Strolling the legendary souk
If Friday is the busiest day because of the goat market and auction, a centennial old tradition in Nizwa, it is also when tour guides followed by their flocks of tourists outnumber locals.
So go any day, rather early (between 8 and 9am) and head to the souk. Past the vegetable section, head to Al Saifi to taste some of the best halwa in the Arabian Peninsula. Take a spoonful of this local favourite sweet and grab the halwa ball with your right hand: plain, fig, honey, dates, walnuts… Enjoy an Omani coffee after your tasting and pick the flavour you want to bring home.
You can venture through the meat and fish sections if your nose allows, and then move onto the date souk to top off your sugar level. With over 8 million date trees in Oman and about 60 different varieties, it is only a sample that is proposed here. Still you will have dozens to taste and choose from: nhlapo, fard, brny, zabad, hlaly, and flavoured with cumin, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, or sesame seeds. If it is overwhelming, we can recommend the fard that contains a little bit less sugar and is simply delicious!
Head back towards the fort and browse the handicraft section. Past the clay pots and rifles, silver pieces from jewellery to incense burners, khanjars and more are showcased. Nizwa is reputed for the skills of its silversmiths and you may be lucky and see a few at work. A bit further, patchworks of spices brighten up the covered alleyways of the spice souk. Buy cardamom to make your own Omani coffee back home, pack on the Frankincense or just stick your nose above rosebuds grown in the Jebel Akhdar and the spices from Iran and India to Zanzibar and travel the world!
Exit the souk and take a walk through the Old Nizwa with its crumbling houses. You will pass by one of the oldest mosques in the country (so old that it still shows traces of a minaret that used to point towards Jerusalem and not Mecca). Unfortunately, it is forbidden to enter for non-Muslims.
Cooling down in the Al Hoota Cave
It is a good idea to visit a 2-million year old cave to escape the heat of mid-day (in our case 36°C in this mid-November “cool” weather as the locals call it!), albeit the fact that you will have to cope with its 85% humidity… Its relatively cool temperatures between 20 to 25°C will still make you sweat as you progress up the staircase taking you through its large 100-metre long hall with beautiful formations of stalactites, stalagmites, rock curtains and large boulders.
Discovered in 1960 by some local shepherds and located at the foot of the majestic Jebel Shams Mountains there is a lot more to Al Hoota Cave than the 500-metre boardwalk open to the public. Further into the cave another 4.5 kilometres into darkness would have a speleologist discover an impressive lake system where one can try and spot the rare blind fish (Garra Barreimiae) that has adapted to its dark environment over millions of years. Maybe you will be lucky and spot it while you visit, and if not you will not miss the lion’s head, portraits of women, or some elephants sculpted over millions of years.
The Al Hoota Cave is the first and at the moment the only cave that is made accessible to a broad public in the Arabian Peninsula. If you are not planning a more adventurous cave exploration in Oman, it will give you a very nice idea of some of the underground art that Mother Nature has created over time.
We recommend you to keep the visit of the Nizwa Fort for late in the afternoon as this way, you will be able to enjoy the stunning sunset on the surrounding mountains from its tower: really a must! Make sure you allow enough time to visit the fort and castle properly before sunset and closing time: one of the most impressive of Oman, the Nizwa fort is a perfect entry point to better apprehend the other forts you may see in the country. Well-furnished and also showcasing coin, weapon and book collections, it is worth taking a tour. Local women dressed in traditional clothes are also offered the opportunity to show and sell their crafts from cosmetics to snacks, giving an interesting overview of some Omani traditions (click here to find out more).
Don’t forget to climb up the tower to admire the view and the sunset!
At night, wander through the narrow alleyways and check out a game of local pool played by men in the streets where bowls are replaced by tokens, walk to the smells of Indian food and mishkaks and decide where to have a bite.
Marcella & Claire
- For more details refer to the Al Hoota Cave website.
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