Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Own Photos: OPNO's Guide to Mutrah Souq pt.1: straight up the main part of the souq and out to the left

Welcome to the first installment of my guide to Mutrah Souq. This part will document the main stretch of the souq heading up from the Corniche side. It will cover where I know some honest shops to be, where I get deals, where to find things, ect. The photo above is looking back to through the entrance of the souq on the Corniche side.

Make sure you look up at the gorgeous ceilings, and take in the wall art of the souq before haggling in the shops. The shops are pretty eye-candy themselves, especially the first set of shops on the roadisde (which I will document in another segment exploring the souq further). These shops tend to be more expensive for tourist items than shops found on the other side of the souq but they do make LOVELY photographs. The first shop on the right as you go into the souq is one such store. I personally have only purchased some photos of Mutrah pre-Sultan Qaboos era and a silver kohl pot here. The prices are too much unless you are going for a non-Omani-made and not majorly touristy item/s. This shop and many others in the souq have a great deal of "antique" omani silver on display. The shopkeepers themselves, I have found through experience, are very uneducated on actual antique Omani silver, and thus, their prices tend to be too much compared to buying jewelry from a Bedouin woman in Sinaw Souq, or from the more educated dealers in Souq Nizwa. When buying silver jewelry purely out of the love of silver, I veer off on the first turn to the right on entering the souq to go up to the gold souq where prices are more based on weight and workmanship than anything else [they have silver there too].
An example of some of the beautiful wall art, to be found right near the entrance on the left going in. This little shop located on the right side of the souq and pictured above might not look like much, but it stocks Omani products made right in Oman, and if the old Omani man is there when you are, instead of the younger Indian shopkeeper, the prices are pretty decent. I buy woven Omani palm frond place mats, and palm rugs here, along with souvenir "assa" stick whenever a touristy friend of mine needs something for a brother or Grandfather from Oman and fancies a walking stick/riding stick ect. Another ceiling shot. Just a tip: the best time to come to the souq is right at sunset. That's when most of the locals go because it gets alot cooler at night and I find one gets better prices when buying at night, especially if they came to look at the product in the morning before the souq closed for the afternoon heat. It is hard to have the energy to barter as much as you should when you just want to get what you need and out of some of the more stifling shops.
I apologize for not taking a signage shot but this is the interior of the shop that sells totally good priced pashminas, abayas, and stuff you'd never wear as an Omani woman or man, but make people back west feel totally satisfied that they dressed up as Lawrence of Arabia or what not. You'll find it up some steps on the right side going in. This tourista above was picking up a souvenir halloween costume and a good quality fabric abaya to wear to the Grande Mosque. It cost her 6 rials. You wouldn't wear it as a local but the fabric was very breathable. I also got my brother from back home a Saudi get-up. You know the red-checked headpeice with black band holding it in place and white robe with the embroidered robe on top? Soooooooooo cheap. Pashminas not made of real cashmere shoudl be got at 1 rial a peice or 3 for 2 rials. I'm serrious. Alot of the shops say they have real cashmere and charge a fortune for the same thing.

Looking back up the way I came in on going up the main stretch of the souq. Above is a shop that was pretty honest with me about the prices of Omani kuma (the embroidered hats Omani men wear). The shopkeeper explained the pricing, why this one was cheap, which one was real. As a souvenir alot of people going on the cheap buy the machine made ones that don't even use the "tanjeem" techniques of real kumas. If you get a flat embroidered circle instead of a raised circle it was made in a way no Omani would wear at all. Ever. 3 rials. The embroidery technique can be achieved cheaply by machine. 6-15 OMR depending on the style. Handwork can also be found cheaply in kumas embroidered outside of Oman by Philipino women for as little as 6 rials. They are the real thing but may have been made in a sweat shop soooooo... The Omani ones, made by Omani women take up to a month to complete and cost usually from 45-120 OMR depending on how much detail and work went into the design.He also gave me pretty decent prices on handwoven Bedouin baskets with camel leather bottoms and didn't try to "but they're antique!" me. I highly recommend these baskets as a souvenir. I like to use them in my kitchen for storing onions, potatoes, and garlic ect, depending on the size, as well as rice. Never let anyone make you pay more than 5 rial for the smallest size pictured. Serriously. Because they try to make you pay 20-50. Total bull-crap. Some more eycandy shops. I love the coral sold by the string. I'd definately buy some of the lovely antiques but the prices don't match the information that go with them all too often. For example, on an Omani khanjar's (curved dagger) hilt the shopkeeper couldn't tell Rhino horn (1000-3000 OMR khanjar) from Giraffe bone (90-300 OMR depending on the silverwork). That's not something you want to make a mistake in when paying for it. Nizwa and Sharqiyah are much better places to buy non-tourist authentic khanjars and antique rifles More beautiful Mutrah Souq ceiling shots taken on the main walk of the souq.. I sometimes buy black pepper and a massive bag of popcorn here. Cheaper than the Lulu. Occasionally the more touristy shops DO have some more antique items, like this old Dhofari Abu Thail dress, or a leather Bedouin headdress. Still, they are never where I find deals. But I will splurge on the Omani styles mini doors, when my daughter gets big enough to build her a dollhouse. This is the major fork in the souq when you are heading straight up it. Going to the left side still takes you out to the back of the souq but you have to walk up a bit on the road curving to the right to get back to the real back. Worth exploring if you like cheap purses, costume jewelry, and Arabic perfume though. I like the right. This is a very honest (the older Indian shopkeeper) shop even for tourists (may disclude cruise ship goers---prices in the souq are always higher mornings when cruise ships are in unless the shopkeepers especially know you). He gives legitimate prices for the omani mandoos boxes. I could not find better beyond going to the carpenters in more rural areas of Oman to get them made per my design. He also sells bagged frankincense and burners, and perfumed "bukhoor" (incense) which some Omanis I know get from him. My mother also used to buy Omani clay incense burners and pots from him. She can't barter to save her life but they never took advantage of her. They also have items not on display so it helps to ask if they have a different colour of size that you don't see. I personally like the next store, because I love Syrian inlaid furniture and one other reason, not because the prices are good as Syria or anything but because if you ever have a stalker or anyone unpleasent harassing you in the Souq, the two Syrian brothers who work here will make sure you are okay while they call the police or deal with the stalker themselves. One of them speaks very good English. And who can't have enough pearl inlaid boxes on a table or ina cupboard, hmmmm? I like this toy store right on the edge of the back of the souq. It has cute souvenir toys like gold costume Girl's jewelry (that looks like the real thing) stuffed camels, ect. Just don't buy the overpriced pashminas or kumas here unless you negotiate a legit deal because the usual prices are made to be tourist rip-offs. Leaving the back of the souq off the main, to the right side: If you happened to visit the gold souq and saw a design you loved but the price of the weight was too heavy for your wallet, outside the souq this store does carry good quality 24kt coated fakes. A bit pricey (for the same quality I'd visit Seeb Souq's costume jewelry stores). I go for the even cheaper painted fakes, but if I was a tourist with only time for 1 souq I'd invest in one of these because they last alot longer than 5 months of wear ect. Going up along the right side along this side of the souq are the Dhofari shops, selling incense, incense burners, palm goods, and velvet Dhofari traditional dresses covered in crystals. I love the dresses but wait for Muscat Festival to buy. Better prices. As long as I have known the shop keepers in Mutrah souq, I can never get a discount in the mini 'salalah souq' as my Omani husband calls it. I'll document more of this side of the souq in a later post. So, to the right, to the right. Going past the Mutrah police station straight up the right, you'll find the Omani ladies dress tailoring areas. This is where locals go to get abayas made, and Omani traditional dress. Above pictured is the first shop entering the what I dub the Mutrah Omani dress souq. I tend to venture inside the maze of these shops to get the best prices but one can get serriously lost, so to be safe I'll feature a more pricey shop with alot of choice in designs. If you're a Westerner serrious about getting an Omani woman's dress to wear, there really is nothing insde the main part of the souq that an Omani woman would wear, besides maybe, maybe a baby. Or kids preforming a national day school dance. If you show up to an Omani wedding wearing that, it looks cheap. Omanis are nice. People will smile. But you won't be wearing what they'd wear if they chose to don traditional. My husband always likes a dress or two from this shop. Prices range from 80-180 OMR depending on the ammount of handwork or how many crystals. Sorry I didn't get to take alot of pictures. The shopkeepers don't want other tailors to copy their design so I have to be covert. These aren't my favourite designs but it was one wall of the store where the shopkeeper wasn't eyeing my camera like an eagle. END PART 1


Anonymous said...

is trade in rhino horn legal???

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Anon: Antique rhino horn already existing (that means 200 years old is within the Sultanate but import is not allowed without a signed letter from a zoo or something that no rhino was killed for its horn ect. Export takes major wasta even for an antique.

Anonymous said...

Feels like I´m traveling with you :D
I love shopping posts!
I only wish we could zoom in the photos to see more details of the products and inside the shops!