This is the third of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.
If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.
Heading to the Desert
Reluctantly we left Nizwa before lunch and set off for our night in the desert. We had little idea what to expect and our anticipation grew as we visited Ibra and several more villages on the way.
Ruined Villages with Omani Doors
It was interesting to see the contrast between the old and the new in these villages but sadly we saw plenty of ruins.
The old and the new
Large 4x4s were parked next to ruined houses, but most of the original doors in the old houses remained. In the museum in Nizwa Fort we had looked at the display board of Omani doors and as we travelled more in the country we began to see the emphasis on decorated doors made of wood or metal. Some of them had intricately carved wooden surrounds.
Omani door on ruined house
We also saw fortification towers within or near the villages. Somebody climbed up to the roof of a building next to one.
Steps and tower in ruined village
There were no goats wandering around and the only evidence of occupation was just very few modern houses most of which were firmly shut up. We did see a mosque in one village which looked like it was being used.
There was a big tree in the centre of one village in an area which must have once been the villagers’ meeting place. It seemed more like Greece where every village has a square with a big tree to give shade.
Tree in old village
Unfortunately I did not write down the names of these places but we cannot have been very far from Muscat.
Driving into the Desert
You have to let your tyres down in order to drive on very soft ground and so we stopped to do this just on the edge of the desert in a small modern town called Bidiyah.
Letting down the tyres for the desert
I noticed that we were opposite a large modern store which advertised itself as “Ladies Tailoring”. “Men’s Tailoring” must have been somewhere else.
As we left the town we could see sand dunes beyond a palm plantation.
Towards the desert
It took about an hour to go the 35 km to the Thousand Nights Desert Camp which is in an area of the desert called Sharqiya Sands or Wahiba Sands. It was a bumpy ride, but Saqer knew the best route across the sand. For much of the journey we saw nothing but sand.
Nothing but desert and sand
Thousand Nights Desert Camp
ETG had originally booked us into a different camp but we asked for a change as we would have been in a hotel room there. A night in a tent in the desert was one of our few “must-dos” in Oman and Thousand Nights fitted the bill. Our “tent” turned out to be more like a cabin but the walls were covered with Omani furnishings. There was plenty of space for a 6ft bed and there was electricity and even a kettle. The bathroom was attached at the back with the shower area open to the sky.
Our tent in Thousand Nights Camp
The tents were well spaced out but it was only a short walk on a paved path (no sinking into the sand) to the restaurant area which also had wifi. The food was very good including a grill and egg/pancake station where a chef cooked on demand.
It was approaching evening when we arrived and Saqer soon took us out dune-bashing, driving up and over several sand dunes to a higher point where we had a good view of the sunset.
Our Land Cruiser dune bashing
I found it all rather scary but he had obviously done this many times before and knew exactly where to go. It was quite windy at the top – Martin wore the Omani head-dress which we had been given when we met up with Saqer.
Sunset at the top of the dunes
Walking in the very soft sand was a bit tough, but on reflection I wouldn’t have missed it at all. A once only experience.
The Thousand Nights Camp has a herd of Arabic Oryx including some young ones. Because of hunting this animal was extinct in the wild by 1972 but numbers have now grown through captive breeding.
Arabian oryx at Thousand Nights Camp
To the Sea
Then we were off to the sea. On the way we stopped at Wadi Bani Khalid where you can walk along a short path to what I hesitate to call a lake but it was the largest amount of water we had seen since we left Musandam. It was a pleasant place, more like a mini oasis.
Wadi Bani Khalid
It was rumoured that you could swim in it the wadi. Some locals were having a picnic. Servants who appeared to be Bangladeshis brought their food in a wheelbarrow. More Bangladeshis were clearing greenery from the lake.
The scenery going down to the sea was very bare. The road wound round some mountains which are not as high as those in Jebel Akhdar but seemed to be mostly rather loose grey rock. Down near the sea we passed another camel in the back of a pickup truck and a road sign showing a pedestrian wearing a dishdasha.
Road sign pedestrian wearing a dishdasha
We reached the sea at Sur which is one of the larger cities in Oman. Saqer took us to a smart restaurant overlooking the sea where the three of us ate a large fish with accompaniments which was all washed down with mango juice.
Lunch at Sur
Then we were out on a small boat in the bay. I was a bit hesitant at a rather nasty clamber down on to the boat but it was well worth the trip.
Sur is a centre for building dhows, the traditional boat in the Arabian gulf. We passed a number of them, also a heron on the rocky shore. There was quite a contrast between the bright blue sea and brown rocks.
Heron and colour contrasts, Sur
What we did not know until we got to one area was that we were being taken to see turtles popping their heads above the water. This became a little competition between the three of us pointing and shouting “there” as the turtle heads surfaced all around us. They weren’t the easiest thing to photograph but I did manage to get the odd one.
Spot the turtle
When we got back the tide had gone out and we just stepped off the boat on to the sand.
But these turtles were just a prelude. The beaches around Ras Al Jinz and Al Hadd about 30km east of Sur are important turtle nesting areas where large green turtles come out of the sea to dig a hole with their flippers and lay their eggs at night. The prime egg-laying season is June to August, and we were warned that we might not see one. We felt it was well-worth going there. It was April Fool’s Day. Perhaps we might be lucky.
We stayed the night at the Turtle Beach Resort in a kind of motel room with Omani wall furnishings. It was by a nice beach which we didn’t really have time to explore. Our room overlooked the sea and faced a wonderful sunset.
Sunset, Turtle Beach Resort
Everything is about turtles in this part of the world and I notice that a large turtle built from local stones occupies the centre of the lawn outside the hotel.
There were two parts to the restaurant at the Turtle Beach Resort. The buffet and some tables were inside a normal restaurant style room but just across the path the second part was in reconstruction of a dhow. It was worth carrying our food across to it in order to eat there.
Restaurant, Turtle Beach Resort
Covid regulations were very strict here. A waiter was stationed at the door to the buffet room and would not let anyone in without a mask. The hotel was not full but there were enough people staying there for them to put on a variety of food, both Asian and European, in the buffet. There were turtle-shaped loaves of bread.
Bread display, Turtle Beach Resort
Saqer came for us after dinner to take us to the turtle watching place and museum. It’s also a hotel and there were more tourists there than anywhere else we had been to so far. He got tickets for us to go in a small group – the large one must have had 70-80 people whereas we were about 20 with 2 guides. We walked some way to the beach then had to turn off all our lights while the guides looked for a turtle. It took some time to find one but we were successful. It was just covering up its eggs with its flippers and were were able to photograph it in a red light.
Turtle laying eggs
While we were there a baby turtle was running around trying to find the way to the sea. It ran over my foot. Eventually one of the guides picked it up and deposited it on the edge of the sea.
We were back at the hotel by 11pm after a very successful evening.
Back to Sur
We went back to Sur after the turtles. On the way there we passed a rock which looked like a tiger from one angle. Somebody had painted it.
Tiger rock on roadside near Sur
After stopping for us to photograph the two towers and some boats from the bridge Saqer took us to a dhow factory where several large ones were being constructed mostly by hand.
Dhow under construction, Sur
Some of the decorations were quite intricate. Most of the dhows are now for tourists and we were told that one of them was going to be a restaurant for the football World Cup in Qatar. Model ones were for sale in the shop.
We also had time to take more photos of Sur. There were plenty of dhows out to sea but not going anywhere and plenty of small modern boats which surely must now be used for fishing as well as taking tourists around the lagoon.
Tourist boats, Sur
Going further north towards Muscat we stopped to overlook the ancient site of Qalhat which was once important in trade in the Indian Ocean. Very little remains and the site was closed. In the nearby modern town there were larger fishing boats where some men were mending nets.
We took a side road into Wadi Tiwi where again the contrast between the green and the desert was stark. This is a large wadi with attractive scenery and some reflections in the water.
A boy (not an Omani) was washing himself and his clothes in the rather green water.
Washing time, Wadi Tiwi
We were near a small village which seemed deserted. There was a mosque which was just a small area enclosed by wire netting and covered with a roof made of palm fronds.
Mosque, Wadi Tiwi
Saqer drove us further up where we could see some modern houses. Turning the Land Cruiser round on the narrow gravel road was interesting.
Above Wadi Tiwi
Lunch on that day was in the nearby town. A group of French tourists were also eating at the same restaurant. This was a very typical modern town with a jumble of electric cables, street signs and rather chaotic parking. Some of the houses had round white water tanks on their roofs with little battlements on their tops.
Some goats were wandering around the parking area at our next stop which was the entrance to Wadi Shab where the water meets the sea underneath the main road.
Goat, Wadi Shab
Plenty of tourists were there as well. Much of the water was covered in what looked like water lilies, but you can also take a boat across to hike some way up.
Almost everywhere we went in Oman was clean, neat and tidy, but here a graffiti artist had been at work on some concrete structures under the road.
Graffiti, Wadi Shab
The main road between Sur and Muscat runs quite close to the sea but we did deviate from it on gravel road closer to the sea to take pictures from a good viewpoint.
On the way to Muscat
Our last stop on the way to Muscat was at a huge sinkhole. It’s surrounded by a nice garden. You can walk down to the bottom of it where some people were swimming. I declined and chatted to some French tourists while Martin descended to inspect the bottom.
The area between the main road and the sea is mostly scrub with small bushes but Saqer pointed out the only frankincense tree in this part of Oman. He also spotted a deer (quite rare in Oman) among the bushes.
Deer, near Muscat
We arrived at the Crowne Plaza in Muscat in time to watch a lovely sunset from our room.
Sunset from our room, Crowne Plaza, Muscat
This is a much larger hotel than where we had stayed before and dinner was an excellent buffet eaten by the pool.
A day of sight-seeing in the capital city awaited us.
Picture gallery: Oman Part 3: Desert and Sea
Click to enlarge