As expected, I’m here writing this post before my predictions – work comes first, but my desire to share stories and photos wins, which should say something about my true interests but let’s get on with it. Work will eventually do itself…right?
Exactly three weeks ago, I was boarding a plane after two months of stillness in Switzerland headed to Kuala Lumpur. Saying I was excited would be an understatement. It was my first time in Asia, so that says it all. However, the Southeast Asian adventure didn’t begin right away. The option of starting off the trip with a full-day layover in Muscat presented itself, so as any travel lover affected by wanderlust would do, the option was happily taken and so the adventure began.
I had always been curious about Oman. I had heard only good things about it and after seeing numerous adverts and documentaries about it on National Geographic, a few ideas and expectations were created in my head about what it might be like. I’m not one to make early judgements, so the plan was to let the place surprise me, as I always do.
And surprised I was.
If you find yourself in Muscat for a long layover, after going through customs and paying about $15 for your 10-day visa, the first thing you should do is to rent a car, as that’s the best way to get around. You can either book one online previous to your arrival or you can just go to one of the many car rental booths located on the ‘arrivals’ side of the airport. They might tell you that it is easy to get around by just following the signs, but unless you can read Arabic or know the original name of every tourist attraction in the city, you might have a hard time finding your way around. So you can either rent a GPS or just go with it and ask for directions if you need help. The locals are incredibly friendly and won’t hesitate to give you a hand if you need it.
The first stop you should make on your way out of the airport is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which is the only one that allows non-Muslims to visit. If you’ve visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, you might find some similarities among them, though I guess that’s normal, as it happens with churches and Indian temples for instance.
As in any religious site, respect has to be shown by wearing conservative clothes, especially in the ladies case. Wear a scarf around your head to cover all your hair, long sleeve tops and long skirt or jeans and you will be fine. I arrived prepared, though not entirely. Traveling from a 6C environment to 33C Muscat wasn’t something I could easily prepare myself for, especially considering the last time I experienced those temperatures was more than a year ago. So you can only imagine my state, covered in mostly black clothing from head to toe walking around under the sun trying to take decent looking pictures. If you add to that the fact that I hadn’t slept in 24h, you might believe me if I said I felt (and probably looked) like a live character from The Walking Dead – one of the zombies, that is. I was happy nonetheless (even though my face muscles didn’t help me much to communicate that feeling).
The garden at the entrance creates a lovely first impression of the mosque, leading you all the way up to the first stop of your visit: the ladies prayer room. Apart from covering up, you are asked to take your shoes off before entering any of the rooms – a common tradition on that other side of the globe. But don’t worry, they won’t get stolen. Who would ever want to steal a pair of warm and smelly shoes after all?
The room is quite simple, with a few chandeliers hanging from the thoroughly decorated ceiling and large woody doors on the side of the room the ladies pray towards.
You can walk around the mosque, as it’s very large (the 10th largest in the world) and with numerous corners that provide a different perspective of the place, until you decide to enter the main prayer hall.
The protagonist of your first look inside is the chandelier. It is 14 meters tall and is made entirely of incredibly expensive stones that probably wouldn’t fit in any of our houses if we wanted to. Expensive, bright and impressive are the three words I’d describe it with.
Under your feet you will find the second protagonist of the interior design: the world’s second largest hand-woven carpet. It took four years to be made and it weighs approximately 21 tonnes. And it’s only one piece! Incredible.
The hall is 74.4 meters in length and width and can hold up to 6500 worshipers, and you can only walk through a central path that eventually leads you to the exit.
Despite the exhaustion and the heat, I was left quite impressed by the grandiosity of the place and can fully recommend it. You definitely shouldn’t leave Muscat without stopping by.
The tour around Muscat however didn’t stop there… But more on that on the next post!
Have you ever been to Muscat? What’s the most beautiful mosque you’ve seen?