Racing around any continent, country or city is not ideal; it rarely provides any genuine travel experience. In this case it really was a race however as part of a treasure hunt organised by Oman Air, which was another experience altogether.
Whilst there was little opportunity to really explore during the whistle-stop tour, we still managed to visit some amazing places and witness a beautiful country.
Meeting people is also a large part of enjoying a destination, the opportunity to discover the country through them is a travel highlight. Although time did not really allow this it soon became clear from the little interaction that was possible that they are a warm, friendly and welcoming nation.
Despite the limited time available at each place only providing a fleeting glimpse of Omani life the trip did demonstrate the diversity of landscape and terrains.
“envisage the roar of past battles”
The bustling capital Muscat of Oman acted as the ‘start line’ with visits to the Grand Mosque, impressive opera house, palaces, museums and the important souk at Muttrah. It is almost certainly where most tourists visit. They were as intrigued as the locals by our rushing through most of the attractions with a camera team in tow.
Visiting one of Oman’s oldest cities Nizwa and the nearby villages was one of my favourite days. The city has a lovely old fort which dates back to the 17th century providing great views of the city, surrounded by date palms and distant hills. It still has the cannons in place and an active imagination can envisage the roar of past battles. The air-filled with smoke from the fort armoury, the heady, caustic smell of gunpowder hanging in the air and whistles from the awesome destructive cannonballs creating terror and mayhem within the ranks of the enemy.
The souk is one of Oman’s most important. Particularly famous for artisan produced goods and the products farmed from the fertile land in which the city lies. Some locals informed us that there is a livestock market on Friday mornings, which was very useful on Wednesday!
Seeking clues in the authentic village of Misfat, among its narrow, steep and stepped streets with an ancient irrigation system known as a falaj was possibly where everybody wanted to linger most. It is a lovely village, the houses almost having a troglodyte appearance but before long the impressive rock formations of Al Hoot Cave had me catching my breath. The lion’s head is a remarkably apt name as it is hard to imagine it as anything else.
“It may not make the indie top ten”
Nights spent in the mountains at Jabal Al Akhdar and in the desert provided stunning views of majestic dunes with some of the most fantastic sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen. Our Bedouin desert dinner consisted of lamb slow cooked for two days in the sand, was accompanied by traditional music, dancing and singing. It may not make the indie top ten but it was still cool entertainment.
The coastal town of Sur was the next stop, although stop is hardly accurate. Yet another place that would be great to explore with a small lighthouse, and a boatyard building traditional dhows.
Having to leave Sur so quickly was a little disappointing, however arriving at the stunning entrance to Wadi Shab more than made amends for the fleeting visit. It was the high tide so it required a ferry ride to the far side, before hiking a little further into the chasm. The steep walls were punctuated with caves, emerald-green pools lined the base, and palm trees formed oases among the rock strewn landscape. This seemed the perfect spot to hang a hammock, sip on pre-mixed mojitos and spend a night, though not that night unfortunately!
To reach the ‘finish line’ required a flight to Salalah, located in the southern Dhofar region of the country. It is an entirely different environment, and climate than the north. It is very green here and there are miles of rugged coastline, with a string of sandy bays. It is also Oman’s second largest city much of which remains unexplored by the hunt participants. There are several archaeological sites and a Frankincense museum suitable for a country famed as the ‘home’ of the incense.
“Beauty has an address”
Oman Air had invited some of us to stay a couple more days and being able to visit the Muscat Festival and the nearby fishing town of Seeb at leisure was the perfect end to the trip. Being able to explore and meet some of the local people left me smiling all the way through the flight home.
The Sultanate has the slogan; “Beauty has an address” as part of its new advertising campaign. Even with the fleeting glimpse which afforded to us, it is easy to fall in love with Oman and a return to properly explore will hopefully be possible soon.
Whilst I was a grateful guest of Oman Air and the sultanates Ministry of Tourism they did not influence my thoughts therefore all opinions as always are my own.