Leaving the mountains behind, our scenery changed very suddenly and very dramatically. On top of the mountain we had see fossils of fish and snails, which hinted at an aquatic past. At the foot of the mountain, rock faces at perplexing angles, and varying degrees, crashing into the horizontal sea bed, which was wide and vast. It was strange to image we were driving along what could have been the bottom of the sea once upon a time.
On the way to the town of Ibra we discovered a beautiful ruin, which we were told by a local passer-by was a meeting place. The crumbling mud and stone chips traced out a majlis and water tunnels, as well as a 15m well. Against the backdrop of the mountains it was a stark reminder that all over these peaks man has survived on little more than their wits in remote homesteads that still created a hierarchical community based on order and respect.
After Ibra, the rocky outcrops suddenly gave way to the golden sand dunes of Wahiba, which rolled away for as far as the eye could see. At the village of Al Wasil, we turned right and headed straight for the Sharqiya Sands, and after 11km reached a fenced tented community that was to be our home for two nights.
We arrived at the end of the day and were ushered out of the camp and into a 4x4, which took us to the top of a dune where we watched the orange sun bounce along the dune opposite before pocketing itself into a hideaway, bringing the camp into dusk and then total darkness. Watching the sun dive over a dune is a must-see desert experience. Whether the wind is whipping up a storm, or everything is completely calm, the colours, shapes and lack of sounds make this an unforgettable and magical moment. We were so far from a major town we couldn’t even see any light pollution, exactly as nature intended.
The next day we packed plenty of water and snacks and headed back to the mountains, but not before stopping to see the fort at Al-Mintarib, just a couple of kilometres south of the main highway. It was a great insight into bygone living and architecture, from the cramped jail to the crenulated battlements.
Back on the main road we then turned left climbing towards Wadi Bani Khalid. Each wadi brings with it a different experience. This area is famous for its clear pools, which are so enticing it’s hard not to jump straight in. Brave souls climb the canyons and plummet straight into the hidden depths, which are surprisingly deep. The more timid are content to sit on the rocky ledges and let the tiny fish nibble at their feet, a spa treatment that many would pay for.
There are good facilities, which leave it more like a park than a natural oasis, but follow the water further up the canyon and you’ll find secluded pools and streams, fed from a spring. The route can be slippery, with rocks buffed to a shine from passers-by, but we managed it perfectly with the children. At the top of the wadi is Moqal Cave, which should only be visited with a guide and a torch.
Our final trip of the day was to the village of Bidah, at the mouth of Wadi Bani Khalid, where we climbed to the top of the village for a view down the gorge of date palm farms, a verdant oasis set against the baron rock. We were on the hunt for red bananas, but left unsatiated, we will have to try another day. There is so much to see and explore, the dunes and mountains demand more than one visit.
The practical bit
What to do:
· Ruined meeting place, about 10km outside of Ibra. Head away from the town on route 23 and the ruins are on your left.
· Fort at Al-Mintarib.
· Wadi Bani Khalid is about 40 mins from Al Wasil. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic, swimming and meandering through the wadi. If you’re planning to swim make sure you dress conservatively and swim in shorts and t-shirt.
Where to stay:
The Desert Nights camp 11 km from Al Wasil is a great oasis in the middle of the dunes. The permanent ensuite tents, with electricity and water, really ensure even people who don’t like roughing it will be comfortable. It’s glamping, not camping. The site has 26 tents, a bar and a restaurant. Each evening and at daybreak you can watch the sun dancing along the dunes. There is a full range of extra activities from dune bashing to sightseeing. www.desertnightscamp.com
What to read:
· Oman Trekking by Explorer
· Oman Off-Road by Explorer
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