With the country retreating during the day for now, Shaquel al Balushi will be venturing out at night for destination over the next month. First stop is Muttrah Souk
Most of you reading this will probably be familiar with the souk at Muttrah, one of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back about two hundred years or so.
Wandering the cobbled main thoroughfare and exploring the criss-crossing alleyways has become second nature to me now after growing up in Oman from the age of six.
Yet even after all those years (I am 35 now) it still retains a sense of mystique for me, pulling me back with its magic atmosphere and sense of history.
The local name for the souk is Al Dhalam (darkness in Arabic) so it seemed a fitting place to start my night outings for Destination during the Holy Month, when the country and its people come alive at night. While visiting Muttrah Souk at night is nothing new for me – it is often best to go after the sun goes down – I was intrigued to see how the atmosphere would be during the early part of Ramadan. Normally, I do my Eid shopping there in the second half of the month, when the emphasis is on prayer and families.
Arriving around 8.30pm after Iftar, the souk was busier than I expected with locals and residents going about their business or daily chores; work never stops at any time of the year.
I captured one man pulling along a huge yellow sack on a trolley, the exertion creasing his forehead, although he still managed a smile for the camera.
Earlier, from outside the souk standing a little way away, I managed to get a nice shot of the brightly coloured stained glass dome, which marks the entrance, gleaming in the dark and guiding visitors in.
Inside, hundreds of small flags with a picture of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said had been strung across the way, from building to building, creating a canopy of sorts for shoppers to stroll under as they dipped into the labyrinth of stalls. Beautiful traditional Turkish cylindrical glass lights cast colourful glows among the shadows, creating a nice contrast.
The souk certainly wasn’t bustling or the scene of happy chaos it is during Eid, but it certainly wasn’t deserted as I expected it might be. Further along, I saw a man in his crisp white dishdasha trying on kumas from a shop. My eye was then drawn to a mannequin in one of the shop windows with a striking purple mussar on its head, which made for a fun photograph.
Night was closing in and so was the souk apparently, shutting up shop early around 10pm, as one of the shopkeepers informed me. On the way out, I spotted some traders from Salalah in their distinctive kumas and mussars, which are different from the rest of Oman. They were there to sell Omani frankincense (or luban) harvested in the mountains of Dhofar and the earthy smell drifted up into the night air. The frankincense is usually used in a burner but I also noticed the men from Salalah were selling whicker stands, which are used to infuse clothes with the aromatic scent of the resin. You simply place a burner with the incense under the stand and then put a pile of clothes on top for around five to 10 minutes, after which they have a subtle smell of frankincense.
The sound of shutters being pulled down over shop fronts was my signal to leave so I headed out into the night, knowing that I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.
How to get there:
The souk is easy to spot opposite Muttrah Corniche – just look for the stained glass dome at the entrance. From Muscat, follow the signs to Muttrah on Sultan Qaboos highway.
GPS location of the souk: N23° 37’ 14” E58° 33’ 46”