Magical Musandam


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There is something magical about Musandam. Perhaps it's the way the mountainous khors (fjords) slowly appear on the horizon at the edge of the sea, rising out of a misty haze...

Maybe it's the layers of mountains creating silhouettes against each in the distance more like a painting than reality. Approaching Khasab by ferry seems like journeying to another world. Whatever it is, the magic continues long after the ferry has docked in the little harbour.  

While Oman's northern enclave may seem like an out-of-the-way tourist destination, a visit to the rugged "Norway of Arabia," as it is called because of the fjords, is highly recommendable. From the stunning landscapes to the warmth of the people, Musandam is a great place to spend a few days enjoying nature, exploring historical sites or simply relaxing.

The town of Khasab is so small that it takes just five minutes to drive from one end to the other. The main attraction is Khasab Castle, which offers a step back in time and a lot of interesting information about how the people used to live, from the palm wood summer houses to the little fishing boats. There is also a lovely beach just beyond the port, and there is a small harbour in which fishermen park their boats. In the early mornings and evenings it's full of life.

There isn't too much else to see in Khasab, but a wander through the residential streets is a great way to see some uniquely decorated homes and meet some locals. Everyone seems exceptionally friendly, and regardless of whether or not they know you, they will smile, wave, and perhaps call out Salaam uwaleikum. Children beg to have their pictures taken and then share their snacks with you. It's worth stopping to visit with them. One thing that will soon become clear is how proud the residents of Musandam are of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. His name is often mentioned with a smile as the people – women in colourful dresses and men more like in Emirati dishdashas – chatter away in Arabic that is spiced with Farsi and Portuguese. Though Khasab is small, the big-hearted people certainly give it a lovely charm.

Driving along the coast, around the tip of the peninsula, there are more eye-catching views of rock walls climbing straight up from the water, fishing boats in the inlets, and sunlight dancing on the Strait of Hormuz. Along the shore, facing the Arabian Gulf, is the little town of Bukha, which has a fort dating back to the 17th century, and a watch tower on a hill which offers spectacular views.

A tiny side trip to the village of Tawi, just a few kilometres outside of Khasab, also offers an unusual sight: prehistoric rock drawings. Set between a few houses, at the base of the mountains, and just off the side of the road, the large rocks are easy to miss, but once found (maybe with the help of a friendly local) they provide insight into Oman's long maritime history. In addition to animals and warriors, the rock drawings also include boats!

Venturing inland by 4x4, one will find Jebel Al Harim, the highest peak in Musandam at almost 2,100m high. It also offers arresting views of the khors, and some good places to camp.  Of course a visit to Musandam wouldn't be complete without a boat trip through the khors. Several companies offer dhow cruises that are complete with lunch and snorkelling, but if you don't have time for a four-hour trip, you can also hire a local fisherman to take you for a quick tour. The magic escalates with the sight of dolphins jumping playfully from the water and if you're lucky, swimming beside the boat. The lovely creatures aren't the best models for photographs, but the memories of seeing these lovely creatures are sure to stay with you for years to come. There are also numerous birds to see, some perched in the rock crevasses and others flying low over the water in giant flocks of hundreds or even thousands. You'll also pass by Telegraph Island, a little island that was used by the Brits to house a telegraph station in the 19th century, and little fishing villages that have power lines but can only be accessed by boat. Rather than ride a bus to school, the children take a boat.

If the adventures in and around Khasab tire you out, the Golden Tulip is a lovely place to relax. The four-star hotel is located on a cliff overlooking a bay that is usually dotted with dhows. The gorgeous setting is complemented by the pool where people can swim or laze about in the sun.  Whether you are interested in Oman's rich history, having adventures at sea, or getting to know the locals, Musandam is a wonderful destination. This magical corner of Oman will undoubtedly captivate you with its rugged charm.

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