A scent of adventure in Arabia
What, I wonder on my first morning in Muscat, would devotees of showy Dubai make of a holiday here in neighboring Oman?
The Sultanate of Oman, alas, does not much go in for glitz. Instead it serves up sunshine with a dash of old Arabia and exhilarating desert scenery rooted in an astonishingly rich history.
Easy-going Emirate: Oman is not at all like its neighbour Dubai
In Muscat, the mountain-encircled capital overlooking the sea, I make my way along spotless new highways, past the gleaming Royal Opera House and Sultan’s Palace and down to the fortress-guarded dhow harbor at Muttrah.
From there I wander through the shady souk where old men in flowing white robes sit cross-legged in close-packed stalls selling everything from fruit to frankincense.
Back at my hotel – the minimalist chic Chedi – it’s time for a frosted lunchtime beer (although Oman is devoutly Muslim, alcohol is available in most places where tourists stay). Then I’m snorkeling through explosions of yellow grunts and pink-and-blue parrotfish on the offshore reef.
India rests across the Arabian Sea, where the Omani coastline splinters into cobalt bays, sandstone arches and glinting nowhere else in the Middle East – and nothing like the almost dead waters of the Persian Gulf.