Oman, Sultan's land
...the desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it...
The scent of incense enters the lungs, caresses the skin and stagnates in the mind. The dance of light that smoke creates, between the alleys of houses built with sand-colored bricks and ancient forts with memories of a glorious past, makes the atmosphere even more magical. It is the same magic that remains etched in the eyes when you see the shopkeepers offering dried fruit, a handful of spices to flavor the dishes, or even when the fragrant oils are scattered in the environment using precious dispensers with candles or charcoals. The souq is a colorful place to breathe Oman, it is a way to get in touch with the Omani culture and to understand this people.
So, let’s go to this new adventure in Oman, made of roads, villages, souqs, deserts, mountains and history.
The plane lands in Muscat or Muscat, the capital of Oman. It is a medium-sized city, spotlessly clean where you often walk on paved floors of fine marble meanwhile you observe people on the street through colored glass and wrought iron gates with complicated ornamental motifs. Just enough time to visit the great mosque, which we reach the Royal Opera House. It is one of the main buildings in Muscat, inaugurated in 2011 by Sultan Qaboos, very passionate of classical music and opera. Inside, it is amazing: marble and precious fountains set in wooden structures.
The sun goes down, from the loudspeakers of the minarets of the mosques, the muezzin begins to sing prayers, the city slows down and evening comes.
The following day the engine of the Jeep 4×4 starts with one destination, desert, also passing through multiple villages and oases. The road from Muscat to Sharqiya Sands is a snake between small rocky mountains and small villages inserted between them. By taking breaks in the few service areas, you can understand how obsessive these people are about cleaning and how kind they are. Always ready to offer a smile and to help with directions or advices. It is really pleasant to spend the hours along the way capturing the change in the landscape, from a maritime environment to a completely desert one. The first camels begin to show up with their humps and long necks intent on collecting the fruits of small trees in the middle of nowhere. The temperature rises up to 35 degrees and, in the distance, you can see a yellowish spot that draws imaginative curves shaped by the wind, the desert on the horizon.
The Jeep behaves very well and follows a track along the plain that acts as a forerunner to the dunes, the sand begins to color the car while you go into this desolate wasteland but, at the same time, full of life. We put the bags in a tent already set up, after an excellent snack with dates, bananas and fruit juice, the dunes are ready to be ride. Walking in the desert is complicated as for two steps forward there is one back, but the sensation of bare feet on the hard sand made wet by the cold night is truly characteristic. The desert, like the mountain, is a fascinating environment and in some ways, they are extreme environments so very similar. Walking in absolute silence, seeing camels in the distance with a regular slow pace, observing the setting sun which creates magnificent plays of light making the grains of sand stand out like diamonds, is magnificent. The evening has come: the quarter Moon rises on the horizon and the first stars begin to show up with Venus. The darkness embraces everything and the temperature drops suddenly. The summer t-shirt and shorts are replaced by heavier long trekking pants. The sand becomes wet due to the strong humidity in the evening and the head light is the only illumination. Well, is better to keep it off as it is the constellation of Orion that makes itself beautiful with its sword and its belt. It is very relaxing to see a black sky with white dots listening to the wind creating new shapes of the dunes that will only be seen the next day.
From the mirror of the car, you can see the trail of dust dancing on the glass as the desert gets far. The direction is North-West to the old capital of Oman, Nizwa. The 4-lanes highway that cuts the Country in two, makes it clear how much infrastructures are present as well as the predisposition of this Nation to tourism. After a few hours of camels and scorching sun, you enter into the ancient city gates. Nizwa was the capital between the sixth and seventh centuries and, in 2015, it became the capital of Islamic culture. Being the ancient capital, it preserves a big the historical heritage and, over all, the seventeenth-century fort is fascinating. It is worth entering to enjoy the life of people in those times, from the kitchens, to the bedrooms, from the secret passages to the lush gardens, passing through the prisons, the visit to the fort is, from a historical point of view, truly remarkable. Special is also the view that can be enjoyed on top of the large cylindrical tower of the whole city with its mosques and the mountains that embrace it. From there you can hear the hustle and bustle of the vendors in the city souq. It’s time for perfumes, to go through the mist of incense that makes the alleys mysterious and magical, to bargain and be amazed by the Arab wonders. You feel like Prince Ali from the cartoon Aladdin, you are amazed, passing in front of each shop, by the amount of merchandise they offer. The even greater wonder is to stop and listen to the vendors who proudly tell the anecdotes and curiosities of each piece they sell. Inside the Suq, it is mandatory to get lost on purpose: all the alleys are the same and it is easy to lose orientation. Even standing still and watching the dance of the buyers-sellers is a spectacle that leaves you amused – it seems that they know all the languages of the world! The sunset begins to color the minarets of the mosques in orange colors and, from the peaks, the speakers intone the prayer, the warm and yellowish lights are turned on and the city is hugged by a magic atmosphere . The inhabitants, dressed in brightly colored clothes, invade the streets and the main square while the small restaurants prepare for dinner and shisha. Slowly, in front of a succulent dinner with typical dishes such as Majboos made of saffron rice with meat is time to go to sleep.
The road climbs through ravines and gorges, the asphalt has given way to a dirt track that allows you to drive to a maximum of 15-20 km / h. The Canyon, Wadi Ghul, with its cracks in the rocks and steep slopes, awaits the adventurer with his dramatic panoramas and peaks. They are the highest mountains of the Arabian Peninsula above 3000 meters and are the fun of astronomers and those who like hiking. The warm sea sun is replaced with a fire in a circle of stones, moreover, it is still winter! The path descends into the gorges like a long snake that winds its way between the rocks and ravines, the deep base of the canyon is already in twilight while the sun, with the warm colors of the sunset, caresses the jagged peaks of the surrounding mountains. The temperature drops and the long shadows of the evening begin to follow the path towards an ancient abandoned village reachable only on foot. The houses made of stone and mud make a dive into the past, the kitchen in the center with the fire and the small bedrooms create the mental image of what it must have been like to live in those conditions, literally on the edge of the canyon. All the houses are built attached to the hard mountain stone to protect them from the weather. It is not possible to return if you have not previously chatted with the kind local population made of shepherds with their little treasure of animals that graze in these rocky moors. After a short conversation, it is clear how difficult life on top is without any kind of infrastructure, such animals are truly the only source of survival and probably of profit.
It is time to retrace the way forward with the magnificent angles, panoramas and eyes of the people you meet still in your mind and heart, on the horizon you can see the desert again, companion of many silences, approaching Muscat, the shapes of the minarets of the mosques are becoming increasingly clear. The song of the muezzin accompanies the streets while the scents of incense and myrrh envelop the body and mind again.
It was really worth it!