As my time in Oman comes to an end, I’d like to thank my readers and hope that you can use the archived material here to have such a fun, enjoyable and unforgettable time in The Sultanate of Oman as I have.
As you drive along the Sur highway, before you reach the unsightly LPG terminal you reach the village of Qalhat tucked in on the western edge of a wadi. If you drive in to the wadi and work you way to the other side you will come across a 13th Century village that remains as a part of Omani history; prominent on the top of the small hill is what looks like a mosque, but is actually the Tomb of Bibi Maryam, the tomb was built in memory of this woman, who locals say was either the beautiful wife of a local elder, a holy muslim woman or a martyr from the village who was killed by the Portuguese. Either way, the tomb has lasted eight hundred years and remains to this day a prominent feature on the skyline.
Smaller buildings can be found within the ancient village also, from the foundations of houses, to small mosques and cattle sheds. Life in the 13th Century must have been very basic and it shows from the size and quality of these buildings, built to last the ocean winds and storms which gust in across the Indian Ocean. The reason for Qalhat’s presence on the coast line is not initially clear, as although it has a natural bay formed by the wadi, the much larger port of Sur is only 20km away. However ancient texts state that a lagoon was once formed at the base of this wadi, which allowed a deep water anchorage for boats in the wadi bottom. However an earthquake devastated the port in the 14th century, followed by a Portuguese raid that destroyed most of the town in 1508. Importantly the Falaj system which brought life to the town was destroyed, so the population never returned in any great numbers.
The ‘House of Mary’ is the only significant structure to survive in ancient Qalhat today, a sad story to end the sad tale of the village. You can almost imagine the spirit of Mary watching over the Indian Ocean on a stormy day, waiting for those invaders to return.
Whilst traveling east to the turtle beaches, my wife and I decided to stop off at the traditional Dhow making port of Sur. The fishing town is alive and well, with the construction of these traditional craft continuing in the dock yards and being used for trade and fishing along the cost, both north to the Iranian Gulf and South to Yemen. The Dhow are also used for much darker purpose, such as the smuggling which was once rife along this coast line, although this is now on a smaller scale, the movement of people, drugs and other goods still continues.
The smaller fishing craft, are beached for the day, awaiting their evening launch in to the bay, for the fisherman to fetch their catch and deliver it as far afield as Muscat itself. It is amassing to think how much this sleepy port comes to life on an evening, when the fishermen go out to sea.
Sur is a lovely little town, with two forts, a lovely lighthouse and a number of small restaurants and resorts, it is worth a stop on your way east, exploring the coastline of Oman.
While driving to Sur my wife and I stumbled across a sign for Wadi Dayqah Dam, which is situated 20km south of the main Muscat – Sur highway, at the turn off near Quriat. As we needed somewhere to stop for lunch we thought we would give it a go. We followed the signs to the dam and when we reach it we were stunned by the size of the lake and the beauty of this man made spectacle. The dam was opened in early 2012 and the lake now covers an area of 350 hectares, stretching 6km from the dam wall in to the mountains. The beauty is hard to imagine and the picture it makes in front of you is almost like the water is superimposed upon the land.
There is a substantial park on top of the dam, with benches, shelters and good toilet facilities, making it a great place to stop and have a picnic. The view of the clear blue water, and mountains beyond is breathtaking, a great place to stop and eat. We went on a weekend and despite this it was not too busy, it is certainly worth a day trip, being only an hour and a half from Muscat.
Omani Bull Fighting is a sport that is not like its Spanish equivalent; here to bulls clash head and horns until the stronger forces the weaker to take a knee, at this point the winner is declared. The fights themselves which are found along the Batina coast line to the north of Muscat are not well advertised and seem to rely on local hearsay rather than any formal organisation. But the events are certainly big with a few hundred people attending a purpose built arena, what is more incredible are the locals who sit not in the stands, but on the dirt surrounding the bull fight, calmly enjoying the spectacle.
A selection of bulls are kept around the side of the ring and the announcer calls out two similar size bulls to fight. There does not seem to be any prize or gambling, but just the pride of winning and the fun of watching. There are a large variety of bulls and the announcer seems to call out two similar sized to fight. A silence gathers around the stand as the crowd waits for the bulls to lock horns, then a huge cheer explodes as the fight begins…
The arena is great for people watching, with the old and the young present to watch the fights. It seems to be a tradition that will defy the ages and be around for many years to come. If you fancy a souvenir you can buy a traditional camel stick, great for the kids.
To travel to the bull ring in Barka, you drive to the Barka roundabout from Muscat, turn right along the road in to town to the obvious T-junction; here turn left and follow the road for about 3km and the ring is on your right. The bull fights take place on a friday from 4.30pm during the season, however when this season is is questionable. I would suggest January until April. The Bull fighting is great fun and safe for families if you stay in the stands. It is male dominated, so cover up if you are a lady and only wonder to the sands if you are confident of running fast. A bull charged the crowd while I was watching, you will be fine on the stands however.