Yesterday two friends and I went to Muttrah to visit the old souq. They have done a bit of renovation here ( real roofing instead of palm fronds, and the ally ways are cobble stones) but it is still very authentic. It is a huge maze of ways and alleys the twist around over a wide area, and full of shops selling pashminas, silver, wallets, t-shirts, fabrics and ribbons, antiques, frankincense and almost everything else for tourist and resident alike. I could spend hours, and many many rials.
The shops are small, and quite high above the pathways. I found out why just after Christmas… but that’s another story. The sellers stand outside their shops, merchandise in hand, calling out to you to sample their wares. The smell of frankincense and perfume fills the air; the walkways are crowded with people – Omani men in traditional dress, women in abayas, sometimes with their faces covered by an assortment of different types of mask, children running and pulling their parents impatiently by the hand,tourists from cruise ships, those of us lucky enough to call Oman home for a while. At first you just want to run to where you are going, but after a while you become comfortable with the scene and can banter with the merchants and compliment them of their wares without feeling that you must buy something. Asking for a business card is a good way to get free of a particularly persistent salesman. and if you are interested in buying….. be prepared to bargain, that’s part of the fun.
We went looking for pashminas…… Alice wanted an everyday one, and I needed one more gift for David to take to Dallas with him next week. We entered through an alley I haven’t been in yet, and wow…. the silver and khanjars (traditional daggers) and other antiques were amazing. One shop that we didn’t go into was full of prints and photos and maps. We found carpets and foot stools and wonderful silk and cashmere shawls, as well as blends of the two…. we were met with an infinite choice of colour and design and quality ….. and price. Some are so fine that they will pass through a ring, some embroidered, some machine made, some by hand. Is it any wonder that I have a stack of them… and still can’t resist looking when the shop keepers call out and show me their wares?
We went first to the place David had bought the first shawls…… but he didn’t have what I was looking for. The shop next door, however, was quite happy to show us what we had… and I ended up buying one wool and two silk/wool………and he threw in a small jar of frankincense…. I wonder if that means I still paid too much?
We went into a special shop full of wool and silk carpets, weavings and shawls. The owner had a small bowl containing the cashmere wool (the undercoat taken from the bellies and throat of the longhaired Himalayan goats) carded and the spun into a fine yarn… you wouldn’t think wool could be so fine. It is incredibly soft as well… he then showed us two different qualities, and it was amazing how easily we could feel the difference. The finest can easily cost $250.
Getting hungry, we headed back to the car, bypassing the fabric and trim shops (what, a quilter going past a fabric shop! For shame!). We stopped a moment to look at mug rugs and then we were gone.
Stay tuned for more about the souq… and hopefully some more photos as well. It’s one of my favourite places, so I’ll be back.