Oman part II - Nizwa, Bahla and Sur

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Middle East » Oman » Ash Sharqiya
January 3rd 2009
Published: January 4th 2009
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Dhow boatsDhow boatsDhow boats

Dhow boats in the water outside Ras al Hadd. Don't miss the reflections

Five days on the road or how to crash a car in Oman

In this blog entry I would like to start by writing a little about Oman as a country and how it is to travel there.

Oman is situated on the edge of the Arabic Peninsula. The neighboring countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The people here are very friendly. In the days I have been here I have not seen a single trace of anyone disliking me or having a grudge against westerners or tourists. I have for instance been invited to private homes and had a very good time drinking coffee and chatting about life, football and culture. We had such a good time that at one time we even joked about suicide bombers.

I felt very safe all the time when I was in Oman. The crime rate is very low here and you can walk around in any city at night without having to fear anything. Unless you are allergic to cats perhaps. There are lots of stray cats around...

In 1970 Oman was one of the least developed countries in the World. There was almost no health
Swedish gunSwedish gunSwedish gun

A sign nearby said "Swedish Finbanker 18-pounder cannon. 18th century, cast Iron" So apparently a Swedish cannon has found its way all down to this part of the World.
care available, the country had 10 km of paved road and they were all in the capital and the literacy rate was very low. Outside Muscat almost all transport was done by camels or donkeys. There were no cars and the roads were anyway just donkey tracks so there was no point in having cars. Actually, the situation in Oman was then what it was in the rest of the World in the 18th century.

In 1970 the old sultan, Sultan Sa‘id ibn Taymur, was overthrown by his son, Qaboos bin Said al Said. When the new ruler, Sultan Qaboos, entered office he started a campaign to modernize Oman. He used the money Oman received from selling oil to build hospitals, schools and infrastructure. I can say for sure, having traveled a few thousand kilometers in buses and cars in this country, that the road network has a standard that is similar to what you find in Western Europe. One doctor I talked to said that the hospitals are well equipped. The doctor was born in India so I can't see that he had any reason to lie about this.

This transformation from an undeveloped country to a modern one was all thanks to decisions
Part of Nizwa MosquePart of Nizwa MosquePart of Nizwa Mosque

This is the best photo I have from the Sultan Qaboos mosque in Nizwa.
made by Sultan Qaboos. This has made him very popular among the people. So popular that nobody seem to mind that he is spending large amounts of money on private luxury such as a more than 100 meter long yacht and maybe half a dozen palaces.

After the days I spent in Salalah I traveled back to Muscat again. From there I took a day trip to the cities Nizwa and Bahla.

Nizwa has two major attractions - the fort and the souq/the local market. I started my visit of the town with the latter one. Nizwa has a very old souq and I was looking forward to walk around there. But I soon learnt that just because it is an old souq doesn't mean it has to be a good one. A decade or so ago they renovated most of the souq. The renovations were so thorough that the souq today looks like it is brand new. I walked around there for a while but it wasn't what I had expected. I eventually left there not quite happy with the visit.

The fort in Nizwa on the other hand turned out to be closer to my
Tower in Nizwa Tower in Nizwa Tower in Nizwa

A tower in Nizwa near the Nizwa Fort
expectations. The fort looks a bit strange though. In one corner there is a 30 meter high round tower with a diameter of 36 meters. The rest of the fort is low and does not match the tower is size so the tower totally dominates the fort. It actually looks more like a tower with a fort than a fort with a tower. It looks a bit funny but it was still nice.

When I had seen the fort I took a taxi to Falaj Daris, just outside Nizwa.

It might seem strange but the falaj irrigation system was the reason I decided to go to Oman in the first place. Well, not entirely but the truth is that when I bought the ticket the only thing I knew in Oman that I wanted to see was the falaj irrigation system.

Oman is a very dry country and in summer it is also very hot. The little rain they get falls in the mountains and go into the wadis. Wadis are valleys in the mountains and in the bottom of the wadi there is often some water. To bring the water from the wadis in the mountains
Tower of Nizwa FortTower of Nizwa FortTower of Nizwa Fort

The tower of Nizwa Fort is 30 meter high and 36 meters in diameter. The rest of the fort is low and does not match the tower is size so the tower totally dominates the fort.
to the plains where the people live the Omani have built a large irrigation system, the falaj. The falaj aqueducts start in the mountains. When they leave the mountains the aqueducts go underground into tunnels. If they didn't the heat would make the water evaporate long before it reaches its destination. These tunnels can be 50 kilometers long or more and they end in a village or town where the people can use the water for drinking or for irrigating the fields. This irrigation system has been a crucial part of life in Oman for hundreds of years and many of them are in use still today.

I find the falaj system fascinating. The tunnels are as I said sometimes more than 50 kilometers long and they were built without modern equipment. In Sweden they have since 1992 been trying to build an eight and a half kilometer long tunnel through Hallandsåsen using all the modern equipment you can think of. It is now 2009 and they are still not finished. It just beats me how the Omani could build 100 falaj tunnels each 50 kilometers long already 500 years ago.

After seeing Falaj Daris, which doesn't make
Bahla FortBahla FortBahla Fort

The main attraction in Bahla is the fort. I could only see the fort from the outside though because it was closed while undergoing renovations.
for any good photo by the way, I continued on to the city Bahla. The main attraction in Bahla is the fort.

Well, as you now might have guessed, they have a lot of forts in Oman. Just about every town has one or sometimes even two forts. I could only see the fort from the outside though because it was closed while undergoing renovations.

The fort in Bahla has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage. Oman has a total of four listing on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They are:

• The Falaj Irrigation System
• Archaeological sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn
• Bahla Fort
• The Frankincense Trail

When I came back to Muscat from the day trip to Bahla and Nizwa I went to the hotel room to rest for a while when the telephone rang. The phonecall was from a man I had met a few days earlier in the hotel I stayed at in Salalah. His name is Jordi Llorens and he is a travel photographer. He explained that he was going to rent a car for a few days and drive around Oman and wanted to know if I was interested
Falaj DarisFalaj DarisFalaj Daris

Falaj Daris where it reappears outside Nizwa. Falaj Daris is part of the large falaj irrigation system.
in going with him. Since I barely had any plans at all made up for the following days this offer suited me perfectly. So for five days Jordi and I were traveling through rural parts of Oman together.

This trip almost came to an end quicker than we had expected. After only a few hours driving out from Muscat we had a traffic accident. We were driving on a tricky mountain road and in a curve of the road a car rear-ended us. Fortunately for us the accident was only a fender-bender and nobody got hurt. But in Oman with even small traffic accidents, like the one we had, the police must come to the scene and investigate what happened. After they had seen the cars on the road we drove down to the local police station and there we had to write down our statements and fill in the insurance papers. The police was very clear in its decision. It was the driver of the other car who had caused the accident. That meant that the insurance for the other car pays for all our damages and we didn't have to pay anything.

I knew all the
City wall in BahlaCity wall in BahlaCity wall in Bahla

Apart from the fort Bahla also has a city wall. It is made from mud bricks and it is slowly turning to dust.
time that the other driver had caused the accident but I didn't say that to him. I felt that it was better that the police told him. But now in the blog I can write down what I wanted to say to him.

If you who drove the car that hit us ever read this I would like to tell you that it is very easy to avoid accidents like these. All you have to do is keep the distance. If we have to slow down a little to take a curve safely you can't avoid hitting us if you are going bumper to bumper with us. So remember the magic words here, keep the distance.

Well, the driver of the other car learnt the hard way that he was too close to us that day. Our car emerged from the accident with only minor "injuries". The rear bumper was damaged a little and the trunk took a small beating. The other car took a worse beating. I know that the radiator was damaged for instance.

Jordi is from Spain, Barcelona to be precise. One of the police officers in Quriat told us that he had once
Car accident Car accident Car accident

After only a few hours driving out from Muscat we had a traffic accident. We got rear-ended
been in Barcelona. He used to be a long jumper and he was competing in the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. Jordi worked with the Olympic Games back then so it is possible, not very likely but possible, that Jordi and the police officer have met before.

When we left the police station we had to have our car repaired. The trunk was slightly knocked out of position and had to be fixed. It didn't take long to do that, so soon we were back on the road again.

The next stop we made was at Wadi Shab. Wadi Shab is like most wadis a narrow valley or gorge. At the bottom of Wadi Shab there were a few pools with water and we could see people swimming in some of them.

After Wadi Shab we went on to the city Sur.

In Sur we spent the better part of the second day walking around in the town. We walked first in what I call the old town. It is a part of town with very narrow streets and relatively old houses. Many of the houses had very nice doors. I took photos of many
The other car took a worse beating The other car took a worse beating The other car took a worse beating

The other car took a worse beating. I know that the radiator was damaged for instance.
of these doors and I will put them on a separate blog entry.

In Sur we also saw some very nice wooden dhow boats and a nice light house.

In the Sur harbor I met a man, an Omani. He was sitting on a quay looking at the water. The man and I started to talk to each other. He told me that he is a fisherman but that the business has been slow lately. A few weeks earlier the water changed and turned red. I heard the expression "red tide" later on. He said that he didn't know what was wrong with the water but he could say for sure that it affected the fish. They catch less fish and they have to go further out to catch it. After we had talked for a while the man invited me and Jordi to his home for a cup of coffee. There we sat for a long time talking to him and his cousin.

The last thing we did before we left Sur was to visit the Sunaysillah Fort. It was a large fort sitting nicely on the top of a hill. From the fort it was
Repairing the carRepairing the carRepairing the car

The trunk was slightly knocked out of position and had to be fixed.
possible to get a nice view over the town.

Next stop for us was Ras al Hadd. There we in the evening went on a turtle safari. The beaches south of Ras al Hadd are the nesting grounds for thousands of turtles. The turtles are only active at night so the turtle tours are at night. Turtles are active at night to avoid predators who wants to eat their eggs. The use of camera flash was not permitted on the tour and only the guides were allowed to use a torch. In the light from only a small torch it is very hard to take good photos. I put on the blog the best photo I took there. On the photo you can see small newly hatched turtles. They were so cute!

On the tour we also saw one big turtle who had just finished laying her eggs and was covering the nest with sand and we saw one turtle who had finished covering her nest and was hurrying out in the water again.

Here in the end of this entry I can add a note about the pros and cons about driving in Oman.

Wadi ShabWadi ShabWadi Shab

Wadi Shab is like most wadis a narrow valley or gorge.
I have to mention that the roads are very good. They more often than not hold European standard. That makes driving nice. But the traffic can be quite dangerous because people drive very fast and, needless to say perhaps, don't always drive safely. Also I would like to add that there are much too few traffic signs on the roads. They often forget to put out signs on how to get from one place to another. We had two maps but still we often got lost. I think we maybe took 20 wrong turns in crossings and roundabouts during the five days we were on the roads. That was very frustrating especially since I was the one who was in charge of the maps.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Wadi ShabWadi Shab
Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab is like most wadis a narrow valley or gorge.
Wadi ShabWadi Shab
Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab is like most wadis a narrow valley or gorge.
Dhow boat in SurDhow boat in Sur
Dhow boat in Sur

Dhow boat in Sur
Large dhow boatLarge dhow boat
Large dhow boat

This large dhow boat is capable of taking 100 tons of goods.
Light house in SurLight house in Sur
Light house in Sur

Light house in Sur
Girl in SurGirl in Sur
Girl in Sur

Many children did not like that we took photos of them. This girl was different in that respect
Watchtowers in SurWatchtowers in Sur
Watchtowers in Sur

Watchtowers can be found everywhere in Oman. Here there are two of them.
Fisherman worrying about water qualityFisherman worrying about water quality
Fisherman worrying about water quality

A few weeks earlier the water changed and turned red. This man said that they now catch less fish and they have to go further out to catch it.
House in SurHouse in Sur
House in Sur

This house in Sur was very nice
Sunaysillah FortSunaysillah Fort
Sunaysillah Fort

Sunaysillah Fort
View over a mosque in SurView over a mosque in Sur
View over a mosque in Sur

The views from Sunaysillah Fort looked like this
They are newly hatched turtlesThey are newly hatched turtles
They are newly hatched turtles

You can not see it because the photo is so bad but on the picture you have newly hatched turtles. It was night and the only light was a small torch. A wonder I could take a photo at all

3rd September 2009

Beautiful photos of Oman.
Recently ,I was re-reading a book called "Sons of Sinbad" written in 1939 by Allan Villiers and Australian adventurer/seaman and renowned journalist. He referred in his book to the "dhow port" of Sur. I looked it up on the net and discovered your commentary and beautiful photos. Really impressive and informative. We have a connection with Oman here in Western Australia as our maritime Museum has had a long time research relationship with the Sultanates Maritme museum and the marine history of the region. Sailing is my absolute passion and also the history of sail .So it was my interest in dhows and the annual trade between Oman , Zanibar , Tanzania and the east African coast which brought me to your site. Thanks Mike
29th August 2012

The first question came to mind was , did you ever read the book of Job ?.. I would love to be able to walk the path of the Job and to see a part of this ancient world. Thank you for sharing your vacation with the world in such details , I can say from reading about your journey and seeing the pictures i\'m taken there visually in spirit.
1st February 2013
Falaj Daris

photo of falage daris water

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