souvenir pots in Nizwa

Oman’s interior is ruled from Nizwa, which offers not much except for good food, and is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding mountains and forts.

the road to Nizwa, bare mountains and modern towns

From Muscat it is a couple of hours drive to Nizwa, the main town in the interior of the country, on the other side of the Hajar Mountains. The modern highway passes through the Sumail Gap, a natural break in the mountains and the most obvious route inland. Because of this, the area is plastered with forts and watch towers wherever you look, remnants of the old defence works for this most strategic of passes.

what you can buy in the Nizwa souq

Notwithstanding Nizwa’s relative importance, both historically and present-day, as the administrative centre of the interior, there is not a lot to do. The fort, dominated by a huge round tower, is mostly big, but not very special. It is nicely lit at night. The souq, as in so many other towns in Oman, has been turned into a tourist market, a modern and clean platform for selling mostly souvenirs. The other buildings, like the fruit and vegetable souq, or the meat hall, were largely deserted both times we visited. In the fish hall, only two sellers had occupied a table, the rest of the considerably large building was empty. The only fish available is tuna. The area set aside for trading and packaging of dates – now, that is something unique for Oman, perhaps! – was empty, too. However, next door is a date shop selling the most delicious stock, perhaps ten different types of dates, plus a whole range of date-derived products, like date syrup, date cubes with sesame seeds or with coconut rasp, the one even more exquisite than the other. And the best is, you can try!

tourist set-up in the souq

no self-respecting Omani buys this, I don’t think

but it makes for a colourful picture

spices, and pulses, and nuts, and dried fruit

entrance to one of the sections of the souq

the kebab maker, best in town

Outside the souq are the kebab stalls and outdoor restaurants. We just sit at a table to eat our food, there and then, but most people drive up in their car, blow the horn for one of the attendants to come and take their order, which is brought to the car a little later: the perfect take-away, where you don’t even have to get out of your car. Engine keeps running, and more importantly, airco, too, although in January it is not that hot in Nizwa. One of the stalls is so popular that the street outside is almost permanently blocked; we have to try this one, so we get in, find one of the three miniature tables empty, and wait for the menu. There is no menu. You can have a beef kebab, with or without bread, the flat Arab-type. Most people take with bread, the Omani version of a hamburger. Complete with sauce, every table has its bottle of Jumbo hot sauce, and the take-away orders are inclusive of a whole bottle, too. We cannot get enough of it!

next: to Bahla and Jabreen

Nizwa fort, lit at night

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