Day 1 Doha – Muscat: 4 countries, 6 borders, 1,105km!
“It’s like you participated in a world rally“, said my friend in reply to my status in Facebook.
We started the journey at 3.24 AM from Al Faisalya Gardens, Al Gharrafa, Doha. In that early morning, me and my friend, Taufiq, along with our families, cruising the sleepy Salwa Road toward Qatar/Saudi border. When we arrived there 57 minutes later Qatar border was very quiet; only one two cars exiting borders. After Fajar praying, and finishing a natural break, we proceeded to borders and finished all immigration related matters. It took us almost one hour to pass through Qatar and Saudi borders, even in this low season early morning. Can’t imagine if it happens during high season!
Qatar border coordinate: 24 44’46.85″N 50 50’52.83″E
Turning left at the roundabout after Saudi border (whereas going straight leads you to Hofuf, Dammam and Riyadh of KSA,), we started driving through a stretch of 130 km dual carriageway leading to Saudi/UAE borders. The road is quite excellent; however this road section is unlit and therefore quite dangerous for night driving. No camera installed as I could observe, however we opted to drive just about 120 kph. There are fuel stations available in this road section so you don’t need to worry about run out of gas.
Petrol station right before Saudi border – opposite side (need to make U-turn): 24 08’17.67″N 51 34’10.43″E
Petrol station right after UAE border – opposite side (need to make U-turn) 24 07’33.98″N 51 37’52.47″E
Tips: Try to fill your tank full at the last station in Saudi road. In addition to energy for your next 360 km of driving to Abu Dhabi, at least you can save few riyals from price difference (0.6 riyals vs 6.25 dirhams per gallon (or about 1.375 per liter) of Special (95) gasoline).
One hour twenty minutes later we arrived at Saudi border with UAE. Saudi departure process was simple and took merely few minutes. On the contrary, the UAE entry process was quite lengthy with visa on arrival form application, eye scan, and inspection. Nevertheless, one hour we spent in those two borders.
Saudi border with UAE: 24 07’47.84″N 51 34’20.20″E
UAE border immigration building: 24 07’35.73″N 51 37’13.53″E
Now the fun part, a driving of 360 km on a straight dual carriageway (Road E11) with only few curves. Some say, it can be completed within 3 hours. But in our case, 3 hour 40 minutes including lost in Abu Dhabi to find out direction to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Speed limit in this particular road is 100 km/h. You will oftenly hardly notice the solar-powered cameras due to hidden in green belt or due to their low position. Mostly they are located near U-turn or near entrance to towns. You will pass the following towns: Al Hamra (+65km from border), Jebel Dhana (+115), Ruwais (+129), Al Mirfa (some 30km before Tarif), Tarif (+231), and Al Mafraq (+328). Al Mafraq is like an intersection where going straight leads you to Dubai, turns right to Al Ain (road E22) and turns left to Abu Dhabi.
Petrol stations are normally present near small town along the road. What I can recall are at As Sila, Al Hamra, Jebel Dhana (5.1 km off the road), Ruwais (opposite), Mirfa (4 km off the road, and opposite), before Tarif (opposite), and after Tarif. Most petrol station normally have toilet facilities, mosque, and small juice stalls. Do not expect large international chain restaurants in petrol stations along this road.
We stopped by at Abu Dhabi for about two hours; visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, having Zuhr praying and a light lunch before setting off to Al Ain and then to Muscat. The mosque (cited is the second largest in Middle East) is still under finishing construction but that can’t hide the beauty within.
Coordinates Grand Mosque: 24 24’45.6″N 54 28’30.0″E
Abu Dhabi (Father of gazelle) is the capital of and the second largest city in the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast and located less than 250 metres from the mainland and is joined to the mainland by the Maqta and Mussafah Bridges. With a population of just under 1.5 million, Abu Dhabi is the headquarter of numerous oil companies and embassies.
Directions and road to Al Ain (E22) from Abu Dhabi is well signposted and we had no difficulty in driving towards the right track. Driving 160km of three-lane dual carriageway road to Al Ain was very enjoyable. We arrived at Hili Border one hour 45 minutes later only to find out that the border was closed due to system down. We finally could pass through Hili Border with personal approach to Immigration Officer (see posting about Crossing 16 borders).
Al Ain (literally means The Spring) is the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). With a population of 614,180 (2008 estimate), Al Ain is dubbed the Garden City of the UAE. It is located in Abu Dhabi Emirate, directly adjacent to the border with Oman. The freeways connecting Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai form a geographic triangle in the center of the country, each city roughly 150 kilometers from the other two
Al Ain has been continuously inhabited for more than four thousand years and Al Ain is considered central to the cultural heritage of the country. It is the birth place of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates. Today, the name Buraimi refers to the Omani town whose urban area merges with that of Al Ain. Until September 14, 2006, Al Ain and Buraimi enjoyed an open border and functioned as one. On September 14, the UAE government closed the open border and required all individuals to clear immigrations both entering and leaving the UAE. Persian Gulf nationals cross the border at the main crossing whereas, expats are required to cross at either the Hili or “Intercontinental” border crossings.(Source: Wikipedia)
UAE Border Buraymi (Hili): 24 15’49.8″N 55 46’2.7″E
Al Ain Palace Museum: 24 12’54.0″N 55 45’38″E
Hili Fun City: 24 18’6.4″N 55 47’5.3″E
Hili Archaeological: 24 27’34.4″N 55 47’32.5″E
Al Ain National Museum: 24 13’00.8″N 55 46’29.0″E
Green Mubazarah: 24 6’14.3″N 55 44’57.2″E
Surprisingly, Oman border in Wadi Al Jizi is located 39 km (road towards Sohar) from the Hili border. When we touched Oman immigration building, my car trip meter indicated 808.1 km. Oman immigration process is less simple than UAE. No eye scan, no individual application form for children, and less expensive (only 3 OR for adult, children free).
Oman Border Wadi Al Jizi: 24 13’27.9″N 56 09’41.1″E
When we’re ready to set off to Muscat via Sohar, it’s already 5.28 PM. Fortunately road to Sohar is well lit and it’s dual lane dual carriageway. There were two or three short road diversions on the road from the border to East Coast Highway but those were easily navigated. The road is excellent, thanks to Oman Government!
Oh by the way, as I drove to the last drive-in counter in Oman border, I was reminded by the immigration officer to clean my mud-painted car. He said that I could be fined if I drove a dirty car. At least before entering Sohar my car should be clean, he added. And here we go, as we approached east coast highway leading to Sohar, I parked my car on the empty area near road shoulder and we handwashed my car with the available water in the car, being looked at strangely by the passerby. What the heck are they doing? Fortunately, there was a nearby mosque with plenty of water we could use of. Fiuuhh. Yet, we spent about 40 minutes to clean all mud paint from my car.
But that is not the end, when we stopped at one Shell petrol station just before Sohar for dinner and refuelling, we saw one standing banner clearly, attractively written: FREE CAR WASH FOR EVERY DOUBLE PIZZA PURCHASED! That really made us so damn stupid! I wish…..
Two hours from Muscat is the maritime stronghold of Sohar, named after Noah’s great grandson and famed for being the legendary home of Sinbad. The coastal city of Sohar was once an important Islamic port and the largest town in the country. Sohar was also once a powerful trading hub and was known as the Gate to China because of its role as a jumping off point for Asian trade. The city is renowned for its copper deposits and an attractive region for tourists due to its clean, safe beaches and the plethora of archaeological features. Sohar is now playing a vital role as a commercial center and with the construction of a new industrial and container port, as a new hub for Gulf shipping. (Source: Wikipedia and Meet Oman 2008)
Sohar Fort: 24 21’45.9″N 56 44’57.6″E
Recharged with dinner, we started to drive to Muscat at around 8 PM. That’s still another 230 km tough. The drive from Sohar to Muscat along the coastal highway is characterized by long straight beaches, a coastal plain dotted with palm plantations, and a string of forts and castles in the foothills of the central mountain ranges. But with the night driving, we barely enjoy the drive and rather focus on the road busy with pedestrian crossing in town, slow moving vehicles, overtaking or roundabout. If my whole body could tell it must have told me to stop and end the drive. This long drive at the final stage to Muscat, with only few percents of energy and focus, surrounding darkness and a piece of light, seemed bored me and made me started to be queasy. I don’t know.
When we finally saw luminous buildings scattered, we took a deep breath. Finally. But we’re wrong. The start of the luminous is As Seeb, the jewel of capital, another 40 km to Muscat. When my trip meter showed 1105 km that’s when we parked our cars beside Delmon Hotel Apartments where we stayed. What a journey. Four countries, 6 borders, 1105 km, 19 hours travelling, and 14 hours of them driving. Thanks be to God. We safely arrived. Alhamdulillah. I’d never driven so far and so long but I did it safely!