Majestic desert experience … [Oman]

In case you are not aware, Oman is the only country in the World which starts with “O” … I never noticed it until my friend pointed it out to me.

I had visited Oman before, in 2013. At that time, the focus was only in and around Muscat. At that time, I had felt that Oman would be a perfect Family getaway destination. Six years, and 27 countries later, I was back in Oman. This time, for a cross-country road trip, from Muscat to Salalah.

 

Country Counter: https://gattokaran.com/2019/01/22/country-counter/

Travel Tips: https://gattokaran.com/2018/09/27/travel-tips-from-a-travel-fanatic/

 

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The colorful currency of Oman … Oman Rial is quite an expensive currency.

 

We did this road trip in May 2019. Why did I pick May? For one, it was Summer Holidays for the kids. Secondly, I had to use up my remaining airline vouchers by June, and Oman was one of the airline destinations. Thirdly, Oman was a country I had previously earmarked for a family road trip. After some deliberations, we decided to go to Oman this time, even though it was very hot in Oman during May.

Another challenge was the fact that the trip was smack in the middle of Ramadan. Oman is an Islamic country and Ramadan is strictly followed. The fact that we traveled during Ramadan came with advantages and disadvantages. Since food and water is not allowed in public during Ramadan, one cannot eat out during lunch. All restaurants and eateries would be closed. Due to the intense Sun, it was best to avoid being in sunlight between 10AM and 3PM anyways. We managed by having a stock of snacks (Chips, Energy Bars, Fruits Etc.), which we ate in the car, in secluded areas πŸ™‚ We tried our best not to hurt local sentiments by not eating and drinking in public. The advantage was that we had pretty much all the sites to ourselves. For e.g. I never imagined having Bimmah Sinkhole (pretty much) all to ourselves!

I have been to several countries in the Middle-East. I can categorically say that Omani people are the nicest people I have come across in the Middle-East. When I spoke to my friends who have been living in Oman for 20+ years, they all echoed this sentiment. I can recall at least 20 instances of interactions with local Omani people, from which I came out being impressed with their humility and decorum. I would not be surprised if it has to do with the Ibadi culture, as Ibadis form 75% of Oman population. Ibadi school of Islam is dominant in Oman and is different from the Shia and Sunni forms.

When I was researching for the trip and was asking around, I could easily figure out that this was not a trip many people have attempted. Many of Oman’s best destinations were within a 150-kilometer radius from Muscat. So at best, folks would travel as far as Sur and then make their way back to Muscat. I wanted to get a true experience of Oman and decided that the only correct way to do it was to rent a vehicle and drive from Muscat to Salalah. If one were to drive straight from Muscat to Salalah, by taking the shortest and fastest route (“Route 31”), it would take around 1000 kilometers and 10 hours. Because we took several stops in between, took several coastal roads, and took many detours to see the major sights along the way, overall, I ended up driving close to 3000 kilometers.

Oman has a fantastic road system. Even the most remote towns have pretty decent roads. There are 6-8-lane major highways and also 2-lane (without divider) highways (mainly called “Truck Routes”).

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An example of the nice Oman highway …

Because we had to fit it all into 11 days in Oman, we could not factor in Jebel Shams area. Because the main areas we intended to visit did not require a 4×4 vehicle, I had rented a regular sedan. Because I was picking up the rental car from Muscat and returning it at Salalah, the rental company charged a “One-way Fee”. I was familiar with the concept as I have done similar rentals during other trips as well.

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Not sure of the name of this Mosque … Tried to find it in Google, no luck. While driving around, I saw this wonderful sight. My camera phone and the dust on the windshield does not do justice to how spectacularly lit this Mosque truly is …

 

Muscat Heights

We happened to stay not far from Muscat Heights and the 1st time we drove through the area, it was by accident πŸ™‚ We missed an exit and had to go along the hilly roads to finally be able to take a U-turn and get back on track. Next day, we made an intentional trip to enjoy the panoramic views of Muscat.

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Though there is no easy way to park your vehicle, we managed with the emergency lane … Just be careful to park away from the curve, to avoid any accidents, as locals do drive fast on this road.
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View of Muscat from the Muscat Heights viewpoint … I just love the light-colored buildings of Oman.
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View of suburbs from other side of the Muscat Heights …

 

Muttrah Corniche and Muttrah Souq

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In 2013 I saw only one of the Sultan’s Yachts … Looks like he has two now. The Royal Seal was visible on them both.

Though I had explored Muttrah area in detail in 2013, this time it was with the Family. Unfortunately, the Fish Souq was closed (Ramadan). Unlike in 2013, I noticed that there were 2 Sultan Qaboos Yachts moored in the bay.

It was very interesting to explore the various lanes of Muttrah Souq. Amazingly, there are a lot of Indian origin shopkeepers in the Souk. Perfumes, Frankincense, Omani Khanjar Etc. It was all very enticing.

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I loved these colorful windows … But alas, too big for me to carry around during the entire trip 😦
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The souvenirs in Muttrah Souq are indeed very enticing … Keep in mind that bargaining is a must. It is best to haggle as much as you can and also shop around to see which shop has the price closest to your target price.
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Colorful … πŸ™‚
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The Muttrah Souq has many lanes and by-lanes … It will take at least 1.5 hours to explore in detail (discounting the shopping time).
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At the junctions of the indoor Souq, the ceilings (and the floors) are colorful …
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Omani Khanjar … Last time, in 2013, I did buy one Khanjar. Unfortunately, most probably due to humidity, it started rusting a bit … So, this time around, I stuck with wood/plastic items only.

We had made a dinner reservation at Bait Al Luban, based on online reviews and Mark Wiens’ video on Oman. The dinner was very nice, especially the desserts. Though I am not a desserts person typically, looking at the choice of desserts, I decided to go easy on appetizers and main courses and throw my energy into the desserts. Among desserts, Middle-Eastern desserts are my favorite.

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Entrance to Bait Al Luban … The restaurant is on the 2nd floor. It is best to make reservations, as this restaurant is popular with tourists.
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We selected the “floor seating” … It was not exactly easy to sit and get up each time. So what I did was to pick up as much items as I could, each time I did get up πŸ™‚
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Middle-East Desserts! Umm Ali, Luqaimat (unhealthy, as it is fried, but awesome to taste!), Omani Halwa, Panna Cotta, Qashat, Sako Etc.
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The buildings near the Muttrah were all lit up …

 

Wadi Al Khoud

Our first Wadi experience was a disappointment πŸ™‚ Other than getting to see the Al Khoud village, which is very nice, we did not get to see a single drop of water as the Wadi appeared all dried up. Considering the heat, I was not surprised to see the dry Wadi Al Khoud.

Please note that the location marked for “Wadi Al Khoud” in Google Maps is not accurate. It took us to a dead-end! It is easiest to get to Al Khoud village (which is correctly marked in Google Maps) and then drive on to the end of the village, where one will find the car park for the Wadi.

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The only interesting thing we could see at Wadi Al Khoud was this limestone rock …

 

Nakhal Fort

Nakhal fort is beautiful, especially when it is lighted up at night. Though we made two separate attempts (just a 20-minute ride from the town of Barka, which is where we stayed), we could not see the inside of Nakhal Fort, as it seemed to be closed (Ramadan?) and there was no one around to ask. We explored the exteriors of the Fort though.

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Nakhal Fort is surrounded by the greenery of Palm trees …

Nakhal Fort is originally from the 7th Century and was refurbished in 1834. The fort is named after the town of Nakhal, where it is located. As with other Forts/Castles in Oman, Nakhal fort is surrounded by Palm trees. The fort is on top of a small hill and is around 120 kilometers from Muscat.

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Nakhal Fort … In all its glory … Though we tried several gates of the Fort, it were all closed 😦
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When we came back later in the evening, just after sunset, we got this great view of the Nakhal Fort.
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Hmmm … Banyan Tree in the Desert!
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Palm trees were all over … Most of them with a lot of dates.

 

Bahla Fort

Wow!

Bahla Fort was amazing. The best part was that we were the only visitors! (due to Ramadan, I assumed). The Fort is pretty big and has many floors, rooms, towers Etc. We went through pretty much every area of the Fort. The surrounding Bahla village is also very nice. The contrast of the “brown” of the Fort and the houses with the “green” of the Palm trees was just spectacular! Inside the fort, there are several areas where the underlying rock is visible (the Fort was made on a rocky base). Mud bricks have been used a lot. Ceilings are made of wood. Most of the rooms are quite cool inside, despite the scorching heat outside.

Bahla Fort is the only Fort/Castle in Oman that is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (in 1987). Banu Nehban tribe was dominant in this region, especially between 12th and 15th centuries, and they made the Bahla region what it is today. The Falaj (or “Aflaj”) system of irrigation, where water is brought through channels from distant springs and oasis, provides water to Bahla. Oman’s Falaj system is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was recognized for the water management innovations it incorporates.

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Bahla Fort … A perfect example of an Islamic Fort.
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View from one of the many windows in the Fort …
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There are many rooms and passageways …
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The interiors are all very well maintained and there are signs describing what each section of the Fort is …
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Loved the shape of the windows and the subtle lighting …
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View of the surrounding Bahla town from within the Bahla Fort …
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View from the Bahla Fort …
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A close-up of the material (Mud!) used … You can see sections of rock.

Al Ayn Beehive Tombs

By the time we reached Al Ayn’s Beehive Tomb, which is roughly an hour’s drive from Bahla Fort, the Family was tired. So I explored the Beehive Tombs on my own. The walk through the nearby small village was very nice. There were quite a lot of Palm trees and water channels.

The beehive tombs are from the Bronze Age! (3000 BC – 1200 BC). UNESCO recognized this region as a World Heritage Site in 1988.

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Omani irrigation system is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site … No wonder. Imagine providing crystal clear water in the desert.
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The millenniums old Beehive Tombs …
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Even from the main road one can catch a glimpse of the tombs …

 

Wadi Dayqah Dam

Wadi Dayqah is roughly 1.5hr drive from Muscat. There is a spectacular valley we have to cross to get to this dam. This dam is supposedly supplying a lot of water to Muscat and Quriyat. The dam was constructed in 2009. It is interesting to see the artificial lake in the middle of the desert landscape.

The park within the dam complex is very well maintained, with neat restrooms. We had the entire place to ourselves, as was usual during our road trip πŸ™‚

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Panorama of the Dayqah Dam … As you can see, the harsh summer has reduced the water levels drastically …
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When we started for Bimmah Sinkhole from the Wadi Dayqah Dam, Google Maps took us through this dirt road … Keep in mind that our vehicle was not a 4×4. After 2-3 kilometers, I decided that it was just too remote and dangerous and turned back. We managed to get to Bimmah Sinkhole using main highways (though it took longer) … Better be safe than sorry.
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Another view of the Dayqah Dam …
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As with all sites in Oman, Dayqah Dam was also excellently maintained, with decent restrooms … The staff was taking a noon break when we were there.
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You can note the water mark … Which would be the peak level in the dam.

Bimmah Sinkhole

What a beautiful sinkhole … The turquoise waters and the surrounding brown rocks make for a spectacular picture.

When we got there, we were shocked to see a fence and a locked gate. What a bummer, or so we thought … Then we noticed that the gate was unlocked. Whew! Because, it is a sinkhole, we do not see it until we get to it.

There was a small group of 3 guys and an Asian couple when we arrived, but they left soon after and we had the sinkhole to ourselves. (Though there are several noticeboards requesting people not to jump from the edge into the sinkhole, the Asian lady almost did the jump, before backing out at the last minute). The maximum depth of the sinkhole is 20 meters. Because my swimming skills are quite minimal, I stayed near the shore. The zillion small fish gives you free pedicure. I was experiencing the fish bites for the 1st time and it takes some getting used to. Even then I could not bear the tiny bites under the feet (tickles like crazy!). The water, surprisingly (considering the general hot weather and the blazing Sun), was lightly cold.

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At its deepest, Bimmah Sinkhole is 20 meters deep … The water was quite cool.
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That is the ledge from where the Asian lady was attempting her jump … With no lifeguards around and with barely anyone to help in case of any mishap, I would not have tried it.
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The nibbling fish … For me, it was a novel experience. Very ticklish. Actually, I took extra care not to have them bite under my feet. I just could not bear the ticklish feeling πŸ™‚
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Because of the clear water, you can easily make out the depth variations in the Sinkhole.
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It is very convenient to get to the water, as you can see. There were only minimal tourists when we were there.

 

“Fins” White Sand Beach

We drove through the town of Fins and did see the beach. I am not sure about the sands being white, though πŸ™‚

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The houses in the area were very beautiful … There is something about “White”
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We did go close to the beach, but it did not look like “White Sand” to us. The town was quite interesting though …

 

Wadi Shab

Because our kids were tired by the time we reached this Wadi, we only did some light exploring of Wadi Shab.

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One has to take a small boat (manned by locals, who charge a nominal fee) to get to the other side. Thereafter, from what I have read (we did not attempt it), it is a 45 minutes walk to the water bodies …

 

Wadi Tiwi

The oasis is beautiful … With brown hills/rocks and green Plan trees and other shrubs.

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Wadi Tiwi … Green & Brown. Love the combination …

 

Sur Corniche

Sur is the hometown of the fictional character “Sinbad the Sailor”. During the 17th Century, Oman was a Super-Power in the Middle-East and a lot of its maritime activities were focused in and around Sur.

Sur has a beautiful Corniche. One gets to see many white/light-colored Omani houses in this area. The lighthouse is also beautiful. Around sunset, the view of Sur from the lighthouse is really worth it.

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The lighthouse at one end of the Sur Corniche … It gets beautifully lit up at Sunset.
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View of the Sur Corniche from the Lighthouse …
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That night we ordered Kebabs from the Oman chain restaurant “Barbecue Nation” … Man, it was just plain awesome!
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That night we ordered Kebabs from the Oman chain restaurant “Barbecue Nation” … Man, it was just plain awesome!
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Some stray boats on the Sur beach … We could see lot of locals going for an evening walk along the Corniche. Once the Sun starts going down, it is very pleasant to be outside.
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To get to the Lighthouse, one has to cross what is supposedly the only Suspension Bridge in all of Oman …

 

Al Wasil & Desert Nights Camp

We wanted to experience a couple of days in a desert camp. After extensive online research (poring over online reviews), we decided on Desert Nights Camp. We made the right choice! We thoroughly enjoyed our 2-nights stay at the camp.

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During the 4×4 ride to the Desert Nights Camp … The road is quite sandy and no way an ordinary sedan could make the trip. But the 4×4 SUV was just flying over the terrain.
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The living room of our Deluxe Family Cabin #41 … The red tinge is due to the tent and the blazing Sun outside πŸ™‚
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The master bedroom … There was a 2nd bedroom as well.
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A nice ode to Sultan Qaboos at the reception area …
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Buggies … In case one likes to go for a personal Dune Bashing experience.
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The approach to the Desert Nights Camp. The Oman deserts are filled with all kinds of Desert Camps, ranging from luxurious to basic. Since we have never stayed in the Desert before, we decided to go for a higher-end one. This picture was taken during my solo trek through the desert.

Upon reaching Al Wasil, we were instructed to park at the Al Maha Petrol Pump and call their number. Upon informing them, within 20 minutes, a 4×4 SUV was sent to pick us up. We left our rental car at the Petrol Pump. The 4×4 zoomed through the desert sands and we reached the camp in 2o minutes. After checking in, a buggy took us and our luggage to our Deluxe Cabin #41. We were blown away by the cabin. It had a master bedroom, a 2nd bedroom, a living room, fridge and coffee machine, restroom with shower and a sit-out area. There was also a blazing fast WiFi! Our package included breakfast and dinner. For lunch, we had brought several eatables with us.

In the evening, at around 17:45, another 4×4 SUV took us up the nearby sand dune. We experienced severe desert winds for the 1st time. Even though I was wearing wrap-around sunglasses, there were times I had to fully close my eyes as the wind was that strong. We watched the sunset from the sand dune and later on the SUV took us back to the camp.

After taking a shower (our hair had stocked up on a lot of sand!), we had buffet dinner at the restaurant. There were grilled Chicken, Fish, Lamb, and Mutton, various breads, fruits, Middle-East desserts Etc.

We spent the 2nd day just relaxing in the cabin. Naps, surfing the Internet Etc. In the evening, I went for a desert hike. Took a lot of pictures of the camp as well as the sand dunes, while the Family entertained themselves in the recreation room, which had board games, pool table, a small library Etc.

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All set on top of the Sand Dune … Waiting for the Sunset! That is the Desert Nights Camp in the background. We had the whole camp to ourselves, except for a couple of Western couples and a group of 3 Asian ladies.
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The Desert Nights Camp … The camp is sandwiched between two huge sand dunes.
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The never-ending sand dunes … Reminded me of those scenes in movies where someone gets stranded in the desert.
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Another nice view of the sand dunes …
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Panorama of the Desert Nights Camp, with the nearby sand dunes …
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Around 18:30, the Sun set … We were taken back to the camp in the same 4×4 SUV which had brought us to the top of the sand dune.
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Our Family Deluxe Cabin #41 … As you can see, due to the persistent sandy winds, there was a pile of sand in the sit-out area.
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There was a fence surrounding the camp … Which I think was a good idea.
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I did some exploring of the camp, early in the morning. This picture was taken right after Sunrise …
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When you go out of the camp, you are supposed to inform the staff … Just in case.
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Nature’s art … Pristine sand patterns …
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View of the Desert Nights Camp, from the opposite sand dune … I took this picture during my desert hike.
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Panorama capturing the Desert Nights Camp as well as the sand patterns …
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Desert Nights Camp had a recreation room, with a small library. I enjoyed reading a few of those books, especially this one, which gives a very good overview of the country.

 

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wow! Wow! Wow!

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Clear instructions by Ministry of Tourism … I personally would recommend all travelers to adhere to local customs and protocols. Keep in mind, we are the “Intruders” …
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A water channel which feeds the irrigation …
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A beautiful oasis in the desert … Wadi Bani Khalid.
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Panorama of the entire Wadi Bani Khalid … Some areas of the Wadi looked deep …
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There was a nice seating area, where one could relax and enjoy the views …
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This curvy water channel was carrying crystal clear water …
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The greenery made its appearance as we approached Wadi Bani Khalid …

Supposedly, the easiest Wadi to visit in Oman. I can attest to this claim. It is indeed very easy to access this particular Wadi (just a 5-minute walk). It is around 125km from Sur and is around 50km from Al Wasil. Yet again, we had the entire place to ourselves. Because it was very hot and more importantly because the fish were slightly bigger than the ones in Bimmah Sinkhole (I am not a fan of the fish bites:-)), I did not venture too much into the water. The Oasis, with its Palm trees, irrigation channels and the turquoise waters was spectacular. The Wadi has a small restaurant and restrooms.

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Palm trees and Coconut trees … And clear pristine water.
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The small restaurant in the Wadi area was closed due to Ramadan, though there were a few of the staff sitting around. They were curious to know about us πŸ™‚
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Another area of the Wadi …

 

“Empty Quarter”

Rub’ Al Khali (“Empty Quarter”) is the largest contiguous desert in the World, predominately encompassing Saudi Arabia and Oman. It was a surreal feeling to drive through the vast desert. The desert covers some 650000 Sq.Km.

Between Al Wasil and Duqm, we experienced our 1st Sand Storm. The Sand Storm lasted for some 100 kilometers and at several points, the visibility was not more than 15-20 meters. It was challenging, as suddenly one would see an 18-wheeler come right at you from within the Sand Storm πŸ™‚

I thoroughly enjoyed the drive. Because we were advised to keep the vehicle petrol tank regularly filled (apparently some folks had run out of fuel smack, in the middle of the desert), we stopped everyΒ  hour (or whenever we saw a Petrol/Diesel Pump) to fill up (and also use the restroom). Though we were getting mobile phone signal and though there was occasional traffic, I definitely did not want to run out of fuel.

Our longest drive was a non-stop drive (almost, as we did stop for fuel) from Duqm to Salalah, approximately 700 kilometers in 6.5 hours.

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Driving through the “Empty Quarter” … I thoroughly enjoyed the excellent highway. The open roads … Hah!

 

Frankincense Natural Park (Wadi Dawkah)

Frankincense (“Desert Tears”): The resin from the tree is dried up to make crystals and oil, used as fragrance, body oil Etc. Oman is famous for Frankincense and the Dhofar region (Salalah is the Capital) is famous for the quality of Frankincense. There are various grades, depending upon the plant, time of harvesting Etc.

The “Frankincense Trail” is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Oman. The Frankincense Nature Park is around 40 kilometers from Salalah and we drive to Salalah from Muscat (or Sur or Duqm), it is on the way. As you must have guessed by now, we had the site to ourselves … We spent some time examining the Frankincense shrub/plant closely.

Later, in Salalah, we made sure we bought some different types of Frankincense to take home.

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Once can note the sign from the highway … Route #31. It is around 40 kilometers from Salalah.
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The Frankincense plant from up close …
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The Frankincense Park is filled with an array of the plants …
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There is a walkway to the Nature Park. As with other tourist attractions, there was a decent restroom here also.

 

Salalah Sultan Qaboos Mosque

When I visited Oman in 2013, I had explored Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Mosque in great detail.

https://gattokaran.com/2018/04/20/sultan-qaboos-grand-mosque-oman/

The experience was almost on par with Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I noticed that all major towns in Oman has its local version of Sultan Qaboos Mosque. Not surprising, considering Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said is the ruler of Oman. He has been ruling for almost 50 years! Considering the great job he has done for Oman (Looking after the people, preserving the Culture, fantastic Infrastructure Etc.), it is not surprising.

Salalah is a beautiful town with excellent roads, huge malls, souqs and nice restaurants. We had a blast in Salalah.

Due to Ramadan, we could not enter the Mosque though.

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The beautiful Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Salalah, Oman.

 

Al Balid Archaeological Site

It is a huge archaeological complex, in the southern coast of Salalah. It is interesting to drive through this part of Salalah, as one gets to see many Coconut trees (reminded me of Kerala :-)).

There were 6-7 security guards in the Complex and we were the only tourists πŸ™‚ The Omani guy at the ticket counter spoke excellent English and was very helpful. I loved the Museum. Though it is not big by any means, they have presented what they have in an excellent manner. If you spend enough time in the Museum, you will come out with a high level understanding and appreciation of Oman and its history. Especially interesting were:

  • Excellent models of Oman Dhows and Ships
  • Models of Bahla Fort, Sultan Qaboos University, Falaj Irrigation System Etc.
  • History of Frankincense
  • Historical artifacts from BC time period

 

The Frankincense Museum, a part of the Frankincense Trail, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/om

We explored the complex a bit, while using our umbrellas. At various points, there are information boards describing the attractions.

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This area of Salalah has so many Coconut trees, I thought I was in Kerala (India) πŸ™‚
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Just like Kerala … Amazing!
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Very good picture of the Sultan …
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Another photo of the Sultan in his traditional dress …
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There is a lot of information on Oman’s Maritime History … Various models of the Dhows/Boats and also information on the marine life along the coasts of Oman.
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They have a model of a typical Omani Dhow … With notes on how the locals use them.
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A model of the Omani Falaj Irrigation System … (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The water, captured from springs and oasis, is transported through water channels to Forts/Castles, Towns/Villages and Irrigation Fields …
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A model of the massive Sultan Qaboos University … Near to Muscat.
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Salalah – Old and New. Lot of progress, I would say …
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Muscat – Old and New. Lot of progress, I would say …
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Model of the Bahla Fort … The only Omani Fort listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List …
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There are several types of Frankincense … Based on size and quality.
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Panorama of Al Balid Archaeological Park … Because it was very hot in the Sun, we only covered a portion of the huge park (and that too with umbrellas)
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A drive through Kerala … Sorry, Salalah πŸ™‚
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Within the Archaeological Park, there were several information boards … And seating area, in case one needed a rest.

 

Al Mughsail Beach & Al Marneef Cave

Mughsail Beach is a 40-kilometer ride from Salalah. Part of the road was damaged (literally broken off) and we had to take a detour. The white sands, the turquoise waters (blue, in the deeper areas) and the brown hills were just amazing! I took so many pictures that my fingers were paining with all that clicking … πŸ™‚

One of the evenings, we returned to the Mughsail Beach for a quick swim. We did not stay too long as the beach was deserted and there were no lifeguards nearby.

To be frank, I could not locate any “Cave” … I assume the overhanging limestone rock is the Al Marneef. Though we could hear the sea water in the blow holes, the water did not actually rise up through the blow holes … We did not mind much, as we were mesmerized by the scenery.

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Panorama of the Mughsail beach … The beach is around 40 kilometers from Salalah. When we came over the hill and got our first glimpse of the turquoise waters, we all went “Haaahhhh …” πŸ™‚
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View from the Al Marneef Cave … It is not exactly a cave, but more of a limestone overhanging. You can see the water change color from Turquoise to Blue, as the depth changes …
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Mughsail beach … There was no one around.
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Rarely have I seen such clear water … We took a dip in the water.
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The long Mughsail beach … I read that the beach does get crowded during peak seasons …
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Al Marneef Cave … A huge rock formation. In case one likes to sit in the shade, there are benches. But beware of the bird poop …

 

Mirbat Castle

Mirbat town is around 70 kilometers from Salalah. The highway, as usual, was excellent. We had the Mirbat Castle to ourselves. Most of the rooms in the Castle were air conditioned. There were very good information boards or TVs, giving us all the information about the usage of various rooms of the Castle and also about the life in the Castle.

Though the Castle is quite small, it is definitely worth the visit, as there are several other attractions on the way from Salalah.

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The Mirbat Castle has some nice artifacts on display, like this splendid model of a Dhow …
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Panorama from atop the Mirbat Castle … You can note the Oman flag in full glory.
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I loved this lamp inside the Mirbat Castle … Notice the mud wall.
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How a typical living room looked like. Note how typical attires were also displayed.
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A close-up of the wall … Inside the Mirbat Castle.
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A few canons … In front of the Mirbat Castle. Note the mountain range in the background.
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A view of the Mirbat town from the roof of the Mirbat Castle …
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I would think that Mirbat Castle would look awesome once it was lit up in the night …

 

Gravity Point

Gravity Point is around 15 kilometers from Mirbat Castle.

We were totally taken by surprise at the Gravity Point. Having been to “Mystery Spot” in California, we had a rough idea of what to expect. When I put the vehicle in neutral, it was going “up the hill” pretty fast … Very cool!

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Gravity Point … We had the place to ourselves and we could do several trials of the “in Neutral” experiments.

 

 

Jabal Samhan Viewpoint

Jabal Samhan Viewpoint is around 30 kilometers from the Gravity Point.

Due to some road maintenance (By the by, we noticed a lot of infrastructure repairs all over Oman. I am guessing that the Government used the off-peak season to get all the repairs done), we had to get to the viewpoint using another road. It did not matter much, as the views were very nice either way.

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Due to the road maintenance, we could not access all the viewpoints in the region …

 

Tawi Attair Sinkhole

Tawi Attair is around 25 kilometers from Jabal Samhan Viewpoint. We have to cross a couple of small towns on the way.

As with most areas of Oman, one gets to see many Camels on the way. I read in a book about Oman, that there are rarely any “wild” Camels. Almost all the Camels are owned and being trained for various activities like Camel Races.

The Sink Hole is pretty deep and actually, I could not see the bottom. Because of the warning boards and lack of other tourists, we did not take any risks like climbing outside the walls to get a better view. We could see a lot of birds flying in and out of the Sink Hole.

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Tawi Attair Sinkhole … It is pretty deep, as I could not see the bottom.
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While walking back from the Sinkhole to our car, we happened to see this beautiful Camel …

 

Sumhuram Archaeological Park (“Khor Rori”)

Khor Rori is around 25 kilometers from Tawi Attair.

Yet again, we were the only tourists at Khor Rori πŸ™‚ The Omani ticket counter person waved us in for free …

There is a small Visitor Center with some basic information about the Archaeological Park and also clean restrooms.

Khor Rori housed an ancient civilization between 3rd Century BC to 4th Century AD and the Archaeological Park has allowed the discovery of many ancient artifacts. This region was critical for the region’s trade with Mediterranean region and with India. The City of Sumhuram was completely enclosed with walls and had a harbor.

There are walkways one can use to explore the Archaeological Park in detail. The view of the Arabian Sea was very nice.

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There was a small Visitor center, with a basic set of information, such that the visitor can have some basic idea about Khor Rori …
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Sumhuram Archaeological Park … A complete view.
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A closer look at the walls that surround Sumhuram …
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A view of the bay from Sumhuram …
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While we were about to leave, we noticed a camel walk into the park …
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Looks like the Dude was a bit hungry πŸ™‚

 

Taqah Plateau and Taqah Castle

Taqah Castle is around 12 kilometers from Sumhuram Archaeological Park. The Castle has a unit at ground level and also a unit on top of a nearby hill. One can do the 100-stairs climb and enjoy a nice view of the Tawah town (all the way up to the sea).

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The simple, but beautiful, Taqah Castle …
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The 100+ stairs up to the 2nd unit of the Taqah Castle …
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The view from the top of the Taqah Castle … The Taqah town, all the way down to the Arabian Sea.

 

Some miscellaneous pictures …

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Shopping for Frankincense … As you can see, there are several varieties, with different prices.
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Omani Halwa is a famous delicacy. The shop owner was nice to allow us a taste of all the varieties. We ended up buying boxes not just for us, but family and friends as well.
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Instead of buying from big shopping centers, we decided to buy Omani Halwa from dedicated shops …
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Camels! We saw hundreds of Camels during our desert adventure … We were careful not to irritate the animals πŸ™‚ We kept our distance and clicked away … There were several instances of camels crossing the highways. The vehicles stopped to allow them to pass.

 

At the end of this trip, after a lot of thought, I decided to replace Jordan in my personal Top-5 list, with Oman. The main reasons:

  • Respectful and cultured locals
  • Majestic desert landscapes
  • Awesome food (Kebabs and Middle-Eastern Desserts! Yum!)
  • Turquoise beaches
  • Beautiful sand dunes
  • Eye-popping wadis
  • Pristine forts
  • Historic Culture

 

 

Adios!

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Majestic desert experience … [Oman]

  1. Pingback: For the love of desert landscapes … [Oman] – Mission 193: One step at a time …

  2. Pingback: Road Trip – Tips based on our experience [Oman] – Mission 193: One step at a time …

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