Muscat - night sky

Muscat – the secret jewel of the Middle East

When we think of luxury holidays, wedding destinations, ultra-modern architecture, lively night life and shopping in the Middle East, the first destination that would probably come to mind would be UAE and of course Dubai.

Besides UAE, if you are wondering where else will you get a great holiday experience in the Middle East, you could potentially look at Muscat, the capital of Oman.

The Sultanate of Oman over the past few years has developed as a strategic partner for India in the Gulf region. Both countries enjoy warm and cordial relations, which can be ascribed to historical maritime trade linkages, intimacy of the Royal family with India and the seminal role of the Indian expatriate community in the building of Oman. And of course the two countries are linked by geography, history and culture.

Hence, this post.

I am writing about Muscat even before visiting the city. The reason: the team at THC is busy managing the travel needs for an Indian destination wedding in Muscat. I took this as a cue to do some research and found that this capital city was named the second best city to visit in the world in 2012 by Lonely Planet and is in fact a holiday destination for many people traveling from Europe and North America.

A three hour journey from New Delhi, Muscat is known to be a safe, forward-thinking, progressive and a hospitable city. It lies in the foothills of brown pleated mountains reaching down to the Arabian Sea. It is popularly described as Arabia’s Jewel, I call it the secret jewel of the Middle East.

Muscat - night sky

With luxury at the forefront, travelers can enjoy cultural events, aquatic activities and the quaint charm of the city with many forts, castles, mosques and towers dotting the landscape.  The promenade and Souqs (markets) is one of the highlights.

After a couple of of discussions I had with the team at THC, here are a few things you could do while travelling to kick-start your journey in Muscat. You do not need more than a couple of days to cover it all. Might be a good idea to club your visit with some travel in to the interiors of Muscat, or head to another city in the Middle East.

The Grand Mosque is a breathtaking piece of modern Islamic architecture with Italian marble, 21-tonne hand woven rug which took 600 women four years to weave and a Swarovski crystal chandelier.

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Muttrah Souk is the city’s favourite market. It is on the corniche along the seafront and is famous for quality Arabian wares from silver to incense, authentic rugs, pashminas, artifacts and spices.

Extensive marine life makes for an exciting day out in the sea. One of the most familiar sights is the dolphins which are seen all around the year.  Opt for some snorkeling or fishing. Or just charter out a yacht and plan island excursions. There are many tour companies that can help and are operating from Marina Bandar Al Rowdha (Oman’s premier marina).

Buy a hop on hop off.  Enjoy the drive through the, flower-lined embassy quarter and old Muttrah, with its balconied merchants’ houses framing picturesque Corniche. See the Al Alam Palace the official palace of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. Take a walk around  the two Portuguese forts – Al Jahali and Al-Mirani forts, and explore the Bait Al Zubair Museum, with its displays on Oman’s history and heritage.

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Do keep in mind, the best way to enjoy Muscat would be to check your self into a luxury hotel like the Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton HotelShangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa or The Chedi and the likes of these. Make sure you have set aside a luxury holiday budget for this one holiday.

I am hoping to make a visit soon to Muscat and of course once I do, stories and experiences will come your way. In the meanwhile if you happen to visit – tell us your stories. [ Update: Blog post –  The Big Fat Indian Wedding in Muscat]

Till then, cheers to finding new destinations!

Please note pictures have been taken from Creative Commons, labeled for non commercial use.