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This Eid beat the heat in Oman
May 30, 2019 | 4:34 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan
 
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The holidays are nearly upon us, and many of us have been looking forward to it with anticipation. The weather being this hot means many of us would want to turn up our ACs and chill at home, but whether you live in Oman or are just visiting, there are actually several place in the country where you can go to escape the heat. No, we are not talking about your freezer. It’s too small anyway. From Musandam to Salalah, there are several places where you can enjoy the cool weather. We highlight six locations in Oman that are unique in their own right. So if you haven’t been to any of them, now’s the time to go. And if you’ve been to all of them, why not plan a revisit? After all, it’s worth revisiting these places for a different experience.

Jabal Akhdar

With its peak at a height of about 3,000 metres above sea level, temperatures in Jabal Akhdar are on average 15 degrees cooler than they normally are in the rest of Oman.

The effect of the decreasing temperatures is only made more noticeable as you climb higher and higher up the winding roads to the mountain, which has been made far more accessible to visitors with the advances of better engineering due to technology.



There are several points of interest in Jabal Akhdar – Arabic for Green Mountain – notwithstanding the stunning views of the peaks and valleys and the sprawling expanses below from the top of the mountain. Terraced fields, cut neatly into the side of the limestone mountain, where farmers grow several strains of seasonal fruit seldom found elsewhere, including juicy pomegranates and plump figs, are surely a sight for sore summer eyes.

Another spot one must visit while atop the mountain is Diana’s point, which is named after the late Princess Diana. The former British Royal was adored the world over, and it is no different in Oman. The village of Ar Rus, which was carved into the rock of the mountain, is also a great way to explore the rich and varied history of the Sultanate.



“Located atop the Saiq Plateau, Diana’s point was named after a visit of the late Princess Diana to the viewpoint in 1986. From here, one can see terraced farms, villages, and some of the mountain’s many fruit orchards,” says Oman’s Ministry of Tourism. “Hewn into the cliff side of Jabal Akhdar, Ar Rus is a traditional Omani village with majlis and homes made from mud brick.”

“Terraced farms and cooler weather greet adventurers atop the Jabal Akhdar range,” added the ministry. “Here, hiking routes are mainly along its beautiful villages, but also through wadis and terrace fields. Local tour operators are happy to assist with guided tours.”

Given that it has now rapidly opened up to residents, citizens and tourists, Jabal Akhdar has fast become an area frequented by hikers and mountaineers, who are willing to pit their skills against the vast mountain. Hotels have also since opened up atop the mountain.

“Previously one of the most inaccessible points in Oman, the Saiq Plateau is an agricultural wonderland, with orchards full of fruit and beautiful views of the surrounding valleys,” adds the Ministry of Tourism. “Perfect for a camping stop, or a stay at one of the luxury hotels on the plateau.”



Jabal Shams

Arguably the best place in Oman to watch a stunning sunrise, Jabal Shams – which aptly means the Mountain of the Sun – competes with Jabal Akhdar for the title of Oman’s highest mountain range.

Part of the same Hajar Mountain range as Jabal Akhdar, Jabal Shams represents an easier climb than its counterpart, but still represents a challenge to inexperienced drivers. Even if you have done many hours behind the steering wheel, do not underestimate the mountain.

Jabal Shams also features temperatures that are significantly lower than they are in the rest of the country at this time of the year, and the mountain is particularly famous for those who pack their camping gear into their vehicles and spend a couple of nights at the top.

The flatter land of Jabal Shams makes it more camper friendly, but that does not take away from the equally jaw-dropping views of the mountain, particularly at sunrise, when the rays of the early morning light bathe both the mountain and the deep canyons below in a lovely, energising golden light that somehow seems to put things in perspective.

According to the Sultanate’s Ministry of Tourism, “Jabal Shams provides beautiful views of the surrounding landscape as well as Wadi Ghul – Oman’s very own Grand Canyon. Jabal Shams has a number of marked hiking routes, the most famous (and easiest) being the Rim Walk to the abandoned village of As Sab, which was once home to about 15 families that built their homes into the side of the cliff.

There are also a couple of hotels near the top, for those looking to spend a more comfortable, luxurious stay at Jabal Shams, although booking in advance is recommended because of the high demand during the hotter months.

Visitors to Jabal Shams also had fond memories of the mountain.

“The balcony walk is excellent,” recalled Mohsin A. “The start and end point are the same. Basically, you descend into the grand canyon and go up to an old abandoned village called Nakhar and come back. Give yourself around six hours if you don’t want to rush. Take lots of water and wear good sports shoes. At the start point there are few houses where small children were selling stones collected from the mountains.”

Arvind P also had a great time up the mountain. “It was an interesting trek in the midst of the mountain range, almost downhill one way and uphill the other. It’s not a difficult task. You can make it without much difficulty.”



Salalah

Although it is drier now, lush green grass will soon carpet the Dhofar region as the monsoon clouds that mark the start of the Khareef season soon appear over the region.

While the rest of the Middle East experiences hot summers and sweltering heat, temperatures in Oman’s southern region will plummet to the early 20s or even lower. The Khareef (Arabic for ‘autumn’) brings visitors to the Dhofar not just from Oman, but the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well.

When you do head south, don’t be surprised if you see cars with number plates from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and even Kuwait, with those who live in these countries often make the long road journeys to Oman to savour the cooling breezes, soft rains, enchanting greenery and breathtaking landscapes that the Dhofar offers from the months of June to August.

While Dhofar is famed for its Khareef, it has been renowned across the world for something else for a far longer period of time: Frankincense, the lifeblood of the Dhofar was thousands of years ago shipped to places as far as ancient Rome, Egypt and China. Known to grow the best frankincense in the world, the Dhofaris ship this precious resin across the world today, and those who visit Salalah must make sure they buy some from the local souqs.

“For thousands of years, frankincense has played a part in the culture not only of Oman but in areas as far apart as ancient Rome and China,” says the Omani Ministry of Tourism. “A skillful cut takes a sliver of bark away from the branch of a frankincense tree and the white sap flows to become sought after pearls of frankincense resin. The sight of frankincense resin heating on smouldering charcoal as its pale grey smoke curls into the air leaving a trail of perfume wherever it reaches is a daily sight in households throughout Oman.

“Frankincense adds its tell-tale scent to the products of the Omani perfume, enabling a wider audience to enjoy its fragrance,” added the ministry. “For those who wish to treat themselves to a unique taste of history, it is possible to purchase frankincense ice cream and frankincense honey from the souqs of Salalah.”

To know more about frankincense while in Salalah, please make sure you visit the Museum of the Land of Frankincense, which is located next to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the same name. The Land of Frankincense is the name given to the ancient ports of Al Baleed and Khor Rori, from where the resin was shipped across the world, as well as the caravan town of Ubar and the frankincense grove of Wadi Dawkah.

“The Museum of Frankincense Land in Salalah borders the ruins of Al Baleed archaeological park and is dedicated to the trading history of this ancient port,” says the Ministry of Tourism. “Visitors can discover how trade with frankincense and maritime strength ensured the region flourished in the 12th century.”



Dimaniyat Islands

Located off the coast of Oman, some 70 kilometres from the capital, Muscat, the Dimaniyat Islands are a great way to cool off at sea. While the cool sea breezes are more than enough to beat the heat, the island is sure to be an attraction for nature and adventure lovers. The crystal clear, calm blue, nutrient-rich waters around the islands are perfect for scuba diving and snorkelling amidst the colourful reefs and abundant marine life.

The islands are only accessible by boat, and tour operators in the country will be sure to assist you with enquiries, should you approach them. Several options are available, including full-day, half-day and sunset trips out into the Sea of Oman and the islands.

Visitors can also choose to camp on the islands, should they wish to do so. The islands are also home to the Dimaniyat Island Nature Reserve, which occupy an entire island of the five-island chain. The reserve is a designated UNESCO protected area, due to the indigenous species of plants and animals found there. It is also where a number of different species of birds stop as part of their migratory flights.

Containing about 22 different diving and snorkelling sites, the islands are subdivided into three: Kharabah, Huyoot and Al Jabal Al Kabeer. The latter is further divided into two – Um Al Liwahah (also known as the minaret), and Al Jawn, which includes three islands.

“Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve is located in Wilayat Al Seeb in the Governorate of Muscat and Wilayat Barka in Al Batinah, and lies about 18 kilometres off the coast of Barka, 70 kilometres west of Muscat, the capital,” says Oman’s Ministry of Tourism. “Its total area is 100 hectares (247 acres) and is composed of nine islands.

The ministry adds: “The reserve features pristine beaches on which the white sands are caressed by the sea’s crystal blue waters. This reserve has a rich natural heritage and is replete with several kinds of coral reefs, including some examples that are quite rare. The island is home to a large number of sea turtles that lay their eggs and nest there, as well as a magnet for migratory and indigenous birds.”

Reef conservation and maintenance programmes carried out in the Dimaniyat Islands are carried out under the name of the Great Barrier Reef Project, because according to the Omani Ministry of Tourism, “In 1984, the reserve was recognised internationally because it is located within the project of the Great Barrier Reef, is considered an international nature reserve, and one of the most beautiful diving locations in the Sea of Oman.”



Masirah Island

Although Masirah is located some six hours’ away from Muscat, (the drive and boat ride) it is totally worth it.

The island is another amazing place people go to snorkel, and is where a turtle conservation project is currently underway. It’s also a great place to set up camp and go fishing with your friends and family. The town on the island is also extremely open, friendly, welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, with resorts on the island catering to locals and foreign visitors alike.

To head to Masirah, head on the road south. The shorter of the roads takes only six and a half hours and passes near the city of Nizwa, in case anyone is looking to make a pit stop. Keep heading south until you reach the port of Shannah, the only point from where you can take a ferry to go to Masirah.

Ferries to the island operate once a day, and need to be booked through the National Ferries Company in advance.

According to the country’s Ministry of Tourism, “Oman’s largest island can only be reached by ferry from Shannah and is a bird watcher’s paradise as well as an important hatching site for a vast number of migrating sea turtles. It is also a great place to enjoy fishing, as well as many water sports such as kitesurfing and sailing due to the winds close to the shore.”

Alternatively, you can head on the coastal road from Muscat, passing through Quriyat, Sur and Jalan Bani Bu Hassan before reaching Shannah. Either way, it is definitely worth a visit with friends and family and one that you are sure to enjoy.



Musandam


Oman’s northern governorate is located more than 500 kilometres from the capital, and this extended Eid break offers you the perfect opportunity to head on a ferry, enjoy the journey and head north.

Featuring a landscape that is seldom found in the rest of the country, Musandam’s alternating mountains and fjords give it a quality that has led to it being called the Norway of the Gulf.

Summertime is probably the best opportunity to make the most of a dhow cruise across Musandam, as you enjoy the views of the harsh but beautiful craggy peaks from your unique vantage point. Summer is also a great time to take in a spot of snorkelling and diving off the coast, which is a favourite for nature lovers all year round.

While some will want to plunge into the depths of the ocean, others will want to attempt to scale the lofty mountains of Oman’s northern bastion. Still others give into their more adventurous side and attempt to traverse them with four-wheel drives and mountain bikes.

Access to Musandam, which gives Oman joint control of the Strait of Hormuz, is possible by land, sea and air. Passage through land is likely to take you through the Emirates of Ras Al Khaimah and/or Fujairah, so a visa might be required if you are planning to take a road trip up north.

The National Ferries Company operates daily fast ferry services between the Omani mainland and Musandam. The ferries depart from Shinas, the border crossing between Oman and Fujairah, so you’re best of taking or renting a car to the port, where you are allowed to take your vehicle on board. You can then disembark with your vehicle in Musandam and use it to explore Khasab, the regional capital, as well as the surrounding area.

Do head to Khasab Fort, if you have the time. Oman’s Ministry of Tourism says: “Originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century around a pre-existing circular tower, this well-preserved fort is home to one of the best ethnographic museums in Oman and the Bait Al Qufl, the ‘house of locks’, in the courtyard which was built by an Omani master craftsman.”

You might also want to visit Telegraph Island, home to a now-abandoned telegraph station that the British built on it in the 19th century to set up communications in this region. Another place you want to head to is the village of Kumzar, which is probably Oman’s northernmost settlement and is only accessible by boat.

Tour operators in Musandam might be able to help you there, because access to the village is only granted after you’ve been invited there. As the Ministry of Tourism says: “Nestled in an isolated bay close to the Strait of Hormuz, this village is only accessible by boat and requires special permission to visit. Locals speak their own language known as Kumzari but, given its remote location, the village is surprisingly modern.” [email protected]



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