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At the Muttrah fish docks, fishermen unload the day’s catch to sell at the adjacent Muttrah Fish market. Many visitors to Muscat seeking an authentic experience, will rise with the sun  and spend an hour or so browsing the stalls here. It’s an opportunity to observe an important local economy at work and to mingle with friendly locals. With a great variety of fish and sea food, it’s visually interesting, if a bit smelly. 

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Mutrah Souk in the capital is one of the oldest traditional markets in our mystery country and a favorite stop for visitors. Near the main entrance, there are plenty of shops offering the standard trinkets, as well as quality local products for tourists.
Buy frankincense of the best quality here (and many other places around the country), a product exported from this country for thousands of years. To round out the set, you can also find gold and myrrh at the Mutrah Souk. For a more authentic experience, head deeper into the maze of alleys, where locals shop.

 

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The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is located in Muscat, the capital city of our mystery country. The grand dome and main minaret can be seen for miles and the minaret is the tallest structure in the city. A single-piece carpet covering over 45,000 square feet in the prayer hall was hand-woven with 1.7 billion knots and weighs 21 tons. The mosque’s central, Swarovski crystal chandelier is over 45 feet tall.

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The Mutrah Corniche is a waterfront promenade wrapping around the harbor of Mutrah, the historical district of Muscat, capital of our mystery country. A leisurely stroll along the corniche is a highlight of a visit to Muscat, especially at dawn or dusk, when the lights play on the water, and the temperatures are mild. The corniche attracts locals and visitors alike and is a prime people-watching spot. Popular attractions, the Mutrah Souk and fish market, are adjacent to the corniche.

 

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This is Sur, on the northern coast of our mystery country, about 90 miles northeast of the capital city, Muscat. Sur has been a regional center of ship building for centuries. Visitors can tour the ship yards and observe craftsmen building the traditional vessels in the same way they have done for many generations. The ship pictured is the Fatah Al Khair, a type of Al Ghanjah ship, built in 1951. The semicircular keel is one of the signature features of Sur ship builders.

 

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Frankincense, from Oman to the World

Frankincense

Frankincense, the wealth of ancient Oman, flowed from the scared trunks of scrappy little trees on the wadi flats and mountain sides of misty Dhofar. The prized scent intensified as the resin dried and hardened.Then it was sent out by land and sea across the known world.

Dhows, the traditional sailing vessels of the region, carried frankincense to ports in Africa, Mesopotamia and India. While great caravans of 1,000 or more camels walked 2,000 miles north across the unforgiving Arabian Desert to ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

Camels can survive weeks without food or water, drawing on the fat stored in their humps. When necessary, they ate grains they carried or whatever they could find to graze on. Caravan drivers ate food packed by the camels, hunted, and shopped where they could on the way.

Tribal territories around the routes carved their share of the trade by charging tolls for passage and selling supplies.

Overnight camps were set up in the open desert or at caravanserai, the truck stops of the ancient trade routes. Song and dance around the fire recapped the highlights of each day’s journey, celebrated a step closer to completion and energized the company for the next leg.

The frankincense trade goes back at least 5,000 years. Egyptians and Mesopotamians were crazy for it, and the Greeks and Romans after them. It was used in religious ritual, in cosmetics, in medicine, even to embalm the dead. Today it’s used in pretty much the same ways and Dhofar still produces some of the highest quality frankincense in the world.

In Dhofar, you can visit remains of the ancient frankincense trade at Sumhuram and Al Baleed, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Salalah in southwestern Oman.

Check out our Oman tours at www.yallatours.com/oman.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 115

Nakhal Fort pictured above is just one of many beautiful, grand old fortresses standing watch over our mystery country. It is located in the north of the country, in the foothills of the Western Hajar Mountains, about 75 miles west of the national capital Muscat.
The fort has been expanded and renovated many times over the centuries but its origin is pre-Islamic, so sometime before the 7th century. The fort wraps around the top of a natural prominence, giving it a unique shape that can appear both an imposing monument and an extension of the rugged landscape.

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