Beauty has an address and it's Oman

06 Nov 2013

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The Sultanate of Oman is a country with great natural beauty, diverse landscapes and amazingly hospitable people.  The sublime beauty of this country, its rich culture and interesting heritage will overwhelm every visitor and it make it a destination you will never forget.

My journey began shortly after arriving in the capital city of Muscat where I visited the architectural wonder of the Grand Mosque.  Imposing from the outside, the main prayer hall is breathtakingly beautiful.  The Persian carpet alone is 70 metres by 60 metres wide, making it the largest carpet in the world. It’s therefore no surprise is took  600 women four years to weave it.  The Mosque is open everyday except on Fridays from 8.30am – 11am.  As it is place of worship, modest clothes need to be worn and women need to cover their hair.

The Mosque

Then we commenced our 4wd journey into the mountains of Oman, heading to the majestic canyons on the Hajjar Mountain ranges and Wadi Bani Awf.  The climb took us up over 2,000 metres where we saw secluded villages on the side of the canyon and, terrace farming.  Some parts of the trip were a bit hair-haising but I had full trust in my driver for my journey.   We stayed overnight at the peak of Jabe Akdhar at the unique boutique Sahab Hotel.  The hotel offered a spectacular view over the mountains and is surrounded by 5000sqm of native plants and 270-million-year-old marine fossils.

Early the next morning we descended the mountain and made the journey to the ancient capital of Nizwa.  Nizwa was a seat of learning and the birthplace of Islam for Oman.  A visit to the Nizwa Fort is a must and it’s easy to see why its one of the most visited monuments in Oman.   It’s a great example of old Omani architecture and an illustration of the way people used to live.  No visit to Nizwa is complete without exploring the Souk famous for its silver jewelry.  Admittedly, I spent a bit of time here!

Nizwa Fort

After shopping, it was back in the 4WD to make our way to the Wahiba Sands Desert that stretches 207kms in length and 100 kms in width.  The sand dunes rise 100-150 meters in different shade of color and shifting sands.  I’ll never forget hearing the screams of excitement (I hoped) from the groups driving before me.  I must admit most of the time I had my eyes closed and held on with blood-drained knuckes as the 4wd tossed me across the dunes. Upon arriving at the top, I finally opened my eyes and the view made the nerve-wracking drive all worth it.  We sat in silence and watched the sun set over the desert. Seemingly choreographed, a group of camels meandered in a line in the distance.  No amount of photos could capture the true of magic of this scene, but I sure tried.

Oman Desert

Our driver then informed us that it was time to go down and settle into the camp for the night. Down – I hadn’t thought of that! Apparently the only way down was straight over the edge of the dune.  Needless to say there was plenty of screams, this time of both excitement and fear.

After all this adrenaline there was no better way to relax than a with night at the Arabian Oryx Camp.   We sat at a camp fire under the stars surrounded by silent beauty.  This was also a great opportunity to get to know fellow travelers and of course the tour guides who were quickly becoming close friends.

After a refreshing sleep in our modern Bedouin tent, we set off to visit a real life Bedouin family.  We were welcomed into their home and offered Omani Kahwa (coffee) and dates.  One of things that really caught my eye was the traditional Omani Burqa, a special mask that covers the face of Bedoiun women.  Whenever we hear the word burqa, we immediately think of a scarf worn by women to hide their hair and face. However, the Bedouin families in Oman tell us a different story. From puberty onwards, girls cover their hair with a scarf while their faces are being hidden behind the mask.  Desert inhabitants initially used these masks as protection against hot sand and dust being carried along by the wind. To this day, Bedouin women wear their mask with great pride.  It was really fascinating to admire up close when they were expertly applying intricate henna designs on my hand, in record speed I might add.

We continued east, passing through Sur the old East Africa port and today’s centre of fishing to reach Ras Al Haad.  The place where the first sunrise in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula is  seen and also home to the largest nesting area of the Green Turtles in the Indian Ocean.  We made a visit to the turtle reserve that night to where over 20000 females return annually to lay there eggs.   We were lucky to see two female turtles slowly using their flippers, to dig a hole that’s about a half-metre deep . It takes her between 15 to 30 minutes to lay her eggs, about a 100 each time, and when she’s done she uses her flippers to cover them up with sand again, first the back flippers then the front. You don’t want to be standing too close behind her when she does this, or you’ll get sand all over you!  Then after all of this she moves forward and then digs another smaller hole called the “camouflage hole” to distract predators such as foxes and seagulls, confusing them as to which hole actually contains the eggs.

We then made our way down the shore line where  we witnessed  100’s of baby turtles run into the water for the first time.  It was dark and the only light was from the moon and you can imagine my shock when i felt something crawl over my feet.  My little scream must have alerted the guide who shone is torch on my feet to see several baby turtles.  I froze instantly and was told sternly not to move until it was safe for the guide to come in and pick me up and carry me away from the area.  Amazing!  This story was retold several times that night as we enjoyed our stay at the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve Hotel.

The following day was another of spectacular views as we drove with the Arabian sea on one side and the rocky cliffs on the other.   Just when i thought I had seen all the scenery that Oman had to offer we stopped at Wadi Tiwi.  I can still picture this area clearly in my mind with the lush plantation surrounded by mountains and the clear pools of water.   In some of the shallower pools there was the little teeth-less carp that nibble on the skin of your feet.    Strange at first but then quite relaxing!!

It was getting quite warm so our next stop for lunch and swim was at  the Dihab Sinkhole.  As you wonder though the park you’ll come to a low wall. Peer over it and you will be astounded – the natural depression in the surface of the land gives way to a large, deep pool of crystal clear blue waters surrounded by inky black depths, that presumably leads in from the sea.   There is about 100 steps leading down into the limestone crater and this was a welcome bit of exercise after all the delicious local food we had been eating.

 

After lunch it was time to make our way back to Muscat where we spent two nights at the magnificent Shangra La Resort.  The resort is situated 15 minuted from the centre of Muscat and consists of three resorts in a stunning bay overlooking the Gulf Of Oman.    While in Muscat I also visited the beach-front Leading Hotels of the World Chedi Resort.  Rated one of the 100 best hotels in the world by Condé Nast in 2012, the Chedi Muscat has 3 outdoor pools, including 2 adult-only infinity pools and 1 family-friendly pool, all attached with poolside cabanas.  The clean minimalist lines throughout the resort and the 158 guest-rooms and villas create a zen calm experience.

I also visited the Al Bustan Palace , a Ritz Carlton Hotel set on a private beach with acres of landscape gardens.  The hotel has an atmosphere and class all of its own and is simply stunning  The hardest decision here is which of the 5 magnificent swimming pools you will spend the day by.

During my brief stay in Muscat i did manage to spend the day out on a catamaran dolphin watching and the evening getting lost in the enchanting Muttra Souk.  It was the perfect way to end the trip taking in for the last time the smell of spices, perfume and the friendly Omani people.

There are no words that can truly define the exquisite beauty of Oman.  The place and people will forever hold a special place in my heart.

To arrange a special holiday of your own, with the expert guidance of Rachael Storer, phone 1800 724 787.