I spent a wonderful eight days in Oman recently. During this time, I enjoyed splendid food and got a chance to experience Oman’s different landscapes – from the modern urban areas to the mountains and the desert. And I did a wonderful 3-day Road Trip in Oman.
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A Road Trip in Oman for 3 Days
The most important part of the Omani stay was the three-day road trip that took me through the country’s vast and diverse landscapes plus great food. It took me to fantastic forts and castles, mud villages, desert and beautiful wadis or rivers.
We had sought out the assistance of a guide, Khair Eddin, to help us out with the planning. I drive a lot at home so didn’t fancy driving in Oman during my vacation. Also, I was intent on doing a desert safari and dune bashing on a 4×4 isn’t my thing.
So, I had Khair with his 4×4 for the three-day trip.
Day 1 of the Road Trip in Oman
On Day 1, we left Muscat in the morning and Khair wanted us to start the trip with something very Omani – an Omani tea, and then we were ready to go.
We passed through the modern boulevards of Muscat, lined up with white buildings and entered the mighty Hajars.
The Hajar Mountain Range starts from the Musandam Peninsula in the north of the country and runs through the south-west. The Samail Rift separates the range into west and east.
We drove through the west and it was mostly limestone rocks with small villages in between. This was Jabal Shams, the highest peak of the Hajars with a height of just over 3000 metres.
There were what are called as ‘ancient villages’ with some of them estimated to be 2000 years old. But some of them were jutted with modernity – sturdy, cement buildings with all the necessities inhouse. This is one sign that times are changing and the newer generations want to embrace modernity.
In one mountainous area, we stopped by a shack of stalls, with women, both old and young, selling trinkets.
In Oman, education is mandatory and free (though university admission is based on merit) and these girls do attend schools but engage in selling trinkets. We were travelling on a national holiday so they were there to make some extra money.
The Jabreen Castle
Our first stop was the Jabreen Castle. Built in 1670 by Imam Balarab bin Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’rubi, this is a must see for visitors to Oman as it is not just a fortification but also encompasses the builder’s passion for science and art.
Guides are not allowed to come in but there is an audio system that delivers the needed information through headphones as we go from room to room.
Altogether, the castle has five floors and more than 50 rooms, from prayer rooms to meeting rooms.
Among the interesting areas is the sun and moon room. It has fourteen windows with half of them positioned to allow the moonlight flood the room while the rest allow sunlight during the day time but control the glare. The room set up also ensures the ideal air flow to keep the room cool.
The Jabreen Castle Roof
One of the beautiful aspects of the castle is the roof with beautiful artwork. What is so special about this is that there was a continuum of the artwork from the end-to-end even covering the beams.
All the artistic, religious and scientific sides apart, this is a military castle and there are enough and more mechanisms to protect what was the kingdom. There are two towers full of all the military tools needed at that time – guard towers, gunnery platforms, armoury etc. And, of course, a storage facility for dates. Interestingly, hot date syrup was not only a delicacy but also a weapon. When enemies walk in, they will not just face guns, arrows etc., but also hot date syrup flowing through strategically placed but hidden canals or “murder holes”.
The castle and its inhabitants were provided with water through an elaborate ancient canal system – the falaj system – that ran through the castle before heading out to nearby areas.
We broke for lunch in Al Hamra at a Yemeni restaurant.
Khair took us inside the restaurant, to a private room where one could sit on the carpet and enjoy a generous lunch of gently spiced rice with chicken.
The landscape was changing as we drove towards our first night’s resting place – the Misfat al Abriyeen mud village. It became cooler with deep canyons. The Omanis call this their own Grand Canyon. The view was breathtaking – rocks shaped like steppes as they slide towards the ground, and here and there some vegetation.
And then we reached the Misfat al Abriyeen mud village.
Day 2 of Road Trip
On Day 2, we left the mud village in the morning and continued south eastwards, towards the famous Nizwa fort.
The Nizwa Fort & Souq
The Nizwa Fort is one of the popular spots in Oman for visitors and it was built around 1650 by Imam Sultan bin Saif bin Malik Al Yarubi.
The fort announced its glory and history from a distance, rising majestically, and certainly terrifying for enemies during those times.
It has, besides the library, coffee making and preparatory rooms, guest rooms, prayer rooms etc.
It being a fort, it obviously has all the military facilities of the time, including a prison, gun rooms, fake steps and of course the hot date syrup defence mechanisms.
A leisurely walk down the Nizwa souk is a must for visitors. There are silver stores, pottery stores, souvenir stores etc.
We also visited a store specializing in coffee and dates and then went to a store selling all the types of halwa. And on one side on display was a big iron girder that was used to make the halwa. In the background, there was a video showing how it is done.
Outside, I visited a small spot where men were moulding clay pots the traditional way.
Also outside the souk, I talked to an old lady making fresh Omani bread. She has been doing this for a long 36 years and over the years has crafted the art of bread making.
The bread reminded me of those thin Chinese crepes or the south Indian paper dosas. It was fresh and so delicious. Simply made but delicious and light. One could have with cheese and eggs as well but I preferred the plain one, just to taste it.
We continued on our journey. Here and there, I saw abandoned villages but also farmers still tending to their fields. Lush vegetation jotted the landscape. Here and there a mosque adorned the landscape and so were the ancient irrigation channels.
For lunch we went to another Yemeni restaurant where we ordered two varieties of rice with fish and chicken.
Late afternoon the landscape changed and the desert arrived.
Day 3 of Road Trip
On Day 3, we left the desert camp and got our tires re-inflated before heading towards the Wadi Bani Khalid in the east.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Oman is full of wadis, or waterways, and Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the best. It is the closest to a car park and the water has created a number of pools as it flows down the canyon.
Khair took us to a special spot to have a better look at the Wadi. And there it was – the emerald water skirting through the rocks, wider at places, thinner in others, disappearing and reappearing.
We came down and starting walking towards the sets of pools. The first pool was deep and I didn’t see anyone taking a swim so we continued walking upstream. In some places, it was tough going with slippery rocks.
Finally, after about 20 minutes of walking, we hit the waterfall. It was a hot day and there were many people already in the pool so I also got in for a fresh dip. It was very refreshing.
I didn’t want to leave but all fun comes to an end and with some reluctance changed my cloths and walked back.
A Special Farmhouse Lunch
On our way back to Muscat, Khair had organized a special lunch at a farmhouse.
We were welcomed by our hosts who served us one of the most delicious freshly-made meals in Oman – a semi-spicy thick fish curry and a salad with diced tomatoes and shallots and green chillies. All served with white rice. It is one of those meals where one, coming after a good walk and a swim, feels sleepy.
There was also the usual dates and coffee and then it was time to return to Muscat.
Some Notes on Oman
My Omani trip was not just about the three-day road trip. I had enjoyed many meals in Muscat and met some great people.
Oman was once a major power, occupying Zanzibar, Mombasa, as well as part of what is now Baluchistan in Pakistan. As a result, Omanis are a mixture of the peoples from these colonies.
Muscat itself, being the capital city of the country, is very modern with wide boulevards and mostly white buildings. I didn’t see skyscrapers. And it is a safe city as I walked many, many kilometers without any hassle.
Snorkelling and Whale Watching
One of the trips I undertook was a half-day snorkelling and dolphin watching tour.
I was picked up from the hotel in the morning and we got into a boat of about twenty people. We passed mostly rugged mountainous landscapes, dotted by beaches and some buildings.
We didn’t have to wait for too long to see the dolphins. The spinner dolphins were smaller but they appeared in dozens and performed their playful jumps all around us.
Apparently, somewhere in the distance, the whales were present and these dolphins came here to avoid them.
We anchored off close to the shore and everyone got off the boat and on to the water. I had trouble wearing the prescription goggles and the snorkeling gear so I just wore the latter but it meant my vision was limited.
Nevertheless, I could see the reef as well as some sea urchin. There were also sea turtles gently swimming along.
My Meals in Oman
I always look forward spending time in the Middle East because these nations are home to tens of thousands of migrant workers from different parts of the world and they need really good food. During my trip to Dubai in 2018, I had enjoyed great South Indian (Kerala) food.
As well, Oman’s infusion of cultures from its past colonies makes it a very interesting nation culinary-wise. So, I looked forward to my stay in Oman for some great South Asian and Yemeni dishes, besides the Omani dishes.
As mentioned earlier, I had enjoyed Yemeni cuisine during my road trip.
The first item on my bucket list when I arrived in Muscat was to find a good South Indian restaurant.
And here was my first meal, at the Woodlands Restaurant. I decided to have a rice-and-curry meal with fish curry.
Close to the hotel I was staying at was a small South Indian – mostly Tamil – restaurant and I had a feast there – tasting their delicious vadais to dosas to venpongal (a South Indian savoury rice dish).
Then there was the Colombo Café Sri Lankan restaurant. It being a weekday they did not have some of the items but did have the lamprais and I went for the chicken dish. It was well spiced and made well.
Two other really good restaurants were the Manhattan Fish Market and the Aroos Restaurant.
Manhattan Fish Market
This is a restaurant with cool, modern ambience including low, colorful lighting.
It had a massive menu but after many days of eating and with not much physical activity, my hunger vibes were running on low energy.
I had a mussels dish and a jumbo prawns dish.
They didn’t have lobsters so had grilled fish with hot sauce. I also had a chowder.
This is a unique place in that the customer chooses the type of seafood they want to have, the amount they want to have and how they want to have it.
We went for crabs, jumbo prawns and the crabs.
The crab and the prawns were deep grilled while the squid was grilled in hot sauce. As side dishes, there was rice, salad and some delicious naan.
Most of my meals were without alcohol as most restaurants don’t have the licence and when they do, it is quite expensive.
A Home Meal
Our guide Khair had invited us to his home for a meal and who says ‘no’?
It was a simple meal though elegantly prepared – the traditional machboos dish. It looks similar to briyani but this is more mild but not less in its complexity in taste.
And during our lunch chat I also found out how marriage proposals are handled in Oman.
In Omani culture if a man likes a woman, his close female relatives – usually the mother, sister and aunt – visit the female relatives of the girl’s family where they express an interest; “We would like your girl in our house”.
The woman’s family will tell them that they will discuss with others in the family and let them know. Without saying, they will also use the time to find out more about the potential groom.
If the man’s family do get the call, it means they are interested.
They the meet up and talk about money.
The groom gives Omani Riyals 500 for her and takes care of the wedding expenses.
The marriage takes place usually after six months.