This year’s newly instituted Martyr’s Day and the UAE National Day holidays meant an extended weekend for most UAE employees. Naturally that meant our bags were packed and we were ready to set off on an adventure. This time in the beautiful country of Oman.
Ensconced amidst the Hajjar mountains, hugged by the Arabian Sea and dotted with impressive fjords Oman abounds with breathtaking natural beauty.
Armed with what information we could find online, our group of 3 families set off early and got to the Al Ain Mazyad border by around 8:30am. The petrol pump just before the border is a perfect meeting point and a great chance to refresh before the onward drive. In spite of it being a holiday, there were only a couple of other small groups at that hour and in no time we breezed through both borders and entered Oman.
From there it was a long 3.5 hour drive to our target destination, Jebel Shams (literally Mountain of the Sun), the highest peak in Oman.
A spontaneous picnic
The towns we saw on the way were getting progressively smaller and were spaced further apart. So, once we hit the town of Al Hamra, we decided to have lunch even though it was still relatively early. The restaurant we chose was small and unassuming from the outside. They had the traditional floor seating and only one item on the menu – Mandi, a popular Yemeni rice and meat dish.
After a long, long wait at the busy restaurant and a quick shopping trip to pick up some paper plates and assorted cutlery, we had an impromptu picnic in a shaded, rocky grove by the roadside. For the life of me I can’t remember the name or the exact location of the restaurant and I really, really wish I could. The food there was absolutely amazing! While the chicken mandi was rather dry and unimpressive, the lamb was fragrant and plastic-fork-tender. Totally worth the long wait!
An abandoned village
After a hearty lunch we once again hit the road. Our first stop was a fertile, cultivated valley tucked between gently inclined slopes, with the abandoned village of Wadi Ghul perched on the mountains above. The place was a perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new. The earth toned houses of the old village kept silent watch over the farmers in the valley below.
The Grand Canyon
Next we headed to the Grand Canyon of Oman. While nowhere close to the Grand Canyon in America, this was pretty impressive in its own right.
We were lucky to get there just as the sun was setting and the stunning grey canyon walls were awash in rose gold hues. Our cameras simply couldn’t do justice to those plumbing depths and our pictures pale in comparison to the real thing.
Standing on the lip of that canyon and peering into the seemingly endless depths makes you realize how small you truly are in the grand scheme of things.
Heading home to roost
From the canyon we decided to head to our hotel, the Sunrise Resort. The sun had already started to set and we were faced with a long, long drive. What followed was one of the most adventurous rides of our lives. A rocky mountain road with sharp turns hugging precipitous drops into inky blackness with nothing but Google maps to guide us. Suffice to say our entire group breathed a deep sigh of relief when we saw the twinkling lights of the Sunrise Resort up ahead and I could have kissed Google maps for guiding us with the accuracy of a homing pigeon.
The Sunrise Resort
The temperature had dropped from 17 to 11 degrees C in our one hour or so drive from the Canyon to the hotel. The staff gave us a warm welcome. Check-in was fast and efficient and we headed to our private chalets.
While not as opulent as the name would lead you to believe, the room was simple and spacious. A double bed, a sofa bed, a small ‘majlis’ type seating, wardrobe, room heater and AC, mini fridge and an attached bathroom. Extra blankets and small bottles of water were also provided upon request at no charge. (Note : Alcohol is not available at the resort).
After taking some time to refresh, we headed for the dinner buffet. The spread was pretty decent considering we were on top of a desolate mountain. A lentil soup, salad, rice and bread, fish and grilled meats for the mains and a couple of desserts. Not the most lavish of offerings but more than enough to fill our tired, happy tummies. The hottest moving item on the buffet table seemed to be the karak chai. A piping hot, sweet tea infused with fragrant spices. Just what the body needs in that freezing climate!
After dinner we headed back to our chalets where the staff started up a bonfire for us. The pomegranate wood used for the fire (a 5 Omani Riyal charge applies) had us sniffing in delight as the delicate, sweet aroma permeated the air.
Since it is so quiet up there be warned that even a slightly noisy group can shatter the stillness and destroy a restful evening. Since we were an equally noisy group, we didn’t mind much but I can see how it might be a bother for some who are looking for a relaxing escape. After much chatter, frivolity and a second round of indoor games we finally called it a night and crashed gratefully into our beds.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our Oman adventure.