From hearing at the airport that I didn’t need to pay for a short-term visa by the flat, turban-wearing immigration to being greeted by Ajit at his flat with a beer, I knew I’d be happy here. I applied to work in Muscat a few years ago on a whim after seeing an advertisement. I never really followed it up. I should have.
Muscat is essentially three towns strung along the coast making it a long city. The reason for the trio is clear enough as I hailed a shared minibus from the Grand Mosque area to Ruwi, the Indian business area and the middle town. The tree-lined highways have wide grassed central reservations than curl between huge rocky outcrops that divide up the towns. Or huge sand dunes with young Omanis surfing down. No building can be higher than 6 storeys and can be only certain light colours giving the city a colonial-era feel.
The first day I took the minibuses through Ruwi to Murat, the corniche area and then walked around the numerous small bays to Old Muscat. The pavement was accompanied by grassy verges and beds of flowers. Curious, nautical statues dedicated to the sea marked the route. Old Muscat is littered with trees and grand government building but above it all, on every outcrop sits a fort built to ward off invaders from inland and as a look-out to sea. Being Friday it was very peaceful. That afternoon I ate Omani bread with honey and cream and drank some beers with Ajit. We ended up in an Indian dance bar, a weird, weird place about which I talk about more later.
The next day I went to the Grand Mosque, the third largest in the world and again a model of restrain from the outside. Being only 8 years old and tended to by a legions of cleaners, it looks immaculate. I caught another minibus into the centre and searched out the souq which as usual is just a tourist trap selling the usual trinkets and crap. The colonial merchant houses on the promenade give clues to the trading history of the city.
That night I took in more beers with Ajit and swapped travelling stories. I talk of him as an old friend when in fact I was couchsurfing there. But he made the stay so comfortable from the off and had enough stories himself from his days as a surgeon in the Indian Army, I did feel like I’d known him for a while. The last day I met another couchsurfer Qu who showed me round some of the old ruins on the outskirts of the city. I am not sure how good company I was. My head ached from the booze but it was insightful.
Ajit gave me a lift to the airport late that afternoon and I flew back in for work the next day. The old Middle East of Baghdad and Samarkland, Persia and Muscat never seemed so real as those few days in Oman. The grandness of the views are awe-inspiring. I’ll be back for sure and will be trying for at least two of the three above this year. Another adventure begins.