HAL 2019 World – Days 70-72 Sea Days & Muscat, Oman

April 7, 2019 Paul Groves

Since leaving Mumbai the ship has been on pirate watch.  This will continue until we get into the Red Sea in 7 days.  At night all of the ship’s outside lights are turned off and all the curtains are drawn.  We’ll also be traveling at a high rate of speed until then.  In 2017 they put razor wire on the railings but not this time. 

We arrived in Muscat around 7:00 am and began our our excursion at 8:00 am which was called “Forts of Nizwa” with a duration of 8-1/2 hours.  

We boarded our bus and began an approximately 2 hour trip to the city of Nizwa.

Our guide today was Yusef and he wore the traditional men’s dress called the dishdasha and a muzzar (turban) on his head.  He was a great guide as he as able to balance the history of the country with stories of life in Oman.

We had two stops in the city of Nizwa: the Souq (marketplace) and Nizwa Fort.  The city is strategically located at the crossroads of trade routes linking the interior with the capital of Oman, Muscat, and the lower reaches of the Dhofar Governorate.  Historically Dhofar was the major source for frankincense, and, some believe it to be the location of the land of “Bountiful” as described in the Book Of Mormon.

The Nizwa Souq is a conglomeration of buildings of many different types of souqs.  First we visited the Date Souq.  Yusef told us that there were over 80 varieties of dates.  There were at least 20 different varieties for sale today and we were allowed to sample/buy as many as we liked.  We tried 4 or 5 varieties and found them very sweet and delicious. We bought a few to take back to the ship for our table mates.

Next door was the Goat Souq.  On weekends,  locals bring their goats for sale.  They tie them to the stakes and then make a deal for their sale at the “dealership” stand next door. There is also a Cattle Souq but we didn’t see that one.

Across the road was the Candy/Sweets Souq.  The candy is made by heating the various ingredients in a copper vat until it reaches a very thick consistency.  Slivered almonds and pistachios are added and the mixture is allowed to cool.  There are many different varieties.  We tried two of them and like the dates they were very sweet and delicious.

There were additional Souqs for fish and vegetables amongst others but we didn’t have a chance to see those either.

When we left the buildings we found ourselves in a small tree shaded area.  Posted on a wall was the notice “Tourist Rest Area”.  I guess they don’t know how strong we are when we go shopping!

Across the street was a open air bazaar featuring pottery and other souvenir items.  Yusef gave us 30 minutes for additional shopping.  Ron was able to buy a large package of saffron for $3.00!

A short walking distance behind the bazaar was our next stop, Nizwa Fort. The fort was built around 1650 and took about 12 years to complete.  It also sits upon an underground stream as it’s water supply.

The main structure is the huge tower standing 90 ft tall.  Amazingly it’s foundation is also 90 ft deep.  At one time the top contained 24 canons of which only 4 remain today.  There also many false doors and stairwells to deceive would be attackers and raiders.

When we first entered the fort we were privileged to see a group of robed men performing traditional dances.  If you look closely, you can see the traditional daggers in their belts.

We spent an hour wandering around looking at the various rooms before we had to move on.

We re-boarded the bus and went to a luncheon at a local hotel.  The food was great but not unusual.  However we did have a typical Arabic dessert called “Ummali” which is their version of bread pudding.  Very tasty!

After lunch we re-boarded the bus for a journey to the “Bahla Fort”.  This was a photo stop only.  The fort is the oldest in Oman and was built sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries.  It was built of bricks made of mud and straw and as such has deteriorated badly overtime due to neglect.  Restoration projects have begun but there is still a lot to do.  What we found fascinating was the crumbling buildings that are adjacent to the fort.  These were part of the town built around the fort to house soldiers families, workers, tradesmen and their shops. There are no restoration plans at this time for this portion of the building.

Our next stop was 1/2 hour away at Jabreen Castle.  While the castle may look like a fort it truly is a castle used as a residence.  It was built by Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan, who ruled from 1679 to 1692 and who was buried onsite.  As Oman is an Islamic country, graves are simple, because outwardly lavish displays are discouraged in Islam.

Unlike the forts, the interior is highly decorated and contains many rooms not found in a typical fort such as a library.  On a lower floor are the food storerooms.  The room shown below was used to store dates.  When full, the dates released some of their oils that was captured in a jar sunk into the floor.  The oil was used to light lamps or for cooking.

One of the castle’s best features was the central ventilation shaft.  This allowed cool air to circulate throughout the building.  Besides being practical, It was very beautifully designed.

After 45 minutes we left the castle for our final stop, Falaj Al-Khatmeer, an ancient irrigation system at a nearby oasis.  What Yusef explained is that this was the method used even today to divide the water resources from a spring within the community.  Notice the three channels.  Two of these are diverted into tanks for community use, while the other is for commercial use.

It was time to head back to the ship.  The trip took several hours and we arrived about twenty minutes late.  They literally pulled up the gangway as we entered.  Within five minutes the ship was underway to our next port of Al’Aqabah, Jordan.