A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about camels

Dashoguz - Konye-Urgench - Darwaza

The Gates to Hell


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

With David still being unable to put weight on his leg to walk, we take a serious discussion about the programme this morning; and when Meylis and Artem arrive, we tell them about our suggestion for Plan B:

Instead of driving from Turkmenabat to the village of Koyten where we have two days of walking in the Kugitang Mountains at the end of the trip, we propose that we return to Mary for a night, then continue to Ashgabat for the last night here in Turkmenistan. It seems totally pointless to travel all the way to the far north east of the country, seven hours drive each way, when David would be unable to do ANY walking when we get there.

large_58452fa0-f5ac-11e9-8b25-35a12572573e.jpg
Discussing Plan B

It also means the journey home won't be so arduous, as the original plan saw us driving seven hours to Turmenabat, flight to Ashgabat, a few hours for change and a shower in Ashgabat, then fly home via Dubai – making it a heck of a long day.

large_202009c0-f5bf-11e9-8f4e-bdf85183d9e2.jpg

The boys think it should work, but obviously they have to check with the office, whose immediate reply is “of course”. The service from Owadan Tourism, the local agent here in Turkmenistan has really been excellent!

Pharmacy

Before we leave town, Artem takes me to a pharmacy so I can get something for my upset tummy, as the Ciprofloaxin isn't working. I am given some capsules and told to take one of the green ones and two of the silver. Getting it all mixed up, I take two of the green and one of the silver.

large_Tetracycline.jpg

I later find the green packet contains Tetracycline and the other one probiotics, so no real harm done by the 'overdose'.

Konya-Urgench

The UNESCO Heritage Site is the place of the the ancient town of Ürgenç, and the capital of Khwarazm Empire, parts of which are believed to date back to the 5th century BC.

large_e624daf0-fbdd-11e9-845a-bf4bcc67deb3.jpg

Its inhabitants deserted the town in the 1700s in order to develop a new settlement, and Kunya-Urgench has remained undisturbed ever since.

Many ruined buildings of the former town are dotted over a large area, and most tourists walk between one site and the next. With David's bad leg, however, we are given special permission to drive, and the barrier is lifted up for us to enter.

large_ff355420-fbdd-11e9-845a-bf4bcc67deb3.jpg

Türabek Khanum Mausoleum

This is the largest and most impressive of the surviving monuments at Konye Urgench, the mausoleum is final resting place of Türabek Khanum.

large_dff7f980-fbdf-11e9-aff4-897e993e848d.jpg

The story goes that a renowned architect was madly in love with Türabek and asked what it would take to win her love.

“Design me a unique building, like no-one has seen before” she said, “and I will marry you”

He does.

Still not satisfied, she stipulated: I need you to jump from the top of the building to prove you love me. Then I will marry you.”

large_010965f0-fbe0-11e9-aff4-897e993e848d.jpg

After he made his leap of love and broke both legs in the process, the cruel heartless woman stated with disdain that she couldn't possibly spend the rest of her life with a cripple. Ouch!

Instead Türabek married the ruler at the time (1321-1336) - Qutlugh Timur.

Türabek Khanum Mausoleum is recognized as one of the earliest monuments to make extensive use of mosaic faience (multi-coloured ceramic tiles).

large_0c66caa0-fbe0-11e9-aff4-897e993e848d.jpg

The inner dome is of particular interest with its 365 stars (one for each day of the year), 24 arches with 12 of them open to the elements, and the other 12 closed (to represent the 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night time). The 12 larger arches below denote the months of the year.

large_b72126c0-fbe0-11e9-b149-a9ebb71204a9.jpg

And lastly, four large windows stand for the four seasons.

large_87b0ae00-02e9-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg

large_3acd57a0-fbe1-11e9-b149-a9ebb71204a9.jpg
The tomb chamber

Another interesting thing about the mausoleum is that while the outside shows eight sides, from the inside you can only see six.

large_7ff9ee10-fbe1-11e9-b149-a9ebb71204a9.jpg

This drawing shows you how.

large_8bbb1da0-fbe1-11e9-b149-a9ebb71204a9.jpg

Kutlug Timur Minaret

Legend tells that the minaret once had a golden dome atop with a fire inside, and when Genghis Khan arrived at this site, he thought he was seeing two suns and fired his catapult at the minaret, causing the top of the tower to lean. A much more logical story would be that it was caused by the Mongolians breaking a local dam, creating a considerable flood which undermined the structure.

large_42913b20-02e2-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

In the photo below you can see the entrance door is a considerable distance from the ground. When the minaret was built the access to it was via a bridge from a mosque close by.

large_a173d990-02e2-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

Inside the mausoleum there are 144 steps (12x12) in a spiral fashion (anticlockwise, of course, as it would be in Islamic architecture). At 62 metres high, it is the tallest building in Central Asia.

large_1d8c57f0-02e3-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

The site includes a few more reminders of its once great importance at the time when Urgench was the capital of the Khorezm Empire.

Soltan Tekesh Mausoleum

large_50ea1aa0-02e4-11ea-9ad3-49207b527f49.jpg

Sultan Ala al-din Tekesh was the founder of the Khwarezm Empire and its ruler between 1172-1200.

Fahr-ad-din Razi Mausoleum

large_1e1413a0-02e5-11ea-9ad3-49207b527f49.jpg

The mausoleum of famed Muslim theologian and philosopher (1149-1209) is one of the earliest surviving structures in Konye-Urgench.

large_ca019890-02e5-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg
Kufic Arabic letters

Reading these intricately carved scriptures, taken from the heart of the Koran, is said to bring forth angels to protect you from the evil eye.

Najm ad-Din al-Kubra Mausoleum

The façade of Kubra's mausoleum (on the left) is leaning toward the Sultan Ali Mausoleum which stands directly opposite it, in what is believed to be a show of respect.

large_d64a0ea0-02e7-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg

Pilgrims make an anticlockwise circumbambulation around a piece of wood sticking up from the platform of the gukhana - the building which contains Kubra's cenotaph. The post is said to mark the traditional place where Kubra's head was cut off and buried during the Mongol conquest.

large_e90a78e0-02e7-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg

Lunch

We stop in Konye Urgench town for lunch in a very touristy place with several other westerners. Both David and I order samsa – a pasty-like snack which traditionally is made from a choice of meat, spinach or pumpkin. Today we have the meat variety.

large_Samsa.jpg

Desert Drive

Driving out of town we head for the Karakum Desert and the adventure that lured me to this country in the first place.

large_b7b1c310-02e8-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg
I love these little three wheel tractors - I have never seen those anywhere else

large_c93ce1a0-02e8-11ea-b70e-97820c53a834.jpg
There are miles and miles of cotton fields along the side of the road

After a couple of hours, we leave the sealed road behind and continue on sandy tracks.

large_13081b90-02eb-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

I have to pinch myself at this stage, as it doesn't seem real. For so many years I have dreamed about the burning crater of Darwaza, expecting it to be out of reach for me, and here I am, on my way to see it, and in a few hours I shall be feeling its heat.

large_1c4c3d30-02eb-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

I gasp as we reach the top of a hill, and there, spread below me, is the flat desert floor. With a huge hole. Darwaza Gas Crater. Wow.

large_54a2b1a0-02eb-11ea-b77b-7f615edd5c53.jpg

Darwaza Gas Crater

The crater – or more accurately sink hole – far exceeds my expectations. Although I thought it would impress me after dark, I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude and drama exuded during daylight hours.

large_f7e3c440-02ef-11ea-b3a4-8b0ea581becc.jpg

Even the disappointment of finding the crater surrounded by a fence, does not take away from the extraordinary sight before me.

large_b50eee90-02f1-11ea-9bf4-8bf98d73fe7b.jpg

The fence was erected within the last twelve months as The Mongol Rally made a stop here, and officials were concerned about drivers going over into the massive fiery hole. And quite rightly so: from a car it can be quite difficult to see the edge of the crater.

large_f778f7d0-03dc-11ea-a5ef-69bf51d45603.jpg

I guess the fence is there more as a visual barrier than a physical one as such, as it has been broken down in many places, and is easy to climb across.

large_02d85850-03dd-11ea-a5ef-69bf51d45603.jpg

The back story

Colloquially known as The Gates of Hell, the Darwaza Gas Crater was accidentally created in 1971 when a Russian drilling rig punctured a gas chamber which subsequently collapsed, taking the entire rig with it into the newly crated sink hole.

large_146aa2d0-03dd-11ea-a5ef-69bf51d45603.jpg

Fearing the poisonous gases would create an environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. That was 48 years ago.

large_2300c450-03dd-11ea-a5ef-69bf51d45603.jpg

We chat to four German guys who have travelled down from their home country in their campervan, a journey which took some three months. I am concerned that they have parked so close to a flaming crater with a massive gas cylinder on the side of their van!

large_48be0590-03dd-11ea-a5ef-69bf51d45603.jpg

The temperature in the centre of the fiery cauldron is said to be between 6,000 °C and 7,000 °C. That is mighty warm! Standing close to the edge (where the flames reach around 700 °C), is OK for short periods, apart from downwind from the crater, where it is unbearably hot!

large_cceb3b80-04c8-11ea-bfbd-9fe676175310.jpg

Although I could stare into the flames for hours, we reluctantly leave the burning crater to head to the nearby yurt village, owned by Owadan Tourism, our local agent.

large_22037ed0-056d-11ea-974c-ff49503c804c.jpg

I must admit that while it almost seems like sacrilege to build a (semi) permanent camp here next to the crater, the thought of having a proper bed and toilet facilities does rather please me. But first we are shown how the local chorek bread is made in traditional ovens.

large_aae98520-0598-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

large_ba1d6d40-0598-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

We get a chance to taste it as well.

large_c540af20-0598-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

The general director of Owadan, who we met in Ashgabat, is here, and he explains how he leased this land to build up a solid tourism business here for people who want that little bit more comfort.

Horses and camels have been brought out here, for tourist rides and photographic opportunities.

large_2f9c77a0-0599-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

large_3a9c2bf0-0599-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

Our accommodation is not part of the main complex (which is occupied by a larger Belgian / Dutch group); we have a small, select camp with is much more private, with just 3 yurts for the four of us.

large_8bbc58e0-0623-11ea-8019-5f8eef222bf4.jpg

It is set up on a hill, overlooking the crater.

large_bdfb31c0-059a-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg
Chez nous on the right

The yurt is spacious, with three beds and a set of drawers.

large_e66cb300-0599-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

There is also a toilet block with cold showers and flushing loos. Plus a massive pile of toilet rolls. Now I know why there has been such a shortage of paper in all the bathrooms so far on this trip – all the rolls are here!

large_2f112eb0-3709-11ea-86d3-dd02bd29b40f.jpg

In a small communal area we are served dinner, and get chatting to a couple from Brazil who flew in from Almaty in Kazakhstan this morning and are continuing to Baku in Azerbaijan later this evening. They are obviously 'collecting countries' and boast of having visited 120 so far. Meylis takes great delight in informing them that we can beat that, with over 150 countries and overseas territories. They struggle to understand why we'd want to spend two weeks exploring the one country, rather than moving on to one we haven't been to.

large_95f41d00-0599-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg
The kitchen and dining area

large_bd538aa0-059b-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg
Vegetable soup

large_d35d2c70-059b-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg
Grilled chicken with grilled veg, tomato sauce, [] smetana[/i] (Russian style soured cream), chips and salad

Artem has gone off to fill the car up with diesel for the long journey across the desert over the next two days, and once he is back and has had something to eat, we all go down to the crater for a party.

large_2a6c2930-059c-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

And what a party! The boss gifted us a bottle of vodka earlier, and we are joined by one of the other drivers called Max, as we share jokes and stare into the eternal flames.

large_61d9eb50-059c-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

The fire in the crater is made up of thousands of little flames, and is stunningly spectacular. Photographs cannot do it justice, and I give up trying to take pictures, and just sit by the crater enjoying the moment. After all, I have dreamed of this place for so long.

large_a37cbec0-059c-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

large_c77593b0-059c-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

We eventually retire to our yurts, where I promptly get locked in the toilet! Eventually, after no-one hears my screams (for what seems like an eternity), I figure out that there is a double lock and you have to pull the door towards you and lift it at the same time as turning the key.

David has more luck in the ablutions block and comes back terribly excited, having seen a three-inch long scorpion on the path!

Even after the generator is switched off for the night, the moon lights up the landscape beautifully, and I go outside for one last photograph of the crater, before going to bed feeling unbelievably content, having just fulfilled a long time ambition and dream.

large_7a6c6570-059d-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

Thank you Undiscovered Destination for making my dream happen.

large_00370980-059e-11ea-9c47-e906e7b0b9ce.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 14:15 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged desert horses party flames fire unesco tractor camels ancient gates_of_hell scorpion pharmacy yurt turkmenistan minaret timur central_asia gas_crater undiscovered_destinations upset_tummy sink_hole karakum toilet_rolls darwaza ex_ussr karakum_desert dashoguz ciprofloaxin owadan_tourism konye_urgench tetracycline urgenc khwarazm soviet_central_asia tubarek_khanum mausolem kutlug_timur soltan_tekesh fahr_ad_din_razi kufi_arabic_letters najm_as_din_al_kubra darwaza_gas_crater darwaza_crater locked_in_toilet vodka_party yurt_camp chorek Comments (5)

Balkanabat - Yangikala - Gözli Ata - Turkmenbashi

One of our more surreal days: camel jam, bizarre rock formations, ancient pilgrimage site, agonising leg injury, restricted tourist zone, 5* yacht club, self-locking doors


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Continuing the trials and tribulations of a cloth napkin this morning, the waitress surprises us by NOT removing it when she brings our breakfast out. She does, however, make a big point of giving us paper serviettes. We let sleeping napkins be, and stick with the paper ones.

Breakfast just appears this morning, and a very substantial affair it is too, with egg, sausage, bread, cheese, jam and pancakes. We are not going to starve on this trip, that's for sure.

large_84f5f7c0-e8f3-11e9-bc67-19289f8e8fd7.jpg

Picnic Lunch

Last night Meylis ordered a picnic lunch from the hotel restaurant for today's journey; to be ready for 09:00. When he goes to collect it, they say it will be another 25 minutes before it is ready, as it is “just cooking now”.

25 minutes later, and he is told “it has just cooked now, another 25 minutes for steaming”.

They were correct about the timing – 50 minutes late we pick up the food and can leave for the next part of the journey.

As we drive out of the town on Balkanabat, we spot some cool horse riders at the side of the road. They look so right here, like something out of a historical Silk Road movie. This is the first time we have seen anyone on horseback out here.

large_8c0ce2b0-e8ff-11e9-a6d9-61d362709d8d.jpg

Wild Horses

These are of course not the valuable and sought after Ahel Teke horses, but rather amore common breed known as Yomut.

large_7aeda350-e915-11e9-8432-ff4be9ee8b28.jpg

large_94689e20-e915-11e9-8432-ff4be9ee8b28.jpg

Eurasian Griffon

A large bird is circling quite low overhead, and Artem stops the car so that I can get out to take some photos.

large_43129e40-e906-11e9-98d0-91dd03ceccab.jpg

Camels

We share the road with a small herd of free-range camels. There are infinitely more camels than cars on this stretch.

large_4e5c8050-e919-11e9-b32a-5902292bf25a.jpg

large_ef601eb0-e920-11e9-ab72-3be18fbdf83e.jpg

large_f9723eb0-e920-11e9-ab72-3be18fbdf83e.jpg

Sand

As I have said before, 80% of the country is covered in desert, and we soon see some classic dunes along the side of the road.

large_dc025440-e926-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

And not just beside the road, it is blowing across it too.

large_f948d600-e926-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

The sand is remarkably deep considering the wind apparently only started yesterday – if this is what it can do in a day, I dread to think what it will look like by the end of the week. It is obviously quite a common phenomenon, as we see a sign warning of SAND BLIZZARD.

large_4cb6e8d0-e928-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

More camels

As we climb higher into the barren mountains, we come across a huge herd of camels. These are not free-range, however, they are being guided along the road by a camel herder on a motorbike.

large_443507b0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

For the last few hours we have been driving along a flat stretch of land, with wide open spaces on either side, and no ditches or other obstructions on the side of the road. This section, however, has barriers either side of the road, so we end up having to travel at camel-speed until we can get past this jam.

large_5e5b5db0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

A few of the camels have somehow ended up on the wrong side of the barriers.

large_6b78e8f0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

Two of the animals clumsily try to cross to the road-side of the fence, and totally fail.

large_02a58340-e9d8-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

It seems that the stray camels are somewhat stuck, as the embankment and part of the road have slipped down into ravine below. Not sure what they will do now if they can't cross the barrier – go back I guess.

large_5bf76e50-e9dc-11e9-a33a-2d0f65edfd5b.jpg

large_a8a2a8a0-e9dc-11e9-a33a-2d0f65edfd5b.jpg

Footnote: I don't know what they did in the end, but when we drove past again a few hours later, there were no dead camels at the bottom - I checked.

Yangikala Canyon

Having passed the camels, we climb to the top of the cliffs with amazing views of the plateau below. This completely flat area that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see, was once the ocean bed of the pre-historical Parathetys Sea.

large_37fbe060-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

It is not the empty and barren lowlands that are spread before us that we have come to see, and soon we catch a glimpse of a series of surreal rock formations rising mysteriously from the planes below: The 'Badlands of Turkmenistan'.

large_d726a440-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_ff053ee0-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_0cb65790-ea84-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_891a44f0-ead3-11e9-9460-3d5f7f055d17.jpg

I am fascinated by the crusty layer of rock on top, which has kept its shape and hardness while everything underneath it has been eroded away.

large_7321cf40-ead5-11e9-9460-3d5f7f055d17.jpg

I wish I knew more about geology and could identify the different rocks and their formation / age.

large_88c682d0-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

Erosion, wind, weather, and tectonic shifts over the last 5.5 million years have all contributed to carving out the curious landscape we see today: Yangikala Canyon. Rose coloured rocks, tainted by the presence of iron, vie for attention with ribbed white limestone folds and alluvial fans in this extraordinary range of cliffs stretching some 15 miles across the desert to the Garabogazköl Basin.

large_06785390-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_2674f4a0-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_3398e880-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_8dd83da0-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_e8a35530-ead6-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

large_02dd0c20-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

large_132e4b20-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

Crocodile’s Mouth

Continuing across the top of these rock formations seems almost like a sacrilege. There are no roads or tracks, we just drive along the flat surface, until we come to a formation known as the Crocodile's Mouth. From its gaping overhang, it is easy to see how it got its name.

large_bdefe820-eab4-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

Both Meylis and David go to the top of the snout of the croc to have their photo taken, but as I am none too fond of heights, I flatly refuse. After a bit of persuasion I start walking out towards the edge, and find that it is not as terrifying from the top as it looks from across the small ravine.

large_1aaa7670-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

I am not as brave as Artem, however.

large_36f4bde0-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

The view in the opposite direction is much more picturesque, and not so terrifying.

large_5b19fa00-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

large_75a41ae0-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

large_88c71780-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

We decide that this is a great place to have our picnic. With the temperature being in the mid-thirties (centigrade) and no shade for miles around, it makes sense to sit in the air conditioned car to eat. Overlooking one of the most sensationally striking landscapes imaginable, we tuck into cold manty while the music is blaring out Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. Could life get any more surreal? This surely has to be one of the main highlights of our trip and a memory to cherish forever!

large_0e784ae0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg
Manty - traditional Turkmen beef dumplings

Adding to the bizarre feel of this place, peculiar spherical bushes, reminiscent of tumbleweed, dot the flat plateau as far as the eye can see.

large_dae81ba0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

large_f12ec670-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

large_fb5a13c0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

Taking one last glance back at the multicoloured cliffs and the place I overcame my fear to stand on the overhang, we leave Yangikala Canyon behind and turn back the way we came.

large_39068a40-eade-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

Gözli Ata

The mausoleum of Gözli Ata, a respected Sufi teacher in the early 14th century, is now a popular place of pilgrimage.

You can read all about him here:

large_d9063260-ec33-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

Visiting pilgrims walk around the mausoleum three times, always anticlockwise.

large_2d6a6f90-ec36-11e9-90b3-2ddb827f8b31.jpg

Surrounding the mausoleum a cemetery has sprung up, with some unusual grave markers.

large_9e41bfa0-ec3d-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

large_1fb79310-ec3f-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

large_88510bc0-ec37-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

large_2f68b6f0-ec3e-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

This, a somewhat more traditional grave stone, features Persian writing, evidence that worshippers come here from far and wide.

large_57cf5500-ec38-11e9-90b3-2ddb827f8b31.jpg

Many of the graves have hollows cut out or a cup at the base such as this one. It is not for flowers as we would do here in the west, the containers are for collecting water to quench the thirst of the souls who are resting here. In reality, the water is used by wildlife, meaning that even in death you are still supporting life.

large_d9c83d50-ec48-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

large_4e579080-ec49-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

And here is that wildlife:

large_8c9985b0-ec49-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

Not only do pilgrims come here to pay their respect to the revered sufi leader, they also use this site to create cairns, such as these modest collections of stones, which they believe will act as vehicles for their prayers.

large_18c00510-ec35-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

large_22fd05a0-ec35-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

A much larger and more formal structure has been created for worshippers to pray for children, health and wealth.

large_52b17290-ec3a-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

Items left at the site indicate what the families are wishing for, such as this comb which indicates they would like a daughter.

large_471a3930-ec3a-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

It seems this family were desperate for the addition of a son.

large_f0ced330-ec3c-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

The small cot means that gender is unimportant to the hopeful couple as long as they are bestowed with a child.

large_945c18c0-ec3b-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Keys suggest that a new home is on the wish list.

large_965b60a0-ec3a-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Other visitors will make their wish in a more traditional way, such as tying a piece of cloth around a stick.

large_6198fd80-ec3c-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Injury time

A large building housing a guest house as well as a covered picnic area has been constructed on the site to cater for the pilgrims who visit here. We therefore make a point of utilising the facilities before we leave. While making his way back to the car and stepping up onto a 'platform', David misjudges the height of the step and takes am awkward tumble. I know nothing of this until I see him hobbling at a snail's pace across the car park.

Finally making it back to the car, he tells us the story, and admits that he is in a great deal of pain, fearing that he has torn a muscle in his calf. Right here right now there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, so he just swallows some pain killers as we make our way to our final destination for today.

Waterhole

Huge crowds of sheep and goats signal the presence of a waterhole.

large_840b6980-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

I always struggle to tell the difference between sheep and goats in this part of the world, as they both look very similar, unlike the sheep in the UK.

large_aa309450-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

The little brown and white blighter who is looking at us is a sheep, whereas the black one with his back to us is a goat. I have always looked at the coat to tell them apart – sheep are fluffier with curly hair, whereas goat wool is straighter and courser. Meylis informs us that the goats are the ones with horns, although I am pretty sure that this is not always the case.

large_b709c390-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

Looks like the sheep and goats will soon have company, as we meet a number of camels making their way towards the waterhole.

large_fcf4b610-edff-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

large_0676a400-ee00-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

They seem to be as curious about us as we are about them.

large_99ca8d70-ee00-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

I can just hear the conversation over a drink later:

Camel 1: “Did you see those tourists earlier?”
Camel 2: “I know, the woman even had bright orange hair”
Camel 3: “You don't get many of those around here do you.”
Camel 4: “I wonder which waterhole they were going to?”

We pass more areas covered with sand dunes on our way to Turkmenbashi.

large_131158c0-ee02-11e9-925d-5377047d2847.jpg

large_1f610cb0-ee02-11e9-925d-5377047d2847.jpg

Awaza Tourism Zone

Turkmenbashi is a town of two halves and one of the more peculiar set-ups we have ever encountered. The large modern town (it is the second city after Ashgabat) is much like any other port town, with oil storage facilities and a large passenger terminal, plus the normal residential / shopping areas.

Then there is Awasha Tourism Zone. This is the bit that has me scratching my head (and shaking it).

'Normal' cars are not permitted into the area, so Artem has to drop us off at a huge covered parking area, which houses around two thousand cars. We see less than two dozen.

From here we have to take government approved taxis to our accommodation, which is around two miles away.

It all happens in such a flurry of activity that I end up not taking a photo of the enormous, empty car park. To try and redeem myself, I snap this through the taxi window as we make our way to the hotel.

large_45b15ed0-ee05-11e9-85dc-039fda057395.jpg

Yelken Yacht Club

This five star tourist hotel is in beautiful, green sprawling grounds, such a contrast to the barren scenery earlier today. I shall post more about this hotel with lots of pictures in tomorrow's blog entry. It is so big in fact, that we are taken to our room by a golf buggy; despite Meylis arranging for us to be in the nearest room to the main building as David can hardly walk on his damaged leg now.

large_1b6e2ad0-ee06-11e9-85dc-039fda057395.jpg

Drinks on the Balcony

We have a large, well furnished balcony overlooking the extensive hotel gardens, so we make the most of the remaining sunshine with a drink outside.

large_420c60c0-ee07-11e9-834a-032ef9f36078.jpg

Thankfully we have wifi here, so I email our trusted chiropractor (and good friend) John, to see if he has any suggestions what David can do to alleviate the pain in his leg. John recommends elevating the leg, taking Ibuprofen, putting ice on the painful part; and he also suggests some exercises that David can do to speed up the healing. I do love my chiropractor for providing instant remote consultation.

large_092a7fc0-ee08-11e9-834a-032ef9f36078.jpg

Meylis pops his head around the corner and we invite him to join us for a drink. Being young and fit, he simply jumps over the bannister and on to the balcony. When I try to get a glass from the bedroom for him, I am unable to open the door. David tries, Meylis tries. None of us can shift it, which is odd, because I went back in earlier. The door was a little stiff then, but not insurmountable.

Jumping back over the railings, Meylis goes to the reception to get a card key for the room. Being the sensible, security conscious person I am, I double locked the door to the room when we arrived, so the key does not work. Back to reception for plan B. I am so grateful Meylis happened to turn up at the right time, as we'd never be able to explain this to the receptionist in Russian / Turkmen / sign language.

When he returns, Meylis explains that the self-locking door is a safety feature, so that you cannot enter the room from the balcony once the door is closed. How absolutely ridiculous! There are no signs warning us not to close the door when we go out there, something we are obviously going to do in order to keep the room cool and the air conditioning working efficiently.

Reception send a maintenance worker, who has to use his electric drill to take the handle and lock off in order to let us in. By now I can see the funny side of this, and cannot stop giggling.

large_e3becf00-ee09-11e9-97e0-158ada1decc1.jpg

Dinner

large_f33e8760-ee70-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg

Turkmenbashi is situated on the Caspian Sea, so it seems logical to order fish for dinner this evening. I choose the speciality dish called 'sturgeon on a tile'. This is a new fish to me, and while it is pleasant, it is nothing out of the ordinary. It comes with lovely rich mashed potato, however. Not sure where the 'tile' comes into it though.

large_54f3b580-ee6b-11e9-ba37-f90cdfc79962.jpg

large_71495fe0-ee71-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg
The fried meatballs that David ordered

large_fcf34520-ee70-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg
An unusual dessert of pumpkin with tahini sauce and walnut syrup

large_4d804d80-ee71-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg
David's apple and raisin tart with (a very white) ice cream

large_f106ca60-ee71-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg
Meylis just has ice cream. As you can see, even here in this posh restaurant, all we get is café-style cheap paper napkins. I'm afraid I am a bit of a napkin snob and I do judge an establishment on whether they offer paper or cloth for their diners to dab their lips with. There, I've said it!

After dinner we retire to the room, reflecting on what an fabulously adventurous day it has been.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this great private tour for us.

large_3e0ecab0-ee72-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 14:23 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged horses canyon cemetery sheep sand balcony camels picnic dumplings sand_dunes rock_formations graves mausoleum badlands prayers vulture injury goats waterhole turkmenistan griffon turkmenbashi chiropractor sturgeon central_asia wild_horses manty yomut undiscovered_destinations yacht_club picnic_lunch ex_ussr caspian_sea paper_serviettes napkins horse_riders yangikala yangikala_canyon parathetys_sea garabogazköl_basin crocodile's_mouth bomey_m gözli_ata pilrgimage_site sufi_teacher grave+markers grave+stones persian_writing prayer_scarves prayer_cloths leg_injury awaza awaza_tourism_zone yelken yelken_yacht_club locked_out maintenance_man pre_dinner_drink Comments (6)

Salalah: Taqa, Derbat, Sumharum, Bin Ali's Tomb, Mirbat - UK

Last day in Oman


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Taqa Open Air Museum

A small collection of replica dwellings shows how local people lived in the Dhofar mountains in the old days. The hut on the left would have housed the family, while the building on the right was for the animals.

large_651218c0-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

large_70faa670-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

large_7d1bd050-4cb0-11e8-a495-eb53e6b625a9.jpg

Taqa Castle

Built in the 19th century as a private residence for the Sheikh and his family, the castle was restored some 15 years ago.

large_423a6a00-4fcb-11e8-89be-099a45b5d1a9.jpg

large_4b4b94c0-4fcb-11e8-ac0c-87cd7e84e332.jpg
Barza – the vestibule where visitors would wait to see the governor.

large_3ae418e0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_4eaccb60-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

Issa shows us the type of bowl used when milking camels. Camels are majorly fidgety animals and have to be milked quickly as they won't stand still for long. Stones from the fire are then added to the bowl to 'sterilise' the milk.

large_e1be07f0-50aa-11e8-9f27-fd232f9dc041.jpg

The responsibility for the camels is usually the men's domain, while the women look after the sheep and goats.

large_52d52450-50ab-11e8-9f27-fd232f9dc041.jpg

This room was used as a store for household items and as a workroom for grinding wheat, pounding spices, churning milk, and grating coconut.

large_4e4d35c0-50ac-11e8-8fde-9d2eed914772.jpg

large_61d6cce0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
Tannur Oven

large_6f0e48c0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
The prison

large_7b2894d0-512f-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg
They seem to have left behind a prisoner in the cell.

Wadi Dirbat

As we make our way towards Wadi Dirbat, we see a number of camels in the road; creating the quintessential Middle Eastern scene of my imagination.

large_bfc91080-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_c8bf3930-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_d784a810-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

There are camels everywhere and they are all heading the same direction.

large_e178dfd0-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_ea7d8770-5132-11e8-9823-1994929c9ae4.jpg

large_30ef4da0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

This is what they have come for: the water. And this is what we have come for: to see them in the water.

large_3f38aeb0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_4c6ea3f0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_58bcd140-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_6f7a32b0-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_7746f690-516b-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

Sumhuram Archaeological Park

The ancient site of Sumhuram dates back to the 3rd century AD and is the most important pre-Islamic settlement in this area.

large_34f90eb0-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

Built near the harbour of Khor Rori, it was once a wealthy port situated on the trading route between the Mediterranean and Asia.

large_3dd65830-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The city gate of Sumhuram was an imposing defensive structure. The access was tortuous, steep and blocked by three successive wooden doors.

large_c1520330-516e-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The fort was protected on all sides and almost impregnable.

large_65dca9a0-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_b5767860-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

large_f3322690-516f-11e8-a775-5313471b32d8.jpg

large_bdd9d6f0-516f-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg
Khor Rori Port - the approach to the fort from the sea - the walls on this side did not have any openings, thus making it very secure.

large_eab02700-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_a7e74a20-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_418df710-5170-11e8-a775-5313471b32d8.jpg
Flamingos in the bay

large_6c232630-5170-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_574c90b0-5171-11e8-80e5-5bd075c67d71.jpg

The fascinating and informative Audio Visual show in the Visitors' Centre brings the whole place to life.

large_4236a840-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_4b377f50-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_54108310-5172-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Bin Ali's Tomb

Originally from Tarim in Yemen, Bin Ali came to this region in the beginning of the 12th century to teach Islam and build schools. A mosque has been built over his tomb, which is still used for prayer and mourning and this is now one of the most important Islamic sites in the region, partly because Bin Ali is said to be a descendant of the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

large_66cce3c0-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

The tomb and mosque are surrounded by a large traditional cemetery.

large_72c772d0-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_7f4e6360-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Issa explains how the female graves have three headstones and those containing the remains of a man have two.

large_892b1b80-5174-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

Mirbat

Once the capital of Dhofar, Mirbat is now primarily a fishing village with many old decaying merchant houses.

large_9ef94580-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_a7646c40-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_b036b940-5175-11e8-aa33-59d4f365e9a5.jpg

large_289ba580-5176-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

large_475c4420-5176-11e8-a565-1df5c98a48b5.jpg

I find the crumbling old buildings quite charming despite some being in a badly dilapidated state.

large_84c2eeb0-51dd-11e8-ba93-6b9fe7a373db.jpg

large_b604a4a0-51dd-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_198f5c70-51e0-11e8-abb2-451fc14dc74d.jpg

We take a little wander around the old town, and again I am drawn to the ornate doors and windows, some of which are in a better state of repair than others; but all of which could tell a story or two about the people who once lived and worked here.

large_8a6451a0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_94c9c1c0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_9dae5e40-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_a69ac2f0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_af5da6a0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_b83300e0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_c3522410-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

large_cd21bcd0-51de-11e8-b697-7d7c54cf3ae0.jpg

The Old Town is deserted, and the busy working port is not exactly bustling either.

large_f6599f40-59c8-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

large_0218fa10-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_12bbdb80-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_1bd877f0-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

large_27bd8330-59c9-11e8-9ce4-7de6e9cd261a.jpg

When we get back to the hotel, we are informed that our flight this afternoon has changed and is now 5½ hours later. We manage to secure a late check out and have a snooze followed by something to eat and then listening to piano music in the lobby before trying to check in on line for our flights. When we get an error message stating “Flight Cancelled” we panic ever so slightly, and email Undiscovered Destinations (who arranged our trip) to see if they can find out for us what the situation is. They quickly come back to us to confirm that the flight is indeed running, so we assume the error message is just a computer glitch.

Homeward Bound

Salalah Airport is a joy. There is no queue for check in, and I chat up the guy on the counter who gives us window and aisle seats and blocks out the middle seat so that we can spread out. Success.

large_3116be00-59ca-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

At Muscat Airport we have to collect our bags, but again there is no queue to check in. Just like we did on the way to Salalah, we are made to wait in the bus while they finish off getting the plane ready to board.

The flight back to the UK via Istanbul is uneventful and at Heathrow we get plenty of exercise walking from the gate to the main terminal building – I swear it is at least half a mile!

And so ends another successful tour with Undiscovered Destinations. If you are interested in travelling to some of the more little-known places off the beaten path, check them out. They can arrange group or private tours and have a huge selection of destinations to choose from.

As for Oman: we absolutely loved it! The country as a whole has moved directly into our Top Three list of favourite countries, with its friendly people, cleanliness (including a number of fabulous public toilets), good food, nice hotels, stunning scenery, and a host of interesting historical and cultural sites. Go now before everyone else discovers it.

large_569c4d70-59ca-11e8-9be2-8f84e64032d0.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 04:34 Archived in Oman Tagged history travel fort cemetery tomb museum port castle necropolis old deserted asia camels ancient mediterranean oman archaeology wadi trade middle_east frankincense salalah taqa taqa_castle camel_milk wadi_dirbat sumhuram sumharam_archaeological_park frankincense_trade impregnable khor_rori bin_ali mirbat dhofar Comments (1)

The Empty Quarter

Rub' Al Khali


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It looks to be another nice day out there. No chance of rain.

large_c47bf200-4bd3-11e8-9e85-a5f3ff8efcfe.jpg

Today we are leaving civilisation behind and travelling out to the fabled Empty Quarter, or Rub' Al Khali, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world and one of the driest regions; virtually uninhabited, and largely unexplored. I have high expectations for today as we set off with a different guide, also called Issa, heading north.

Once we have climbed over the mountains surrounding Salalah, the road is straight and flat, with very little interest either side. This road carries on for 650kms to Nizwa, through vast expanses of nothing.

large_d7798c50-4bd3-11e8-9e85-a5f3ff8efcfe.jpg

At the edge of the desert Issa lowers the tyre pressure to cope with the soft sand. The vehicle has been specially modified with roll over bars fitted for safety. I am hoping for some exhilarating 'dune bashing' today.

large_51413be0-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_4551d060-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

Camel Farm

Our first stop of the day is a camel farm to see the rare, and much sought-after black camels who are only found here, Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Another first for us.

large_a378e700-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_b3d12ae0-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_e520ea90-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_c0a5ed50-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg
The baby is only two or three days old

The place is swarming with flies.

large_cff1a330-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_db12e940-4bdf-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

Rub Al Khali

We are now entering the Empty Quarter and soon the gravel road turns to sand and we start to see some dunes.

large_725a5400-4be0-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_847de200-4be0-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_6667c950-4be2-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_7da1d4d0-4be2-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_868279b0-4be2-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

I am surprised at how many small shrubs grow in the sand dunes. So far it doesn't have a particularly 'empty' feel to it.

large_3dc83330-4be3-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

Despite a number of strategically placed rubbish bins along the side of the track, trash gets caught on vegetation as it blows around in the wind.

large_657ab4c0-4be3-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

The scenery is dominated by long, linear dunes running parallel to the prevailing winds. Between these are crescent-shaped barchan dunes, and large, firm salt flats called sabkahs, which is what we are driving on.

large_a803b030-4be8-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_adeb1240-4be8-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_019e60e0-4be9-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

The dunes are getting slightly higher now as we drive deeper into the wilderness.

large_a99222f0-4be9-11e8-9fed-dd6eb942f593.jpg

large_a37c1a50-4bea-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

large_055ba510-4beb-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

Issa takes a couple of attempts to drive up a steep-sided sand dune and then swings around and follows the ridge before heading directly back down again. After a couple more swirls on the dunes, he stops the car so that we can get out and stretch our legs. Walking in the soft sand is hard going though.

large_8ec684e0-4bec-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

large_85a55490-4bec-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

large_915d9ff0-4beb-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

We are only just touching on the very edge of this enormous desert, the world's largest erg (sand sea) at 583,000 km². That's about the size of France. To me it is totally incomprehensible to imagine an area the size of France covered in sand.

large_126097e0-4bee-11e8-859a-532f81495f2c.jpg

large_48649b60-4bef-11e8-a51a-479be0427b19.jpg

large_0b612ec0-4bf1-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

Just like Wahiba Sands, Rub' Al Khali is popular with young lads and families on the weekend, coming out here to have a BBQ and maybe try their hand at some serious desert driving. You can see several failed attempts at driving up this sand dune.

large_e868e470-4bf1-11e8-848a-2b57e04c734c.jpg

As we make our way back to civilisation, I am left with a feeling of “Is that it?” The dunes are all very nice, but I don't feel any of the mystery and romance that I expected. It all feels like it is just a 'tourist day trip into the desert', which of course, is exactly what it is.

large_9d1c9710-4c63-11e8-ab68-799d0ee1b228.jpg

large_a7f9cf40-4c63-11e8-ab68-799d0ee1b228.jpg

The ever-present tyre tracks don't help, and neither do the several other tourist vehicles we meet.

large_5669e060-4c64-11e8-ab68-799d0ee1b228.jpg

large_99db3cd0-4c65-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

large_98a93000-4c66-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

Wubar Archeaological Site

large_17c72960-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

At the edge of the desert, near Wadi Thumrait and a small settlement of the same name, is the UNESCO Heritage Site of Wubar (AKA Shisr), believed to be the remains of the Lost City of Ubar, often referred to as the Atlantis of the Desert.

large_30784480-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

large_71b948e0-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

Wubar was the 'door to the desert' in the heyday of the frankincense trade, a prosperous and wealthy caravan oasis; until the desert once more swallowed it up and it remained hidden for centuries.

large_45b7df90-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

large_7cde8690-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

A 180° Audio Vision display in the newly built visitor centre shows the fascinating and moralistic story of how man's greed once again ruined the environment by overuse of water.

large_53a8c060-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

The site, however, is way older than that, and evidence found here suggests it dates back to 5000 BC.

large_6517f280-4c6b-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

Thumrait Palace Restaurant

We stop for lunch near the site, and enjoy some chicken nuggets, chicken fried rice, vegetables in a sauce, bread and salad along with some delicious fresh mint juice. It makes a nice change not to have the typical Indian fare for once.

large_d0517b60-4c6c-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

large_dc00d0a0-4c6c-11e8-a07f-97c2bd5561f2.jpg

Wadi Dokah

On the way back to Salalah, we swing by Wadi Dokah to see the frankincense plantations. This national park is a stony semi-desert valley and a perfect habitat for the 1,257 frankincense trees found here.

large_f4d06f40-4c77-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_fed2b0c0-4c77-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

Issa shows us the proper tool for shaving the tree to get the sap flowing, although we don't actually use it, of course.

large_0a566220-4c78-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_1282f940-4c78-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

As we make our way over the Dhofar Mountains and on to Salalah, I can but notice that Issa has a most unusual driving position, with his left leg tucked under his body.

large_058b5010-4c79-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

Pool / Beach time

We dump our stuff in the room and head for the beach. As we make our way through the reception, a young man appears from one side, making a beeline for me with his arms outstretched. “Baby, hello, I love you, you are beautiful...” Reaching out towards me he gently caresses my camera. We get chatting and it turns out he is the in-house photographer and does indeed have camera-envy.

We leave the photographer behind and spend the rest of the afternoon / evening walking along the beach, around the pool and in the little café.

large_a685fc80-4c7a-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_aebe0550-4c7a-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_1d347ed0-4c7e-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

The hotel has a beautiful private beach that stretches around the bay in a crescent shape, with plenty of activities laid on if you are into that sort of thing. We're not.

large_edbd3000-4c7a-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_a738f170-4c7d-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_d2ebeca0-4c7d-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_6822edf0-4c7e-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have to admit that this five-star luxury and fabulous mini-suite is all well and good; but give me a small, rustic hotel or lodge any day. This place is much too big for my liking, there are too many people, and I hate buffets with a passion. I prefer a small privately-owned place, where maybe the owner is the chef and you eat what they have that day. Something more personal where you get to know the staff and there are just a handful of guests. I don't need luxury, I want authenticity. In a large fancy hotel like this you could be anywhere in the world.

large_ce1d56e0-4d28-11e8-8955-1bd7c31f0a93.jpg

large_d061dbd0-4c7c-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_42c7bf50-4c7d-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

large_4b5a1d20-4c7d-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

It is not really a complaint though, just a personal preference. I understand that there are no such hotels in this region, the middle market is sadly lacking accommodation. The rest of this trip has been fault-less, and I yet again Undiscovered Destinations have done us proud. Thank you for organising this trip (and several more in the past and in the future).

large_9ea42d30-4c7e-11e8-8c40-9991da66f3d8.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 01:13 Archived in Oman Tagged desert beach hotel sunrise sand pool unesco luxury camels dunes national_park sand_dunes erg unesco_heritage_site frankincense salalah camel_farm empty_quarter rub_al_khali wadi_dawkah thumrait deser archaeological_park anicent_city wubar ubar shisr al-fanar five_star Comments (2)

Mosque, Museum, Souk, Ayoub's Tomb, Mughsail blowhole

A busy, varied and interesting day


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Wandering bleary-eyed onto the balcony at 07:30 this morning, we are amazed to see that all the sunbeds around the pool are still free. There is not a single 'reserved towel' to be seen. How very refreshing.

large_1cc528d0-4929-11e8-b5ca-0f9c251cfbf4.jpg

large_251bdd30-4929-11e8-b5ca-0f9c251cfbf4.jpg

large_2d950db0-4929-11e8-b5ca-0f9c251cfbf4.jpg

large_fcd6a6a0-492a-11e8-b5ca-0f9c251cfbf4.jpg

We also discover that we have a much larger balcony than most of the other rooms. I really like the design of the hotel, with lots of angles and variety of architecture, rather than just a square block. Our balcony is covered, but it seems not all of them are. So far we are very impressed with this hotel, despite not being keen on large resorts.

large_e0ff76e0-492b-11e8-b5ca-0f9c251cfbf4.jpg

Breakfast

Breakfast is an elaborate affair, with an enormous choice of dishes: cereal, breads and conserves, salads, fruits, Middle Eastern and Continental selections, Indian cuisine, waffle machine, sandwich toaster and a number of chefs on hand to cook eggs how you like them or fry pancakes amongst other things.

large_65524400-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

large_76e85f10-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

large_88290720-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

The hotel has 308 rooms and caters to guests of all nationalities. We hear English, German, French, Italian, Czech, Russian, Swedish, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, American and Icelandic spoken during our stay. Package tours are available directly from Prague and a couple of different German airports; I guess the rest are independent travellers like us.

large_95379e40-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

large_a2781ad0-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

large_ab53ddb0-4958-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

Salalah

We have no time to enjoy the many facilities of the hotel this morning, however, as we are off to explore Salalah and the surrounding area. We meet with Issa, our local guide, in the reception at 08:30.

On the way we see a huge herd of camels just ambling along the side of the road. As they do.

large_8d863850-495d-11e8-baa4-f7457d3795b2.jpg

large_803d3040-495d-11e8-ab5e-d74bde3220b5.jpg

large_a2ab1f70-495d-11e8-baa4-f7457d3795b2.jpg

Sultan Qaboos Mosque

This is the baby sister of the Grand Mosque in Muscat, constructed in 2008 using the Sultan's own money.

large_b8999620-4973-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

large_c2cf43b0-4973-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

The mosque is not on the same grand scale as the its big brother, but still very impressive, with a capacity of 3200 men and 800 women.

large_cc75f7b0-4973-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

large_d9012e00-4973-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

Having studied photography in Melbourne, Issa is very keen that I should get some good pictures and not only does he suggest the best positions to be in, he also poses willingly for photographs. I like him already.

large_f6490d20-4964-11e8-909c-ed9affaf41e7.jpg

large_4144f780-496a-11e8-9831-b71569434960.jpg

large_e68220e0-4971-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg
Ablutions room

Having been told yesterday that the Grand Mosque is the only one in Oman to allow non-Muslins inside, we are pleasantly surprised to go inside this one today. But first, shoes must come off.

large_b1662180-4972-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

large_9eac1550-4971-11e8-8e26-e9083b6f81b1.jpg

large_e23eabd0-4966-11e8-9dc5-e517b7810253.jpg

The chandelier is a poor cousin of the glorious one we saw yesterday. It is still impressive though, or at least would have been if we had visited this mosque first.

large_d9c52c30-4971-11e8-8e26-e9083b6f81b1.jpg

The carpet, although just one single piece, is not hand made like the one in Muscat.

large_f4b1b960-4966-11e8-9dc5-e517b7810253.jpg

Renovations are taking place, with the ceiling being painted using an elaborate hoist.

large_512e0630-4967-11e8-9831-b71569434960.jpg

large_eeb29420-4967-11e8-9831-b71569434960.jpg

Most of the time we have the place to ourselves, but just as we are leaving a large tour bus arrives. I am so glad we are on a private tour.

large_88a77c90-4971-11e8-8e26-e9083b6f81b1.jpg

Fruit Stall

The streets around Al Haffa are lined with roadside stalls selling fresh fruit. Oman being predominately desert and mountains, fresh tropical fruits such as bananas and coconut are mostly imported. Only here in the Dhofar region is fruit grown commercially, and the area is famous for its fresh produce.

large_e8901c80-4975-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg

large_f106b4f0-4975-11e8-a094-632b9e200353.jpg
Pomegranates

large_9df7a350-497a-11e8-992e-d5bc5ce0bbfe.jpg
Papaya

There are a number of different types of bananas in Oman – green ones for cooking, finger-bananas for milk and the sweet yellow ones for eating.

large_bf576d20-4996-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_c5dfca20-4996-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_cb184e90-4996-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_db085ac0-4996-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

The main reason for stopping here, however, is to have a refreshing coconut drink. The Dhofar region is the only place on the Arabian peninsula where coconuts are grown, so they are a bit of a celebrity here.

large_3eb52b70-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

The hairy variety are used for cooking and making oil, whereas the smooth-skinned coconuts are the ones that produce the water for drinking.

large_7632f320-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_7f65fdc0-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_8a001270-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

Once we have finished the lovely juice inside, the stallholder cuts the coconut open for us and scoops out the flesh.

large_c50d1b60-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

large_cd4c9e40-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

I love coconut milk, but the jelly-like texture of the flesh makes my stomach turn.

large_d7729460-4997-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

Khawr Ad Dahariz

We make a short detour down to a little lagoon known for its birding. As soon as he was given our names for guiding us for the couple of days we are here, Issa googled us to see what he could find. Being the only Grete Howard in the world with that specific spelling, combined with the fact that I have a very high presence on the internet (Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, 500px, Pinterest, and of course this blog amongst others), I was easy to find. His results revealed that I am interested in bird photography so he even brought along a gorgeous bird book for me to peruse.

large_3fb61950-499a-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

Large flocks (AKA stands or flamboyances) of flamingos are often seen in the shallow waters here, but today there are only a few and they are a considerable distance away.

large_2cbc64b0-499c-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

The flamingos may be a disappointment, but this Water Pipit more than makes up for it. A new species to us, it takes our life list ever-nearer to the magic 1000 mark (now standing at 927).

large_3b81ac80-499c-11e8-9077-77e19155c615.jpg

Museum of the Frankincense Land

Sadly, this wonderful museum does not allow photography inside. I will try and describe some of the displays without sounding like a guide book.

large_bbbf1c00-4a16-11e8-aa03-452c1db01a64.jpg

A topographic map of the Dhofar region (the area around Salalah) shows the the low-lying coastal area, mountains that surround the city and the desert that stretches over large parts of the Arabian peninsula. There is also a selction of samples of the various coloured sands found in this area.

large_3b9b7f30-4a22-11e8-98c0-e9b17e298063.jpg
Frankincense trees in the grounds of the museum.

The growth of human habitation in the area is shown in a chronological display from early stone age to present time, including examples of coins and jewellery.

large_54086560-4a22-11e8-98c0-e9b17e298063.jpg
The courtyard of the museum

Trade between Oman and the rest of the world is described including replicas of ships used and maps detailing the routes taken.

The museum is quite small but very well laid out and extremely interesting. There is much more to it than I explained above, but those are the exhibits that caught my imagination the most.

Al Haffa Beach

From the museum we drive along the pristine white sands of Al Haffa beach.

large_2f1387c0-4a23-11e8-98c0-e9b17e298063.jpg

large_3736a900-4a23-11e8-98c0-e9b17e298063.jpg

Al Husn Souk

large_e650d860-4ac9-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

large_37cc3860-4aca-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

large_49452e80-4aca-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

Ever since we arrived in Oman I have been intrigued by the frankincense. A completely new experience to us, which is not surprising as it only grows in a very few areas of the world: Oman, Yemen, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia. It still amazes me though, that we can have new experiences every trip, even after all the travel we have done over the years.

large_f32c0370-4ac9-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

large_24189480-4aca-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

Frankincense comes in three different grades as you can see here.

large_fdd162c0-4ac9-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

Their uses including burning on special incense burners, something we have seen all over Oman; making perfume; a drink can be made leaving three of the best 'stones' in water for 24 hours; sweets and so on.

large_1696c930-4aca-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

When we leave the market, a group of older men shout out friendly greetings from the outdoor café. As I squeeze by their table, the nearest man grabs my arm, then my waist and his hand rapidly makes its way across my tummy and further south. I shout out “la” several times (Arabic for “no”), remove his hand and walk on. The other men at the table are terribly apologetic. No real harm done, it was just another one of those 'Trump Moments' (“grab 'em by the *****”) #metoo

large_bdaf14d0-4ac9-11e8-8905-47082851e3e3.jpg

Prophet Ayoub's Tomb

large_ba9f4350-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

There is a wonderful story attached to this place, and I do love a good legend: Ayoub (Job) was very ill and was suffering from a worm infestation that repulsed everyone who knew him. Because of this, he was driven from his home in Syria, having to leave everything behind: his wealth, his 12 children and one of his wives. Only his second wife stood by him.

Despite all his hardship, Ayoub never lost his faith and every day he would pray. He and his wife walked for many days and many nights until they arrived in Dhofar where we are now. Life was still hard and his wife cut off all her hair to sell so they could buy food. He still prayed like a good faithful servant. Eventually, fearful of yet again being rejected by everyone around him and feeling very tired with his illness – after all, he was 250 years old at this stage – he prayed to god for some relief.

Impressed that he had stayed faithful all through his troubles, god told him to go outside and kick the ground in a specific place. When Ayoub did so, a spring appeared from the ground and he was instructed to drink from it. His illness was immediately cured and his health restored to that of an 18-year old. He also regained his wealth and went on to have two more children.

Outside the mosque we can still see his footprint in the ground where he kicked up water, preserved by a simple stone enclosure.
Judging by the size of the footprint (some 18” or more long) and the casket in the tomb, he was a giant of a man.

large_cb9e0060-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_d585dc10-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_e60b7180-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_eeb28fd0-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

In the courtyard is a mirhab facing towards Mecca, and also a prayer wall in the direction of Jerusalem.

large_f94d40c0-4af6-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

Lunch

Back in civilisation again we stop for lunch in a curry house appropriately known as The Curry, where we have a private 'family room' (where families can eat together as women are not permitted to eat in the same room as men you are related to them).

large_7c378130-4af7-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_86608490-4af7-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

Their butter chicken is absolutely scrumptious, and there is also fish and vegetables, vegetable korma and biriyani. This really is one of the best meals so far in Oman, absolutely superb.

Frankincense

As I said earlier, this tree and its products is totally new to us, and I am really excited to learn all about it this afternoon.

large_7cf043b0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_85d3a7b0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

The Boswellia sacra trees are well known for their ability to grow in unforgiving climates and soil and have been traded on the Arabian peninsula for over 1000 years.

large_9081e0a0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_203ee7b0-4b15-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

To extract the resin, the bark of this scraggy tree is shaved, letting the juices run free and left to dry on the branch. 15 days later it is shaved again, and this is repeated once more. The third shave produces the best quality of frankincense.

large_ab008fd0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_b4e92ed0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

Providing the tree is properly managed and not over-exploited, it should last around 100 years.

large_c4d36ea0-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

Each tree can produce between three and five kilo of resin per season. Harvesting generally starts after the khareef (rainy season). After harvesting, the resin is spread out on the ground to dry.

large_d4897f10-4b14-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

Mughsail Beach

We stop for a photo on this pretty little beach.

large_783f0160-4af8-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_815fe390-4af8-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

large_8aa23070-4af8-11e8-b235-ffcbbf445596.jpg

Marneef Cave

As per Wikipedia, the definition of a cave is “A cave or cavern is a hollow place in the ground, especially a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter”. By that description, Marneef is not a cave in the true sense of the word, or at least not these days. Who knows what the cave was like thousands of years ago, when the hollow in the soft limestone was first carved out of the sea.

large_865dd460-4b16-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_90b64c30-4b16-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_9b04b1e0-4b16-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg
I am certainly glad of the numerous benches that offer shade from the fierce afternoon sun.

Mughsail Blow Hole

This area is famous for three things: the beach, cave and blow holes. This time of year they are not too active, but I hang around in the shade of the cave and am eventually rewarded with a performance.

large_9c91da30-4b19-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

The 'tourist fountain' is created when waves hit the roof of an underwater cave and squirt through a hole in the roof of the cave. The coastline here is rocky and craggy, offering some wonderful views.

large_b347e8a0-4b19-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

large_bb5a8f20-4b19-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

From Mughsail it is time to return to Salalah and our hotel. Arriving so late last night, we didn't get a lot of sleep, so we just have a quick drink and a few snacks in the room followed by a very early night.

Yet again our thanks go to Undiscovered Destinations who have arranged this fabulous trip for us.

large_507b4950-4b1a-11e8-a6bf-35d4d32805d8.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 09:30 Archived in Oman Tagged beach religion cave job camels islam souk souq blowhole frankincense sultan_qaboos_mosque al_fanar_hotel salalah ayoub's_tomb prophet_ayoub ayoub prophet_job al_husn_souk al_husn haffa haffa_beach mughsail blow_holes marneef_cave mughsayl mushgail_beach mughsayl_beach tombmosque Comments (3)

Khartoum - Sahara

Our introduction to camel riding and the Sahara

46 °C
View Sudan Camel Trek 2004 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This is not a recent trip, rather it is taken from the journal I wrote on our adventures in Sudan in 2004.

Breakfast is a substantial affair, with egg, sausage, toast, fruit, yoghurt, muesli etc. I fill up as much as I can, as meals from now on are an unknown, as is every aspects of our day. Today we will set out on our very intrepid adventure: a ten day camel trek across remote parts of the Sahara.

We drive through Khartoum, stopping briefly at the Libyan Market to stock up on supplies.

large_97dfeaf0-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_a8bffc70-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_b1ecc580-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_bb87e0c0-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg
Omran heading for the market

large_d0be7b20-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_dc4b7b50-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_f8a83950-a239-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg
Michael in deep discussing with Omran. I always think Arabic, when spoken fast, sounds like people are shouting angrily at each other. It is a harsh sounding language, but absolutely fascinating to listen to.

As we head out of town we see a number of 'temporary' refugee villages for the displaced persons from Darfur. As this conflict has been in the news so much recently, it really hits home quite how bad the situation is here, with mud huts stretching as far as the eye can see.

large_d06edf10-a23a-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_d8872ae0-a23a-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_e06bbc80-a23a-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

We head for an open area on the outskirts of town where we meet our camels who will be our trusty steeds for the next ten days. Gulp. The air is thick with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, with Michael barking out uneasy orders in Arabic to the animal handlers and porters.

large_6b8cfee0-a23c-11e8-ab82-a5001876e93d.jpg

large_c918e6f0-a23c-11e8-ab82-a5001876e93d.jpg

large_30b03840-a23d-11e8-ab82-a5001876e93d.jpg
Omran, our local guide

Last night Michael was explaining how the loading of camels this morning will only take half an hour, but by the time two hours has passed with disorganised faffing about, I feel the need to sit down. It is just so hot, and no shade to be found. Sudan is experiencing a heatwave at the moment, with temperatures at least 10° hotter than normal for this time of year.

large_8d47ea60-a23f-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_35851180-a240-11e8-ab82-a5001876e93d.jpg

large_9dac58b0-a23e-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

While we were all busy admiring the camels and worrying about what lies ahead, Michael has changed into his local outfit of a long flowing djellaba and headscarf.

large_57ebca30-a23f-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

It's time to try out camel riding, something that is new to almost all of us, and we have varying success.

large_79442020-a23e-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_81c789d0-a23e-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_8b0c20a0-a23e-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_92a5eda0-a23e-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

Eventually it is my turn. I have been putting it off and putting it off, feeling a rising panic as I realise I cannot delay the inevitable any longer. I fall off before I have even got on, overbalancing as I lift one leg. (Apologies for very poor quality photos, these are screen grabs from a video)

large_00d827a0-a241-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_0bc84b90-a241-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

I try again, this time with greater success, although I do feel very wobbly as the camel gets up from her knees.

large_624f0580-a241-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

large_6a6814a0-a241-11e8-8e17-2dab421f22bf.jpg

The whole experience is rather unsteady and uncomfortable, and again I overbalance when the camel gets down, headbutting the poor animal in the process. Eeek. What have I let myself in for?

Apparently Omran has never been on a camel before either, something he failed to disclose to Michael when he was interviewed. Michael is not happy.

large_8b609eb0-a23d-11e8-ab82-a5001876e93d.jpg

The saddles are home made and very rudimentary, and make me wonder just how comfortable they will be after a few days.

large_9094d180-a3aa-11e8-b993-4fd7b0e0925a.jpg

Suddenly it is all go and we're off. We walk for the first few hours, with the camels loping behind us. Our two camels, which we have named Fatima and Fluff, are much better behaved than some of the others, obediently following us at the end of a lead, much like a dog would, while a couple of people really struggle to get their animals to move at all. The camels carry a lot of heavy gear with all our personal stuff, tents, sleeping mats, mess tent, cooking implements and all our food for ten days. Water for drinking and cooking will be collected from wells along the route, while personal washing is not really including in the plan.

large_Fluff.jpg
David and Fluff

The weather is blisteringly hot with no relief from shade nor any clouds, while the scenery is uninspiring with neither impressive sand dunes, not any kind of vegetation to break the monotony. Just sand. A few tufts of scorched grass dot the landscape and the odd dried-up acacia shrub. These plants seem to be rather small and insignificant here, unlike in Sub-Sahara further south where they grow into tall, majestic trees. It's a brutal environment and we see few living creatures as we wander further into the sand sea that is the Sahara.

Although it seems to me that I am constantly drinking water and refilling my 1.5 litre bottle, I am aware that the glaring sun and unforgiving climate is taking its toll on my body and mind. Despite the frequent fluid intake, I am beginning to feel progressively unwell.

For a while the surface under our feet is soft sand that makes for hard going as the weight of my body makes me sink in with the muscles in my ankles and calves taking to brunt of the work. Densely packed earth, baked, parched and cracked by the relentless sun gives way to gravel and stony ground seemingly sizzling with in merciless heat. This bleak and merciless environment demands respect, but I feel more and more ill as the morning wears on. Eventually Michael signals that it is time to stop for lunch. Close to tears and ready to give up, I struggle into the camp set up by the porters and collapse onto a chair. Thank goodness I packed a collapsible chair for this trip.

A mess tent is erected offering some relief from the ferocious sun. My thermometer reads 46 °C in the shade, and I feel like I am wilting, even in the shade. As my feet have been hurting for the last few miles, I carefully take my boots off, noticing both little toes are sporting blisters. Covering them with blister plasters, I put my boots on again and hope for the best.

Life around me is a bit of a blur, I hardly notice what I am eating and taking photos hasn't even enter my mind for several hour now. I must be ill!

After lunch I decide to have another go at riding. Fatima is carrying bags of firewood as well as being fitted with a large wooden saddle for me. Several of the men stand by in case I fall when mounting the camel, but all goes well. I don't feel at all wobbly and the saddle is surprisingly comfortable.

large_4cfaa570-a3ab-11e8-b993-4fd7b0e0925a.jpg

For the first couple of hours Fatima is plodding along quite happily, being led by Osman, while I am reasonably comfortable perched high above the ground.

large_82b33d80-a3ab-11e8-b8b8-a5672b0d83bf.jpg

Later we take a short break and Michael adjusts my saddle, moving it a little so that it is better for the camel. It may be better for Fatima, but shortly after we start off again, the wooden knob at the back starts digging into my bottom. After another couple of hours we stop again and as Fatima leans forward on the her knees and I lean backward to avoid headbutting her, the saddle totally disintegrates and I tumble, head first, onto the hard cracked earth. I don't have any pain, but feel somewhat dazed and confused. Michael is furious with the porters for not assembling the saddle properly in the first place (a basic structure, the saddle consists of pieces of specially shaped wood fastened together with rope).

large_Saddle.jpg

I opt out of riding for the last few miles, preferring to trust my own two feet rather than the lofty animal with its rickety seat. The blisters on my feet are seriously bothering me and I feel increasingly weary, ill and in pain as the trek seems to go on and on and on this afternoon.

The expedition is not really going to plan as per Michael's briefing last night. He suggested that we would be all sorted out in camp and having snack before dinner, watching the sunset while the chef prepares our meal. Not so this evening. Sunset comes and goes while we are still walking.

large_faead830-a3ab-11e8-a6e8-9ba2058d4173.jpg

Eventually we stop and again I collapse into my much-welcome chair. Not for long, however, as we end up having to put our own tent up (Michael had indicated that the porters would do that for us) while we wait for the camels to be unloaded and the mess tent erected. Not expecting any rain overnight, we leave the outer cover off the tent to allow for some ventilation.

Taking my boots off is a great relief, but my toes are now just a mass of blood and puss. I am not sure what to do for the best, so I just put a pair of sandals on and leave them to dry out overnight and see how they feel in the morning.

We end up having to help another couple of people with the erection of their tents, and once we are all sorted, we gather in the mess tent for drinks. Non-alcoholic, of course (Sudan is a dry country), and the promised snacks do not materialise either. Two people are asleep already and Michael sends someone to wake them so that he can have a little talk about how the day has gone (not really to plan and he is anything but impressed so far with the staff he has hired), what our plans are, and if anyone has any concerns. Despite feeling more and more apprehensive about the adventure, I say nothing.

We talk and talk and talk, sharing travel stories and generally get to know each other. Still no dinner. From time to time Michael goes to check up on how the chef is doing, and each time he comes back and reassures us: “soon...” After a while his word become rather hollow and I really just want to lie down and go to sleep. Eventually, at 22:10, over three hours later than planned, the food arrives: a sweet and sour soup with bread rolls, BBQ chicken with mooli and a vegetable salad in mayonnaise. Although the food is all very nice, it is way too late for me to eat, and I leave most of it, preferring to go to bed instead.

Not wanting to be cooped up inside the stuffy tent (I suffer from mild claustrophobia), I take my mattress and thermarest outside and lay down under the stars with my fleece sleeping bag liner covering me. Sleeping outside in such a place as this, far, far away from any light pollution, is one of the great joys of life; the stars are simply awesome and I go to sleep feeling quite contented.

Posted by Grete Howard 13:52 Archived in Sudan Tagged market camping tents hot camels heat camel_riding refugee_camp heatwave khartoum darfour_displaced_persons darfour refugess Comments (3)

(Entries 1 - 6 of 6) Page [1]