I heard about “The Norway of Arabia” – Musandam for its majestic view of fjords jutted out crystal clear sea water in the Strait Hormuz, about its winding roads offering a breathtaking driving experience, about a not-to-be-missed dhow tour and dolphin watching, not to mention a bold history behind what Musandam as it is now.
Upon experienced all of them, I must confess all I heard is totally true! And you should experience them yourself. Musandam is your die-die-must-visit destination in the Gulf.
The craggy Musandam Peninsula juts into the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entry into the Persian Gulf, from the Arabian Peninsula (the narrowest entry reported to be 54km). Its location gives an area a great strategic importance, and gives partial control of the strategic strait, shared with Iran. An exclave of Oman, Musandam is separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates. The Musandam Peninsula has an area of 3,000 square kilometers and a population of less than 30,000 people. Khasab town is the local capital and the regional center of the Musandam Governorate. Besides Khasab, Bukha (passed on the way to Khasab), Dibba Al-Baya and Madha (see blog Day 4) are parts of Musandam Governorate.
My intuitive engineering trait leads me to dig out more on why Musandam is given an amazing natural beauty. It turned out that the rugged coastline was shaped by the movement of Earth’s crust. As I understand from Wikipedia, the Arabian plate is slowly pushing under the Eurasian plate, creating the earthquake-prone mountains of Iran. On the leading edge of the Arabian plate , the Musandam Peninsula is sinking. The higher elevation mountains remain above the water, but the sea has rushed in to fill the valleys with fingers of water. The result is a dramatic landscape where magnificent mountains hug the coastline with a chain of inlets, towering rocky cliffs and impressive barren-rocky fjords that give Musandam the nickname, ‘The ‘Norway of Arabia.’
If shopping, eating out or night life are what you are after, Khasab is surely not a place to come. Only few grocery stores are available and no shopping malls in this (less than 3x6km) town area. Musandam is a good place to escape the daily routine, essentially with the wide range of outdoor activites: camping, trekking, dhow cruising, diving, kayaking, city tour or mountain safari. You might also expect a fulfilling experience of being among some amazing scenery.The remoteness of the region and its sparse population make for a great ‘get-away-from-it-all holiday.
Dhow Cruises, Dolphin Watching, and Snorkeling
The best way to experience the tranquil beauty of Musandam is by sea trips on typical dhows. There are several tour agents that can arrange a half-day or full-day dhow cruises, or you can go-show to Khasab port and then negotiate with dhow operators there. However, staying in Golden Tulip, we were benefited from the on-site tour agent office, Khasab Tour, at the hotel lobby. The tour agent office opens until 8 PM.
These are two different packages for dhow tour:
Full Day Tour
- 9 AM – 4 PM
- Includes two snorkeling, dhow trip to Telegraph Island and Seebi Island, dolphin watching, lunch, fruits and drinks
- Cost: Adult (above 12 yrs): 175 AED, Children (4-12 yrs): 90 AED
- 9 AM – 1 PM
- Includes one snorkeling, dhow trip to Telegraph Island, dolphin watching, fruits and drinks
- Cost: Adult – I forgot (somewhat 50 dirhams less) but for children remain the same as full day tour fee
All packages includes pick up and drop from hotel to Khasab Port (which is only 1.5 km away from the hotel), but do not include snorkeling equipment that can be easily rented through a rental in Khasab Port for 15 AED.
We chose a full day tour to spend our first day in Khasab.
By 9 AM the following day, we’re ready at the lobby, along with so many other tourists waiting for pick up by Khasab Tour. It was more than 15 minutes late before a medium bus picked us and dropped to Khasab Port. A dispatcher was there to register and distribute tourists to any one of four dhows (Please don’t forget to bring your cruise payment receipt for registration). A guy with a range of snorkeling equipment of any size was seen busy with servicing his customer. Pick any size you like and use snorkeling equipment for the whole day for only 15 dirhams. No ID card is required, just write your name down.
Khasab Port coordinate: 26 12’31.68″N 56 14’36.83″E
Our dhow was packed with 3 families of us plus an Indian couple, and three dhow crews, yet, it’s still spacious enough for sitting, sleeping (c’mmon?) or moving around. Most dhows at Khasab are traditionally made of wood. A regular jolting engine is attached; a compromise to modern times. Under a canvas canopy and on red-black Bedouin-style pillows and carpets it is more like being part of a Sindbad tale than being on a dhow.
As per our Khor Ash Sham Dhow Cruise trip guide, we will cruise along Musandam inlet, pass several coastal villages, and anchor for snorkeling.
It was not until 9.57 AM did our dhow start steaming to enter Khor Ash Sham area.
The Khor Sham is a sheltered, 17 km long fjord. Its calm and clear water, very inviting for snorkeling and swimming, are flamked by high cliffs that drop precipitously into the sea. It’s always fascinating to see endless varieties of rock formation juts out above the water: horizontal, vertical, tilt, bend, curve, etc.
There are almost always dolphins playing and following the boats as the cruises around the villages:
Inhabited by around 100 inhabitants, mainly fishermen. As there is no land access, most of the villagers own small speed boats. The children travel by boat to school, stay over in Khasab from Saturday to Wednesday morning. There are water tanks near the beach, a storage for fresh water provided by the Omani Government free of charge on a regular basis.
Nadifi village coordinate: 26 10’56.00″N 56 18’14.09″E
A small fishing village where the stone houses blend into the cliffs, made from the local stone. In the old days, this was the first line of defense, not to be seen. The villagers are fishermen and access to the village is by sea.
Qanafa village coordinate: 26 11’06.37″N 56 19’41.12″E
A community of only around 10 housesthat sits high on the mountainside overlooking the fjord. The villagers are earning their living by goat herding and fishing, the main occupation of the area. This small village is made up of. This area is the shortest distance to the east coast and can be reached by climbing over the Jabal Maqlab.
Maqlab village coordinate: 26 11’21.29″N 56 21’03.00″E
This tiny rocky island is the most famous landmark in this area. Telegraph Island is where the British laid the first telegraph cable in 1864, ran from India to Basra, Iraq to speed up communication between Great Britain and India. Snorkeling here is a pleasure. Ruins of station can be seen above while the old cable line can still be seen on the sea bed.
A detail history of telegraph island can be read here: http://atlantic-cable.com/CableCos/TelegraphIsland/index.htm
Telegraph Island coordinate: 26 11’43.42″N 56 20’34.88″E
This village is located at the end of the fjord and has around 100 inhabitants, very isolated. The area is home to many species of seabirds nestling in the cliffs.
Seebi village coordinate: 26 12’28.71″N 56 20’34.88″E
We saw birds everywhere, flying in V-formation, nestling on the rock faces, standing at the waterside. Passed Khor Ash Shams inlet, our dhow captain started to invite dolphins by using his mouth-producing sounds. So vain we tried hard to imitate his sound. We quite worried for dolphins being unseen despite several attempts. After another two or three circle, we started to see dolphins slicing fast through the water, trailing the boats, and diving underneath; this racing game just lasted for couple seconds, yet we enjoyed much. On the way back to Khasab, we’re fortunate to see a clearer and closer look of dolphin’s family on play: two big dolphins and one small one.
Approaching Telegraph Island we saw two earlier dhows have anchored near the island to allow their passengers snorkeling on the blue water. Our captain decided not to take snorkeling here instead he made a circular move around the island and sailed a bit further.
We made our first snorkeling north east Telegraph Island for more than half an hour. Don your mask or snorkeling equipment you just rented and enjoy the clear and calm water. For your safety you might want to use life vest available on the boat.
And then come the best part, felt hungry after snorkeling, we were served an Arabian lunch by the dhow crew. We enjoyed the lunch as the dhow sailed to Seebi Island.
We made another dolphin watching and snorkeling on the way back to Khasab. As our dhow got closer to Khasab Port, we felt that our mind filled fully with this memorable experience.
Left over notes
1. You might want to consider a panoramic journey by driving up to Jebel Harim, the highest peak in the area at 2,087m. The area is excellent for camping, hiking and views across the mountain tops. It is said that you can go up to the peak by a saloon car; however, a 4WD car is preferred.
Pass the Bedouin village of Sayh situated at 1100 metres above sea level. This is a calm and peaceful village where one can appreciate the beauty of Musandam in the plateau of the village. Stop at the top of Khor Al Najd, where you can see the hairpin bends steeply down to blue sea with fjords as backdrops, a stunning view overlooking to Indian Ocean side. Drive to see the natural park of Acacia trees at Khalidiya. Drive to Rowdah village where one can see the pre-Islamic graveyard.
Khor Al Najd is one of the most visited area in Musandam for its view. Follow main Khasab town road until the edge of road or end of airport (about 2.5 or so from Khasab Hotel) where you see an intersection. Right turn will lead you back to town. Take left turn and drive for another 8.6 km to turn left to Wadi Sal A A’la road for 5 km and take left turn for road to Khor Al Najd.
Khor Al Najd coordinate: 26 05’30.89″N 56 19’32.64″E
Believe me I regretted not visiting this area, while I was there, although an excuse for limited time might be a good one (we only have one day effective). Hey….now I have a good and convincing reason to come back to Musandam!!
2. I suggest that you plan to stay at least 2 nights: one full day for dhow cruise and another one day for exploring mountain area (Jebel Harim, Khor Al Najd, Sayh Plateau) and Khasab Castle/Museum.
3. Musandam can actually be accessed from Muscat through air (Oman Air) with 65 minutes flight and water (fast ferry) for 5 hours travelling time covering 419 km distance. Check these sites out:
4 times a week flight from Muscat to Khasab
National Ferries Company – provides 4 times a week ferry service Muscat-Khasab v.v. As of Aug 2009: Economy Class Return Trip Fare is 44 OR and 24 OR for Adult and Child respectively. First Class Return Trip Fare is 85 OR and 40 OR for Adult and Children respectively. Reservation: Tel: 800 72000 (Toll Free) Fax: 24711333 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- A concise guide to Musandam
- Khasab Travel & Tours brochure on Khor Al Shams dhow cruise