Monday, May 11, 2009

Muscat : From Dusk Till Dawn

Arriving Old City of Muscat

Have you ever watched a 1996 horror movie called From Dusk Till Dawn? This is one of my favourite road-trip movies and it has been my inspiration for spirit and excitement for road trips in the past. That includes my recent road trip to the land of Sinbad the Sailor - City of Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.

I was having a chat with my friend Zulkifli Hasan last week when we suddenly talked about going for a road trip to Muscat. None of us have any information about the journey and the destination but we thought it will be a great adventure for both of us, the lonely husbands in Dubai.

We started our drive at 8.00am, slightly late from what we planned (as usual we planned right after Solat Subh) and the temperature was already hot like in a mid-day. In denial of the hot temperature and the desert surrounding us, we packed our home-made Nasi Lemak with a dream that we will enjoy it at any good spot in the desert (I magined the silky soft sand dunes..yehh) we could find on our way to Muscat. After 2 hours of driving, we reached Hatta, the last town before the UAE border post and we decided to finish our breakfast at the best spot we have found. Inside an air-conditioned shopping mall.

The immigration process in UAE border post was smooth amidst the fierce faces of the Emarati officers and the hot air blowing to our faces. Next we drove into the no-man's land, a stretch of 4 kilometers road between UAE border post and Oman border post. Before reaching the Oman border post, we stopped to buy an insurance policy for our car which caused us AED100. I found it interesting that despite Dubai's addiction to big buildings and structures, the UAE border post was very simple, only movable air-conditioned cabins where visitors have to queue outside, compared to the Oman border post which has a proper building, a big parking lot and an ATM machine. I guessed the comfortable working place made a difference when we noticed that the Omani officers were more friendly in their communication to us.

We passed through the Oman border post without any problem and drove for our first marking in the map, Al Widayat junction. By the will of Allah, we couldn't find the junction but we found a short cut which led us to the freeway to Sohar. Sohar is famous for being the birth place of Sinbad the Sailor as well as its souk and ancient forts. However we decided to just pass through it and continue our drive to Muscat. For the first 1 hour I was really amazed with the scene along the journey. There were a lot of dates trees, banana trees, green bushes, wadis, camels and sheeps visible from the main road. For a brief moment I thought we were driving in Terengganu because the houses, the landscape and the calmness of the place resemble the typical scene in Terengganu. We didnt feel like we were driving in a desert at all !

After driving for about 3 hours, we reached our first destination marked in Zul's tiny pocket map - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. I read that this is the biggest mosque in Oman. We went in and snapped a few pictures. As I was busy taking photos of the main entrance to the prayer hall, I was stopped by an officer (tok siak). The following dialoque ensued:

Officer: wein ruhh? (where are you going?)
Me : Solah ! (praying)
Officer: Ente muslim?
Me : Aih, ana min Malaizi, ismi Muhammad (yup, I am from Malaysia, my name is Muhammad)
Officer: Kam raka'ah fi Zuhr? (how many rakaat for Zuhr?)
Me: Arba'ah ! (Four)
Officer : tayyeb (ok)

Big Lamps Inside Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Cheh.., I guessed because Zul and I looked like Filipinos or Indians (I of course look like Italian la..) to him, that we have to answer his quiz first before we can enter the prayer hall. And the "tok siak" was carrying a pistol ! I wondered if our tok siak carry a gun in Malaysia.

We continued our journey towards Muscat. We passed through the modern Muscat city area where we observed there were no tall towering buildings but 3-10 storey buildings lining up the streets. Muscat certainly don't need tall buildings to impress its visitors because it already has beautiful rock mountains surrounding the city. The view of the city backed by the rock mountains was simply majestic !

Frankinscence burner..not flying saucer

Gate Museum

After about 2 hours we reached the Old City of Muscat. The view of the old city from a top of the hill was really fantastic. The buildings were painted in white surrounded by black rocky mountains and the architecture was truly of ancient middle eastern. I felt like a merchant arriving at a busy port city to trade my spices. We checked the map and took the right turn to Qantab beach. Again we were in a state of denial hoping to dive and swim in the Oman Gulf in the middle of a hot desert afternoon. The road to Qantab beach was quite steep and winding as it ascend and cuts through the rocky mountains. The view of the mountains and the sea was fantastic. We were completely mesmerised by the beauty of the rock formation and the greenish sea next to the rocky fjords.

Winding Road to Qantab Beach

Qantab area and the yachts

After spending about 30 minutes in Qantab beach, we drove down to the Muttrah area. Muttrah is one of the areas in the Old City Muscat. The main attraction in Muttrah is the Muttrah Souk where visitors can find and buy varieties of perfumes, silverwares, fabrics and traditional jewelleries. There are several old forts in Muttrah namely Muttrah Fort, Al Jalali Fort and Al Mirani Fort. These forts were built during the Portuguese occupation of the area in the 17th century. I was surprised to learn, that not only these forts are preserved in good condition, but they are still being used by the military for security purposes. Amazing isn't !? Imagine our A Famosa fort is still in use by our military! Other than the Souk, Muttrah also offers 1.5 kilometres pavement by the corniche for visitors to walk and enjoy the sea breeze and the view of the busy port of Sultan Qaboos. Yeahh, we found out almost every building and big road here is named after Sultan Qaboos. He is the Sultan anyway..

Muttrah Fort

Muttrah Souk

Ceiling inside Muttrah Souk

We checked in at one of the hotels facing the corniche. At night we tried to look for a local Omani restaurant selling "mandi laham". We drove around up to Ruwi city area to look for the restaurant. Our clue was based on the direction given to us by one of the hotel staffs. After searching for about 1 hour we concluded that the hotel staff misunderstood us because the area that we went to was full of meat shops (selling "Luhum") and not even a single restaurant serving "mandi laham"....chit poddahh..!

Muttrah corniche at night

I couldn't finish it

The next morning we went to Qantab beach again with an ambitious plan to swim. Again we were disappointed because the temperature was so hot. In fact when we arrived at the beach we were the only visitors. We were greeted by a fisherman who offered us a ride in his boat to explore the area. Hahaha.. he must have thought we came there to be fried and baked by the sun. ..No thank you sir, I have enough tan on me.

As the temperature continued to rise, I suggested to Zul that, instead of feeling down, let's embrace what the nature was giving to us. Let's enjoy the heat and the dryness. So we hung out at one of the alfresco cafes facing the corniche and enjoyed a good glass of iced tea (actually several glasses and a big bottle of mineral water) under the cafe's facade. We looked around and there was a table full of "mat saleh" group sitting beside us, also enjoying the heat and the sunshine. The temperature was at 48 degrees celcius. We felt so cool...

Zul and the Huge Rocks

Grand Canyon?


As soon as we got to our senses and sanity again, with the help of the iced teas, we decided to visit the museums in Muscat. There were quite a number of museums and art galleries in Muscat. In my opinion, if a city has museums and art galleries, indeed the city and its peoples have souls and organic growth. We chose to visit a private museum called Bait Al Zubir first. This museum was actually the house of Shaikh Zubair Bin Ali, a wealthy merchant of Muscat during the early 20th century. The house was built in 1914. In fact, the items displayed in the museum were his private collection of the daily items of Omanis like old pictures of Muscat and other regions in Oman, swords, personal affects, clothes, musical instruments, guns, silverware and jeweleries. The items and the information gave us insights of the rich traditions and cultures of the Omanis. No wonder when Marco Polo visited Oman, he called the place "paradise".

Entry Fee 1 Omani Rial

Abu Fatylah (P. Ramlee called it "Senapang Gajah"). 
Guns were amongst the early export of old Muscat

Dishdasha and Khanjar of Omani

It was a shame that we had to cancel the visit to Omani-French Museum because we were running out of time and hungry. So we headed off to the town of Al Khuwairah searching for a restaurant called Bin Ateeq which serves traditional Omani foods. The GPS system in my brain worked this time and we found the restaurant after just a one time miss of a junction. We ordered a local Omani food called "Qabooli Laham" which was a serving of rice cooked with ghee, raisins and mutton. The dish was served in a big iron tray (dulang) in a private room where we can eat while lying on the carpet. We wiped out the tray clean in less than 30 minutes. Amazingly Zul did it whilst texting his wife ! The dish was so delicious and it was worth cracking the GPS in my brain to look for the restaurant.

On our way out from the restaurant I bumped into a guy wearing a suit. He looked like a Malaysian. So I asked him and my guess was right. Apparently he is the Third Secretary in the Malaysian Embassy in Oman. He came to the restaurant together with the Malaysian Ambassador to Oman, His Excellency Datuk Mohd Zamri Mohd Kassim to entertain a group of Malaysian lecturers (Ustaz) who came to Oman for Arabic language courses. I was about to leave the restaurant when the Ambassador came out from a room to wash his hands. I greeted and introduced myself to him and we ended up joining him in his room with his guests. We had a great tea session with the Ambassador and his guests chit chatting about the Ambassador's adventure in Oman. The chance to meet our Ambassador in person really compliment our road trip. At the end of the session we were even invited to join them for a group photo. I thought, had I worn my Motorhead t-shirt that day, that group of Ustaz would have a guy with a Motorhead skull t-shirt in their group photo. Pheww...

Qabooli Laham..settled

Datuk Ambassador cracking his joke

Our journey back to the Oman border post was filled with picturesque view of rural Oman and its dwellings. I kept saying to Zul that the feeling was really like driving in Terengganu. We tried to look for any stall selling local fruits or delicacies but there was none around. But we could see Omani children and youths riding their scooters without helmet, playing football on sandy pitch, hanging around at coffee shops, sitting with friends playing poker and discussing about cars in front of a car workshop. We even saw camels and cows jaywalking by the road sides. It was really a retreat for us from the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan life in Dubai.

We arrived at UAE border post around Maghrib time and proceeded smoothly to my home in Al Warqaa 1. It was a great introductory excursion to Oman and I am planning to do it again in the near future.

Zul was happy to have made the trip before he leave Dubai this weekend. I look forward to do the road trip again with my family and friends. In the meantime.. I will go to work.

Ma'a as Salamah..

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.

Robert Louis Stevenson
(Scottish travel writer 1850 - 1894)


cohong gym said...

wooooooooo best gile tu Long. dapat pergi ke land of Sinbad. Aku kat sini nak pergi jalan-jalan ke negeri lain pun tak dapat. trip kau beri aku semangat nak buat macam kau jugak walaupun sekadar kat malaysia je.

semalam aku lepak ngan ex bos aku. laki dia orang Sweden. Mamat tu cakap ngan aku kat Dubai panas giler. sampaikan member dia, an egyptian kata kat Malaysia cuacanya macam disyurga kalau nak dibandingkan di Dubai. that egyptian suka sangat dengan Malaysia hinggakan dia plan nak terus kerja dan tinggal kat sini. sudah terbukti benar kata-katanya bila aku tengok gambar thermometer tu, 48 degree? giler panas macam dalam oven. Nasib baik la engkau memang dah gelap hahahahhahahah.

Since engkau kata one of the main trade in Muskaat was senapang, aku teringat cerita-cerita pirate. diaorang panggil senapang muskeet. is it named sempena nama Muskaat? Bole jadi...

Kejadian kau ditahan di Masjid tu, (engkau perasan Italian). Aku rasa sebenarnya Tok Siak tu ingat kau Hindu. Tu pasal la dia tahan. tak pun negro padang pasir hahahahah

Syamsulfaiz said...

Kau dah join group biking, apa lagi, jgn biar engine sejuk. Pack your bag and roll ! Pi la thailand beb. Kau kenal King? junior UIA dulu. Dia pun biker jugak, dah 4-5 tahun. Contactla dia. Dia selalu konvoi. Tanya Azman dewangga sakti.

Middle east mmg tgh nak masuk summer sekarang ni. Aku rasa dah summer punn, cuma tak official lagi. Rentung beb..

Sahla senapang muskeet tu refer kpd senapang gajah yg buat kat Muscat.

Tok siak tu ingat aku Italian la...boring tul. hehe

yuzliyusof said...

You'll take my life but I'll take yours too
You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through

the Trooper - Iron Maiden

cohong gym said...

Aku bukan tak nak pegi konvoi tapi masa tak mengizinkan. Sekali seminggu je aku dapat ride ngan CBR (hari-hari kerja aku bawak Naza since kereta masih kat bengkel). Kalau ikutkan hati, nak je aku ride pegi Penang lepak ngan Mehtab.

Minggu lepas aku ride ke Melaka. Gerak kul 9.30 malam. Lepak ngan member sekolah aku sampai kul 2 pastu gerak balik kl. Lepas gian beb. Hari Ahad ni aku nak pegi sepang tengok Malaysian Super Series.

Aku tak dapat bayangkan betapa panasnya cuaca kat Dubai. Kalau dah sampai 48-50 degree, mesti panas tahap neraka tu.

Italian pun italian la hahhahaha

Jumper said...

How I wish I could be there. The view of the high cliffs cutting the calm green sea with the moored yatchs is really breathtaking. What I don't understand is why you guys hesitated to get splashed into the sea. Summer or pre-summer is actually the best time to enjoy the sea. What a shame you boys are so precautious to preserve your skin beauty from being sun-burnt. It's not that I question your originality, but I thought the Italian loves to get himself tanned....

doremon said...


rock sampai subuh said...

sayur weh along kena siasat dengan siak mesjid.

wein ruuh tu bahasa hapa?

mehtab kat penang tu lawyer adik kepada azlina mehtab ke?

Syamsulfaiz said...

Iron Maiden yeahh !!

I wish we had your guts that day to boil ourselves in the hot sea water.

hang gelak la mon...

rock sampai subuh,
kalau panggil aku along, maknanya kenal lama dah tuh...sapa ni ye?
Itu Arab cakap bahasa pasar la...semua pak Arab tak cakap bahasa arab betul (kecuali dlm TV). So sesapa yg belajar bahasa Arab kat Malaysia tu, sampai sini melopong juge.

cohong gym said...

hahahahahahhahaha aku gelak pasal Doremon yang suruh haahahahahahahahha

rock sampai subuh,
Mehtab memang adik kepada Azlina Mehtab

rock sampai subuh said...

oi ni gua daa rocky.

kalu adik azlina mehtab yang rambut panjang2 tu maknanya gua pernah jumpa dia la.
dia datang opis gua sebagai wakil bank utk kes lelong dan gua plak pentadbir tanah.

ada ke patut bebudak opis gua kata rupa dia macam Bront Palarae.

doremon said...

fullamak pentadbir tanah in da house!!!! leh tanya Land Office mana bro? buleh la kalau2 nak mintak tolong he he he he

cohong gym said...

hahahahah dia memang jadi lelaki poojaan wanita. Kalau jalan dengan dia, jangan harap la pompuan lain nak tengok kau. Semua mata dok pandang dia je. Aku selalu kena macam tu.

errrr satu soalan. Bront Palarae tu sapa? hehehehe

hahahaha kau memang celaka. Ada ke nak mintak tolong ngan Pentadbir Tanah. Mintak tolong ngan Polis je la hahahahahha.

Aku pun nak mintak tolong jugak hehehehe. Tak de ke tanah free yang bole bagi kat aku hehehehe

doremon said...

piirahh cohong buat2 tak kenal bront pulak. bukan aritu hang ada cakap kat aku hang punya taste macam bront tu kui kui kui. ala yang belakon iklan coklat pe ntah yang meletop lam mulut sampai senget2 kepala tu!

cohong gym said...

woooo yang itu ke? bukan kau ke yang cakap macam tu? kau yang kata mamat tu taste kau hehehehe. Doremon mudah lupa.

Kalam Hitam said...

well, kat situ speciality dia lamb tikka yg paling best!

nasi beriyani dia pun lain smacam tapi lagi best dari beriyani biasa.

anyway, if me happen to go there skali lagi, i'll ask for whut u've recommend...


n ur blog, it's just awesome! byk giler info2 yg mnarik. me? keep dreaming lah if wanna go ther...

Syamsulfaiz said...

Terima kasih kerana sudi singgah Kersani.

I confessed that I have overdosed on both Mandi Laham and biryani tikka here. This week/month I am starting my low carb regime. No more nasi for me !

Yeah you should try Mandi Laham in Restaurant Saba, Cyberjaya. My friend told me it is better than in DUbai. biar btol...

Ifila Saila said...

Along.. alhamdulillah ngko lulus ujian tok siak tu.. aku takut ngko kena tembak je kalau jawab x betul..!
cuma aku dok tunggu part ngko jumpa vampire sbb dalam citer dusk till dawn tu bila masuk malam je vampire pun keluar..!

Ifila Saila said...

Along.. aku nak mintak ngko komen.. atau kalau nak siasat pun ok gak..

Syamsulfaiz said...

Alif Lam,

Ko ingat senang ke nak menyiasat dalam keadaan cuaca panas ni. Nak masuk kereta pun kena mengucap dulu tau. Artikel ni pun dah tersebar lama kat sini.

Anyway, the 1st story about people went to jail because of debt is very true. I have a lot of clients who are in jail now because of their companies' debt. Blank cheque is a valid form of security for banks in Dubai. If your cheques bounce, you go straight to jail with no trial.

2nd story, of course la the buildings were not built by Sheikh Mohamad literally. 99% of general workers come from India and Pakistan. They are the toughest human being I have ever seen. They live in labour camps which could be well equipped or not depending on how wealthy the companies are. Nakheel boast itself as the only developer company in the world with full community living labour camp. Siap ada swimming pool lagi.

3rd story, what is wrong with shopping malls? All Emiratis are well taken care of by their governments and rich. Why should they complaint. But the Emiratis are the most tolerable peoples on earth. Imagine being a minority in your own country. They seem aloof but when you get your car stuck in the sand under the hot sun, normally they are the first ones to stop and help. I have seen it many times.

The rest of the stories are too dark to find out. Maybe true maybe not. But everything has its price and somebody got to do the dirty jobs.
Some western media really go all out to attack Dubai being a good role model for prosperous Muslim nation.

Itu je komen teman.


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