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Published: March 26th 2017
After skirting the eastern coastline of Oman, it was time to head inwards. First up was a drive to Wadi Bani Khalid, an oasis spot in the middle of some dry and barren mountains, and one of the larger wadis in the country, which contains a significant water level all year round. This results in lush plantations on the drive in. The pools contained clear deep blue water and a number of us took the opportunity to take a refreshing dip before taking in a buffet lunch. We got quite a funny sensation during the swim when we stopped on a rock ledge and got bombarded with little fish swimming straight into our feet instead of avoiding humans as they usually do.
After lunch, we headed for Wahiba Sands, a vast undulating white sea of sand covering an area around 180km by 80km, with some of the rolling dunes as high as 100 metres, progressively being rearranged by the winds. First we had to stop at a service station to remove some air from the tyres to make greater traction as we traversed the sand dunes. We arrived there late afternoon when the shadows were looming, and the ever-changing patterns
of the dunes were a photographer's delight. Our drivers obviously got a real buzz in pushing our 4WD vehicles to the limit over the sand dunes, speeding up and down like a drunken ant in the vast landscape, switching back and forth to avoid the soft and drifted sand. We finally made a stop and waited there until sunset, which was actually a bit disappointing, before reverting back to a Bedouin camp (one of many in the region) where we spent the best part of an hour being hosted by a Bedouin family.
Traditionally, the Bedouin were largely nomadic, taking their large goat hair tents and their camels and moving pasture for their flocks of camels throughout the arid desert wastes. However, nowadays modernity has taken its toll on the traditional Bedouin lifestyle, as many have settled in smaller towns and villages in search of a more secure existence. The Bedouin are famed for their culture of hospitality, which dictates they treat visitors as honoured guests, and our experience certainly reflected that. This particular camp was home to an extended family, an ancient Landcruiser and numerous camels. We were offered sweet black tea and plenty of dates, served up
by their cute young children, who were each given a little koala souvenir in appreciation, and provided with an interesting insight into their lifestyle. One of the ladies in our group took up the offer to have some temporary Henna art created onto her hand by one of the bedu women (see pic below the text), and this lasted pretty much the duration of our tour.
Our overnight stay was in the 1000 Nights Camp, a relatively primitive but very comfortable campsite situated some 40 kms from the nearest township. It provided remarkably good tucker given its isolation, as well as the relatively unique experience of an open bathroom, which gave us an excellent opportunity to view the stars whilst having a night pee, although with the temperature dropping low at night it wasn't somewhere to linger. We were also introduced at the campsite to a small herd of Omani Onyx, with their massive antlers (see pic at bottom).
The next morning, we drove to the historic town of Ibra, where we visited the ruined village of Al Munisifeh, comprising many crumbling mud-built houses of two or three storeys, of which many of the floors between the levels
had caved in years ago. The village, surrounded by the remnants of its original walls, had gateways at either end linked by a central street. Many of the houses still contained finely carved arches and wall niches, as well as decorative carvings on the wooden doors and window frames.
We then proceeded to Jabrin Castle, built in the 17th century and containing magnificent plasterwork, carved doors and painted wooden beams on the ceilings. Over the next couple of days, we also checked out forts at Bahla, Nakhal and Nizwa, each with their own impressive features. At the latter town, we also took some time exploring the extensive souk, which had an impressive display of handicrafts on offer. Perhaps the highlight of that visit though was when a couple of us were invited to sit with a group of local men and share some Omani coffee and dates with them. Who says that you need a common language to bond with strangers!
As well as some great scenery, I also picked up a history lesson during the tour. I was completely unaware that for over 200 years, Zanzibar (an island on the coast off what is now Tanzania) was
under the control of the Sultan of Oman, after the Portuguese had been expelled. It became a principal centre for the ivory and slave trade around the middle of the 19th century and was of such importance to the Omanis that they in fact moved their capital city to Zanzibar for a period. Most fertile land was handed over to Omani aristocrats who enslaved the African farmers that worked the land. Every year, hundreds of dhows would sail across the Indian Ocean from with the monsoon winds blowing in from the northeast, bringing iron, cloth, sugar and dates.
Speaking of the Sultan of Oman, we were interested to get an insight into his personal situation. He is in his late 70s and in poor health, but none of the Omani residents apparently knows if he has a succession plan in place as he keeps his life totally private. It is unknown if he has wives or children, and there is even some speculation that he is gay. My guess is that with that sort of fortune he is not short of female company and likely not short of children either, and there is a good chance that one or
more sons are currently doing service at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the UK to prepare them for this role, just as he did before overthrowing his own father in a palace coup in 1970. Time will tell!
Back to the trip, after leaving this central desert region we started to climb into the mountainous region of Oman, which will be the subject of my next blog.
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