Shopping in Oman

Thank you Stan, Shawqi and Saleh, for showing us a good time in Oman. The photos on my page are from Oman via Instagram.
Thanks Gaya for chaperoning me around.
Thanks Ahmad and David for the feedback

Still enjoying the halwa. Should have bought more of Amouage and orange blossom tea.

Oman: shopping fit for Sultans in Muscat and beyond
Shoba Narayan
February 6, 2014 Updated: February 6, 2014 14:34:00

When friends in India heard that I was going to Muscat, they asked me to bring back gold and silver. “The gold is purer there,” said my mother. “Go to Damas or Joyalukkas.”

But Joyalukkas is an Indian jeweller, I protested.

“Like I said, the gold is purer there,” repeated my mother.

I didn’t go to Damas or Joyalukkas during a recent trip to Muscat. We were a group of foodies who had blown into Muscat to eat and drink with the locals. When our hosts, the businessmen Shawqi Sultan and Saleh Taleb, invited us to their homes for dinner, we made careful note of the saffron that perfumed their rice, the spice rubs that made their steaks so succulent and the preserved lemons that lent a delicious tang to their vegetables. Best of all was the orange-blossom tea that was served after meals. We all wanted the divine-smelling liquid. We grilled our hosts about food, and went to Al Fair supermarket and Lulu’s hypermarket, where all of Muscat seemed to shop.

After a week in town, I came up with a list of the finest things to buy in Muscat.

Frankincense

Once considered more precious than gold and known to sailors all the way to China, frankincense grows in neighbouring Yemen, but the quality is better in Oman. Called “luban” by locals, the frankincense from Dhofar in the south, which was once the centre of the “Frankincense Trail”, is considered of the best quality. Omanis use this sacred aromatic resin that is obtained by slashing the bark of the Boswellia sacra tree three times. The first sap is white and called “safeda”. The third cutting of the same wound produces the best quality frankincense, called “Hojari” or “Al Hojari”. The cliffs of Mughsayl in the Salalah area produce sap that has an orange-and-spice scent, which is prized by connoisseurs. Locals chew luban for good health, steep it in hot water and use it as incense to perfume their homes. Packets of frankincense are widely available. The shops at Muttrah Souq sell frankincense tears for a couple of Omani rials. The perfume stand at malls sell frankincense oil in crystal or glass bottles with jewel-toned covers. The best-quality frankincense, which is transparent and green in colour, can cost hundreds of rials. Brands such as Al Haramain, Abdul Samad Al Qurashi and Arabian Oud, which have shops all over the gulf sell high quality frankincense in the form of tears, perfume or essential oils, which can start at 20 rials (Dh191) and go up to several hundred rials. The shops in Muttrah souq in contrast, sell white frankincense in plastic packets for 5 rials (Dh48).

Bukhoor is what is burnt at Omani homes. It is a mixture of scents that is piped into the air conditioning system of the Sultan Qaboos grand mosque giving this place of prayer a lovely implacable scent. Bukhoor is a powdered mixture that is made with wood chips dipped into musk, rose, and other essential oils. To that, Omanis add customised ingredients like frankincense, oud, rose essence, dried flowers, sea shells and spices such as nutmeg and cardamom. All these ingredients are mixed, powdered and sold as bukhoor. Omanis sprinkle bukhoor on burning coals and dry their clothes in the smoke that emanates from it. Visitors are offered bukhoor burners to smell upon arrival as a gesture of hospitality. Prepackaged bukhoor can be had at the souqs for a couple of rials. Customised bukhoor with quality ingredients can cost ten times more.

• Available at Sabco Centre and Muttrah Souq

Incense burners

Sultan Qaboos loves the scents of Oman. His mountaintop retreat is shaped like an incense burner. These objects are available all over Oman, from a couple of rials to hundreds. The Thursday market at Nizwa, an hour outside Muscat, sells ceramic and clay incense burners for about 5 to 10 rials (Dh48 to Dh95). Asma Masoud Al Kharusi, a local designer, sells elegantly carved burners made of tin at her shop, Asmaa Collectionz at the Opera Galleria. The shop is a great place to find gift articles and handicrafts that put a modern spin on traditional Omani crafts. There are lacquered boxes decorated with khanjars (the ornate dagger that is the icon of Oman), glass bottles embellished with pewter, silver napkin rings, gold necklaces and incense burners. From 70 rials (Dh668).

http://www.asmaacollectionz.com

Fine art

Founded by Sayyida Susan Al Said, a member of the Omani royal family, the Bait Muzna art gallery displays beguiling paintings by contemporary Omani artists. It has two locations: one in a lovely old bungalow in the Old City and another at the Opera Galleria, attached to the Royal Opera House Muscat.

The Opera Galleria is a great place to wander around, particularly in the hot months. It houses Eye Candy, a boutique that stocks international brands such as Jimmy Choo and is patronised by the Omani elite. Ubhar, the city’s top – and very expensive – Omani restaurant stands beside the Fauchon patisserie. There are jewellers, gift shops and perfumeries.

http://www.baitmuznagallery.com

Fusion wear

Mrunal Khimji was educated at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She opened Mrunal’s boutique six years ago and sells saris, jalabiyas, fusion wear and western dresses for Omanis and tourists. Mrunal’s boutique and Boutique Muscat both sell clothes and knick-knacks with a touch of Oman. From 20 to 200 rials (Dh191 to Dh1,908) for blouses and saris.

http://www.mrunalsboutique.com, ­ http://www.facebook.com/M­mrunalsboutique and ­www.facebook.com/­BboutiqueMmuscat

Omani silverware

The shops at Nizwa sell quality Omani silverware. There are khanjars, typically square pendants that adorn necklaces, bracelets and long earrings. Omani silver is considered “purer” than its counterparts in other countries. The shops at Jawaharat Al Shatti mall are where the locals go to buy silver. From 100 to 700 rials (Dh954 to Dh6,678) for decent examples.

• Omani Heritage Gallery, Jawaharat Al Shatti mall. http://www.omaniheritage.com

Dishdashas

This white garment worn by men is spare and elegant. Good ones cost about 25 rials (Dh239). An easy way to obtain one is to buy one for 6 rials (Dh57) outside the Grand Mosque. They are on offer for visitors who aren’t dressed correctly. The starched cotton, with a tassel used by Omani men to dip into the perfume stoops that were at the entrance of each home, are lovely to wear.

• Al Ibtihaj National Enterprises, Muttrah Souq

Dry fruits and nuts

Hamed Khamis Al-Farsy Trading is a bustling shop in the middle of Muttrah Souq. It sells a variety of cashew nuts, pine nuts, dates and dry fruits. Part of the charm is sampling the wares that are displayed invitingly in open bins and having them weighed and packed for you. From 5 rials (Dh48) for good quality pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.

• Hamed Khamis Al-Farsy Trading, Muttrah Souq

Wedding chests

Mandoos are wedding chests that have been used for centuries in Oman. They are wooden boxes decorated with hammered metal closures. Good ones are available at the Nizwa Souq for about 20 rials (Dh191). Small ones can be found at the other souqs in Muscat like Muttrah and Sabco.

• Ali Baba Gift Town, just outside Muttrah Souq.

Amouage

You don’t have to buy Amouage perfumes in Muscat. They are available globally. Its CEO, David Crickmore, says that they are an international brand that happens to be headquartered in Oman. The perfumes are designed in the UK, created in the south of France and packaged in Oman. Still, an Amouage factory tour is a nice experience and watching the smiling women behind glass walls stamp and package the perfumes might induce you to part with the US$275 [Dh1,010] needed to buy a 100-millilitre bottle of their latest fragrance, Fate.

http://www.amouage.com

Walking sticks

Omani men use walking sticks like their hands. They gesture with them and tap them on the ground to make a point. Some of the bamboo sticks are decorated with metal handles; some have concealed swords inside – called “arsaa”. Make sure you don’t buy those, as they will not be allowed through customs. From about 20 rials (Dh191), depending on the delicacy of the ­handles.

• Alauddin City Handicrafts & Gifts, Muttrah Souq.

Omani halwa

Far more delicate than Turkish or any other halwa that is found in the Gulf countries, Omani halwa is light and fragrant, made with molasses, flour, rose water and a hint of cardamom, all of which are stirred for hours to make this sweet. I bought a box for 1 rials in the Nizwa Souq, but it can be found all over the ­Sultanate.

• Awlaad Naseer, Nizwa Souq. 00968 993 62729

IF YOU GO
The flight Muscat is served by Etihad (www.etihadairways.com) and Oman Air (www.omanair.com) from Abu Dhabi and Emirates (www.emirates.com) and FlyDubai (www.flydubai.com) from Dubai. A return with Etihad costs from Dh505, including taxes.

The hotel A double room at the Al Bustan Palace (www.ritzcarlton.com) costs from 140 rials (Dh1,336) per night, including taxes but excluding breakfast.

Indian design objects

  • Columns
  • Posted: Fri, Mar 9 2012. 9:42 PM IST
The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

When people talk about India’s design aesthetic, they most often reach for the past. The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful. Is there an Indian design aesthetic? What are some objects of everyday use that exemplify this aesthetic? Here is my incomplete list of things I believe are beautiful and follow the form-marries-function credo.

The lota (a spherical water vessel). Of course. Thanks to American designer Charles Eames’ comment in The India Report, which led to the formation of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in 1961. “Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful,” said Eames.

The thali.

The thali.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The tiffin carrier. A thing of beauty really, used to carry multiple courses in train compartments and for long journeys. Immortalized by Subodh Gupta in his sculptures. Still used in urban India, where caterers carry food in giant tiffin boxes in autorickshaws. Which leads us to the….

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

Autorickshaw. Inspired by the Italian Piaggio Ape, not as indigenous as the bullock cart, but a ubiquitous object of love and hate nevertheless.

Ambassador car. Not exactly indigenous, but has become an Indian icon. Immortalized by Jitish Kallat in his work.

Kulhad (earthen) cups.Disposable, biodegradable, hygienic. As easy on the eye as the paper plates designed by Japanese design firm Wasara (www.wasara.jp/index_e.html)

Saris. Even though pretty much every Indian apparel is an example of good indigenous design, a few stand out. The sari is intrinsic to India, and conveys the soul of our textile traditions. This unstitched cloth reflects an aesthetic that is rooted in simplicity as the essence of purity. The regional variations possible out of this fabric are mind-boggling in their creativity.

Kurta. Called tunic globally, these long tops that we wear all over India are now sold in Stockholm, Sweden, and San Francisco, US.

Bindis. Madonna wears them. Bharti Kher popularized them in her sculptures, although she doesn’t wear them herself.

Lungi. Checked or plain, the lungidhotiveshti and panchakacham, are all variations of a simple cotton cloth that is put to good use by our men. In Kerala, lungis raised to half-mast to reveal hirsute legs is a common sight. Toddy tappers tie them even higher as they clamber up trees and bring down the fluid that lubricates Kerala’s love of fish.

Kolhapuri chappals. Uniquely Indian.

Mojris and Chikan work. Prada is doing a take on these.

Coir. Beds and mats are most common, but the range of objects that the “kalpavriksha” coconut tree offers range in number and drive some of Kerala’s economy.

Chattais. Woven mats. We sit on them. We sleep on them. Now we putzari borders on them and colour them pink and purple.

Jadhu (broomstick). Local materials tied together to make a cleaning object that is user-friendly, biodegradable and does its job.

Tambu. Tent. It’s used all over the country.

Turban. It finds multiple uses in the desert, from keeping your head cool to carrying some food in its folds.

Jhola. These bags have become cool these days, with modern designers putting their own spin on them.

Safety pin. Not necessarily Indian but becomes an Indian woman’s Swiss army knife and is strung in her mangalsutra. Kiran Uttam Ghosh makes tassels out of safety pins in her clothes.

Cradles made of saris in trains. Okay, so these aren’t exactly objects but examples of Indian jugaad (resourcefulness). But they conform to design firm Ideo’s credo of “human-centric design”.

Kaajal-daani. Lovely object from Madhya Pradesh, used to apply kaajal(kohl) in eyes. Comes with a mirror inside. I own one. I bought it for Rs.350 at Dastkar in Bangalore from a craftsman.

Sit-cutting. Called boti in Bengali, addeli in Konkani, kathipeeta in Telugu, aruvamanai in Tamil, pankhi in Oriya, vili or morli in Marathi,thuriyo mane in Kannada, daat in Punjabi, hansua in Bihar and Jharkhand, and kaanthne in Mangalore, this unique cutting instrument implies leisure and camaraderie in the kitchen. A beloved kitchen tool.

What’s your list? Thank you, Sujata Keshavan, co-founder, Ray + Keshavan, and Surya Prakash, managing director, Design Core, for contributing to mine.

Shoba Narayan’s current favourite design object is an uruli-table with a glass on top. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

Also Read | Shoba’s earlier Lounge columns

Can you survive a year without shopping?

My latest Mint piece is a topic that I have been thinking a lot about.

Can you show affection without buying people things? How to use the most precious thing we have– time– to tell the people we care that we care about them.

Here is the Mint article

t was the summer of 1845. The Irish potato famine raged. In Leipzig, after six years of hard work, Felix Mendelssohn’s piercing and pathos-laden Violin Concerto in E minor premiered to a stupefied audience. Sarah Chang,and Anne-Sophie Mutter have all played it, but Janine Jansen’s rendering will make your hair stand on edge with its “double-stopping” notes reminiscent of Carnatic brigas.

Ascetic: Thoreau retreated into a ‘Socratic’ life at 28.Wikimedia Commons
That same year, in Concord, Massachusetts, the 28-year-old son of an American pencil maker bought 14 acres of wooded forest land, built himself a small home and embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living. That man’s name was Henry David Thoreau and the result of his project was Walden, a seminal book that examines the notion of self, solitude, simplicity and living with nature.
Also Read |Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

Thoreau retreated to the woods to pursue the Socratic ideal of the examined life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he wrote. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Prodigious ambition for one so young.

Withdrawal and restraint are recurring philosophical themes in pretty much every culture, ranging from Plato’s allegory of the cave, to Vedic philosophy’s injunction about controlling the five senses or Pancha Mahabhootas as a path to enlightenment.

My own experiment with self-control didn’t begin at Walden Pond but in my own home. Over Christmas, I looked into my closet and confronted the eternal feminine dilemma: so many clothes and yet, nothing to wear. This happens to most of us. The Cavalli gown that Niira Radia told Ratan Tata about had never been worn for a reason—it probably looked wonderful on the mannequin but perhaps lost its sheen once it moved to her closet.

What is your relationship with the objects you own? Do you enjoy them or do you tolerate them simply because they are there? Do you enjoy having a lot of things or does it bother you to be surrounded by them? Are you a pack-rat or an ascetic when it comes to the stuff you own?

Those of us who are over 30 can remember a time when we craved certain things. Remember longing for that perfect summer dress or those purple rhinestone sandals that made you feel like a million bucks? Remember saving up to buy your first bottle of Joy perfume by Jean Patou and then savouring every drop? Remember walking by the Fendi boutique countless times, staring at the siren red baguette bag before plonking down several months’ worth of salary for it? Here’s my question: Do you feel the same way about that peacock blue Kanjeevaram sari, polki diamond necklace or Burberry trench coat even now? Or are you over them? Do objects excite you in the same way that they did when you were young?

If you, like me, have become jaded, you have two choices. One is to up the ante so much that it will take your breath away. The other is renouncement, but more on that later. Upping the ante involves buying the most expensive things that you can afford: better wine, fast cars, Cuban cigars, aged single malts, the Jatin Das painting you’ve been eyeing. Throw caution to the wind and see if you can get the excitement back. Buy that Royal Enfield you’ve fantasized about; or that emerald solitaire ring the size of a mini-paperweight.

The other approach is what I am experimenting with. This New Year’s, I have come up with a resolution that I am fairly confident I can keep. For the year 2011, I am off things. I will not buy anything that is non-perishable. I will indulge in all the things I love—vacations, massages, dark chocolate, food and drink—without having to be stuck with clothes, handbags, accessories, you know, all those things that you buy on an impulse and regret later.

It is not so much frugality that is driving this resolution. Rather, it is a desire to recapture my old self and the sense of excitement I felt about buying things. Just as a fast will increase your desire for food, a one-year abstinence from consumerism should make me appreciate an Anupama Dayal dress or even a handcrafted Hyderabadi bangle. That’s my rationale anyway.

Like most resolutions, this one too is tricky. It is not so much about abstaining as much as it is about managing the feelings of loved ones. Unless I am on vacation, I don’t care much for shopping anyhow. But how to tell your beloved aunt or your friend visiting from abroad that you cannot accept the crystal necklace or silk scarf that they have bought especially for you, because you are off…er, stuff? I mean, you can be off meat, garlic or liquor, but how can you be off stuff? Those are the things I am contending with.

The resolution has already started working though. I look at the jewellery I own through new eyes because I know that they will be my only companions for the next 10 months. I can try to wear them creatively, but I cannot afford to get bored with them because they’re all I’ve got. The same goes for clothes, gizmos, furniture, stuff. It’s like an object version of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages fall in love with their kidnappers simply because they are there. Disposable income is all very well but it also makes the objects that you buy “disposable”, at least emotionally. Constraints, even self-imposed ones, have one great virtue: They force you to value things and not take them for granted. As for me, I am enjoying my year of abstinence. I have fallen off the wagon only once so far for an object that I am too embarrassed to talk about.

Shoba Narayan will be drinking lots of champagne in 2011. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com