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We arrived in Nizwa last night after a long day exploring Jebel Shams and the aged village of Misfat Al Abriyeen. Today is our last full day in Oman. We start early, meandering the narrow streets surrounding downtown Nizwa. Crumbling stone walls and newly constructed homes co-exist amidst an unlikely landscape of palm trees. As we’ve seen over the past 10 days, life in Oman is an illustration of extremes — the bounty of the ocean next to the vacancy of the desert; the stark mountains next to the lush palm groves of the wadis. There is hardly any middle ground. Even the middle of the day is a barren stretch of time deserted by everything but the sun.

We look for a place to get coffee — a comfort of home in a foreign town. But as we walk around Nizwa, we’re reminded again that Oman exists for itself and not for its visitors. Not that it’s unfriendly — we’ve been welcomed and treated well everywhere we’ve been. But it’s what we don’t find here in Nizwa — cafΓ©s full of tourists, menus in four languages, guides selling tours, vendors competing for attention — that shows Oman’s success at maintaining its authenticity. Even though a cappuccino would be really nice right now, it’s far nicer to find a place holding onto its identity, sharing itself but not giving itself away. No coffee, no problem. I think it’s my own expectation that’s misplaced here. In Oman, coffee is meant to be shared among people rather than bought for oneself.

We come to the entrance of Nizwa Fort, built in the middle of the 17th century and recently restored in the 1980s. Many centuries ago Nizwa was Oman’s capital, located at the crossroads of caravan routes. The fort was built to protect the city and house its leaders. Muscat has since become Oman’s center of government and trade but Nizwa remains significant for its character and history.

The fort is a surprising maze of staircases and rooms, including a tiny prison — a stuffy, windowless den. We eventually find our way to the central tower. Evidence of a brutal war tactic remains. Above each wooden door to the tower there’s a hole where boiling oil or date syrup could be poured over incoming enemies.

The tower itself measures 45 meters in diameter. We climb one of the side staircases to a panoramic view of Nizwa and the surrounding mountains.

The souk and streets around the fort hold the bounty of Nizwa — beautiful clay pots, brass tea pots, khanjars so emblematic of Oman and, of course, everything related to frankincense — from burners to resin. The Boswellia tree, native to Oman and a few countries nearby, emits sap when the bark is “striped”. This tree sap hardens into resin and carries a distinct aroma. The resin can be burned, distilled into oil and even eaten (with some interesting cancer- and depression-fighting capabilities of note). When I arrived in Oman I had never smelled frankincense but it has infused our time here like a trail through a forest. Whether it’s burning in a diffuser or wafting from the dishdasha of someone passing by, the scent is ever present and irresistible.

Frankincense

Frankincense

I’ve already bought some frankincense accessories to take home, but I buy another burner as we make one last walk through the souk. We pass men sitting together on the ground playing a board game, the fruit and vegetable market beats a slow pulse nearby, and life prepares to shut down for the afternoon.

We reluctantly make our way to the car knowing our time in Oman is coming to an end. We pass a road sign warning us of camel crossings as we begin the drive back to Muscat. Looking out the window as Oman’s exotic landscape passes me by, I am more intrigued now than when I arrived 10 days ago.

There is something enchanting about this country — a beauty revealed slowly and quietly over time. Take any part of Oman by itself — like the hot, empty desert — and it most certainly wouldn’t be so memorable. But the sum of its parts — that same desert with its warmth, sunset, rustic camp, dinner by candlelight, sweet dates, blissful bed, evening silence, morning fog, impossibly fine sand and genuine hospitality — creates an unforgettable sensory experience. This trip has been a series of sensory experiences. Travel at its best. The elusive feeling of discovery has returned.

Here’s a look back at my favorite memories of Oman. May my home forever smell of frankincense.

This is the final post in my series about Oman. The series begins here.

33 comments

  1. This is a wonderful article. Beautifully written. I visited Muscat way back in 1990. Don’t remember all too much about it other than when touring around the desert and such I couldn’t get the Police song “Walking On The Moon” out of my head. Yes, I too was mesmerized and allured by the pervading smell of frankincense; and yes I, too, bought all the paraphernalia so I could burn it back home. I wonder where it all is now..

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    1. Yay! I’m not the only junkie! Ha ha! πŸ™‚ Thanks for your wonderful comment, Kurt. Wow, the 1990s! Lucky you to have Muscat back then. I, too, had a Police song in my head … Tea in the Sahara. Wrong desert, but same feeling.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These posts about Oman are my favorites of any you have written. I hate to admit my former indifference to this exotic country; you have enlightened me and lit a fire of fascination, which is precisely what travel writing is supposed to do. So much of current travel writing lacks depth and any hint of truly having BEEN THERE.
    Thanks for the soul and the quiet, respectful details that you observe and include….I know you were there, body, mind and spirit. This is some magnificent reporting.

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  3. I really enjoyed this blog, for its writing, information and photography. Thanks for sharing. Only question: wonder whether its better to have boiling oil or boiling syrup poured on you? πŸ™‚ –Curt

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  4. Hi there – the first thought in my mind when reading this article is that it’s so well written. I enjoyed pictures too, the wonderful details and magnificent colours. Some of the city views reminds me of ‘Game of Thrones’ series.
    – Ruta

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  5. …Travel at its best. The elusive feeling of discovery has returned. My jealous. Any chance I could talk J into having “two” wives? Kelley this is really wonderful. You help the reader experience right along side you. The photo’s certainly bring the experience home. Thank you! I just wish this tail could continue. So, on to a new adventure, keep sharing and “me three” β€” love love love frankincense.

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  6. Ahhhhhhh, you make me want to go there I feel it so much reading your accounts. You make it sound so enticing. Perhaps we will get there one day. Next up for us – Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
    Alison

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    1. Oh, wow, Alison! You have so much to look forward to with Turkey, Egypt and Jordan coming up! We LOVED Turkey. Are you going to Wadi Rum? I’ve been following a Jordanian guide on Instagram and Wadi Rum looks similar to Oman’s desert and wadis. If my posts have whet your appetite, you may find yourself on a similar adventure! I cannot wait to read about your upcoming experiences! As always, thanks for your comment. πŸ™‚

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  7. I love the Door to the Desert photo. Captures your trip perfectly. You are very talented. Look forward to your postings.

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  8. Your travel writing style here is hypnotic. I love your description of Nizwa/Oman “sharing itself but not giving itself away”; would more cities across the tourist treaded world be like this. Your photos are a treasure.
    I’ll share this over on Twitter, as I have your other posts.

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  9. Kelly, your final post on Oman further confirms my fascination towards the country, a fascination that hopefully turns into a visit one day. πŸ™‚ To have such attitude as ‘I think it’s my own expectation that’s misplaced here’, you truly embraced the beauty of travel; to see places so foreign as well as to learn new and unfamiliar things. I know sometimes it’s tempting to have something we’re more familiar with, but see what you experienced in Oman by having the right attitude and mindset. I really love your photos!

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    1. Bama! Thank you! Yes, we can always learn new things while traveling, especially if we can get out of our own head and our own established ideas. Oman was a great exercise in doing this, and I’m still thinking about the lifestyle there even six months after this trip ended! Thanks so much for your comment. πŸ™‚

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  10. Beautiful, beautiful! Now I will forever associate Oman with the scent of frankincense. Your post is making me ache to visit a country that as you say, “exists for itself and not for its visitors.” Such a gem seems rare and precious these days.

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  11. Again, your writing thrills me. Your photos are marvelous, just marvelous. But your words…how do you come up with them? Rhetorical question, no need to answer. Just know I appreciate very good writing. I once purchased a tiny piece of gold, and frankincense and myrrh in Oman… and gave it to my mother for Xmas.

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    1. Guess what? Long story, but I had the odd occasion this evening to revisit this post on Oman and… omg, I never responded to this lovely comment from you. Thank you, Badfish. And your mother is a lucky woman. What a sweet gift from a sweet son.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Great reading and great pictures! I sailed off the coast of Oman many times in the U.S. Navy. But, we never had any chance to go ashore in Oman. I see a little now of what we missed. Thanks for sharing!

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  13. Hi! I found your blog via your comment on the Luxury Travel Expert…and I found his blog when I was researching the hotels I had booked in Oman (the Alila and the Chedi). I *loved* your Oman posts…and I loved Oman! I spent a week there a month ago, and I feel like I left a piece of myself there. That extraordinary country resonated with me on some weirdly sublime level (and I’m NOT a new-agey, hippie-type person…at all!). At any rate, thank you for sharing your experiences and allowing me to relive some of mine through them. I had started compiling a list of things to do on my next Oman visit before I had even left, and your insights will help me to fine-tune that list.

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    1. Mark! So nice to connect with you through the Luxury Travel Expert! (Love his blog.) Thank you so much for the kind words about my Oman posts. So happy you enjoyed them. Yes, isn’t Oman an amazing place?! How COOL that it affected you so deeply and so surprisingly. It’s magic when that happens. Love that you’re already planning your return visit. What’s on your list? Did you do any desert camping? Wasn’t the Alila amazing? How was the Chedi? Did you have a favorite part of your trip? Thank you so much for getting in touch. Hope to keep hearing from you about your future adventures! ~Kelly

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    1. Awesome! I agree — Oman is an incredible country. Check out the WordPress Discover page — there’s a new featured post on Oman with great photography. Thanks for reading and getting in touch. πŸ™‚

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