Chedi Muscat credit: Mark Bibby Jackson
The resort has a minimalistic colour scheme; the buildings are white, the flora is green and the large water collecting jugs and furniture are dark brown. Even the birds conform to the house rules, with small brown pigeons and green parrots blending in. And there is water everywhere with pools creating a sense of calm. More Asian than Arabic in design, this is the type of resort you might find in Thailand or the Maldives, with the occasional Arabic ornament and barren tufts of dry grass emerging from sand, reflecting a dried-up wadi bed, strategically positioned to make it clear we are still in the land of Lawrence.
Omanis have the reputation for being amongst the most friendly and courteous in the Arab world. Also, it is relatively liberal; unmarried men and women can share the same room and alcohol is available freely in hotels, but not restaurants, so there is little chance of being stuck next to a stag night from Billericay here.
I encounter this friendliness throughout my stay. But nowhere more so than at the Al Dhalam souk in Muttrah. One of the oldest markets in the Arab world, the souk literally means “darkness” due to the absence of sunlight here during the day. In the past, the market was made of palm leaves and clay, but has now been modernized, leaving little sense of tradition. However, the lingering smell of burning Frankincense is timeless.
I stop at one shop run by an Indian called Paresh. His family set up this shop around 1950, having come to Oman shortly after the partition of his native country. He says that most of the shops are owned by traders from Kerala. There is a strong sense of community here, he explains, but also one of religious tolerance. As if in explanation he adds that he has Pakistani friends himself. “Religion is never a problem,” he says. “The sultan is very nice. He makes peace everywhere.”
Further along I meet Abdullah, who stems from Bangladesh. He wants me to enter his shop to see his impressive collection of notes. I leave a few moments later regretting I had left all my weird currency back at home in my drawer. There is no hard sell here like in many a market. Just plenty of smiles.