Today (29 February) we landed at Muscat, Oman where we have signed up for an all day tour of major sights. The first leg of our bus tour took us to the Grand Mosque, the largest Mosque in the Country. The men had to be uncovered (head) and the women had to be completely covered (no skin/head showing) to go into the Mosque. Muscat was the cleanest mid-eastern country we have visited. Most signs are in Arabic and English as English is the third most spoken language and is taught in school. This country also is NOT at war with anybody, another first for our travel experience in the Middle East. The populace is over 80% Muslim, but they do NOT distinguish themselves into separate Muslim sects (no Shiites, etc., distinction) so no fighting. The streets and the traffic were also very noteworthy. The streets are clean and wide and the traffic appears to follow basic driving rules. All the buildings were extremely clean and well maintained with the majority of buildings painted white.
While waiting for the others of our group I was observing other tourists through our bus’ window. Saw this one tourist lady fighting with her scarf against a small breeze to cover her head so she could go into the Mosque; putting it on, taking it off, turning it around, turning it back, etc., etc. This went on for at least five minutes while her guide “patiently” stood by and watched. He evidently finally had enough and grabbed the scarf out of her hands, reached behind her head and raised her “hoody”, which totally covered her head and most of her face. They then walked off towards the Mosque. Sorry, I HAD to laugh.
Muscat is the capital and largest city of Oman. It is the seat of the Governorate of Muscat. According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), the total population of Muscat Governorate reached 1.4 million as of September 2018. The metropolitan area spans approximately 1,400 square miles and includes six provinces called wilayats. Known since the early 1st century as an important trading port between the west and the east, Muscat was ruled by various indigenous tribes as well as foreign powers such as the Persians, the Portuguese Empire, the Iberian Union and the Ottoman Empire at various points in its history. A regional military power in the 18th century, Muscat's influence extended as far as East Africa and Zanzibar. As an important port-town in the Gulf of Oman, Muscat attracted foreign tradesmen and settlers such as the Persians and the Balochis. Since the ascension of Qaboos bin Said as Sultan of Oman in 1970, Muscat has experienced rapid infrastructural development that has led to the growth of a vibrant economy and a multi-ethnic society. Muscat is termed as a Global City.
The rocky Western Al Hajar Mountains dominate the landscape of Muscat. The city lies on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman and is in the proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz. Low-lying Haitham Bin Tariq buildings typify most of Muscat's urban landscape, while the port-district of Muttrah, with its corniche and harbor, form the north-eastern periphery of the city. Muscat's economy is dominated by trade, petroleum, liquified natural gas and porting.
A number of things stood out during our visit to Muscat. It is an extremely clean and well organized city; the cleanest we have seen in the middle east. According to our guide, many people came here 40 to 50 years ago to attend college or just to work and never left; they like it here that much. No wars, no religious problems, clean environment, “nice” traffic, and a government that is spending most of its money on things that will help their people, go figure.
During our drive around the city and among other stops along the way, we visited the Opera House, the Grand Mosque and the Palace. The Opera House and Grand Mosque were “standard” and not much to get excited about – we’ve seen so many, I guess. The Palace was where tourists are taken, but the Royal Family doesn’t live here anymore. Even so, the gates were locked and no one could enter. The Royals have built a larger and more elaborate palace somewhere else. The only use the old palace has, besides tourists, is a barracks for some of the Army. I’m guessing not a bad duty.