Oman is a land of beautiful mountains and a large expanse of dry arid land. But where there are mountains there are bound to be wadis and Oman is certainly full of wadis. From olden times people have built their villages close to mountain springs and this is what has happened in Oman also. In fact you can find hundreds of wadis between these awesome mountains and some of them are 60 to 80 km in length. Some of the more famous ones are Wadi Shah, Wadi Mistal, Wadi Suwayh, Wadi Fanja, Wadi Dayquah, Wadi Bani Khalid and so on. All these wadis are very beautiful and definitely worth visiting.
Trekking on mountain trails and on the banks of these wadis is a favourite pastime for the tourists and inhabitants of Oman. Another favourite pastime is wadi bashing which is driving in a 4WD through the half filled or dry wadis. The less adventurous use these wadis as picnic spots or just as relaxation points on their way to a different location, which is what I did. I stopped at the Wadi Bani Khalid on my way to Ras Al Hadd in Sur and to the famed Wahiba Sands.
From Muscat it is 203 kms to this wadi but I had to drive a lot more as I started my journey from Sohar, drove to Ras Al Hadd in Sur and onwards to the Wahiba Sands. Wadi bin Khalid was a stopover on my way back.
Wadi Bani Khalid
This wadi is unusual in the sense it is filled with water throughout the year. For this reason it is called as an oasis or more commonly as a waterhole. It lies in the Sharquiya region of Oman but due to its proximity to Muscat is a very popular tourist spot for those living in the town as well. The springs of Ain Hamouda, Ain al Sarooj and Ain Dawwa converge together to form a pool in the middle.
The wadi is lined with date palms and other common trees found in Oman like the Lemon, Mango and ?Zambla? (not sure of the English name) trees. The trees give soothing shade to the picnickers especially in the hot summer months from March to August. It is advisable to carry your own food and drinks when you come to this place, as there are no restaurants or shops nearby. All we found was a local selling soft drinks in the back of a van.
The government has already signed an agreement to develop the tourism potential of this area. A park is being built next to the wadi and a restaurant, reception centre and handicrafts shops are planned nearby. There are a few man-made shades, benches and bridges built in between small limestone rocks and hills and these add to the natural beauty of the place. Stone steps built on the bank and leading up to a dias/stage give the impression that one is standing in a place that is from a bygone Egyptian era.
One of the most common pastime of the local boys here is diving and it is done in a particular way. Two persons dive from the top of the bridge from either side at exactly the same moment. This creates a powerful cross current in the water and gives rise to a very loud sound, closely resembling the sound of a drum.
Another attraction a little further up is the Muqal cave or the Kahf Maqal, popularly known as Oman?s underground chambers. It takes about half an hour of walking to get to this place. As you go towards it, the water in the wadi disappears and concrete steps lead to the narrow cave entrance, which is more like slashed-up slits on the vertical rock face.
Oman?s history dates back to thousands of years and it is never more evident than when you stand in the middle of Wahiba Sands. These Sands lie in the eastern region of Oman and when you look at the miles and miles of sand around you it makes you think of those weary travelers who traveled here thousand of years ago. An ideal setting for a movie like ‘Lost in the Desert’ though of course that particular movie was not filmed here.
The whole area consists of 180 kms of an unending stretch of sand from North to South and 80 kms from East to West and there have been a few cases of tourists getting lost forever in these dunes. Considered a danger zone for the inexperienced traveler, venturing on your own is not at all recommended and also strictly discouraged. Some of the sand dunes are as high as 100 metres. The view is superb and more than what any photographer can ask for.
Apparently there has been evidence of human occupation in Wahiba Sands as far back as 8000 years. Right now about 180 species of plants and 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are found to roam these ancient sands. Bedouins and Nomads live in tiny little villages dotted along the way to the Sands.
Wahiba Sands has makeshift camps in a semi circle where tourists can pre-book and stay. The cabins are clean and comfortable. It is advisable to book with a reputed travel agent and most package deals come with an overnight stay. Package deals include pickup from the last parking place, complimentary welcome tea, dinner with camp fire and breakfast in the morning. One has to pay extra for camel rides and sand dunes rides.
You can go on safaris across the desert accompanied by guides and their trained camels. If you are hard pressed for time, short treks on camels are arranged. One of the most exciting part of this tour are the dune safaris on 4WD?s. The vehicles are driven by experienced locals who take you over the dunes at breakneck speed, they have no choice, if they stop there are more chances of the vehicles getting stuck in the sand. The driving is done in a zig zag fashion and when you think you had enough thrills for the day, you are told to get ready for the next big thrill and that is coming down the sand dune on reverse gear at full speed.
Most of the visitors who visit Wahiba Sands climb up the dunes and once at the top you can have an unrestricted view of the dunes. Getting to the top seems all worth it for the excitement of coming down the slope at full speed.
Nights in the Wahiba Sands can be very very chilly. But with the moon out, you can see shadows cast on the dunes and the complete silence is very mysterious. One visit to this spectacular place and the memory of ?Wahiba Sands? remains with you for a lifetime.
Ras Al Hadd Turtle Beach
I have only added my photo album here as the travelogue on has already been written by Shaly Pereira, Oman, earlier.
Author: Deepak Pereira- Oman