The alarm went off at 3:45am, but I hadn’t slept since midnight with excitement for our flight from Delhi to Abu Dhabi. Since we had packed the night before, we grabbed our bags and searched for a tuk tuk to take us to the metro in time for the first train to the airport. Our driver assured us he knew where the metro station was, but then he drove in the opposite direction and was trying to drop us off in the middle of a deserted shopping plaza. Somehow we fixed this little misunderstanding and arrived at the metro gates right before they opened. We sprinted down into the depths of the metro station to find the airport express platform. Much to our frustration, the inner gates for our platform were padlocked and a forgetful transportation employee had failed to open it. Locals started gathering with us as we tried rattling the gate and finding anyone that could help. Three minutes before the first train departed, another worker came to our rescue and we arrived at the airport on time.
Our journey to Abu Dhabi included a twelve hour layover in Muscat, Oman, which took under an hour to get to. Although it might be geographically close, it was quite different from India. As soon as we arrived, we stepped inside a luxurious Lexus taxi (with seat belts!!) to take us past the parched desert mountains and western shopping malls to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
The rules posted by the entrance stated that women had to cover every inch of skin except for their face and hands. I looked at my exposed wrists and hoped no one would notice. The first room was massive with high ceilings and wall-to-wall carpeting, and nothing else. I admit I expected an altar or something, but this was the female praying room so it paled in comparison to the male praying room. Their room was enormous with the largest and heaviest handmade Persian rug in the world and an exquisite Swarovski crystal chandelier. The center aisle led us to an arch with stained glass and intricate precious inlaid stone.
Another expensive taxi (I was already missing India prices) took us to the Corniche area along the waterfront. Mosques, restaurants, and souks lined up along the bay and provided a nice gathering point for shopping and socializing. We dined on some falafel, chicken shawarma, and hummus and it was quite a treat after having all that Indian food.
Trying to avoid another taxi fare, we walked along the invitingly blue water until the sun got the better of us. Luckily there was a park along our walk, which provided some relief until we could muster enough strength to carry on in the draining heat.
Muscat has a number of old stone forts built on rocky peaks jutting out of the ocean. We learned, after making the long trek out to them, that they’re closed to the public. We had the same disappointment when we were informed that the royal palace was also closed to visitors.
Weary and with blistered feet, we trudged along the deserted streets until we found a restaurant with some cold water and air conditioning.
Unwilling to walk back to Corniche, we took a taxi to Bait al Baranda, a museum about Oman’s history. For a tiny organization, they did a great job on the interactive displays, accurate models, well-made videos, and most importantly, chilly AC.
The Corniche came alive as soon as the sun started to set with souk owners trying to entice us to buy their goods and restaurant owners encouraging us to taste their food. We bought a few metal trinkets, sat by the water, and enjoyed grilled chicken kabab and pistachio ice cream. We spent the rest of our time before heading back to the airport people watching, curious about the long black burkas worn by the women and the floor-length white dresses and caps worn by the men.