After the thrill of seeing turtles digging holes and little hatchlings running to the sea, we began the final leg of our Oman journey: a trip that took us up Wadi Bani Khalid Drive up the 3,000 meter Jebel Shams (the tallest mountain in the country) and into and through the beautiful Wadi Nakhr Gorge–plus a number of interesting historical stops en route. These stops included:
Wadi Bani Khalid, an incredibly beautiful, and incredibly popular (especially on a holiday weekend) site for picnicking. swimming, hiking and just enjoying nature (at least along with a cast of thousands) and friends. The Wadi, which is entered through a lush grove of date, banana and lemon trees, can be best seen from the dramatic one kilometer hiking trail to a cave. Shaped by eons of rushing water carving huge boulders out of the steep rock face and polishing them to a ragged, yet very slippery sheen (especially in shoes still wet from crossing the streams, the stream is pocked with dozens of swimming holes in which boys (and very, very few girls, after all, this is where women are normally covered from head to tow) are diving, swimming and frolicking. This, combined with families cooking and enjoying their own meals, a pick-up percussion band entertaining the crowd and teenage boys trying to outdo each other diving from precipices with ever more complexities helps make for an incredible way of combining the majesty of nature with the joy of entertainment.
Wahiba Sands Bedouin Village. After descending the mountain from the Wadi, the landscape of lush shifted a full 90 degrees, from vertical cliffs to miles of flat rocky sand and scrub, and then into miles of barren, rolling dunes of sand. We’re now in Bedouin country. There certainly are some remaining traditional Bedouin villages, where houses consist of tents or palm frond structures in which multiple families live and maintain their herds of goats, sheep and camels. Many, however, now double as tourist venues, offering tourist dates and coffee and handmade local crafts. But, while families may still live in these traditional homes for a few months per year, they now spend most of their time in modern houses in villages a few miles from these traditional homes. And yes, they transport the camels in trucks.
Then came a fast lunch at the Cafe Sands Eastern Yamni, a Yemani restaurant in the town of Whahiba, where we had a small salad, chicken and beef masalas and some wonderful freshly baked Yemani bread called tenuri. Suitably braced for our afternoon drive, our next stops were:
Safalt Ibra, a wonderful town built around the retained ruins of a 400 year-old, mid brick, stucco and stone city that was controlled by two feuding families that were eventually brought together by negotiations led by the father of the Sultan. The ruins, of what had clearly been a very wealthy city, are integrated into the modern town and contained by a nicely reconstructed city wall. A great town for a photo stroll.
Birkat Al Mawz (in the city of Izki) is the collective name for a trio of 300 year-old towns that are no longer occupied, but the ruins of which are being retained for posterity, not to speak of for tourism. Although we did not have time to actually prowl through these ruins as we did in Safait Ibra, we did have a beautiful dusk view of them from the top of a nearby hill.
Nizwa as Gateway to History and the Hajar Mountains
Then on to Nizwa, a large town, originally known as the "Pearl of Islam" for its fiercely conservative approach to religion, the town has been transformed into an accommodating tourist destination over the last half century. The town, and its rather basic Falaj Daris Hotel, served as our base for exploring the area over the next two days.
Surrounded by a tree-laden oasis, Nizwa now serves as a gateway to a number of historic towns and the Hajar Mountains, with some of the country’s tallest mountains. The city itself has two primary attractions, both of which a located in the Old Quarter:
- Nizwa souk, nestled behind the reconstructed city wall, is a modernized tourist souk like many of the others we have visited. Unfortunately, we missed the weekly Friday morning livestock souk at which goats, sheep, bulls and other animals are sold in what is said to be a rowdy and smelly affair.
- Nizwa Fort, a 17th-century circular tower which is part of a large castle complex.
We, however, spent most of our time in the surrounding area that included:
Jabreen Castle, build in the 17th century, surrounds and protects a beautiful palace.
Al Hamra, with its old town, consisting of well-preserved mudbrick houses as well as ruins of many houses that were abandoned decades ago in favor of modern dwellings. The city’s traditional way of life is recreated in the Bilad Al-Sifah museum, a traditional, if somewhat dilapidated house in which women demonstrate traditional culinary arts, including the making of juniper oil, coffee and bread.
Misfat Al A’briyeen a village, built into the side of a mountain, that is surrounded by date palm plantations and populated by traditional stone houses aligned along a narrow alleyways.
Jabal Shams, the tallest mountain in Oman at about 10,000 feet,
Ghul, a city with its ancient Persian ruins.
Nakhr village with its Shuwawis mountain people,
We returned to Muscat through the mountains via the beautiful Wadi Bani Awf drive, with a lot of off-road driving, and steep switchbacks through the canyons and mountains, through palm groves and historic and pictureous Hajar mountain villages including Hat, Bilad Sayt and Nakhi (with its fort and its hot springs).
Then, after passing through Snake Gorge, we made a brief stops at:
- Al Rustaq Fort
- Jebel Akhdar, constructed in 1650 atop ancient (circa 1250 AD) Persian ruins; and
- Nakal Fort, located atop a rocky hill, this fort is noteworthy primarily for its 360-degree view and its not springs
We then headed back to Muscat for an evening flight to Dubai, where we spent our last day before a 2 AM flight to Frankfurt, where we had 5 hours to stall before catching our direct flight to San Francisco.
All in all, this was a very revealing trip to us. While we won’t rush back, we enjoyed seeing the sights and learning more about the culture