Muscat, Oman’s port capital, sits on the Gulf of Oman surrounded by mountains and desert. With history going back to antiquity, it mixes high-rises and upscale shopping malls with landmarks such as the 16th-century Portuguese forts, Mirani and Jalali, looming clifftop over Muscat Harbor. Its modern, marble-clad Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, with gleaming 50m dome and prodigious Persian carpet, can accommodate 20,000 people.
The village sits at 2,000 meters above sea level in Wadi Mastal in Wilayt Nakhal, located in Al Batinah South Governorate. 150 kilometres separate this village from Muscat. The road leading to the village passes through a number of valleys where the villages can only be reached by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
This region enjoys moderate temperatures in summer and low temperatures in winter. Visitors will observe many agricultural terraces supporting fruit trees, including grapes, pomegranates and apricots, as well as some legumes.
At the village entrance is an Information and Visitors’ Centre. A trail has been built stretching for 1,100 metres, comprising 700 steps rising to the top of the mountain, surrounded by a protective fence and containing service areas as well as observation towers that look like castles and umbrellas. You’ll also find sitting areas and a rest shelter overlooking the village and its terraces.
The descending Falaj passes from the top of the village towards the agricultural terraces where natural materials were used in building the trail. For lovers of mountain hiking, there is a mountainous trail that connects the village to Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain).
Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun; 3009m), is best known not for its peak but for the view into the spectacularly deep Wadi Ghul lying alongside it. The straight-sided Wadi Ghul is known locally as the Grand Canyon of Arabia as it fissures abruptly between the flat canyon rims, exposing vertical cliffs of 1000m and more. Until recently, there was nothing between the nervous driver and a plunge into the abyss but now an iron railing at least indicates the most precipitous points along the track and a couple of rough car parks along the rim pick out some of the best viewpoints into the canyon.
While there is nothing ‘to do’ exactly at the top, the area makes a wonderful place to take photographs, hike the balcony trail, have a picnic (there are no shops or facilities so bring your own)…or buy a carpet.
You need only step from your vehicle and you’ll find carpet sellers appear from nowhere across the barren landscape clutching piles of striped red-and-black goat-hair rugs. Weaving is a profitable local industry, but don’t expect a bargain. A large rug can cost anything from OR30 to OR80, depending on the colours used and the complexity of the pattern. Weaving is men’s work on Jebel Shams: spinning the wool is women’s work. If you can’t find room for a carpet, a spindle made from juniper wood makes a more portable souvenir. Failing that, buy a woollen key fob (OR) from the army of children who come with colourful fistfuls of them wherever you find to camp.
Jebel Shams is a feasible day trip from Nizwa (or a long day trip from Muscat), but to savour its rugged beauty, consider staying overnight on the plateau near the canyon rim at one of the low-key accommodations.
The village enjoys an outstanding location between the mountains of Ad Dakhiliyah and Al Batinah regions and is one of Wadi Bani Awf villages in Wilayt ArRustaq . Balad Sayt lies 40 kilometres away both from Wilayt ArRustaq and Wilayt Al Hamra in A’Dakhiliyah Governorate. The magnificence of this village lies in its agricultural terraces and mountainous location, and its rugged mountain roads attract many adventure tourism fans. Balad Sayt is considered a fine example of traditional Omani villages.
The principal route into Sharqiya follows the new coastal highway from Ruwi in Muscat south to Quriyat and Sur, with the Arabian Gulf on one side and the rugged summits of the Eastern Hajar on the other. Attractions here feature an interesting blend of the historical and the natural, including the old fort of Quriyat and the ruined city of Qalhat, along with Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi, two of Oman’s most scenic wadis, while the off-road drive up across the top of the Eastern Hajar to Ibra via the Bronze Age tombs of Jaylah is another highlight. Past here lies Sur, the historic centre of Oman’s famous ship-building industry, and still one of the prettiest towns in the south, and the turtle beach at Ras al Jinz.
Access to the eastern coast of Sharqiya is via the Sharqiya coastal highway (opened in 2008), which sweeps travellers south from Quriyat to Sur in little more than an hour. Plans to subsidize construction costs by a system of road tolls have been mooted but have not yet been put into effect, although a line of toll booths stands ranged across the highway 18km south of Quriyat ready to spring into action. The highway has provided a boon to development in the area, although it has also taken a toll on the various natural attractions it passes en route, while the increase in high-speed traffic and fly-by tourists has destroyed some of the area’s original, slow-motion charm – an inevitable, if slighty depressing, consequence of Oman’s ineluctable modernization.
A destination in their own right, or a diversion between Muscat and Sur, these beautiful dunes, still referred to locally as Wahiba Sands, could keep visitors occupied for days. Home to the Bedu, the sands offer visitors a glimpse of a traditional way of life that is fast disappearing as modern conveniences limit the need for a nomadic existence.
The sands are a good place to interact with Omani women whose Bedouin lifestyle affords them a more visible social role. Despite their elaborate costumes with peaked masks and an abeyya (full-length robe) of gauze, they are accomplished drivers, often coming to the rescue of tourists stuck in the sand. They are also skilful craftspeople and sell colourful woollen key rings and camel bags at some of the camps.
It is possible to visit the sands as a day trip, but the majesty of the night sky and the pleasure of dawn in the dunes makes a stay at one of the desert camps a better bet.
The Sharqiya Sands is a region of desert in Oman. The region was named for the Bani Wahiba tribe. The area is defined by a boundary of 180 kilometers north to south and 80 kilometers east to west, with an area of 12,500.
Nizwa is an ancient city in the Ad Dakhiliyah region of northern Oman. It sits on a plain characterized by seasonal rivers and palm plantations. It’s known for Nizwa Fort, a castle with a huge cylindrical tower built in the 17th century to defend the city’s position on a major trade route. The adjoining marketplace, Nizwa Souk, is lined with handicrafts stalls and silversmiths working in small shops.
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