Eighteen months living out of a small suitcase has turned me into something of a minimalist. When we’re moving around (i.e. outside of Phnom Penh), I only ever travel with carry on. As a result, I rarely buy any souvenirs, unless it’s a gift for a family member. My one exception (my treat item) is textiles – wallhangings or floor rugs hand-woven from natural fibres – which I try and hunt down wherever I go.
I was having a lot of trouble finding an authentic Omani textile to add to my growing collection, but my frustration turned to joy when we arrived in Nizwa, the second-last stop on our 10-day road trip around Oman.
Some of the souq’s loveliest products are things you can’t take home – like spices, henna powder, coffee, and other aromatics and edibles. Like in Muscat’s Muttrah Souq, there is a surplus of antiques and old-looking jewellery, furniture, chests, swords and knickknacks – but I’ve become cynical about the providence of such items and I tend to steer clear. If you’ve had the foresight to save your souvenir shopping for Nizwa, here are a few things I recommend picking up at the souq.
It’s pretty obvious that pottery is a Nizwa specialty – vessels of all shapes and sizes decorate the outside of the souq, and just about every vendor inside has pottery to sell. There are all manner of different contemporary designs available, from large water urns to tiny oil burners. I particularly like the traditional pots embellished with three rings of rope-braid around the exterior – a technique used to reinforce urns made for storing heavy dates and date juice.
Woven mats & baskets
Omani meals are traditionally eaten off large, round floor mats made from woven rattan. A couple of sellers at the souq’s entrance sell beautifully coloured floor mats that are pliable enough to be rolled up tightly and carried as cabin baggage (trust me, we did it). Inside the souq, you’ll find bags, baskets and other small products made from the same combination of natural and dyed rattan.
Goat’s wool textiles
For fair trade textiles, head straight to the Omani Heritage Gallery inside nearby Nizwa Souq. If you’d rather try your luck inside the souq, a few of the stalls have thick goat’s wool wall hangings, blankets and table runners stashed away, but you’ll need to poke around as few are out on display. We happened upon the souq’s best selection of textiles in a place where few people probably think to look. Go inside the fresh produce section (a separate building) and up the staircase at the rear left of the hall. The upper level splits off into two handicraft boutiques – the left side is dedicated to items from Morocco, and the right side Oman. Both shops carry gorgeous carpets, plus sheep’s and goat’s wool blankets and wall hangings in earthy tones.
The souq is a great place to buy Middle Eastern-style light fittings. Some shops are packed to the rafters (literally) with hanging pendant lamps and led lights – all glowing vibrantly.
If you only have room to carry home something small, souq sellers also offer a range of (admittedly naff) souvenirs – like these Omani magnets on the left. More tempting are the teeny tiny pottery pieces that are small enough to thread onto a chain and wear as a necklace.