Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shopping in Oman’s Traditional Markets

A traditional Middle Eastern shopping experience is quite special. The place where it all starts is a souk, the local name for a traditional market. While such souks used to be omnipresent all through the Middle East once upon a time, today, they are seen in pockets. Thankfully, they are still quite popular in Oman, unlike its neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, who have evolved from traditional souks to air conditioned shopping malls.

Spices on sale at Nizwa Souk Spice Market, Oman
Your Oman shopping experience would begin in its various souks located in its different cities. These souks are bound to dazzle you with their color, aroma and rich variety. If you ask me, I will tell you that the rich mixture of smells is what is special about a Omani souk.

A moment at Nizwa Souk, Oman
Frankincense burns everywhere and as you inhale the smoky smell, you fell like you have been transported to the frankincense trade route of the olden days. The smell is so strong that you can find them on your clothes even a day later. And then there is the famous Aitr of Oman, the locally made perfumes. Each perfume seems stronger than the other and the salesman will keep offering you more and more bottles to sample, until you can differentiate no more between the various fragrances.

A Frankincense shop inside Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
Both the frankincense and the Aitr have a lot of importance in a Omani’s life. Every household in Oman burns frankincense as an air freshener and every Omani man and woman wear Aitr every day. Not only do both these items make excellent souvenirs, you can also say that you are carrying back a bit of the local culture.

Lot of Omani Souvenirs on display at Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
Then, we have the super famous Omani Khanjar, the iconic dagger seen on the waists of Omani men. These khanjars either come in plain tones or come bejeweled. Both varieties make for great buys, but the bejeweled one will cost you a bit more. This is one of the most popular souvenirs to carry back home and some tourists have been known to spend insane amounts of money to carry the special khanjar back home.

The insides of a Nizwa Souk Crafts shop
Even the local dresses of Oman make for great buys. I absolutely adore the dish dashas (flowing man dresses) and the stylish head gear. The head gear comes in 2 types. One of them is a kummah, a narrow skull cap and the other is a muzzar, a turban either in white or in a variety of colors. This dress is for the men and should definitely be worn at least once while in Oman. While the dish dasha might not make for great wear outside of Oman, the head gear can make for great accessories.

Traditional Clothes and Headgear on sale at Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
And who can forget the famous spices of Oman. The entire Middle East has had this long history with spices. Some come from India, some from Salalah, some from Yemen, some from Morocco and so on. The spice markets are quite a wholesome experience in themselves. If you have no use of such spices back home, at least give the rose petals and rose water a try. They are naturally refreshing and make for great room fresheners. And they are a specialty of Jebel Akhdar, the highest mountain range in Oman.

Traditional Souvenirs designed by Bedouin Women of Wahiba Sands, Oman
A middle eastern shopping experience is not complete without any antiques. The Mandoos or the jewel box and the Quewah jars (coffee jars) stay on top of the list of such artifacts. But, there are a whole bunch of other items that have so much antique value and look very beautiful too, but when I was there, I was so lost that I just gaped at them. I did end up picking up a mundoos and some handmade bedouin souvenirs.

Man from Nizwa selling Khallas and Fard dates at Nizwa Date Souk
How can we forget the lovely dates of Oman. The Khallas variety is my favorite here for its succulent sweetness. Most of the souks have a date section and you can go on a sugar overdose here while trying out the different varieties.

Whatever you end up buying at these souks in Oman, you are bound to have a sensational shopping experience. Such an experience will be very hard to come by even in the fanciest of shopping malls. I hope these traditional markets keep  surviving in Oman.

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