Touring Oman: Third Stop Nizwa Fort

The Nizwa Fort is included in The 1,000 Places to See Before You Die list, a kind of bucket list for travelers.  It is Oman’s oldest fort.

The Omani forts were built after the Portuguese started arriving in force in 1507.  Like most historical sites in the Middle East, the forts were left to ruin until the government decided to add tourism to their list of industries.  The original fort was renovated to stabilize the structure  and its original authenticity was lost.  Now it has the look of an amusement park attraction with its maze of passageways.

Nizwa Fort is a museum.  There were signs posted, describing the items presented and giving a short history of Oman.  The poorly lit exhibits depict different aspects of Omani life.

Our guide led us through the rooms and pointed out the obvious.  As we asked questions, he read the answers to us off the posted signs.

One posting discussed the Abadiyyah arm of Islam that most Omanis identified themselves as.  I had never heard of Abadiyyah before.

“Abadiyyah is different than Sunni and Shiite?” I asked Zaher.

“Yes, we are not the same.  We are not like Shiites.”  He didn’t offer more information and I returned to the small inscription.

Abdullah ibn Abadh brought Islam to Oman.  Basically Mohammed the Prophet PBUH sent him a short but sweet letter saying if you do not convert, then our swords will convert you.  A copy of the letter hung on the wall.

After Zaher guided us through most of the fort, we came to the large central tower. The stairs led upwards to the large round courtyard.  At this point he left us, saying he would go get the car and wait outside.

Goldi and I climbed the stairs and followed the instructions.

HA HA Your  pants are falling down – no – boiling oil in your eyes. HA HA

We were laughing like 12-year olds and taking pictures of where hot palm oil was poured down shafts onto enemy soldiers.

As we had fun an elderly gentleman walking alone stopped behind us.  I assumed he was taking a rest as the stairs were quite steep.

After standing awhile on the stairwell, he barked at us.

“How many bloody pictures are you going to take?”

“Enough to make us famous photographers,” I said, putting my arm for him to pass.  “Please go on.”

I did not understand why he had not simply passed as there was enough space for him.  He must have thought he was being polite waiting for us to finish.  But we were having too good of a time to hurry.  It was another instance of cultural miscommunication.

We finally emerged into the courtyard and realized why our guide had left us.

Taking photos of the surrounding town and mosque required climbing three sets of stairs.  We watched elderly European couples in street shoes and Indian ladies in multi-colored saris and sandals climb the stairs with their babies following.

“Good thing I wore my authentic REI action pants and climbing shoes,” I laughed.  I was over-adventurized for the day.  Everything was made for easy access.  With a tiny bit of fitness, all the sites were manageable.

We took photos from all sides of the fort, then headed back down.

At the bottom of the stairs was a small, heritage shop that sold frankincense, candles and other small souvenirs.  Omani Dhofar frankincense was a must buy as it is the finest in the world. It is probably the best opportunity to purchase a nice quantity of real Dhofar for only two riyals.

We continued through, passing the water well exhibit and finding ourselves at the front gate.  Zaher was waiting outside in the car.  We waved a single finger “one-minute” at him and walked into the Omani Crafts House.

Again there were shelves of pottery, bowls, incense burners and water pots.  There were some cute purses with Omani women’s dresses on the outside, swords and silver items.  We left without purchasing anything and jumped in the car.

The only place in Nizwa we didn’t try was Rose’s Castle Shopping complex.

Next Stop: Bahla

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Touring Oman: Second Stop Nizwa Souq

We drove to Nizwa about 140 kilometers from Muscat.  Nizwa was the capital of Oman during the sixth and seventh centuries.  It also served as the cultural capital being known as the town of poets, writers, intellectuals, and religious leaders.

We did not stop at any libraries but instead parked in the souq parking lot.  It was Thursday the day before the big Friday cow and goat sale.  Goldi, a staunch vegetarian, had vetoed the Friday market visit as she did not want her dreams plagued with visions of what happened to the purchased goats.

The animal, fish and vegetable souq is part of a typical tour.  However, it was very quiet when we walked through the wooden gate.

Inside the smell of slaughtered animals and blood in the street moved us quickly into air conditioned building with its brightly lit vegetable stalls.  People were not bustling about.  A few vendors sat patiently waiting for buses of tourists to come through, taste their halwa and hopefully purchase a kilo or two to carry home.

Halwa is the Omani sweet.  It is like thick paste made of dates with cardamom and decorated with pistachios.  Both Goldi and I tried a piece.  It was not overly sweet but my palate did not appreciate the jelly texture.  Neither of us wanted another bite and declined the offer to buy any.

At the next stall the man wearing the lavender thobe tempted me with his halwa.  It had a re-useable tin bowl and cover.  I nearly bought it for the container but decided carrying 5 riyals of heavy halwa in my suitcase, knowing no one in my family would eat it, was a waste of good luggage space.

We succumbed to the elderly man selling cashews.  Even after my purchase, he declined a photo.

Outside the vegetable market was the entrance to a Nizwa street store just outside the Fort/Castle’s front door.  The shelves were filled with ceramic replicas of the fort.  At first it looked enticing and we eagerly entered hoping to find the perfect souvenir.

Silver daggers lined the walls. The jewelry cases were filled with traditional style necklaces made of semi-precious stones and silver beads.  At first it looked fun but upon further examination the silver jewelry all began to look like very unwanted silver jewelry that had gathered dust there for years.  The men sat bored, watching at us paw through the piles of trinkets.  We found nothing.  The jewelry was not modern enough to wear, nor special enough to hang up as decoration.  My guess was it all came from India.  We wandered outside.

The crude clay pots were handmade and fired in wood burning ovens.  They become hard but would not last forever.  Nothing appealed to us.

We walked towards the fort entrance and found another street filled with tourist treasure shops.

Goldi led me into one that interested her.

As I entered and took pictures of the camels, the shop keeper asked where I was from.

“America.”  I said smiling as I perused the shelves packed with every type of momento you could imagine.

“Hi Golden Gate Bridge!” he shouted.  His voice reminded me of Maz Jabroni, the Persian comedian on Axis of Evil.  “I love the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“In San Francisco.  I lived there.” I told him.  “But I live in Bahrain now.”

“Ah Bahrain.  My family lived there for many years until the 1970s.  We came back to Oman when Sultan Qaboos came into power.  He made many changes and brought the Omanis back to Oman.”

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has led Oman since 1970 when he took power from his father.  Oman’s absolute monarchy had been passed down through the male line of the Al Busaidi Dynasty for the past five generations after Sayyid Turki bin Said Bin Sultan overthrew the Ottoman Turks in 1744.

“You like Sultan Qaboos?” I asked curious whether the Sultan was as popular as he seemed.

“Yes, we LOVE Sultan Qaboos.  He has made many changes to Oman.  Where are you from?” he directed his question towards my flaxen haired friend.

“California,” she nodded.

“California.  Arnold Schwarzenegger!” he shouted.  “He is no longer your governor – no?”

“Actually, I don’t know.” Goldi answered.  “I just moved to California.”

“I don’t think he is governor anymore.  No more Terminator for California,” he said.

“Can I take your picture?” I asked.  I wanted to remember this man.

“Yes you can,” he said.  “First, please wait.”

He reached into his shelves and pulled out a silver khanjar.  It too looked new, probably recently made in India.  He held it next to his cheek and posed for me.

“Thank you.” I said.

No money exchanged hands but we had a good time.

Next Stop: Nizwa Fort

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