Al Hamra is one of the best-preserved old towns of Oman. Old Al Hamra’s narrow stony alleyways and mud-brick houses take visitors back a few centuries.
Bait al Safah was an especially memorable place for us. It is a living museum of old Oman, a great example of traditional Omani culture. Mud-brick buildings are restored with old artifacts and traditional furnishings. In this special town, there was a surprise welcome festival waiting for us. Well dressed Omani men rode their Arabian horses, sword fighting, and jolly old ladies from the town sat nearby enjoying the festivities. It was one of the traditional performances that typically welcomes guests. Horses ran through the narrow main street between people singing people near the mud-brick building wall. There were drums, swords and shields, and singing and dancing. Children were nicely dressed and held special items for the festival: frankincense and rose water. Boys wore a Khanjar, the Omani dagger, and girls were dressed in many colors. All of us ran from scene to scene, capturing the unique moment. We followed the horsemen, walked behind the singing group, chased down the dancing ladies, captured nicely-dressed children, and watched the sword fight. it was one hectic yet joyful afternoon.
Inside of the mud-brick building, lunch was served. Home-cooked mutton curry, saffron rice, and fresh vegetables were the simplest and the best meal I had in my two weeks in Oman. The environment added something special I assume. We were sprinkled with rose water after the meal. Rose water is the specialty of Jabel Akdar (Jabal Akhdar – Green Mountain) region. They harvest right before they blossom (before they explode the fragrance in the air) and distilled in the traditional bud-brick oven. For several centuries, rose water has been used in medicinal, culinary, and celebratory purposes. We rub the water on our hair and clothes. A perfect way to end the traditional celebration.
The same old women who had danced for us out in the street demonstrated basic domestic tasks like how to make traditional bread, hand-squeeze oil, and make accessories. Children learned (perhaps to demonstrate to us) the Quran, by singing a traditional song. We visited a small shop that made halwa (halva or halua). They boiled palm sugar and some ingredients in a huge pot. It is a Middle Eastern dessert that is (usually) made with palm sugar and nuts.
Not to mention, it was the best day for photography. The colors, characters, traditions, and the stories: it was what I wanted to experience in Oman. Here I take you back to the scene with a series of photos from Bait al Safah.