Eid holidays dawned faster than expected and there was very little time that was left to plan a long distance holiday. Most colder destinations were not suitable towards October and warmer ones were overbooked. A long awaited desire to explore Oman by road still remain unfulfilled and having tasted the warm hospitality of Omanis at Musandam enclave it prompted us to explore their mainland.
What is striking among Omanis is their warm, gentle nature, hospitality and the knowledge of the English language. Oman offers an excellent travel experience where modernity harmoniously blends with deep rooted local traditions. Oman is also well known from biblical times and it is believed that one of the three kings that came to venerate baby Jesus with Frankincense as a gift was from Oman. Muscat the capital city is synonymous with Oman, however we decided to explore another historically important city of Nizwa before visiting Muscat.
A small technicality for UAE Residents: To exit UAE there are two options one is go via Al Ain (Abu Dhabi Emirate) or via Hatta (Dubai Emirate). We had used the Al Ain road and the transit point is called the Hilli Check post. It can be a bit confusing as Al Ain (Abu Dhabi) and Buraimi (Oman) are like a twin city and therefore you don?t need a visa to go to Buraimi. But to go further than Buraimi you will need a visa. Therefore before you leave Al Ain you will need to go to the Hili check post and ask for an exit stamp from the UAE immigration. You will then need to drive for another 40 kms into Oman and then you will find the Omani Immigration who will give you the Entry Permit to Oman. (If you don?t have an exit permit of UAE then you might be asked to go back and get one to enter Oman or even if they do let you without one, UAE might not let you reenter UAE, since there was no exit stamp in the first place).
Nizwa: Nizwa is about 350 kms from Abu Dhabi. Niswa was the erstwhile capital of Oman in the 16th and 17th centuries. However it still possess the bygone glory and as is evident from the several Castles, Citadels, watch towers and Forts in and around Nizwa.
Some of the prime attractions are in the radius of 40-50 kms that include large farms, wadis, rivulets, mountains and therefore it is ideal that one should stay in Nizwa for a day or two. There are several hotels but the Golden Tulip Nizwa on the foot hills of Jabal Al Akdar is quite a popular one. Jabal Al Akdar is a highest mountain peak and reaches 3000 meters high. It was one of the most challenging drives that we had ever endured and only 4 wheel drives are allowed given the steep climb and descent one has to go through for 40 kms at a stretch. What adds gravity to this trek is that the Omani traffic police distribute safety leaflets to all the drivers and wish them a safe drive. (Tragically a day after we had been there an Indian family of five had a fatal accident and was also reported in this portal). Therefore caution is advised, however the beauty of the Jabal Al Akdar (also called green mountain) is so stunning is that it is called the ?grand canyon of the east?. At the top of the mountain there are several small villages with a combined population of not more than 2000 people and hundreds of fruit trees such as Pomegranates?, Walnuts, etc as the temperature normally comes down to 10 degrees. Visitors can visit various orchards and one Omani lady walked up to us and gave us two juicy pomegranates.
Another prime attraction around Nizwa is the Al Hoota Cave at the foot hills of Jabal Shams. This is supposedly one of the largest caves of its kind in the world. Advance reservation is required and could be done by phone and the customer service officer will allocate a time slot as the visit is undertaken in groups of 30-40 pax. The entrance fee is Dhs 50/- per head and normally there is a small train that takes visitors to the entrance of the cave however due to a technical glitch the train did not work and we had to do a 10 minute walk. The cave is huge and it will need 45 minutes for this guided walking tour. Photography is not permitted inside the cave. At the bottom of the cave there are blind fishes. There is an excellent continental restaurant, a souvenir shop and a small museum as well near the reception area.
The forts at Nizwa, Bahla and Jibrin are worth seeing for their historical treasures and artifacts. Bahla Fort has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. For centuries Bahla has been famous for Black Magic. The only challenge in driving to Nizwa via Al Ain is that the entire stretch of 200 kms is a single carriage drive away and extreme caution is advised and so there is no choice of changing lanes at will.
Muscat: From Nizwa to Muscat it is about 160 kms and the roads were fantastic. All roads in Muscat leads you to the grand the Sultan Qaboos Road that is like the Shaik Zayed road or the Emirates Road of UAE that connects practically all the roads and therefore it was easy for us to locate the hotel. Therefore navigation is not an issue in Muscat city and all that you need to know is which flyer over or sector one needs to go.
Most hotels were packed because of the Eid and rates were jacked up for the last minute travelers. Muscat has several attractions including Museums, Castles, Forts mainly in Old Muscat area, principal among them being the Al Jalili Castle, Al Mirani Castle, The Al Alam Palace, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Muscat Cornice and the famous Muttarh Souk. Some of the colonial buildings still has the remnants of the strong Portuguese influence that this great country once had. Since it was Eid we were unable to see the Mosque and the Museums and one guide told us ?when you have a holiday we too have a holiday? which makes it simple and easy to plan. Given the distance between India and Muscat, Indians have lived, worked and traded with this great Sultanate for centuries and hence you will come across a lot many country men and no wonder it is called ?Mini India?. Muscat is a beautiful city with white colored low rise buildings and villas nestled around the beautiful Al Hajar Mountains and the greenery is so eye soothing that one feels that they are in the Switzerland of the east.
On our way back we traveled via Sohar and we came across several large farms that gave us the warm feeling of our beloved Mangalore and we returned to Al Ain (Hili Check point). Dubai and Northern Emirates Residents can drive back home directly via Hatta check post. One must not forget to buy a small pack of the famous traditional Omani Halwa that is sold at special sweet houses and souqs all across Oman. Although some people can cover Abu Dhabi to Muscat via Sohar in 5 hours I would recommend to keep 6-7 hours so that one can drive safely and enjoy the scenic beauty as well. The entire drive was worth the effort and our cultural horizons widened seeing how a country like Oman has maintained a perfect balance between modernity and culture.
Author: Oneal Hector DCunha- Abu Dhabi