When we were planning a trip to Muscat from Dubai one of my friends said, “If Dubai is Kolkata Muscat is Panskura. Or to put it in a more international parlance if Dubai is New York Muscat is a sleepy US suburb with nothing to do there. Definitely not a place for a holiday.”
But I wasn’t daunted. I had been to Musandam in Oman in 2007 and loved the fjords and the green sea, loved the dhow cruise with the dolphins swimming along and enjoyed the snorkelling experience. I was determined to check out Oman’s capital Muscat this time and these comparisons did not really matter to me. An added bonus was my desire to reconnect with three people.
One was Swati, who was my junior in Times of India and is settled in Muscat now, second was Sumita my friend from university. I had reconnected with both on FB. And third was Swati’s husband Rahul. My husband, Rahul and I had all started our lives together in Asian Age. Being the crime reporter he often took me to do crime stories with him, an experience that I probably wouldn’t have managed to acquire without him, because despite women joining journalism in hordes crime reporting is often considered a man’s forte even today.
Armed with these two desires – one to see Muscat and the other to reconnect with old friends we set out for the five-hour drive to Oman.
The drive itself was uplifting. As the silky sands of Dubai’s deserts made way for the rough yet ravishing Hajaar Mountains the topography changed from one place to another along with the elevation.
With the mountains in the backdrop Muscat looked like a city out of Arabian Nights. Most of the houses were painted white, were not beyond four-storeys tall and had an old-world-charm that instantly appealed to me. Swati and Rahul’s home, where we were putting up for our three-day trip, had the best views of the mountain and the city. Every time I looked out of the window I was invaded by a sense of calm and peace.
Muscat wasn’t anything like Dubai that was for sure. But I liked it instantly. It had the best roads, well-stocked supermarkets, bustling eateries and a couple of nice malls. It was definitely not Panskura or for that matter a sleepy US suburb, where life never throbs.
I was keen to explore the natural beauty of Oman so we headed for the Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat the next day. At the end of a lovely drive down a mountainous road a mesmerizing sight awaited us. The biggest dam in Oman is probably the most beautiful dam I have ever seen.
And the long stretch of the virgin Quriyat beach was another beautiful sight. Apart from us, in the entire stretch of the beach there was only one Omani couple and a group of boys playing football in the distance. It felt like a world where nature still had its say.
With a three-year-old son in tow it was not possible to cover much especially when I had to keep his sleep time and eating schedule in mind. But still we managed to see the Matrah Corniche (the heart of old Muscat) and the lovely Qurum Beach and managed a word with god in Muscat’s famous Shiv Mandir.
And then it was my turn to meet my university pal Sumita who lives in a lovely villa opposite the Azaiba beach. I realized it’s nothing like connecting with old friends, nothing like marveling at our children hitting it off immediately and nothing like taking a collective look at our plumper selves, laughing about it and saying, “Did we ever imagine we will meet like this?”
For me Muscat wasn’t a holiday it was a journey. It was a realization that some people don’t change. Yes Rahul still has that laugh that was so famous in Asian Age. Swati is still that bubbly girl I knew at work only now she is also an efficient mom to a four-year-old son and a brilliant cook. And Sumita is still that bindaas girl I spent hours yapping with at University but now she has two wonderful daughters to have her conversations with.
As for me I think I am still the kind who believes in herself. That’s why I never believed Muscat is like Panskura and made the journey to this quaint city and came back with a bag full of memories.