Step back in time in Muttrah Souq in Oman

The Life: On the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, Oman has long been a port of call for trade and commerce.

An Omani Khanjar (dagger) seller sits inside his shop at the traditional Souk Muttrah in Muscat, Oman. EPA / ALI HAIDER
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On the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, Oman has long been a port of call for trade and commerce.

For centuries, Muscat, the capital, has seen ships loaded with spices and pearls cross the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean between India and East Africa on their way to the Far East and Europe.

Even today, Mina Sultan Qaboos, Muscat's main port, is a hub for vessels going to the Arabian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. From livestock and food grains to vehicles and construction materials, the port handles them all.

Nearly 2,000 vessels passed through the port in 2010. Traditional dhows still anchor in the port, with nearly 400 of them docking in Muscat in 2010.

For those on a business jaunt to the capital, there are several highlights that can be covered in a day.

Away from the bustle of the modern-day port, the Muttrah Souq is a step back in time - in its architecture. The goods for sale are from around the world.

One can find China-made products along with Indian embroidery and shops laden with Omani silver jewellery. The pottery - oud burners and water jugs - make for excellent souvenirs.

There are a few upmarket frankincense stores in the alleys that take sudden turns and branch off into sub-alleys.

The Grand Mosque, which opened 11 years ago, lies in the heart of the city.

The central chandelier made from Swarovski crystals is spectacular, but take time out to check the intricate carvings in the main hall and the murals in Moghul, Arabic, Persian and central Asian styles.

Framed by the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman, Muscat also has some unspoilt beaches with nooks and caves along the coast.

The popular ones include Qurum beach, which in 2007 was destroyed by Cyclone Gonu and remains closed for swimming, and Qantab beach down the coast.