Half-heartedly, we finally left Muscat.
Our plan today was to go to Fujairah via Western Hajar mountain areas roads. Doing so, we’d have a complete road coverage encircles east coast and western areas with Muscat and Al Ain as the knots. Western Hajar includes range of mountains that may look other-worldly but it is home for a variety terrain to explore, fascinating wadis, fertile plateaus and jaw-dropping views.
The first stop was Nizwa, an ancient capital of Oman. To go to Nizwa, we must drive to As Seeb (the same route to airport from Muscat) and then took a turnoff to Nizwa. From As Seeb, it is still another 137 km to Nizwa through an excellent dual lane double carriageway.
The road to Nizwa winds through the mountains of the Western Hajar range and comes out into the Sumail Gap where it continues across plains flanked by mountains. At 136 km from the start of Muscat (airport) – Nizwa road is a roundabout where the road to Salalah begins. The right turn takes you to Nizwa main town. The road takes us to the center with its impressive fort.
Nizwa centers around the historical fort and souq. The fort is among the oldest in Oman (completed in 1668, built by Imam Sultan bin Saif bin Malik Al Ya’arubi who was famed for driving the Portuguese from Oman in 1650). The fort central core measures more than 150 ft in diameter with a height of 150 ft. Lies close to the fort is a Nizwa mosque with its blue and gold domes.
Nizwa souq is clearly visible on the left as we entered the town, surrounded by a sturdy wall with beautiful large wooden doors opening on to the courtyards and shops. Here you will find locally crafted goods such as traditional silver jewelry, khanjars, copper, weaving as well as pottery.
By car we managed to enter the souq through a beautiful large wooden door and narrow street and surprised by the fact that it was a souq! In addition to shops selling locally drafted goods, there are specific building sections for vegetable/fruits market and goat market.
Nizwa is a main city in Dhakiliya region of Oman. Besides Nizwa there are several places worth visited. I owe the following descriptions from “A concise guide to the Dhakiliya” – a mini book grabbed from Oman Tourism counter in Wadi Al Jizi immigration building. The Dhakiliya region creates a link between the coastal region around the capital Muscat and the interior of the country, through Sumail GapThe gap is regarded as a highly strategic artery for communication and trade between the coast and the interior. It has always been so with the road from Muscat to the regions’s ancient capital of Nizwa running along an old trade route. The multitude of forts and watchtowers in the Sumail area testify to its historical importance.
Nizwa Bazar: 22 55’57.4″N 57 31’54.0E
Nizwa Fort: 22 55’58.5″N 57 31’49.1″E
Nizwa Souq: 22 55’53.7″N 57 31’54.4″E
A small town with a fort, 36 km along the dual carriageway from the airport. Forty towers once defended the area and many still stand, the most famous of which are Fanja Tower and Bidbid Fort.
At 60km there is a left signposted turn to the town of Sumail. Sumail Gap divides Al Hajar Mountains into two distinct chains, west and east. Surrounding by towering mountains and wadis, Sumail is a lush area of many connected villages built alongside a narrow wadi.
There was once an active trade route through Izki to the regions of Dakhiliya, Sharqiya and Dhahirah. Izki was called Jarnan in pre-Islamic times. Jarnan was renamed Izki deriving from the Islamic alms tax knows as zakah. The archaic landmarks of the wilayat stand as witnesses to its old age and history.
Birkat al Mawz
The village of Birkat al Mawz (lit: banana pools) takes you into Wadi Muaydin which leads up to Jabel Akhdar. Guarding the route to Wadi Muaydin is the fortified house of Bait Al Radidah, a two-story building set in a courtyard with Falaj (iirgation) Al Sharieh running alongside it.
Coordinate: 23 05’59.7″N 57 24’00.3″E
The road from Birkat Al Mawz leads to Wadi Muaydin, a good place for walks and picnics. The road continues for about 35 km up to Jabel AKhdar and the Saiq plateau. The area is famed for its agricultural as well as its strategic location. Your driving license, car registration, and work visa will be checked by the policeman at the checkpoint. The road is tarmac but very steep and a 4WD is essential. It is about 45 minutes to drive to Saiq with excellent views en route. The summer is very cool and it can get very cold in winter.
The emblem of the wilayat is the mitk bush (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – found only on this desert wadi – known as a medicinal plant. The most interesting part of Manah is in the old area of Harrat Al Bilad. The entire abandoned village, walled up for defense, still stands in all its past glory.
From Nizwa take the Bahla road and the village is signposted to the right. The remains of the old village with its mud and rock buildings still stand at the foot of the mountains. The falaj still flows through the village and alongside the cliff behind it. A walk up to a plateau above Tanuf offers great views of the surrounding area and a peaceful camping spot should you opt to stay for the night. Tanuf is also the sife of the factory that bottles the local mineral water by the same name.
Turnoff to Al Hamra coordinate: 23 01’20.5″N 57 19’58.1″E
Some of the oldest preserved houses in Oman can be found in Al Hamra, a town built on a tilted rock slab. Many of the houses have two stories, with ceilings made of palm beams and fronds topped by mud and straw.
Al Hota Cave
Turnoff to Al Hota Cave coordinate: 23 02’51.4″N 57 18’42.3″E
Al Hota Cave coordinate: 23 04’55.2″N 57 21’15.5″E
A well decorated cave with beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations and large caverns. A one day prior booking is required to enter the cave. No photography inside the cave is allowed.
Misfat Al Abriyyin coordinate: 23 08’26.3″N 57 18’39.2″E
A village seemingly hewn out of rock. The houses cling to the rocks, this looks precarious but it has been here for centuries. The road zig-zags in a shallow climb for about 10km.A short walk along a path of rock well polished by time brings you to a point overlooking the falaj and water pools.
Wadi Ghul and Jabel Shams
Turnoff to Wadi Al Ghul coordinate: 23 06’3.5″N 57 16’38.2″E
Wadi Al Ghul coordinate: 23 09’08.0″N 57 12’25.0″E
Jebel Shams Canyon: 23 11’56.2″N 57 12’07.3″E
Jebel Shams: 23 14’13.0″N 57 15’50.0″E
Wadi Ghul is a spectacular deep canyon in the mountain range out of which rises Jabel Shams, the highest peak in Oman at over 3000m. A 4WD vehicle is required for the steep 30 minute drive up the mountain. The area is home to weavers of heavy woolen rugs in distinctive red, black and brown geometric designs.
Bahla Fort coordinate: 22 57’54.8″N 57 18’04.2″E
Continuing on the road from Nizwa you reach Bahla, a delightful town which has retained its traditional characteristics. The town was surrounded by a 12 km long wall much of which still stands. Bahla is renowned for its potteries. Bahla has been described as a magical town, well known for its sorceres and as a center for magic in the olden days.The town landmark is Bahla Fort.
Jabrin Castle Coordinate: 22 54’53.4″N 57 15’03.0″E
From Bahla it is just 5 km to the signposted turn off for Jabrin Castle, which stands impressively alone. Probably the finest and most picturesque fort in Oman. Jabrin Castle has been restored to its full glory in the best Omani tradition.
We stopped by Nizwa just for mere half an hour before continuing to Ibri via Bahla road. Bahla road is an excellent single carriageway. With low traffic load and excellent road condition, 120 kph is not something unachievable.
At Al Hamra turn-off we decided to take a detour by taking the road that eventually leading to Al Hoota Cave or Wadi Ghul. As we haven’t made any booking to the cave, we proceeded to Wadi Ghul; not up to the end tough – where the foot of deep canyon is located at. However, we spent a wonderful lunch at road shoulder somewhere ont the way to Wadi Ghul with remarkable scenery of (again) rocky mountains and a barren wadi full with stones that seems become water course when rain poured down during rainy season.
Due to time, we rushed to drive to Ibri passing Bahla Fort, where in some tens kilometers before Ibri, summer heavy rain and frightening sand storm already awaited us. (continued Part 2)