A recent visit to the Muscat Festival provided a great opportunity to capture some portraits and experience the culture of the Sultanate.
Festivals or carnivals are my favourite events, some people may prefer concerts or night clubs, but I find the pageantry of a carnival preferable. There is usually so much happening, with colour and sometimes spectacular events. They are quirky, even eccentric and these are often the most fun.
Muscat festival in Oman is a little more restrained than some celebrating the culture and heritage of the country but still with plenty of vibrant colour, interesting displays and pageantry of its own.
“The air is musty with the aroma of spices”
There are displays of traditional crafts by people wearing colourful and beautiful national dress, some carry weapons, rifles or swords almost all men wearing the dishdasha robe and short dagger known as a khanjar.
The Heritage and Culture Village is an undoubted highlight, designed to seem like a traditional village fort, it has a full souk with merchants selling their wares. Skilled artisans produce woven baskets, silver jewellery or trinkets and pottery for sale. The air is musty with the aroma of spices and incense with fragrant smoke rising from many small pottery burners, this is after all the home of frankincense.
Other scents, which are caught on the breeze include typical Omani food such as shawarma which is slow cooked meat, usually chicken or mutton. The chick peas are surprisingly tasty too and combined with a shawarma make a great snack to tuck into whilst on the go.
There are men mixing large ground based vats, stirring thick black syrup; molasses with a large wooden pole. It boiled and bumbled like an angry broth, and appeared a tiring task as the ‘chef’ need regular rest.
“cacophony of sound that at times can be difficult to isolate”
The byword of the festival is tradition, with displays of swordsmanship, ceremonies and parades. There are several Omani plays, children playing sports or games and performances by musicians playing small ‘penny’ whistles and drums. The mixture of different music, shouting and singing provides a cacophony of sound that at times is difficult to isolate.
All the performances are full of passion especially the concerts and the mock fight scenes, they may not actually be choreographed but the ‘combatants’ provide an artistic interpretation of an intense sword battle. My favourite displays however were the children’s games, singing and dancing, usually young girls wearing bright costumes and expressing their pleasure in smiles of joy and playful laughter.
“Iranian film crew interviewing tourists”
There is also a stage filled with children, holding balloons, they sing with very little prompting. It is hard not to smile.
I had just spent several days being filmed for a reality television programme searching for treasure across various terrains. However meeting an Iranian film crew interviewing tourists about the festival it seemed churlish to decline. They were friendly and it was like enjoying a chat, except it took place in front of another camera.
The festival is a photographers dream, there are so many displays. Every direction there seems something worthy of having a lens pointed at it. It is perfect for taking portraits; it’s slightly difficult to capture a candid moment, but the sheer number of lovely faces and interesting costumes more than makes up for this. Capturing a genuine smile occasionally or witnessing the unrestrained joy of a young child when seeing a preview of their picture is worth the visit alone.
Almost everybody appears content to pose for the multitude of photographers present, though one or two ‘models’ struggle to produce a smile.
I have read some comments where people have compared the festival to Dubai, and not necessarily favourably. There are suggestions that it needs a more commercial approach and greater emphasis placed on fashion and electronics. This might attract more tourists, but I feel it would lessen the experience to some degree. There were not many tourists present, but personally I preferred it this way. However, they need to increase the number of visitors so inevitably it may become more commercial in future.
In fact I’d been informed that the festival was really just about shopping and almost did not visit. However another photographer showed me some images he had captured and they were enough to convince me it was worth visiting.
Oman is a beautiful country, and authentic travel experience; the festival in its current format seems to capture this.