Forts, fjords and desert hospitality of Oman
Oman’s strategic position on the Arabian Peninsula has brought with it not only wealth from trade through the centuries but also conflict, borne out by the 500 centuries old-forts, castles and watchtowers littering the country.
The impressive Nizwa Fort, in the inland town that was once the capital, is Oman’s most visited monument. Nizwa is a green oasis in the desert thanks to its aflaj irrigation canals.
Rise early on Fridays to watch locals barter for goats at the livestock market in Nizwa’s souq. On my visit, some wore traditional, decorative curved khanjah daggers strapped to a belt while several even brandished rifles and ammunition belts, and beaming smiles.
Omanis are disarmingly friendly and welcoming, none more so than the Bedouin. When I came across a camp while on a 4x4 excursion into the vast Wahiba Sands desert, they lived up to their reputation for hospitality, inviting us to join them for lunch, cross-legged on a rug. I followed my hosts’ lead when a bowl containing a rice and meat dish, qabel, was passed round, sticking my fingers into the stodgy goo then rolling it into a sticky ball and dipping it in a bowl of oil before eating it. Refusing would have offended.
At ancient shipbuilding town Sur, just two hours from Muscat via a new highway, wooden dhows are still made by hand and huge turtles haul up the beach to nest.
Cut off from the rest of Oman by a 45- mile strip of the United Arab Emirates, the northernmost Musandam peninsula is known as the Norway of Arabia because of its rugged mountains and deep fjords.
When I visited just before Oman’s tourism boom, it had one 15-room hotel in the main town of Khasab and you could only fly there. Now you can also take the world’s fastest ferries and there is more accommodation.
Guarding the Strait of Hormuz – gateway to the Arabian Gulf – gives Musandam a very different feel to the rest of Oman. Tiny fishing communities dot the steep-sided coast, while inland, villages cling to the sides of stark, barren mountains.
Sightseeing options include taking a dhow fjords cruise, watching dolphins and snorkelling or diving on isolated reefs, as well as taking 4x4 trips into the mountains.