I’ve visited Barka Souq more times than I care to think of, but my most recent trip there at night showed the entire area in a completely different light – quite literally.
A change in my schedule meant that I ended up visiting the souq on a Friday night instead of Saturday as I’d originally planned and I’m glad I did, as I’m unsure whether I would’ve witnessed the same buzz on any other day.
I didn’t arrive until a little after 10pm due to a seemingly never-ending trail of stop-start traffic, but after finally parking my car in the heart of the souq, close to Barka Fort, I was able to head out and explore.
Normally when I visit a souq, I go with a set goal in mind and my intention is very simple – to buy a dishdasha, a mussar or some other essential item – but this time I just went with the flow and walked, following the trail of lights. What I saw was fascinating.
Nearly all of the shops were still open, due to the amended timings for Ramadan and I saw tailors, barbers and vegetable sellers all working late into the night. Being in no rush, I was able to really appreciate the work of the people you normally take for granted. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the lives of tailors, for instance, those people who toil away into the early hours, ironing and stitching and whose hard work through the night makes us look good in the day.
Even those busy in their shops with work piled up behind them still took the time to pose and give me a broad grin when I pointed my camera in their direction.
Something else that struck me as I wandered the labyrinthine streets was the vibrancy of colours all around. Wherever I looked was awash with colour, whether it was the red glare of car taillights, the neon of the shop signs, or the items of the shops themselves hung on display, they all stood out beautifully against the surrounding darkness.
The streets were buzzing with people, some going about their daily errands – getting their hair cut or buying household goods – while others sat in groups on plastic chairs at coffee shops sharing drinks or a bite to eat.
I saw one young man getting his measurements taken for a new dishdasha and decided to step inside the shop. Walking through the door I was brought face to face with a wealth of different coloured fabrics, from vibrant yellow to deep blues and greens. While white is traditionally worn for formal events, for an evening function people will frequently wear a wider variety of strong colours and lighter shades are often worn for casual activities.
One of the pictures that spoke volumes to me was of a door to an old shop or warehouse. It was badly rusted and the turquoise paint was chipping off, but the padlock that held its secrets safe was shiny and new, providing a sharp contrast between old and new.
I was reminded how beauty can be found in even the most ordinary of things and another one of my favourite things I saw was mass of tangled metal at an AC repair shop. It was just a box of parts, waiting for the shopkeeper’s attention, but to me it spoke of the chaos of modern life.
I meandered along a bit further, dropping into shops when the fancy took me, chatting to staff and shoppers as I went and the prevailing atmosphere was one of friendship and kindness. I don’t know if this was just because it was Ramadan, but I like to think that this feeling of warmth lasts the whole year.
By the time I was ready to pack up my camera and leave I was covered with sweat thanks to the humidity, but was very happy with the images I’d managed to capture.
The traffic had eased slightly as I was leaving, but was still congested heading into the souq, even though the time was close to midnight. Thankfully, I was heading back towards Muscat and home.
From Muscat, take the expressway as far as you can, exiting right when you come to the end. Follow the road as it bends to the left, go left at the roundabout and then take the first right. This road takes you to the heart of the Souq.
GPS Location: N23° 42’ 31” E57° 53’ 42”