Sur Mosque, Wadi Bani Khalid and how to Explore Wahibia sands
We had breakfast at another South Indian restaurant called Sur Beach Restaurant which was lovely. It’s ways nice to have a private “family room” whenever I dine at these restaurants. We ordered tandoori roti, omelette, chicken hummus, mango cocktail and a large water bottle all for £3.25 – 2100 Baizas, or 2.1 RO (1 RIO has 1000 units rather than 100 unit denomination).
We wanted to explore Al Aygh castle, but it was closed at 11.20am on Friday. We decided to head for Sur Mosque. Here we realised that majority of people are Ibadhi and the prayer is slightly different, but there were a lot that prayed in the more mainstream way. Even though there were two different groups, there wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling of sectarianism at all that I would’ve expected in some other countries.
Mosques in Oman are a feature and none let you down. Each one seems more beautiful than the other. Amazing architecture; clean, peaceful and beautiful interior and exterior.
We drove past Bidiyah, and my husband wasn’t sure how we’re going to explore Wahiba sands. Anything less than a 4 WD won’t do, and a guide going into the desert is a must. We weren’t going to rent a 4WD as it is important to know what and how to drive different vehicles on unfamiliar tracks, and how to unstuck yourself, and what angles the vehicle can cope with as well as locations of different sites.
We inquired with our hotel manager at Ibra Motel and they were kind enough to arrange a guide. Instructions were given to meet a local driver from Bidiya at Shell Petrol station 30km back towards Sur early next morning when it was still cool. We paid 35 RO (about £54) for a 3 hour trip.
We left at 7am to catch a quick breakfast and arrive at 8am in Bidiyah Shell petrol station. There seemed to be lots of places to camp around Bidiya.
The first stop of the tour was at one of the local “tourist” Bedouin camp, which was a different experience as we got to see how the locals lived. The tour guide did a handshake and touched nose with nose with the local young boy which I found weird, but was told by husband it is one of the Arab customs in some middle eastern countries of greeting. The interior of the camp had sand for ground as outside but mostly was covered with thick carpets with colourful cushions and pillows everywhere.
We were served dates and kahwa (arabic coffee) upon arriving after formal meet and greet with the family living there but before that we were given a bowl of water to wash hands and a towel to dry them with. A young girl of about 15 was in midst of weaving a hand-made carpet and showed us some more products she had made along with her mum which included keyrings, jewellery, shirts for women and young girls with work on them, bracelets and face covers etc and these goods were up for sale (quite overpriced) so I ended up buying just a keyring for 3 RO. We had an opportunity for a camel ride but decided not to in the heat.
The young boy then showed us a poisonous scorpion and a snake they had caught and put in a water bottles with some sand, apparently these are more common than I’d like to think. These looked like hard conditions to live in for a city girl like me, but i was told bedouin women are better built to cope with these surroundings and a local woman from the same country or even the city would find it difficult to live there.
Talking with the guide, the camels seem to cost as much as houses in the UK. In the tour we stopped at the different camps that offered scooter rides and other activities. The sand dunes are absolutely breath-taking! The ripples, the every now and then wind which would wipe clean all foot marks we left into plain smooth sand, and the endless sight of lovely dunes – all gorgeous!! We didn’t want to come back! The feet digging into the warm sand felt good. The sand here is more Orange than the one near Al Ain (UAE) or even Southern Jordan.
Our last camp stop was at the luxurious 1000 nights camp, and it would’ve been amazing to stay there. I had an opportunity previously to stay in a camp overnight in Jordan which was slightly more hard-core, but here was pure luxury. They also had a swimming pool, a gorgeous restaurant, an enclosure for Gazelles, but we were told not to go close as they would get frightened. The camps here were some made of black glass and some usual ones, but on the back side each had its built-in toilet and shower facilities.
We got back to car at 11 am and then off to hotel. Lunch was at rawazen restaurant, opposite our motel which included zatar and cheese pastry and chicken pastry.
The noons are too hot to go anywhere, and most things are closed so we relaxed at the hotel. The afternoon was spent at madinat hypermarket and old ibra safalat exploring the local area and window shopping. We found a small cafe and had delicious rainbow milk tea, and lovely chicken and egg sandwiches. Its amazing how you find little hidden gems.
Wadi Bani Khalid
The following day we decided to explore the oasis in the middle of the mountains.
Wadi Bani Khalid is a beautiful spot where families come for picnic during days they have off – and there were plenty on the Friday we visited. There were beautiful green lakes surrounded by trees and people bathing in different pools further upstream which was perfect for anyone trying to escape the scorching heat. We had kids asking us money for parking which we didn’t pay as it was sign posted that begging was illegal. Police jeep came by and eventually the kids ran away.
There were no changing rooms, and people were probably changing cloths in cars as my husband did, or behind large rocks. I wore trainers as my sandals had broken by suffering with enough rocks in Wadi Shabi, and it made the heat worse. My husband walked up the rocks, went for a dip, but it wasn’t as fun as the coastal drive, however still worth the visit when it’s not a holiday.
The sun started to set behind the mountains when we went for food and well deserved cold drinks in a small restaurant/cafe located there to enjoy the cool breeze that had started in the area as people had started to leave, we eventually left too for Ibra to find myself yet another pair of flip flops.