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Nizwa Muscat

16th March 2013

Chill Out Time in "Little India" - Where's the Spittoon?

Let's Get Happy
    I made a leisurely start to the morning, the first 30 minutes in a cold shower - exceedingly refreshing. It was hard to imagine that in a few days' time I would be in a snowy world in freezing temperatures, trying to keep warm.
    Having just undertaken two long days with almost 1000km of distance covered in 19 hours of driving, I relished the idea of a plain, boring, chill out day.
Store Entrance
    That still didn't stop me dreaming though. I considered travelling down to Sur tomorrow, and investigated my options for getting there. First of all, there are no trains in Oman, though the Sultanate has been looking into the possibilities for some time. There were two busses per day between Muscat and Sur, each leg of the trip taking 4.5 hours. A hire care would be a better option, but that could still take 3 hours per leg, assuming I didn't take a wrong turn on the route. All that travelling again ......... the idea started to fade away.
    I took a gentle stroll in Ruwi, but this time I headed into an area further south of the C.B.D. This was a marked contrast to the immaculate, sterile financial district. Soon I was weaving in and out of alleyways brimming with small businesses and shops. Gleaming cars were parked higgledy-piggledy on either side of the alleys, with others trying to squeeze through. In one such small lane I came across a large delivery truck trying to pick its way through. Cars stacked up behind were tooting their horns, a queue of cars that had been approaching the truck head-on were taking an age to reverse back. Oh, what fun!
Anyone for a Suitcase?
    This district comprised one arterial road on which larger stores were located, surrounded by a maze of smaller shops and businesses. As I explored, I discovered that the whole patch had organised itself into areas of specialities. The cobblers and watch makers/repairers blended into the adjacent area where most of the suitcases on the planet were lined up. Then there was a ghetto of mobile phone salesman and repairers, which in turn butted onto the land of electrical and electronic appliance repairers. The world of opticians rubbed shoulders with the complex that sold women's traditional clothes and the adjacent block of tailors. Finally I passed through a myriad of car part suppliers/repairers/garages/tyre specialists, before coming across a conglomeration of computer shops and repairers. Liberally scattered amongst these enterprises were an enormous snip of barber shops.
    In all this traipsing, I came to fully understand why Ruwi and its environs was referred to as "Little India". It seemed to be 95% Indian, and probably the nearest I have ever come to experiencing Calcutta.
Iranian Bank
    I had intended this to be a five minute stroll, so I hadn't put any sun-cream on. I had been exploring for well over an hour in blistering 38 degrees, so I sought the welcome shade of a coffee house. Oman is blessed with a surplus of such places, and I spotted one with a couple of tables outside in the shade. The inside appeared dingy after the bright sunlight. Two Formica tables were littered with the debris from a recent deluge of coffee/tea drinkers who had partaken of the snacks on offer.
    I watched the middle-aged man, who looked older than he probably was, make my coffee. He was very dark, with fine moist black eyes and thick eyelashes. He had an earnest grave expression and hardly ever a smile on his face. A small paper cup, two teaspoons of instant coffee, a spoon of sugar which I never normally indulge in, and then he went to the back to get boiling water. A quick stir followed by condensed milk poured from a great height, another stir, and that was it. 150 Baisa or 24p! Delicious, the sugar just took the edge off the bitterness.
    I had noticed during my long stroll that the local population, which was predominantly Indian/Pakistani, were inclined to spit in the street. Now when I was a lad, I used to see coal-miners spit in the street, great mouthfuls of black and grey dust congealed in sticky globules that would adhere to the pavements like cow-pats. When I asked my father or grandfathers why they did this, "Te git rid t'coal dust," was the response. But why these guys in Ruwi spat all the time I'll never know.
At Least They're Honest
    On my way back to my hotel, I watched a gaggle of shared taxi drivers in a small cul-de-sac where all their cabs stood. They sat around in traditional dress, noisily engaged in the fine line between angry exchanges and joking; my lack of Arabic linguistic skills rendered such dialogues as complete mysteries to me. A few were actively engaged in shouting out destinations to all and sundry that passed within earshot. Some passing menfolk gladly climbed aboard relevant minibuses, and a few others seemed reluctant to do so but succumbed eventually. The rest just muttered and walked on by. When a bus was full, off it went, complete with passengers and a complement of bundles, carpets, mattresses and miscellaneous shopping. The antics of the drivers enticing customers was fun to watch.
    I succumbed to the heat, had a nap, then retired to the swimming pool until the sun had set, and a faint memory of the vanished day still lingered in the west.
    Later in the evening, I returned to this district to take in how it functioned at night. Although I tend to forget to eat in this heat, I realised I needed to take food on board. I was determined to find an Omani food restaurant.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque at Night
Another Mosque at Night
    Despite being dark for over two hours, heat still radiated off the street. The dingy shop interiors took on a different complexion at night. Now they were brightly lit inside, and there they still were, the same tailors, shoemakers, the laundry men constantly ironing. Indeed all the businesses seemed to have taken on board a new lease of life.
    Perhaps this was due to around triple the number of people on the streets after dark. I stumbled across areas where large numbers of Indians were congregated on both sides of the street. There was no correlation between where they were gathered and the businesses in that locality. It was as if they were gathered to witness a stage of a cycle race about to whizz through, but there was no such special event. I plodded through the spittoons of streets, looking in vain for Omani food. After a good while, a young Indian lad, holding the hand of his tiny brother, informed me in excellent English that it was all Indian food in this district.
    I gave up and settled for a dish, whose name meant nothing to me, but it smacked of curry.
    I returned to base to watch Wales beat England in a Six Nations clash, a really tough, hard-tackling match. The Welsh deserved to win, they played it well and prevented England from opening up the game. Next year perhaps.

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Nizwa Muscat
Last updated 19.4.2013