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GOLD, FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH:

You'll find real quality in Muscat's
world-famous Souq (public market), the
best gift shopping spot in the Arab world.


By John Hessburg, General Mgr
U.S. Dive Travel Network


© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.



Old Muscat cultural tours are a must-see in Oman.
Afternoon sunshine warms Old Muscat.
© Copyright Werner Thiele.


Gold, frankincense & myrrh. Talk about the classics. Wise men -- & wise women too -- will find what they need for gifts in the delightful markets of Old Muscat town. What better way to round off your Oman adventure than by taking our tour guide Brigitte Wensauer's half-day jaunt through Old Muscat, where you can see the Sultan's palace, the harbour by daylight & also after dark, plus the piece de resistance?

And that would be Muscat's world-famous Souq, or public market, where you can find some of the best bargains for quality gifts anywhere in Southwest Asia. Many non-Omani Arabs agree that Muscat's Souq is a special place in the Arab world. There are a few key reasons why this Souq is unique:

Tourists find world-class bargains in the Muscat Souq: gold, frankincense, myrrh, silver, rugs.
Famous "Souq" of Old Muscat, best public market in the Arab world.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

GOLD:
Many of these gold products come from Dubai & Bahrain, but some are made by local Omani craftsmen. Regardless of origin, you will find bangles, bracelets, necklaces, rings & scores of assorted ornaments in anything from 18 carat to solid gold. Some of this stuff looks a little Hollywood gaudy, like what the Queen of Sheba might have worn on some movie set as she sidled up to Solomon. Not exactly post-modern chic. But that's half the fun & the charm. Who needs another sterile Pay 'n' Dash outlet in Old Muscat?

FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH:
Remember the time-honored Bible story about the three Wise Men who came to visit the newborn Jesus, bearing gifts of regal value? Well one of those good kings most likely got his precious frankincense from Oman. That's where it came from in the ancient days, as it still does today. Nobles used to fight pitched battles over the frankincense trade centuries ago, that's how valued it was. For many centuries, the purest frankincense was an essential part of religious rituals & upper-class court life all over the ancient world, from the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean. In fact, at the time the Wise Men gave their gifts to the infant Jesus, frankincense was far more valuable than even gold.

I'm basically nuts about this frankincense. It is one of the most delightful aromas in the natural world. Every time I burn a little bit over our fireplace, I am reminded of all the best things I love about the Arabian desert. Susan & I burn little chunks of this wonderful resin almost every time we light a fire in our wood stove during the Minnesota winter months. We set one piece on a stainless steel teaspoon, right atop the wood stove, so there's virtually no smoke produced, only a light refreshing vapor that spreads quickly from our family room to other rooms. The smell of fresh frankincense permeates your house in a few minutes & never leaves any acrid "after-taste" in the air nor on your drapes or furniture. Always select your resin crystals by hand, piece by piece, & choose only the blondest of the light yellow lumps. The merchants will nervously tolerate your painstaking AR selection process & they respect you if you know which crystals are the good ones. The lighter yellow frankincense yields the sweetest aroma upon burning.

Avoid the darker looking resins, as they are more impure & do not carry as nice a scent. Frankincense comes from the gum of the Arabian desert's Boswellia trees. Skilled tree tenders wait until the right year, then they cut tiny slits in the bark & let the sap flow out, much like maple syrup is harvested. But this is thicker oilier sap.

One of the fun facts about frankincense is that these rare Boswellia trees have a confined native habitat, in only three areas of the Arabian Peninsula region: southern Oman, one major river valley in Yemen called Wadi Hadhramawt & certain parts of northern Somalia. This Boswellia tree gum burns smoothly because of its natural oil content, & many herbalists believe it releases healing properties into the air. Though not a New Ager at all, I happen to agree. I can vouch for the fact that burning frankincense does seem to relax you after a hard day.

And what an exotic & affordable gift to give your family & friends when you get home. For less than $20 USD you can bring back enough little resin lumps to burn for a couple years. If you want to give a truly elegant gift, you can find an incense burner made of pure silver for less than USD $100 & you'll carry the class of the Magi! Ah, just writing about this makes me miss the smell of frankincense. BTW: you can find myrrh at the Souq as well, but I would not get too wound up about this stuff. It's fun to buy a few little myrrh lumps just to say you came home with the real Magi Troika -- "gold, frankincense & myrhh." But true myrrh does not carry much of an aroma. It's a bland plant resin that needs to be ground to a fine poweder by a mortar & pestle, then mixed with perfume oils to make special ointments. Not worth the hassle, believe me.

Typical middle-class home in the heart of Muscat, Oman.
Typical home of a prosperous family in Muscat.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

KHANJARS:
These are the classic curved-blade daggers that slide down into an ornately decorated silver sheath, which most Omani gentlemen wear to formal occasions, much in the same way western swells wear a necktie & a nice shirt to a business meeting. The older versions of these ceremonial knives often had handles made of rhino horn or animal bones. But that's verboten these days, of course. Because enlightened travelers would NEVER purchase anything that exploits rare animals in Africa or Asia, for both moral & legal reasons (you'll get busted in the USA amigos), please make sure that the khanjar you buy does not utilize any endangered animal parts. Most of the really good knives have wooden handles now. But the polished steel blade & the silver scabbard are the real draws.

Figure to get an authentic handmade khanjar, you will need to spend from USD $300 on up, so remember the customs limits & be sure to declare your items if you bring an Omani dagger home with your luggage..

A genuine handmade khanjar is supposed to feel hefty, with a good solid steel blade; & the sheath should have intricate details etched into the silver. There are two main categories of these curved Omani blades: the normal ones come with two silver rings that attach to a belt. Then there are the classic elite blades called sayidi khanjars; & they come with 5 belt rings. These sayidi models used to mean the person wearing one was of royal stock, & they were forbidden to commoners; but now anybody who can afford one can wear it if they wish.

STERLING SILVER:
The silver jewelry boxes, & trinket boxes you can buy in this Muscat Souq are amazing -- handmade & intricately fashioned with rococco floral designs that took their artisans weeks to fashion. Yet I bought one prized specimen of solid silver for Susan, for less than USD $80 & a rough guess would place its giftshop value here in the States at more than double that. There are also countless varieties of Bedouin silver jewelry from chest ornaments to bracelets to necklaces. The quality is self-evident, you will see. Remember, you CAN & must dicker for discounts with these merchants. They expect it, & they will honor your efforts with a good-faith price reduction, as long as you are persistent & respectful in your bargaining. If you try to gouge more than 35% you will notice the merchant's face contort in a grimace of sincere pain, & that's when you back off, because you have approached the No-No Zone of Heinous Haggling. After all, these good folks need to make a living too.

SHEESHA PIPES:
These are a classic Omani souvenir & among the most exotic gifts you can lug home from Muscat's marketplace. It's a pain in the neck to disassemble one of these weighty pipes for packing home, so maybe only antique collectors should bother. They are basically Omani hookahs, used for smoking sweetly scented tobacco flavored with fruits or flowers (NEVER that wacko tobacco, mind you.) These sheeshas are eye-catching ornaments for the living room of curio collectors who may favor Nouvelle Hippy Motif, but since I absolutely detest smoke in any hue or form, I spent zero time perusing sheeshas available in the Souq.

MENDOOS CHESTS:
For those travelers who really want to buy something old-fashioned & unique in Oman -- though you'll have to ship this back separate from your luggage & pay a duty -- the mendoos dowry chests are antiques that will be the envy of any estate sale maven. These magnificent carved creations used to be presented to an Omani girl by her father when she got engaged. The classic mendoos chests are carved from teakwood & fitted with hundreds of brass & copper studs that stick out in ornate patterns. These chests typically have solid brass handles on the side plus a hinged lid & sometimes little drawers tucked down on the side panels, or inside. A genuine Omani antique mendoos chest might cost close to USD $4,000. However, local craftsmen still make chests that imitate the centuries-old styles, & you can get these for one tenth of that price if you sniff around for a deal. These artful replicas are not quite the real McCoy, but they still are beautiful to look at, & give to a loved one.

Ancient harbor in Old Muscat, a trade center for centuries past.
Dusk nudges the tranquil shores of Muscat's ancient harbor.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.



Muscat fisherman.
© Copyright Werner Thiele.

OLD MUSCAT TOUR:
Now there's more to Muscat than sleuthing for deals around the Souq. Brigitte will take you on a fascinating romp across this ancient city, showing you the sleepy beaches of the old town harbour, some classic mosques, traditional whitewashed Arabic architecture, the Omani traffic roundabouts with their huge 7-story tiled towers in the middle, the elusive Sultan's so-called "working palace" near the harbor, the floodlit harbor fort & a host of other cultural treats. Here are some pictures to whet your appetite for a cultural tour you just should not miss. I had a ball & would do it again in an eyeblink.

The Sultan's Palace by night, in Old Muscat town.
Peering through gates, the Sultan's Palace by night.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

Seaside perspective of the Sultan's Palace, Muscat.
Oceanside view of the Sultan's Palace.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

Ancient fort in Muscat Harbor, Oman.
Ancient Omani fort, Muscat Harbor.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.


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FOR MORE INFORMATION or RESERVATIONS:

Please contact -- Susan & John Hessburg, Mgrs
U.S. DIVE TRAVEL Network
PMB 307 / Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Ave. S.
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA   55124-7047

Voice Mail: 952-953-4124
Fax Line: 952-431-5023
E-mail: divetrip@bitstream.net

Website: www.usdivetravel.com

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IMPORTANT NOTE about PRICES & TARIFFS:

First things first for your Oman scuba diving holiday. Please remember that you will need to secure a formal visa from the Omani Consulate closest to your hometown, before you will be allowed entry into Oman. Visas for most U.S., Canadian & European citizens are very easy to secure, & take only a couple weeks. In many cases, you will be able to get your entry visa right when your plane lands in Muscat. The Oman Embassy staffers in Washington, DC are exceptionally gracious & helpful. They are geared up to encourage eco-responsible tourism; this is quite evident. Visa fees are nominal & paid via cashier's check to the Omani Embassy or Consul General nearest to you. Make sure you prepare well for your Oman scuba diving trip.

OMAN VISA PROCESS -- Passport & visa required for all tourists, & for all Oman vacations. Tourist/business visas for multiple-entry issued for stays up to 6 months & valid for 2 years. Both business or tourist visas require a special official application form & cholera immunization if arriving from infected area & a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of passport by mail. For transit & road travel, please check with the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-1980, -1981 or -1982).

All package prices listed here for Oman diving holidays are subject to possible change in this steadily evolving travel market. Land prices are traditionally stable, while air prices may fluctuate for Oman vacations. Until air tickets are issued, all airlines reserve the right to change airfares without notice -- a longtime industry standard, per FAA rules. We at U.S. Dive Travel will price-protect you to the utmost of our professional ability; & that has been our pledge for one decade now. We normally secure excellent discount air tickets. Remember please, the federal government has deregulated airlines, so only they control their pricing -- not any travel professionals. But our lodging & Oman diving contracts are set for one year at a time, & therefore are rock solid nearly all seasons.

Unless specifically noted, these above packages are prices for only the land-based or vessel-based portion of your Oman scuba diving vacation, in most cases reflecting double-occupancy rooms. At most vacation resorts there will be no triple-occupancy rooms offered. Some exceptions may be noted. International air tickets & commuter "island-hopper" airfares are always extra above these land costs. Nominal service fees are also extra for air tickets & the lodging + diving components of all Oman vacations. The baseline tariffs for all clients start at $35 per person for the land portion + $20 pp for published-fare air tickets. Late-booking clients may receive slightly higher tariffs on the lodging + diving. Solo clients will always pay a single supplement to secure a private room on their Oman diving holidays -- normally 35% to 50% more -- & possibly a doubling of the standard double-occupancy rate at some resorts.

For our U.S. or Canadian clients, the preferred payment mode for all lodging, diving & side tours is by cashier's check or wire transfer in U.S. dollars. All clients living outside the USA or Canada will need to pay only via direct wire transfer in U.S. dollars -- no exceptions please. No personal checks will be accepted for the lodging or land-tour portions of any Oman dive vacations, please. Thank you for your gracious understanding. Our service level is the highest & our prices the lowest in this industry, & thus we need to preserve a reasonable margin to keep the Ship of State afloat, thereby ensuring that your Oman diving holidays will be brilliant & affordable.

For published-fare air ticket bookings on your Oman dive vacations, USDT always accepts Visa & Mastercard, even from non-U.S. clients. For discount wholesale air tickets, however, USDT accepts only cashier's checks or wire transfers, please, since we are giving you exceptionally low net rates, below the lowest published discount fares available.

Remember, all clients to all foreign destinations will be asked by local officials overseas, upon departing the airport on your final day, to pay a nominal government departure tax, usually between USD $25 - $45 per client. USDT cannot collect this tax beforehand, so you simply pay it down there, in your host country. Be sure to stash away a little cash for this final moment at the airport, so you'll get your exit visa stamped quickly with no fuss; & away you go. Best of luck with your travel plans. We hope your Oman dive vacation is a safe & satisfying adventure. Blessings & best wishes.

Best fishes too!

>////*> <*\\\\<

John Hessburg, General Manager
Susan Hessburg, Operations Manager
Founding Partners of the U.S. Dive Travel Network.


© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.



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