Seven captivating places to explore in Oman
Anand & Madhura Katti
Award winning travel journalists based in Mumbai, India
We had read and heard about Oman’s beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and fascinating deserts. But what added to our anticipation as we arrived at Seeb International Airport in Muscat was the warm welcome. The smiling immigration officer asked: “First time in Oman? Enjoy your stay in Oman.”
A coffee shop named Idli.com at the airport immediately connected us to our roots, as we waited for our pick-up by Mahesh Morthy of Gulf Ventures, a destination management company (DMC). The view as we stepped out of the airport was of the majestic Hajar Mountains and the blue gulf, a stark deviation from the usual cluster of buildings.
Our DMC had made arrangements for a quick freshen-up at Muscat’s newest airport hotel Hormuz Grand, a beautiful five-star property, before we began our Oman tour.
We drove past Quriyat, a small fishing village on the Muscat Sur highway, to reach FINS Beach. The sight of a number of small hidden coves with beaches and cliffs dropping precipitously into the sea was amazing as we passed by. The white sand beach with crystal clear water was an introduction to what we could further expect from Oman.
Marina Bander Al Rowda, Muscat.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
Scuba diving facilities and a campsite completed the perfect beach criteria. Though we were not prepared for the activity, it was amazing to sit and watch waves crashing against the beach to create fresh surf. It refreshed us to proceed on our trip to the desert.
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Desert nights campsite at Wahiba Sands.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
The approach to Ramlat al-Wahiba, the desert, was thrilling. Our land cruiser driver Shoeb Akthar halted at a garage on the edge of the desert to inflate the tires. It was essential, he said, to attain proper control and balance while driving at high speed through the sand. He drove us through a vast mass of undulating red and white sand stretches and amazing dunes rising up to a height of 200 meters. The region is named after the popular Wahiba tribe.
After check-in and a quick freshen-up at the Desert Nights Campsite, we headed out again to witness the sunset over the dunes. The rugged journey through the sandy roads was exciting and due to the wind the sand patterns change pattern very often. The greatest feeling we got was as if we were driving on musical notes. We realized the reason for an air check of the tires before entering the desert. The jeep had to climb steeply up and down until we reached the peak point. We cherished the evening sunrays as they reflected through the sand as we sat biting into Omani dates and sipping soft drinks.
Another exhilarating experience followed as we got into the jeep to drive back. Shoeb asked us to fasten our seatbelts and zoom — he drove to the edge of a dune and nosedived down to the base. It took a while for us to realize that we had not rolled down, but had safely reached the flat desert. This kind of desert play was possible because of the good height of the dunes. It was a pleasant night’s sleep at the campsite after the thrilling experience.
A souk (local market) in Nizwa.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
Next stop was the historic cultural town of Nizwa. Guide Yousuf told us that Nizwa is considered the capital of the interior region of Oman and boasts a famous round tower fort. The very sight as we walked towards it was majestic, with the magnanimity of the 17th century fort coming to life as we got closer.
Nizwa Fort interiors.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
At over 30 meters in height and 110 meters in circumference, Nizwa fort’s brooding tower is the largest in the Arabian Peninsula. The bird’s eye view of the city from atop the watchtower is magnificent. After the history of the fort, Nizwa’s traditional souk and its Friday market were inviting. Hand-carved khanjar (traditional decorated knives), silver jewelry, earthen pots and of course Omani dates. Alrahi dates stuffed with nuts and coated with chocolate made a good buy for friends back home.
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Jabel Shams view.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
It was then time to hit Oman’s famous mountains. Jabel Shams, meaning the mountain of the sun, is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Middle East for its ruggedness, steep valleys and deep gorges. It brought back memories of the 1960s film Mackenna’s Gold.
Jabel Shams is no less than Glen Canyon of Utah, or the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico where the Hollywood blockbuster was shot. It is part of the Al Hajar Mountains range and has the highest mountain peak in the country at a little above 3,000 meters. The long drive with curves and bends was pleasant for the beautiful, ever-changing views of the mountain landscape. The huge mountains have a typical topography that is unique to the region. The beautiful pattern of the sand-colored stone mountains was a feast for the eyes. We continued the journey humming "Old Turkey Buzzard", the opening song in Mackenna’s Gold. It’s an ideal adventure sport destination with biking, hiking and trekking facilities.
Misfat Al Abreyeen
Misfat al Abreyeen -heritage village.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
Misfat al Abreyeen is a beautiful heritage village in the mountains just north of Nizwa. It falls on the tourist route and is well signposted. The 800-year-old village has marked walkways throughout. We saw a few donkeys. Yousuf said it was a traditional mode of transportation as they are strong enough to climb the mountainous terrain.
Fresh spring water flowing from the hillside is channeled through falaj. Children enjoyed a dip in the pool. It was pleasant to see cultivated greenery growing along the channel through the village.
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We stopped by the coastal town of Barka on the way to Muscat (80 kilometers). Yousuf mentioned bull-butting as one of the main attractions there. Brahmin bulls, a local breed, are set nose-to-nose for fights. Barka fort is an interesting, unusual octagonal tower. Eighteenth-century Bayt Nua’man, a restored, old merchant house, is an interesting place to observe the local lifestyle. Two major resorts, the Al Nahda and Al Swadi, are in this tourist town.
Omani dates served with a smile.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
A view in Muscat city.(*/Anand & Madhura Katti)
We returned to the capital Muscat after a beautiful experience of desert, sea and mountains. The oceanfront city has retained most of its cultural essence. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and Muttrah Souk are must-visit sites. A dolphin-watching trip on a speed boat from Marina Bander Al Rowda is refreshing.
The curtains were drawn on our Oman visit as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth came to an end at the Royal Opera House. We were there in formal attire along with 1,100 art enthusiasts at the city’s premium venue.
The blend of nature and culture in Oman left us longing to return for a repeat experience.
Anand & Madhura Katti (husband & wife team) are award winning travel journalists based in Mumbai, India. They travel across the country and the world, attending many travel trade, hotel industry summits, and conferences. They also have contributed to many Indian newspapers and some overseas publications for 26 years. Writers can be contacted at [email protected].
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