Climbing Desert Dunes
Posted: 07 December 2015
Our arrival into Oman was smooth and relaxed as we were met, airside, by our representatives, Desert Gate, who seamlessly showed us into the arrivals lounge (a dry lounge serving non-alcoholic beverages), before collecting our passports in order to arrange our visas. Fortunately, there was no queuing for us! After our visas had been paid for, we were 'fast tracked' through Immigration, our luggage was collected and scanned, and we were whisked into our transfer vehicle and heading for our first hotel. As we arrived during the early hours, we hadn’t fully appreciated our surroundings in the darkness. It wasn’t until we woke the next morning, that we were stunned by the craggy mountain ranges, dramatic cliffs and fabulous shorelines – it was simply breathtaking!
We were itching to get out and about to discover the real Muscat and we were not disappointed! It is a fascinating destination, one without bright lights or obvious signs of modern city life. It fact, it’s the complete opposite — with grand palaces, ornate mosques, medieval forts and authentic local souks (and there's no hard sell either!). Muscat still has an air of sophistication, with its elegant Opera House, a single shopping mall and refreshing absence of high-rise buildings, and bland fast food chains. Our driver (and guide) remained with us throughout our excursion and proved to be extremely informative. He took us to see as much local living, historical sites and, of course, shopping locations as we could manage! From fascinating local fish markets, where they are literally emptying the day’s catch straight off the boats, to the serene pools of the natural Wadis, set at the foot of the mountains having been fed by rainwater. There are, surprisingly, many of these crystal-clear pools of water around and some are even safe to swim in — truly beautiful natural spots to visit. There is even a dramatic sinkhole to visit — fed by the ocean, visitors can enjoy a swim. Be warned however, as you need strong legs since there are quite a few steps down, and back up! Whilst meandering through the charming local villages and passing the odd goat grazing on the roadside, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. This is something I would highly recommend you do; try fresh, local produce from that morning's catch-of-the-day, cooked without fuss, as it tastes amazing – there was plenty of it too!
The next day, we were back with our guide off to explore the Grand Mosque....which is indeed very grand! Set in vast, beautifully manicured gardens, the men's and women's halls are separate, but both are extremely elegant. The artwork and attention-to-detail is simply stunning and a visit here is a must-see on your things-to-do list! It is perhaps worth noting, that ladies need to take a scarf to cover their hair and shoulders, plus trousers and long sleeves are a must too. Before long, we were back in our four-wheel-drive vehicle and off to the coastal town of Sur, where we visited the age-old outdoor dhow (traditional boat) building factory. Set on the estuary, visitors may also have the mesmerising sight of flocks of flamingos wading in the shallows. It is, however, the dhows which steal the show — hand-built by incredible local craftsmen using traditional skills and intricate designs. The dhows are colossal in size, each taking over nine months to build due to the fine detail. It is certainly a job for the patient-minded!
Tented Luxury in the Desert!
Next, we took to the desert and drove to stay overnight in a luxury tented camp. You definitely need your 4x4 vehicle here! What an amazing experience! Set amongst the dunes, with camels lazing around in the heat, our tented resort was made up of thirty, structured tents. All the tents were brightly decorated and, inside, there was an attractive lounge area, king-size bed, shower room and full air conditioning...whoever said camping was basic?! There was a whole host of activities you could do here, from sunset dune drives, to falconry, and, of course, the obligatory camel ride through the desert — all were great fun and wonderful experiences!
Dinner in the desert is a casual affair in the evening. There is a delicious buffet with barbecue-grilled food, plus the option of indoor and outdoor dining. I would certainly recommend sitting outdoors as you can absorb a real sense of peace and space. There is no light pollution here, so the skies at night are truly amazing! Dine under the stars, with the fires keeping you warm, and see how many shooting stars you count...there are plenty! Bedtime is usually around 10.30pm, so enjoy a tranquil sleep before waking and preparing for a sunrise trek, or perhaps a camel safari — the choice is yours! Return to camp for a lavish breakfast before heading on your way for the next adventure.
We enjoyed another exciting day excursion with a trip to the ancient town, and original Oman capital, of Nizwa. With its restored Old Quarter, which is home to an amazing souk, market and numerous mosques, the highlight is a visit to the ancient fortress and palace. Each grandly imposes itself over the Old Quarter and a tour the fortress is a must-do experience. Visitors can climb up to the tower, and admire the impressive view over Nizwa, visit the palace, which houses a walk through exhibition of ancient relics, plus learn how more about authentic Oman life. After a light lunch, we hopped back into the car for our climb through the Al Hajar mountain range, which is breathtaking! Local villages are dotted across the landscape, along with the familiar sight of grazing goats – a memory which I shall treasure, and one that summed up our experience of Muscat.