Leaving the desert behind and heading for the mountains
17.02.2018 - 17.02.2018
As we leave the desert this morning, we see more Bedouins with their camels making their way across the desert. Like we did on the way into the desert, we stop at the small town of Bidiyah, this time to increase the tyre pressure again. By this time I am desperate for the loo. I was hoping that my tummy troubles were over, but obviously not. We aim for a Public Toilet at the edge of the desert – this could be an 'interesting' experience.
Wow! I am totally overwhelmed by the modern facilities and absolute cleanliness of these loos; much better than the majority of public conveniences you find in the UK. Well done Oman! (You'll be glad to hear there are no pictures)
One of the oldest cities in Oman (it is said to predate the Prophet Muhammed's calling), Ibra was the centre of trade, religion, education and art, and enjoyed great prosperity during Oman’s colonial time.
Many of the 400-year old houses have been painstakingly restored by their owners, others have been left to crumble. Here you can see the original and restored side by side.
More crumbling mansions
The houses were constructed 400 years ago using stone, clay and sarooj (traditional Iranian water-resistant mortar made from clay and limestone mixed with other materials such as fibres and egg) and have laid abandoned for around 45 years.
These large mansion-style dwelling were not used by 'ordinary' people, rather they housed administrative heads of tribes.
Wells were constructed inside the housing complex as it was difficult and dangerous for the inhabitants to venture outside to fetch water during times of war.
The walls are deliberately kept thick to keep the houses cool during the hot summers.
The tiny door has two purposes – enforcing people to bow as a sign of respect; and making it easier to catch any enemies trying to enter. In fact, Ibra is full of fascinating doors.
And other details
All around the village there is a 25km long wall, with watch towers every three kms.
Mosques were/are not just for prayer, they also act as a place for learning the Koran.
David looks up at the hole in the ceiling of the gate, which was used to drop hot honey or oil on enemies.
Lookout holes come in two sizes, small for humans to survey the surroundings, and larger ones to point the canons at approaching enemies.
We are heading up in the mountains, some two hours drive away. So are hundreds of cyclists as today is Tour de Oman, a cycle race from Muscat to Jebel Akhdar. We see a lot of spectators along the way, and whole school classes supporting the riders with banners and flags. We want to make sure we get through to the road up before it is closed for the race, and judging by the number of police in the small town of Berkat al Mouze at the start of the climb, we only just make it.
At the start of the dead-endy road leading up to the mountain-top, is a Police Check Point, making sure that only 4WD vehicles attempt the climb as there have been too many deaths from regular saloon cars not being able to negotiate the bends.
As we continue up through the mountains, every bend offers a more magnificent vista than the previous. The name Jebel Akhdar means 'Green Mountain', but it is neither green, nor a single mountain, but an 1800 km² range, with several peaks reaching up over 3000 metres.
The massif is also home to 58 villages and over 700 wadis.
Near the top, we stop for lunch: dhal, sabzi, channa, roti, chapati, rice and salad. Just a small lunch then.
Wadi Bani Habib
The old village of Wadi Bani Habib clings to the side of the canyon. It was deserted back in the 1950s as a result of the challenges faced by the villagers in terms of bringing supplies to their homes, which prior to the construction of the road were accessible only by a six-hour steep climb by foot or donkey.
The people moved into nice modern houses on the top, while still keeping their plantations on the valley floor, watered by the ever-present felaj irrigation system.
The trees we see today may mostly look dead, but after the rains, they will produce crops of almonds, pomegranate, figs, grapes, oranges, mandarins and peaches.
Named after the late, and much loved, Princess Diana, who arrived here by helicopter in 1986, this vantage point on the Saiq Plateau offers insane views over the canyon below.
Close by, the recently built hotel Alila Jebal Akhdar has magnificent views from all its bedrooms and restaurant. With a price tag to match, of course. We are not staying there tonight.
Wadi al Ayn
The wadi (valley) of Al Ayn has the most amazing hillside terraces I think I have ever seen. This area is famous for its rose plantations, mainly used to produce rose syrup and rose water for cooking.
Animal fodder is also grown here.
Some of the terraces have been abandoned, while others are still in use today.
As our budget does not extend to staying in either of the two posh hotels on the summit, we return to the lower levels to spend the night in the modern town of Nizwa.
The drive down is, if possible, even more spectacular, with better views out over the canyon (impossible to photograph though). This drive is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and every few hundred yards there are escape lanes for use if your breaks fail. Said explains that in the rainy season this road is perilous, with running water and gravel covering the surface.
As we get lower, all signs of the Tour of Oman have gone, we just see a pick-up loaded with bikes and a truck full of barriers.
Another hour's drive takes us to our hotel for the night, and unfortunately we arrive at the same time as a large bus-load of French tourists. As the hotel is fully booked, Said has to sleep elsewhere tonight.
The hotel is quite modern and nondescript, but comfortable enough.
We take a buffet dinner by the pool and go to bed soon after.
Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fabulous private tour of Oman for us.