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Two Day Expedition to the Wahiba Sands

The Arabian Desert beckons

sunny 32 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

A must do in Oman is to venture out and stay overnight in the desert and my chance to do it had arrived. I booked myself a personal driver/guide with a Toyota 4WD Landcruiser and booked a night at the 1000 Nights Camp about 20 odd miles into the desert (corny name but this is the land of Sinbad after all!).

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

First of all there was the little matter of getting there, Wahiba Sands is about 150 miles (240 kilometres) from Muscat. We drove for about 3 hours south through Ibra before turning east into the mountains to stop at the famous Wadi Bani Khalid Pools for a couple of hours to have lunch.

These pools are basically a beautiful oasis in a very arid area and I went for a refreshing swim in a rock pool up near the waterfall. We then returned to the lowlands and headed towards the Desert.

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid


The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim

The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim


A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

I could tell this was going to be in a different league to anything I had experienced before as I became aware of the enormous sand dunes in the distance and we stopped at a garage to have our tyres deflated to 18 psi.

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

As we started off my driver said we needed to change the mood of the music and as we turned onto the soft sand and headed at speed for our first large dune we had techno on full blast! Then ensued some serious dune bashing as we roared up higher and higher sand dunes; it was a serious adrenalin rush with our landcruiser floating like a boat on a river with a mind of its own as we tore up the soft sand; it often felt like we were going to turn over as we climbed higher and higher dunes the deeper we got into the desert.

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert


We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck


My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

After a while we reached a Bedouin House and stopped for coffee, obviously a tourist stop with the bedouin women selling a few small handmade trinkets but not over done. I have had it a few times now and have developed a taste for the local Kawah, a small coffee flavoured with cardamom and normally served with dates.

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp


Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals

Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals


There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

We then carried on and after a while reached our overnight camp. After unwinding for a bit I was determined to see a desert sunset and we drove up a large sand dune to see it. A few others joined us and the orange hues as we watched the sun set on the desert horizon were every bit as amazing as we had been told to watch out for.

My driver then decided I needed another adrenalin rush and instead of going back the way we came went straight over the top of the dune which felt like a near vertical drop! Initially we got grounded but with a bit of help we were soon floating down the front of the dune in the landcruiser. You would never dare drive down a slope that steep normally but soft sand is very forgiving.

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset


Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset

Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset


It got quite busy on our sand dune

It got quite busy on our sand dune


Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

My tent was right at the edge of camp which I thought was great as it meant I would have a more authentic feel of sleeping in the desert. My tent was pretty much just a woollen bedouin tent, a couple of beds and a open to the sky toilet/shower but anything more would have spoilt the experience.

My Sheik Tent in the Desert

My Sheik Tent in the Desert


Inside my tent

Inside my tent


The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

For dinner the camp arranged a Bedouin special of lamb with spices cooked for 24 hours in a charcoal pit covered over with sand. While a big deal was made of digging it up, when I tried it I didn't think it was anything special and wish I had stuck with the chicken biryani and fresh hummus that appears to be the national dish. While we ate we were entertained by a small troupe of musicians playing Bedouin music.

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!


Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served

Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served


We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

The generators at the camp were turned off at 10 o'clock and there was a lovely light pollution clear sky, one of the many attractions of the desert. A bit later after the moon had set I saw the stars more vividly than I have ever seen them before in my life; all the constellations were clear as if on a page of an astrology book - the Great Bear, the Lion, the Virgin, Orion - I have never before seen them as clearly as that.

In the morning we decided to have breakfast early and start back; I was tempted to try a ride on a camel first until I saw another tourist have a go and saw how uncomfortable they evidently were and decided for the time being to give camel riding a miss!

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists


A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

As we made our way back across the desert I had a chance to take in the scale of the landscape around us, it was awesome with very large sand dunes as far as the eye can see.

The endless desert

The endless desert


The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

We also chanced upon a group of locals trying to race their Wrangler Jeeps up a particularly steep sand dune and stopped for a while to watch.

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing


This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

After a final swipe of a few sands dunes with the landcruiser before re-inflating the tyres for tarmac we headed to the coast for 1.5 hours to Sur, a major trading port before the Suez Canal and famous for the building of Arab Dhows. Unfortunately the tide was out when we got there so we didn't see Sur at its best but we passed the famous Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Sur Maritime Museum and visited the famous Sur Boatyard where there were several Dhows under construction.

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum


An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

We then headed north-west along the coast towards Muscat 93 miles (150 kilometres) with a few stops and lunch along the way. The first stop was Wadi Tiwi, a beautiful spot but with very narrow winding roads especially through the village. We then had lunch and stopped for a rest on White Beach (a popular beach in Oman but only accessible by 4x4) before moving on to Wadi Shab, a larger but equally beautiful wadi a bit further along the coast. Unfortunately my photos don't seem to do justice to what idyllic settings these Wadi were.

The road upto Wadi Tiwi

The road upto Wadi Tiwi


Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi


The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi

The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi


Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab


A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Oman Tagged beaches animals food oasis desert harbours sunsets tour videos 4wd solo bedouin outdoor_pursuits boatyards Comments (0)

Jebel Shams

The Mountain of the Sun and the Grand Canyon of Arabia

sunny 24 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

The last major excursion of my visit to Oman was to Jebel Shams ("Mountain of the Sun" in Arabic), the highest mountain in the country. On the way we again past through Nizwa and its spectacular fort about 2 hours out of Muscat but this time we stopped to have a look. What I had expected to find was a museum with well laid out grounds and old canon; what we found was a virtually deserted Souq.

It turns out what Nizwa Souq is famous for is its livestock market especially of live goats but we had chosen the wrong day, we needed to come on a Thursday. Never mind, what I did stumble on unexpectedly instead was the specialist gun area of the Souq and it initially shocked me to see guns so openly on sale.

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort


Street scene in Nizwa by the Souq

Street scene in Nizwa by the Souq


Gun shop in Nizwa Souq

Gun shop in Nizwa Souq

We then began our drive up to Jebel Shams with a photo stop at the vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the canyon and became aware of the goats - more on both anon!

The vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the Canyon

The vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the Canyon


Goats at the side of the road on the way up to Jebel Shams

Goats at the side of the road on the way up to Jebel Shams


The road to Jebel Shams

The road to Jebel Shams

Despite being the highest mountain in Oman (10,089 feet, 3,075 metres and site of a military radar station that can apparently see as far as the Mediterranean Sea) what Jebel Shams is really famous for is the spectacular 6,000 feet deep gorge that runs along side it. Known locally as the "Grand Canyon of Arabia" it is so leg wobblingly deep that it is impossible to convey this in a photograph - although I did have a try!

Looking over the edge at Jebel Shams

Looking over the edge at Jebel Shams


Me next to the canyon edge at Jebel Shams

Me next to the canyon edge at Jebel Shams

In addition to a few Bedouin women selling handmade trinkets, there soaring above us were eagles; we must have seen about 6 - mainly sea eagles but also a brown eagle - and then there were the goats. These appeared out of no where and loved to be fed the apple we had brought up for them. A handful of German tourists took loads of photographs of me oblivious to what I thought was the far more spectacular sight I was trying to point out to them of eagles circling only a few feet above their heads.

The goats at Jebel Shams do like to be fed apple

The goats at Jebel Shams do like to be fed apple

We then made our way back down the mountain the same way we came up to the village of Ghul at the entrance to the canyon we had been looking down into and began our drive in. None of the precipice edges to the road this time but a challenging 4WD none the less. Eventually we reached a small village which was as far as we could go and looked up at the gorge rim we had been at looking down from only a couple of hours earlier.

After exploring the village I accepted the offer of taking over the driving, my first experience of off road driving and enjoyed it more than I expected - even if there was the constant worry of misjudging and hitting a rock! We then drove back to Muscat and this time I was able to share the driving taking over just beyond Nizwa.

The entrance into the Gorge

The entrance into the Gorge


Our road through the Gorge

Our road through the Gorge


This was as far as the road would take us in the gorge

This was as far as the road would take us in the gorge


Looking up at the Gorge rim - we were up there looking down less than 2 hours ago!

Looking up at the Gorge rim - we were up there looking down less than 2 hours ago!

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains animals birds markets canyon forts videos souq 4wd Comments (0)

Leg 3 – Muscat (Oman) to Bangkok (Thailand)

Thai Airways International TG 508 – Airbus Industrie A330-300


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Leg_3_-_Muscat_to_Bangkok.png

Depart: Muscat OM (MCT), 26th Feb 2013 20:40 Gulf Standard Time (GMT+4)
Includes Stop (1 hour): Karachi (KHI), 26th Feb 2013 22:50-23:50 Pakistan Standard Time (GMT+5)
Arrive: Bangkok TH (BKK), 27th Feb 2013 06:50 Indochina Time (GMT+7)
2,830 miles (7 hours 10 minutes)

What was unusual about this flight was that it was full of Pakistani ex-pats flying home, all with excessive amounts of baggage many time overs their permitted allowance. I was also the only 'white man' on the plane and when we briefly landed at Karachi in Pakistan we were under strict instructions not to take any photographs as it was also used by the military!

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged flights Comments (0)

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