Whether you like it or not, in a mood to bargain over a souvenir or just do a bit of window shopping, claustrophobic or comfortable in a crowd, a visit to a souq is an absolute must. Especially when you travel to some of the Middle East and Levant countries.
It’s the same when it comes to Muscat, Oman. And one of the best places to experience it is in Muttrah Souq. It’s also called Al Dhalam by the locals, which translates to Market of Darkness. That’s because there’s no natural light that comes through.
For a first-time visitor, it can feel like a sensory overdose. It’s like stepping back in time or simply reliving one of the many Arabian Nights stories, in bright technicolour.
Each narrow alley has shops stacked with frankincense, khanjars, handicrafts, clothing, jewellery and a variety of other exotic items. Even glittery two-piece dresses that you’d mostly see in a fantasy movie, or your fantasies. Yup, it’s one of the few markets in the world where you get it all, under one roof.
More than 200 years old, the original souq was built from mud and palm leaves, which is perfect for the high temperatures that this region can experience. Because of its proximity to the natural harbour and its strategic location, in the days gone by there was a fair amount of trade between Oman, China and India. However, over the years, the authorities have taken efforts to reimagine the souq with several facilities for visitors while keeping its essence intact.
In the days gone by, it was mostly frequented by Omanis who would come to buy their household items, from clothing and kitchenware, to perfumes and gold. However, today while there are still Omani families who visit, especially after evening prayers or on weekends, the souq mostly caters to the tourists who come by the busloads from cruise ships berthed at the harbour.
The corniche also happens to be a favourite place for the many number of migrants to hang around with their friends.