28th Aug 2016 - 29th Aug 2016 - Oman
Nizwa, Jebel Shams, Muscat
The Hajar mountain range stretches the entire length of the Omani Sea coastline. The Eastern Hajar run from Muscat down to Ras al-Hadd inland from the main highway we had spent most of the last two days on. Meanwhile, the Western Hajar head north west from Muscat up towards the border with the UAE. The highest mountain is Jebel Shams which overlooks the Wadi Ghul Canyon.
Our day started with a 2 hour drive to the historic town of Nizwa. Back in the 6th and 7th centuries, Nizwa was the capital of Oman and attracts tourists these days due to the sights within the city and the access to the mountains. Our first stop in the city was the Souq, this time with a much larger food and drink portion where we tried the local delicacy, Halwa, a sweet, sticky, sugary substance.
We then moved on to Nizwa Fort. The fort was built in the 1650’s by an Imam and was of big strategic importance. From the top, there are views out over the city, towards the mountains, over the Souq and of the hundreds of date plantations.
An hour’s drive further up into the mountains and we arrived at Jebel Shams, which translates as Mountain of the Sun and sits at 3075m. Not only is this the highest mountain in the Western Hajar, it is also the highest mountain in Oman. Consequently, it is noticeably cooler at the summit – just the 30 degrees rather than 46 degrees! The Grand Canyon of Arabia, as Wadi Ghul is locally known, drops down some 900m and winds its way through the valley. We took a walk along the ridge and peered over the edge in many places as there are no railings. It was so peaceful up there, you couldn’t hear a sound. Sadly, it was soon time to head back to Muscat.
The next morning, we again had an early start as the hotel provides a free shuttle at 8.30am to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The Mosque was commissioned by the Sultan Qaboos to celebrate his 30th year of reign and was built by a British company after the Sultan decided he liked their design the best. There are two main halls, one for the women and one for the men. Both have floors and walls made of Italian marble, but a roof of Burmese wood. The rest of the Mosque complex, outside the main halls, is also made from marble. The women’s hall is smaller as women have the “privilege” to pray from home whilst “looking after the sick children, or doing the housework”. Meanwhile, men are obliged to pray at the Mosque. The men’s hall contains what was once the largest carpet in the world and the largest chandelier in the world, however, these have now been overtaken by Mosques in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively.
After leaving the Mosque, we got the hotel shuttle to drop us at the Royal Opera House. After a few false attempts at finding the entrance, we went inside and had a short tour of the building. Once again, we saw Italian marble floors and walls and Burmese wooden ceilings. The stage has retractable wings and the seating is also retractable and can be increased from the standard 1100 seats. Each seat is also equipped with a small screen showing subtitles in English, Arabic or the original language.
Our final adventure in Muscat was to get a Big Bus Tour around the greater Muscat area. This took us around Ruwi, Qurm, Old Muscat and ended in Mutrah. The tour takes 2 hours due to the size of the city and at the end we ate a lovely lunch on the Corniche before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon in the pool and an evening flight home.