Last weekend, we went on a trip to Nizwa and Jabal Shams with our program, Amideast. It was amazing!
Nizwa is a town about an hour outside of Muscat. We went to the old traditional souk, and the neighboring fort. Both were absolutely breathtaking. Being in the souk was such a cool experience. They sell all sorts of things. The souk itself is ancient, with its winding passages and open airs markets. The fort nearby was beautiful. It was restored in the past decade, but was recreated in a near perfect likeness to what it was originally. As you walk up the staircase you pass under these shafts above you. Turns out, they would pour boiling date syrup on you, searing your skin so that it would fall off. The chances of survival were slim.
The following if an exerpt from the wikipedia page on the fort:
Two cannons guard the entrance to the fort which opens into a maze of rooms, high-ceilinged halls, doorways, terraces, narrow staircases and corridors. Four cannons remain on the tower’s top, down from a total of 24, which once served as the fort’s main firepower. They provided complete 360-degree coverage of the countryside around making it virtually impossible for a surprise attack on the fort without provoking a reply from the cannons. One of them has the name of Imam Sultan bin Saif engraved on it. Another, from Boston City, was presented to the first Omani ambassador to the United States in 1840. Clumps of cannonballs, misshapen with rust and age lie around.
The design of the tower, complete with battlements, turret, secret shafts, false doors and wells incorporates a great deal of architectural deception. Access to the top is only by means of a narrow twisty staircase barred by a heavy wooden door studded with metal spikes to exhaust the enemy and impede their progress to the top of the tower. Those who did manage to run the gauntlet of hurdles risked being burnt by boiling oil or water that was poured through shafts which opened directly above each set of doors. Date syrup, a liquid that oozed from bags of dates stored in special date cellars, also came in handy as an alternative to oil and water. The fort was built above a subterranean stream that ensured a permanent supply of water when subjected to a prolonged siege. Several cisterns located within the fortified compound also ensured plentiful supplies. Underground cellars stockpiled food and munitions. Running all round the summit of the tower is a wall for use by 120 guards who kept watch over the surrounding countryside and were armed with muskets and flintlocks. Furthermore, 480 gun-ports allowed for a concentrated barrage of fire if the fort came under attack.
You can read more here.
Then we went to Al Hoota Caves, which was breathtaking. Stalagmites, Stalactites, and ancient blind fish. It was amazing!
Then we continued on to the town of Al Hamra, and had lunch in a small village. We saw the falaj (Click on the link to learn more about the alfaj system.) The village was so cool! It’s exactly what you imagine when you visualize an Arabian village.
We also went to a working museum in Al Hamra called Bait al Safa, where men and women could be seen doing traditional activities.
After Al Hamra, we took an amazing drive up the mountain to Jabal Shams. Jabal Shams is the highest point on the Arabian Peninsula, and literally means “Sun Mountain” because it is the first place the sun reaches. It actually gets cold there! At night, it reached 1 degree celsius!
That day was probably the most awesome day I’ve had in a long time. So many new experiences, and awe-inspiring sights.
We had dinner on the mountain near the campfire, and then retired for the night. We were staying in chalets on the top of the mountain. It was great!
The next morning, I woke up really early, by my own accord, so I went outside to watch the sunrise. It was amazing; I tried to capture it in photos, but they just don’t do it justice.
We had breakfast, then set out in our caravan to our hiking site. (The roads are mostly dirt, so 4-wheel drive is a must.) That drive was absolutely astounding. The mountains are indescribable, of truly epic proportions. We saw a bunch of small villages (a village would constitute of 4 or 5 houses, and usually just one family.) Only recently has the government built modern homes for the people living in rural mountainous homes. We saw ancient settlements, roughly 3 thousand years old, that had only been vacated a few decades ago. Often, the government will give the people extremely cheap loans for the new homes that can be paid off in a year or two. (In Oman, there are no personal income taxes or sales tax. The government just has it’s own money. It took a while for me to wrap my head around that.)
We reached the trail head, and started off hiking. The views were absolutely beautiful. Imagine the Grand Canyon. Then double the “grandness” of the Grand Canyon. Voila, there you have it. The hike was about 4 hours, but had been originally publicized as 3 hours. We aren’t exactly pros when it comes to hiking on one-foot wide goat paths, even though our guides were showing us up in a dishdasha and sandals! It was shameful. At the end of our hike, our guide showed us some ancient villages build into the side of the mountain. Talk about breathtaking. As we entered the old village, our guide informed us that it was haunted. With Omanis, it seems as if anything not currently occupied by people has been taken over by “gin” (ghosts or evil spirits) Luckily, we made it through! We scrambled up a nearly vertical rock face, but we finally made it through our destination, a wadi pool! It was great. At the back, there was a recessed “room” back there, where we recovered our strength (i.e, pigged out on chips and soda). We hiked back, and nearly collapsed in a happy, accomplished exhaustion. The drive back to Muscat was a sleepy, contented blur.