coffee.
We spent most of our time at Ali Baba’s – a quaint house of curios – and I was even reminded to shout ‘Open Sesame’ as I walked in. We picked some beautiful candle sticks crafted from amber and inlaid with jade and other precious stones in addition to some silver jewelry and precious stones. But my greatest thrill was finding a beautiful silver medal of St. Christopher in the pile of otherwise Arabic curios.
When wandering around the souq, be careful not to lose your way into the historic, Shiite district of Al-Lawataya by mistake, as the settlement is walled and a sign under the archway politely requests visitors to keep out.