Our ship slowly inched its way into the Port of Muscat, a tableau of stark contrasts. Arid, parched mountains flanked ancient forts. Gleaming, white buildings produced brilliantine sparkles and multi-million dollar pleasure cruisers languished in the harbour. Beyond the sanctuary of the port gates eager taxi drivers proffered services at inflated prices. We ventured independently towards the small horseshoe harbour and within ten minutes had discovered the heart of the city, the Mutrah Souq.This traditional old Arab souq or bazaar attracts mainly international tourists but we were securely anchored in the Middle East by the evocative aromas of burning frankincense, sweet cinnamon and spicy cardamom. Turban clad store traders haggled gold, carpets, head scarves, colourful cloth and burnished souvenirs. Kohl-eyed and dressed in ‘thawb’ (full length, white, traditional Arab garb) they more resembled spirits than shopkeepers.

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