After Desert Night Camp, we headed to Niswa and then Muscat for a few days.
We stayed in Niswa for a couple of days while we explored the mountainous region of Oman. Our lack of time and a 4×4 slightly limited our explorations. We couldn’t head into the mountains as much as we wanted and wadis were out of reach. Niswa is one of Oman’s oldest cities and was the center for Islamic learning at one time. It is also the base of the Western Hajar Mountains.
Al Hoota Cave
Al Hoota Cave is located at the foot of Jabal Shams, Oman’s epic mountain. It is the largest cave in the Arabian Peninsula with a total length of around 4.5km but only about 500m is accessible for visiting. A guided tour followed a lit walkway through the large cave. We have seen several caves before and they were “active” caves with growing stalactites and stalagmites but there was no dripping water. Caves are usually very humid and cool (temperature wise) but this one seemed much drier although it was damp compared to the outside weather. There is a lake at the very back of the cave where blind fish live. The guide stated that only three animals live in the cave: the blind fish, a particular species of spiders, and bats. Other animals will come into the cave during certain weather patterns but are not always found. The cave is estimated at about 2 million years old. There was a small geological museum in the main building that we stopped by after the cave tour. Supposedly, the cave was discovered when a Bedouin went looking for his lost goats. No photography is allowed in the cave.
After the cave, we headed to Misfat.
Misfat Al Abriyeen is an Omani village that takes you back several generations. It is one of Oman’s oldest villages and has opened its streets and alleys to visitors. Many of the older customs and traditions of Oman still exist here. It is an extremely conservative town and the town requests that all visitors respect local traditions. There was a sign at the edge of town with photography rules, areas open to visitors, local greetings, and appropriate clothing for men and women. The town itself is a maze of alleys surrounded by traditional buildings. The old tall mud structures with palm frond roofs are actually built into and next to the mountain, Jebel Akhdar (part of the al Hajar mountains). Within the mud buildings and old ceramic drinking vessels are telephone wires, water tanks, and an occasional satellite disk. As you look over the edge of this village, you see lush date palm and banana groves surrounded by desert and mountains. The village utilizes terracing much like we saw in Peru along the mountainside. The village still uses the ancient falaj of waterways for distributing the spring water to the village. Falaj means to split into parts. This irrigation system effectively divided the water among all the inhabitants. Gravity was used to flow the water through the village and simple doors/blocks are used to direct the flow. We walked around the town following the striped signs and headed out for a hike that we thought was to the local stream. Somehow, we ended up on the donkey trek to the next village. Luckily, we turned around after about 20 minutes but we had some great views in that short time.
The first time we visited; it was closed. A simple google search would have given us the hours! The Portuguese influence is very apparent at this structure. The Portuguese occupied Muscat from 1508 to 1648. The Portugese utilized Muscat for sea-lane protection. The fort dates to 1650 although some type of defensive structure had been present at the location since the 12th century. Supposedly it is Oman’s most visited national monument. The ingenuity of the tower, complete with battlements, turret, secret shafts, false doors and wells is meant to catch the invader by surprise. The fort had access to a permanent water supply and several cisterns for storing food; it could survive a blockade for several months. The fort was part of the Falaj Daris which (a World Heritage Site) is the largest falaj in Oman. It provides the surrounding countryside with much-needed water for the plantations. Farming is widely practiced and the town’s immense palm farms stretches for eight kilometers.
Some say it is the best souk in Oman. It is one of the oldest souks in Oman. The shops for fish, meat, pottery, fruits, vegetables, copper, handicraft items are housed in new buildings that are next to older original mud buildings. We weren’t there on livestock day but we saw plenty of other items for sale. In fact, there are stores just for dates. All dates! It was not nearly as congested or cramped as the Muttrah Souk.
After a couple of days in Niswa, we headed back to Muscat. We stayed at the Sheraton Oman which was just perfect for our needs. E&S had their own room, and we had another. We were lucky enough to enjoy our SPG benefits and had an upgraded room. Our room looked over the local neighborhood and into Muscat. I just love the white buildings against the mountain. Muscat has building restrictions that limit the height and color of structures. The result is beautiful uniformity. The recent Nation Day decorations added pops of red and green everywhere. The kids especially enjoyed the morning breakfast service complete with pancakes and waffles. Since we had reliable wi-fi, we caught up on Stranger Things (we are on Season 2 finally)!
First, go to the National Museum when you first arrive in Muscat. We would have noticed more details of the Omani life and culture if we had gone sooner.
The museum is directly opposite of the Sultan’s Palace. The museum is a beautiful new building with well-lit galleries. The displays are not overly crowded and there is plenty of explanations. It is organized into several “rooms” or categories. It provides a background to the country’s history, culture, artifacts, seafaring history, and religion. We have seen several museums along the way; and this is one of the best. There was a wonderful explanation of the ancient falaj water system. On room showcases the history of several major Omani cities from antiquity to modern times. I found the display on the dress and jewelry to be one of the most informative. I learned so much in the short couple of hours spent in the museum.
This souk is located near the Corniche (water walkway). It was a busy place! We went one evening after dinner. The main street is fairly wide but the side streets are very narrow. We saw locals and tourists wandering around. The streets are organized by merchandise. All the silver jewelry stores are together and the next street has textiles and the following street has food products. It was much more congested that other souks we have seen and the stores were smaller in size so there were more stores in the area.
Of course another victory! We just love these Escape Rooms! This location was in a house that had been converted into several rooms. The room started interestingly- E and I were handcuffed together, S was chained to a tire, and Stephen was blindfolded, his hands were chained, and he was holding a “bomb”. Our goal was to remove the bomb and escape the room. We have encountered a variety of themes and countless puzzles. Every time, everyone has contributed something to reaching the solution. We either succeed together or fail together; there is no fighting about who won.
E&S had discovered how much they enjoyed kebabs, hummus, and pita bread while we were in UAE. We had a simple dinner along the corniche (next to the Souk) of kebabs and hummus along with the staple fruit juice. S face lit up when he heard about seafood buffet at the hotel; so we ate there one night. I have seen a lot of buffets after the years of Vegas living, but this buffet was amazing. There were so many stations- sushi, oyster bar, salad, cooked fish, grilled fish, dim sun, dessert. Our last night in Oman, we headed to a local restaurant for Omani cuisine, Ubhar. I can’t remember exactly what we ate—but it was all delicious. The décor was traditional decoration with a twist of modernity. We ordered a sampling platter with at least eight different small dishes. Each of us had a different favorite. We wanted to try the famed camel dish but it wasn’t being prepared that particular day.
The adults had a quick hike on our last day and that post will be appearing shortly!
Oman was a great stop! I thoroughly enjoyed each of the places we visited. Oman is on the “Need to Explore More” list.