Mus­cat’s ins and outs

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

driver when he ap­pears to take me to an­other ap­point­ment. I am pleased by Ali’s in­sis­tence that we must con­tinue for now there’s an op­por­tu­nity to prop­erly look at the Aflaj Gallery, which cel­e­brates this UNESCO-listed sys­tem of ir­ri­ga­tion and wa­ter man­age­ment. Later, while tour­ing around Oman, I see the aflaj chan­nels on farms, threaded through moun­tain­ous re­gions and mim­icked in re­sorts where slen­der streams of wa­ter are in­cor­po­rated into gar­dens of roses, olive bushes, apri­cots and pomegranates. Sig­nage at the mu­seum tells me the aflaj are known to date back to at least the sixth cen­tury, and re­cent ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies sug­gest ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems were in use in north­ern Oman as early as the Bronze Age. Ali farewells me with small cups of weak, fra­grant cof­fee and my pick from a plat­ter piled with pyra­mids of soft Khu­naizi dates.

The equally gleam­ing 1100-seat Royal Opera House, opened in 2011, is touted as the first of its kind on the Ara­bian Penin­sula, and the events cal­en­dar ranges from sym­phony or­ches­tras to bal­let with a few odd pre­sen­ta­tions be­tween, in­clud­ing the mati­nee I at­tend, at a leisurely 4pm, of Sail­ing Through Time by the Beirut-based Cara­calla Dance Theatre.

The set­ting is all sul­tan-wor­thy red vel­vet seats and car­pets, bal­cony boxes, Is­lamic motifs and gold ga­lore, be­fit­ting the so­phis­ti­cated dress code stated on my ticket of suits for men and con­ser­va­tive cover-ups for women. But in fact there are more jeans and short­ish dresses than the reg­u­la­tions sug­gest — it is all over­whelm­ingly ca­sual, hair un­cov­ered, sup­pos­edly out­lawed ten­nis shoes tap­ping away. And the sound sys­tem rather bucks the rules, too, by break­ing down three times. The au­di­ence just claps along, en­cour­ag­ing those on stage to keep it go­ing, and in a weird way we all seem to bond over laugh­ter and im­promptu cheer­ing.

Sul­tan Qa­boos Grand Mosque

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