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A dramatic drive

Oman day seven

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Sunrise over Jebel Shams

Jebel Misht at sunrise

The extra blankets Said had secured for us meant that we were cosy in bed and slept well. Waking quite early I could see, through the crack I always leave in the curtains while travelling, that the sun was just touching the mountains opposite.

View from our room at sunrise

I dressed quickly in the chilly room and went out with my camera to capture the scene.

Jebel Shams sunrise

I learned later from Said that this first mountain to catch the sun as it rose is Jebel Misht, meaning Hairbrush Mountain!

Jebel Misht at sunrise

By the time that Chris, always slower to get going in the mornings, had joined me outside, the sun was just peeping over the mountains behind the hotel, but the ever-changing light meant that photography was still rather special for some minutes yet.

Sun rising over the resort

View shortly after sunrise

Jebel Shams mountain range just after sunrise

Breakfast was simple but more than adequate, with good fresh fruit, bread and jam (I could also have had processed cheese or honey) and reasonable instant coffee. Then we met up with Said, who never seemed to bother with breakfast, wanting only multiple cups of tea to start his day. And we set off on what was to be possibly the most stunning drive of this already amazing trip!

Back down the mountain

We stopped briefly at the Wadi Nakhal viewpoint, where we had been yesterday evening, to capture the scene in the different light of morning.

At the Wadi Nakhal view point

Morning light at Wadi Nakhal


At the Wadi Nakhal view point

Our purchase

And we stopped even more briefly on our way down the mountain to purchase a woven key chain tassel from a young girl selling them by the roadside. Said bought one too, keen to support the local people in this small way.

The road down was as scenic as it had been coming up, but Said promised us that later today we would be on another road which many visitors had said was, along with the desert, their favourite drive of the tour. I couldn't wait!

Jebel Misht, from the road down from Jebel Shams
- it's easier to see in this shot how it got its name of Hairbrush Mountain



From the road down from Jebel Shams

Misfat Al Abriyeen

We reached the main road and turned back towards Al Hamra, the ruined village we had visited yesterday, and Misfat Al Abriyeen, which was our first destination of this morning. This village derives its name from the Al Abri tribe who used to occupy this region of Oman.

On the way up to the village we passed a small group of camels grazing beside the road, two of them black. Black camels are common in the south of Oman but much less so here in the north.

Black camel on the road to Misfat Al Abriyeen

We parked on the edge of Misfat, near some signs directed at visitors, requesting respectful behaviour and dress. So already we could see that this village, although still partly ruined, is ahead of Al Hamra in restoring its old buildings with a view, in part at least, to attracting tourism.

Rules for visitors

Misfat lies in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains on the southern slope of Jebel Akhdar, about 1,000 feet above sea level. As with Al Hamra yesterday, we were reminded a little of the hill towns of Italy as we walked along its narrow lanes and caught glimpses of the countryside beyond. Agriculture is the basis of the economy here, and the steep hillsides are terraced and irrigated by the traditional falaj system.

View from near the parking area

On the hill above the village is a crumbling watchtower, Fort Rogan. These dot the Omani landscape and while many have been restored by the government I found this semi-ruined one more photogenic. Local stories have it that it was built by a Persian general, Rogan Anu Sharwan, but there is no solid evidence for this.

Fort Rogan

We strolled through the village, taking photos of building details and (with permission) some of the people as we went.

Village houses



Some of the locals

The houses are built partly of stone, partly of adobe, and stand on solid rock foundations, hence the constant ‘up and downhill’ of the paths and the frequent need for stairs. Houses are squeezed together wherever space permitted in a haphazard fashion, many overhanging the lanes. Walking here you almost get the impression that you are in the houses, at times, and because many are still inhabited (unlike Al Hamra) I felt occasionally rather like an intruder and was glad that, following Said, I could be confident of being on a public path!

Walking through the village

One section of the village is off-limits to men, and as I was with Chris and Said I too kept away from this part.

Ladies only beyond this point

Some stone steps led down to the falaj or irrigation channel, which at this spot feeds a stone tank. Local boys were enjoying their weekend break from school by jumping and splashing in the water. I think they were getting as much enjoyment from the tourist attention they were attracting with their antics as they were from the water itself. Said assured me that it was fine to take photos, so I did.


Fun in the water tank ...

... and the audience!

I also turned my camera on their audience of smaller boys at a window above the tank, who performed for me by sticking out their tongues, waving water pistols and even spitting!

Everywhere we went in Oman we bumped into friends of Said’s, and here was no exception. In fact, one friend spotted his distinctive car drive into the village and we were barely out of it before he had texted him! Said asked if we would be happy to have coffee and dates with this friend, which of course we were, so after our walk we met him at a shop on the edge of the village which sells honey and date syrup and dispenses coffee to visitors. We were offered some of the honey to try, both acacia and cedar, and bought a small jar of the latter to take home as a gift for my sister.

Bees at the honey shop
Said with his friend

The honey shop owner

As we drove away from Misfat, Said detoured to a viewpoint in the newer part of the village so that we could take photos from a distance of the old houses and surrounding date plantations. Not only did he have a friend (or several) in every part of the country, he also knew a good viewpoint in each.

View of Misfat Al Abriyeen

The Hat Mountains

Now it was time to head back up into the mountains. Said promised us some exciting driving and dramatic scenery, and he delivered! At first the road that took us upwards was of tarmac, winding up through an almost other-worldly volcanic landscape (Oman has no active volcanoes but many of its mountains were formed through volcanic activity which thrust up the ocean bed under the former Sea of Tethys).




On the road to Sharaf al Alamayn

The road led to the stunning vista over the Hat Mountains at Sharaf al Alamayn, at a height of 2,000 metres above sea level.

View from the Sharaf al Alamayn viewpoint

At the Sharaf al Alamayn viewpoint

I wandered out along a little footpath to peer down into the valley below. I could see the aptly named Snake Canyon which we would be following on our drive.

View from the Sharaf al Alamayn viewpoint

At the Sharaf al Alamayn viewpoint

View from the Sharaf al Alamayn viewpoint

Just after leaving the viewpoint the tarmac ended and the gravel road began.

The tarmac ends

This was serious off-roading, the narrow track clinging to the mountainside with a sheer drop below us. Indeed, Said told us that from time to time a tourist will ask him to turn back at this point, too terrified by the road conditions to want to go further. But I loved it!

View from the road through Wadi Bani Awf

The track (I can’t in fairness call it a road!) led us for about 30 kilometres through Wadi Bani Awf. We climbed and dipped (on two occasions right down to, and into, the water!), twisted and turned. When, infrequently, another vehicle came towards us both that driver and Said needed to manoeuvre carefully to allow the cars to pass. And every dip, every twist and turn, revealed a new amazing view. Some of these photos were snatched from our moving car, some taken when Said was able to stop for me to do so.

Photos taken on the road through Wadi Bani Awf

At one point Said told us to ready our cameras for a surprising sight around the next bend. I was expecting another dramatic vista or maybe an old fort or crumbling building – not a vivid green football pitch! This is the Audi Bilad Sayt Football Field and was provided for the local villages through the sponsorship of the car company of the same name.

The Audi Bilad Sayt Football Field

After this the road went over a ridge, dipped down into the wadi and then climbed again. At one point Said made a 'comfort stop' but while he was happy to pop behind a rock, and Chris felt no need to do so, I decided to hang on as I find seeking such relief in the open air rather challenging! I should perhaps have overcome my scruples however, as there was still a long way to go!

On the road through Wadi Bani Awf

On the road through Wadi Bani Awf
- at the 'comfort stop'

On the road through Wadi Bani Awf
- you can clearly see the folds in the rock that indicate the previous volcanic activity here

The track ran above the dramatic gorge known as Snake Canyon - so named for its shape, not any reptilian inhabitants! At times we could look down into the gorge and see just how narrow it is - very different from Wadi Nakhal, the Grand Canyon of Oman, where we had started today’s drive.

Snake Canyon from the road

Eventually we dipped down again and could briefly look into the mouth of the gorge.

At the far end of Snake Canyon

By now I was starting to regret my decision not to take advantage of Said’s earlier stop and I asked about the possibility of a second one, but the landscape here had even fewer rocks behind which to hide and I had to hang on!

Nearing the end of our drive through Wadi Bani Awf

Then, suddenly, we were back on the tarmac! A newly constructed road took us the last few kilometres along the wadi, still very scenic but a bit less exciting (Said told us that until recently there was an additional 13 kilometres off-road at this point).


The new road brought us to a main road, and that to Nakhal where we parked by the almost deserted souk (deserted because it was Friday). I visited the immaculate public toilets, part of a small and equally deserted shopping mall, with some relief!

We took a few photos of the fort which apparently houses a gun museum, so I wasn’t too sorry that our itinerary didn’t include a visit.

Nakhal Fort

We had a late lunch in a traditional Omani restaurant, Al Barza Heritage Kitchen. The meal was a buffet - I was getting a bit fed up with these, as they are never my favourite form of eating (except at breakfast time) and to this point had been the only options for dinner on this trip. But it was quite nice to be able to choose from the selection of dishes rather than have a set meal put in front of us as we had for previous lunches, and the spicy chucks of tuna, rice, vegetables and traditional bread that I chose were all good, as were the dates and Omani coffee which finished the meal.

Al Barza Heritage Kitchen

Return to Muscat

From Nakhal we took the main highway straight to Muscat, arriving around 4.00 pm. We were spending the night back at the Al Falaj hotel where we had stayed on arriving in Oman last Saturday. This time, disappointingly, there was no upgrade, but our standard room, although compact, was very pleasant.

Decorative detail in our room

Our room for our second stay at the Al Falaj hotel

We spent a couple of hours catching up with the outside world (no WiFi at Jebel Shams), firstly sitting by the hotel pool and later in our room. Our included dinner was as usual a buffet, but better than in most of the hotels we had stayed in so far, with a good selection of starters (I loved the cumin-spiced chickpea and potato salad) and some cooked-to-order noodles. And there was beer! I don’t want to sound over-addicted to alcohol, but somehow soft drinks just don’t go with food, and water gets dull after a while!

Buffet dinner at the Al Falaj hotel

At this point the standard Undiscovered Destinations tour of Oman finishes, but we had booked an extension that tomorrow would see us fly to the south of the country. We were so pleased now that we had done so, as we were certainly not ready to go home!

Posted by ToonSarah 06:47 Archived in Oman Tagged landscapes mountains food road_trip restaurant ruins views hotel fort village camel oman muscat

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Beautiful mountain shots. I laughed at your delight in finding beer. I remember both Peter and I being totally clueless at trying to order drinks in Brunei. If there was no beer, we had absolutely no idea what to have.

by irenevt

I made the same purchase...that's actually funny :)

by ToddP

It's too bad that the best light is before I am usually awake :) I can relate to taking photos from the car as that's what I always have to do - Bob doesn't stop for me to take photos. I can't do buffets at all.

Wonderful photos and you have given me a virtual tour of an area I'm unlikely ever to visit.

by greatgrandmaR

Thanks all :) Irene, I know you both enjoy your beer as I see it quite often in your photos You would need to be willing to forgo it on some evenings at least if you plan to visit Oman!

Todd, I wonder if it was even from the same girl?! Unfortunately I didn't think to ask if I could take her photo until five minutes later!

And Rosalie, thank you for coming along on that virtual tour :) Said was pretty happy to stop for photos from time to time but it wasn't always possible on that road, and if I had asked him to do so at every dramatic viewpoint we would never have made Muscat before nightfall

by ToonSarah

Did you always tour with a driver? We toured on our own in a big Toyota Landcruiser, except for Wadi Bani Awf and the half day desert crossing.
We regularly lost track but Omani's are so helpful, even if they don't speak any English at all.

by MyriamC

Hi Myriam. Yes, we had a driver/guide, Said, for the whole six day tour. We could have driven ourselves, I know, but we're not used to 4WD and also if you do that the person driving misses out on all the views! Plus, Said was a wizard at knowing secret viewpoints and little detours which we wouldn't have known to take :)

by ToonSarah

We, too, didn't know how to drive a 4WD. That's why a driver/guide drove us thru Wadi Bani Awf on our first day to teach us how to drive it. And the detours ... be sure we did them. Not always on purpose!

by MyriamC

I've never seen a black camel. Fascinating and very dramatic. This is an amazing trip. I loved your sunrise photos. We always get up in the dark and enjoy the sunrise, even at home. It is spectacular and so peaceful then.

by Beausoleil

We also found Said to have friends everywhere and stopping at all the right places for taking photos. That drive is soooo amazing. ♥

by Grete Howard

Thank you Sally and Grete :) I absolutely loved this day, from sunrise to the drive through the mountains. I was less happy about getting back to Muscat as it meant the tour with Said was almost over, but at least we had Salalah to look forward to

by ToonSarah

What an amazing trop Sarah! I had to forward a couple of your photographs of the road through Wadi Bani Auf to my daughter, who drove the road to Masca on Tenerife last year and (after she had recovered) I congratulated her and said she would probably never have to experience anything anywhere near as hair-raising again. I have now warned her about Oman! I was interested in the cumin-spiced chickpea and potato salad that you mentioned. What else did it incorporate?

by Yvonne Dumsday

Hi Yvonne :) Yes, I have to say I wouldn't have wanted to drive that road myself or have Chris drive us either - much better to have someone experienced like Said! I can't say for sure what was in the salad. It was labelled as potato and chickpea and the dressing from its taste clearly included lots of cumin, but beyond that I'm not sure. It had a consistency similar to our traditional potato salads (rather than the German style, for instance) but I would think the dressing would be more likely to be yoghurt based than mayo. Presumably there are non-dairy versions of yoghurt you could experiment with, as there are of milk?

by ToonSarah

Sarah, Seems like you had an all 'round fabulous day and your photos sure prove that! The early morning photos are especially fantastic!

by starship

Thanks for the nice comments about my photos Sylvia Yes, this was a super day!

by ToonSarah

Glorious as alwlays! That football field in the middle of nowhere was pretty wow!

by Anna

Thanks Anna :) Yes, the football pitch totally took us by surprise, as Said knew it would!!

by ToonSarah

That is certainly some sunrise, and I must confess I never realised that there were black camels. One thing I do know though is that I wouldn't want to have a hangover on that 4 wheel drive track. Great pictures again Sarah!

by Easymalc

Hmm, not much chance of a hangover in Oman! Most of the hotels are 'dry' - I only had beer three times in the whole trip :( Worth it though

by ToonSarah

Again more beautiful scenery. What a delightful sunrise.

by Wabat

The whole country is stunning Albert!

by ToonSarah

what a road trip ... I would have loved it!

by Ils1976

The drive was fabulous Ils, I was sorry to have to go back to the city at the end of it - I wanted more ;) ;)

by ToonSarah

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