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Nizwa’s Goat Market, Oman

When I said to people I was going to Oman to visit a goat market I got a lot of puzzled responses. However, the goat market clearly looked like a must-see, especially for photographers, plus Nizwa, the local town where it was held, looked stunning. I checked into a hotel on the outskirts of town, after arriving on a late flight from Colombo. After a few hours’ sleep, I went down to reception to ask the night manager to book me a taxi to town. “No madam”, he said, “no taxis in this town.” Seeing my shocked expression, he quickly added “but don’t worry, just stand on the side of the road and someone will pick you up, reinforcing his statement with “Omani people are very hospitable you know.” I hadn’t ever heard of a no taxi situation while travelling, so not convinced, I was sure at least one would drive past at some point. But over an hour later, having attempted to flag down a couple of learner drivers (they looked taxi-like), still nothing, the receptionist was right. Too far to walk, and the market finishing around 9am, time was ticking. So, I started to put some serious effort into flagging down cars on the side of the dusty highway. At last some men in an old pick-up truck took pity on the flustered foreigner and pulled over (it was obvious where I was going – I just pointed at their goats in the back!) Thankfully, the market was still in full swing when I arrived and I found myself only one of three tourists.

 

Not quite knowing where to stand and a bit intimidated by the fierce-looking bulls attached to their owners by very thin ropes, I shot across the auction ring to the raised concrete area in the middle, which looked like a safe vantage point. I don’t think any photo is worth getting trampled for, but two dedicated photographers clearly did, leaping out in front of the cattle like crazed matadors. The locals, engrossed in their bidding, were happy to ignore them.

 

I went for the candid approach and concentrated on getting as many discreet shots as I could. The locals in their traditional clothes make fabulous photos, especially the Bedouin women in their striking facemasks, locally known as batuoola, a style found exclusively in the Persian Gulf region.

 

One of the photographic challenges to be prepared for is the lighting, which is difficult is to work with as the main auction ring has an overhead awning which casts areas of dark shade across faces. However, there is a lot of bartering that goes on outside after the main auction finishes, so if you do want some well-lit pictures, it’s a good idea to stay around for the end.

Nizwa certainly exceeded all expectations and turned out to be a beautiful little town with a spectacular Fort, and easy to explore on foot too.  All in all it was definitely worth the transport hassle getting there and I ended up with lots of decent shots. Heading back to my hotel, I managed to grab a seat in a Bangladeshi workers’ bus and jump out by my hotel for a much-needed bowl of hummus at a nearby café, followed by an afternoon nap!

 

Top tips for Nizwa market: Hire a car and remember to bring a good zoom.