11 Oct Oman Travel Tips & Photos (Part II)
Day 4: Nizwa Fort and Friday Goat Market
Nizwa Fort is pretty but boring!
The Fort, 1.5 hours away from Muscat, is a combination of a castle, a fort and a museum. Built mid 17th century, it is an imposing structure and unique for having a dome structure. It is one of the most of the popular sites of Oman. However, I found it to be dull. Inside the Fort, there are a number of exhibits showcasing the Omani way of life. The exhibits, however, pales in comparison to what you can find the magnificently curated Beit Al Zubair Museum. What I recommend that you go to the Fort on a Friday, take a quick tour of the place and then go to the Nizwa Market.
If (like me) you love goats don’t miss the Nizwa Market on a Friday!
Get there around early, around 8 am, to watch goats, camels, cows and other domestic animals paraded around and sold to the highest bidder. It is a practice that has been done for hundreds of years. In addition to the animals, and spectacle of the auction, it is also a great place to people watch.
Bedouin men, and women in Bedouin masks-veils, haggling and walking around with their animals is a fun experience. Of course, the market is more than just animals. There are people selling fruits, vegetables and don’t forget to try Omani halwa, a very tasty Omani dessert (see picture on the right of an Omani man selling halwa). Halwa is made with milled wheat, almonds, caramelized sugar, butter, rose water, saffron and cardamon and comes in three colours (white, yellow and brown).
Have you ever eaten goat?
To me, Oman is synonymous with goats. They’re everywhere! In the wild, being raised as domestic animals, and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. And they taste delicious too! I love goat…they taste like, umm, definitely not chicken! It’s more like lamb. They are very healthy, lean source of protein. In Asian and Middle Eastern countries, they are quite common but not to easy to find in other parts of the world. If you have never tried, I would suggest you do so in Oman. This picture on the left of me stopping to eat BBQ goat by a roadside stall.
Day 5: Sun Mountain and Birkat Al Mawz Ruins
Sun Mountains are spectacular!
My favourite spot in Oman was the Sun Mountains. Locally known as Jebel Shams, they are the grand canyons of the Arab world and simply stunning. About a 3.5-hour drive from Muscat, they are called the Sun Mountains because they are the first place in Oman to get sunlight. You go there for a day trip or camp in a tent overnight. If you are into camping, it is a great place to get away from city lights and enjoy the stars in the sky. One thing to be aware of is that regardless of whether you go during the day or at night, temperatures are a good 10 – 15 degrees Celsius cooler. So dress accordingly. If you are going for the day, even if it is a hot day, take pants and a light jacket. It is always much cooler and windier up there.
Day 6: Green Mountains, Wadi Bani Habib & Omani Ruins
Green Mountains: While not as spectacular as the Sun Mountains, the Green Mountains (Jebel Akhdar) are still worth a look. They stand as an interesting contrast to the Sun Mountains. The Green Mountains are, well, much greener. The soil here is quite fertile and grape, peach, pomegranate and many vegetable farms can be found here. Because of the cooler temperatures, it is a favourite vacation spot for Omanis during summer who come here to escape the unbearable desert heat. There are some nice 5 star hotels here as well if you want to stay overnight. The Green Mountain area can get quite busy with tourists.
Wadi Bani Habib: At the top of the Green Mountains is the ruins at Wadi Bani Habib. It is a recently abandoned village and not often visited by tourists. The ruins have a really eerie, mysterious feel to it. Getting there, however, is not easy. It requires a fair bit of hike, walking a steep hill and on paths which are not entirely steady. But the walk is around 30 minute only and it is not entirely without any charm. There are juniper trees, walnut orchids and you can hear pretty sounds from birds who live on these trees. This was my highlight of the Green Mountain area so I highly recommend it. Wear comfortable shoes and go either early in the day or late, to avoid avoid the heat of the sun.
Ruins in Oman: Another of my favourite things in Oman is the village ruins you will find throughout the country.
In addition to the Wadi Bani Habib ruins mentioned above, there is the pretty Birkat Al Mawz ruins, a 30-minute drive east of Nizwa. Wadi Bani Habib and Birkat Al Mawz ruins are similar in look except that Birkat Al Mawz is surrounded by extremely lush date and banana plantations. Spring is particularly stunning with rose plants in full bloom. The plantations are fed by a falaj system, an ancient, intricate irrigation system. The Birkat Al Mawz is the oldest and longest in Oman.
One of the more interesting ruins is the Tanuf Ruins, about 30-minute drive from Nizwa. The Tanuf village was heavily damaged and later abandoned after the Jebel Akhdar civil war the 1950s. The civil war between the Sultan of Oman, supported by the British and the Omani Imam and religious hardliners within Oman, supported by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Sultan and his allies eventually won the civil war but hundreds lost their lives in the conflict.