Are we in Muscat? We kept asking ourselves repeatedly while gliding along on the palm tree-lined highway. It seemed an endless journey along neat buildings without ever getting to a center. Why the confusion? Muscat is basically a 40-kilometer longish stretch along the coast, including smaller and bigger towns.
At one point to decided to see what’s beyond the scenic highway and ended up right in front of a fish market and a large souk. Not a bad place to stop by accident. It was the souk that gave away the secret of our location. Our travel guide described it in great detail and we realized we were in Mutrah, still a few kilometers from “Old Muscat”. Which by the way is a myth! There is nothing old about it. A squeaky clean place, bright white oriental-style buildings, manicured lawns with lots of flowers and smooth roads lined with palm trees. It appears almost deserted, void of human activity. Life seems to be hiding in large government buildings.
In the midst of this idyllic setting rests Qasr Al Alam – the Palace of Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled Oman since 1970. After overthrowing his father, he started a process of moderate modernization, a wise path between modernity and keeping cultural identity. Maybe it helped that Oman was the last of the Arabic countries to exploit its oil. Maybe the sultan learned from the mistake of his neighboring rulers.
Mutrah, on the other hand, is full of life, with lots of restaurants and its vast souk. This is also where the cruise ships anchor. It seems we cannot stop mentioning them, but running into the “boat people” checking out the port was an alien experience indeed!