Monthly Archives: September 2013

Make voyages. Attempt them. There is nothing else.

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Given a choice, I would rather poke out my eyeballs with a damp cocktail stick than see another fort.

Unfortunately, I had no choice.

We set off once again, my famous Mackerel pasties packed for our picnic lunch, in search of a fort or two.  With GPS co-ordinates duly punched into the sat. nav. which was stuck firmly with spit to our car windscreen, we headed for Ar Rustaq in the Western Hajar mountains. In the Middle Ages it was considered to be the capital of Oman and has, about its location, a fort and some hot springs.

However, first things first.

A relatively short drive away in Halban are the beehive tombs that we had been looking for last time out. With some more trusted  GPS numbers to assist, we eventually found the last resting place of those that lived and died during the Bronze Age (2700-2000BC).  I am reliably informed, this makes the tombs about the same age as the oldest of the pyramids in Egypt. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids however, the beehive tombs are not famous, they are indeed famously tricky to find, but they have no fences or admissions charges and certainly no touts or pestering guides to mar the experience. The down side to this means that all and sundry can do as they like when they get there, so most of the tombs are no longer recognisable as such but mere piles of stone. There remains a peaceful ambience and a sense of the very ancient nonetheless.

Beehive Tomb

Beehive Tomb

It was decided to include the family album shot, much requested I might add. to give the tombs some perspective.

Halban Tombs

Halban Tombs

Are we blissfully happy? You bet your life we are!

Happiness is often short-lived though, especially when good things come to an end. This particular end came with the realisation that it was time to go and look at another fort. Any offer of poking out eyes was immediately dismissed so we took Route 13 to Ar Rustaq. We thought it was a little on the warm side whilst bumbling about the beehive tombs so a quick check of the outside temperature, courtesy of the car dashboard, showed a sweltering 45 degrees Celsius at 11.30 in the morning. We reckoned, our next excursion would have to take place in the midday sun, the hottest part of the day, sweating and flagging,  trudging around a fort. What joy!

WHAT JOY!

Ar Rustaq (relative new fort)

Ar Rustaq (relative new fort)

A pretty impressive fort it must be said. I liked this fort immensely. I really did. This is the best fort to date.

The fort, unfortunately,

WAS CLOSED!

How we sobbed, how our little faces, burnt by the blistering rays of the sun, showed our disappointment and despair.

Not really. Move on…

The village has another fort, even better than the first. It is a lot older and even more likeable. Every entrance, or possible entrance, had been bricked up.

Ar Rustaq (old fort)

Ar Rustaq (old fort)

That was all the forts for the day. We could now enjoy ourselves with all the other attractions that this ancient village had to offer. For example, some hot springs that formed pools in the ground. These had been tapped into to provide bathing facilities, the most rudimentary of structures, for the locals. We were unable to determine whether there were any healing properties associated with the springs but were assured that these are the same springs that feed the hot springs we visited in A’Thowarah . So, as we had all previously paddled in this water, we considered we had already exposed ourselves to any of the beneficial effects that these waters may have had, so there was no need to get wet again.

Ar Rustaq Hot Springs

Ar Rustaq Hot Springs

Down to middle earth

Down to middle earth

It would seem that getting wet is a segregated affair and as we weren’t accustomed to being separated for our ablutions, we forsook the opportunity to splash around.

Quite rightly so!

Quite rightly so!

A path made itself visible so we headed down it not knowing what to expect. We were, as usual, wandering off the trekking trail to our destiny. Lush vegetation tempted us to explore further and someone, somewhere, was knocking up a curry lunch. We followed our noses and headed for adventure town.

Ar Rustaq Oasis

Ar Rustaq Oasis

Leaving behind the older of the old forts, we wandered in the heat that drained all energy in an instant. The wind blew a gentle breeze that was a fierce, fiery furnace blast. Shorter legs began to crumble so we about turned and headed back to ‘old’ civilisation before the heat overtook us completely.

Ar Rustaq village

Ar Rustaq village

Lunch was served in the shade of a park umbrella but, silly old me, the pasties were still frozen solid. We made do with a bag of crisps and an apple and headed for the satisfying chill of the car air. con. Such pleasure in the most simplest of things.

The heat of the day had caused an early end to our trip so we decided to do a little reccy for a future excursion. Now suffering the effects of Wadi withdrawal, we headed for Wadi Bani Awf.

I shall never cease to be amazed by the way that the road suddenly ends and there you are, on the dry river bed, a trickle of water to wash your tyres, mountains on all sides and a track that leads to who knows where.

And...no road!

And…no road!

It is, at times like this, we slap ourselves firmly on the back (and one another sometimes but rarely in appreciation or congratulation), for our good fortune and even better foresight of purchasing a 4×4 workhorse. Yeehaa!

Wadi Bani Awf

Wadi Bani Awf

This really was no more than a quick look around. Further on the track disappeared totally and there was little to guide us other than driving between the mountain walls. The ‘book’ says there is a village somewhere further up, terraced fields and a waterfall to enjoy. With fuel too low to continue, we turned around and made for the main road. Somewhere up the road, back in civilisation, for no apparent reason, we were corralled into a checkpoint where men with big guns stood to peer in our windows. Military vehicles, not so well hidden, sat beneath camouflage netting with even bigger guns mounted onto the car frames. Fingers rested on finger guards as we drove by, desperately trying to look like innocuous tourists. To be honest, that’s exactly what we are so we were waved through without incident and headed for home, some heated mackerel pasties and a dollop of ice-cream for pudding. Another adventure in the bag. Now for the working week.

As always,

Insha’Allah

To travel is to live!

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Marhaba!

As we wave a fond farewell to the summer holidays, which went on for ever and ever I might add, we look forward to the cool, autumn months ahead of us and a refreshing winter beyond.  To be honest, the blistering heat of the summer didn’t really materialise, nor did the sand storms, nor did the torrential downpours. In fact, it was fairly mild and we enjoyed the tranquility of our surroundings as everyone else had left for foreign holidays and trips home to visit friends and family in order to avoid the heat. Pretty much, we stayed put and enrolled ourselves on an academic course or two, played endless games of backgammon and considered our future beyond next year.

So, the season is upon us whereby we get out and about; people to see, places to visit, things to do.

For openers, we headed for yet another fort.  Nakhal Fort to be exact. Well, you can’t beat a good fort, can you? Or is that a spelling error? What I mean is, if you’ve seen one fort you’ve seen them all. And, just in case you think there might be something different about this particular fort, I present it to you by way of comparison. A pretty fort I grant you, but a fort nonetheless.

Nakhal Fort

Nakhal Fort

As we have come to expect, the interior is immaculately kept and there are no restrictions (or Health and Safety) as to where you can wander and what you can pick up and play with. Take some very real, antique rifles on display for example: Literally – Take them!DSCN1528

Pick it off the wall and pretend you are someone that you’re not.

Arghhhhhh!

Arghhhhhh! Frightening, eh?

Like the look of those very real and authentic cannonballs sitting proudly on display:

Incoming!

Incoming!

Pick one off and lob it at the photographer, why don’t you?

There really is nothing and no one to stop you enjoying the relics (not the wife, of course!).

The sun was hot and lunch-time was looming so we headed off to find somewhere cool to rest and eat our lavish lunch of cheese and chilli pickle sandwiches.  The sound of trickling water is always a lure to us so we made tracks for the famous hot springs of Nakhal which are, in fact, in the next village of A’Thawarah.

Hot, hot, hot springs!

Hot, hot, hot springs!

There were no surprises here for the water was indeed hot, almost too hot for comfort but we managed a quick paddle and a splash about. When we were sufficiently wet but by no means cool, we sat and watched the day-trippers arrive, set up their makeshift camps, light their fires and cook their lunchtime feasts. Our picture is clearly one of serenity but  it was soon invaded by dozens of  vehicles, barbecues, mats, chairs, all manner of bric-a-brac and the usual hordes of screaming youngsters and their accompanying adult carers – loosely termed. Holding off the promise of the satisfaction we anticipated from our own packed lunch, we made our way elsewhere and pointed our trusty Ford towards some mountains in the distance. Somewhere, way above 1500 metres, is a remote village with orchards of pomegranates and a delightful walk to a highpoint where terraced land and the village below become the main attraction. The village of Wukan welcomed us.

Wukan Village from the end of the walk to higher ground

Wukan Village from the middle of the walk to higher ground

In order to attract tourists, much work has been done on providing a flat, firm pathway up the side of the mountain that makes for an exhausting climb, especially for those with little legs. The thin air makes any fast ascent a foolhardy option so we ambled along taking in the flora and fauna. Tiring but pleasant and well worth the effort. A more challenging, rustic walk was available with an overnight camping area but we were not prepared to undertake it at this time; although there was a time not so long ago when we would have just gone for it without equipment or a care in the world. How we have matured?

Walking along the falaj (irrigation channel)

Walking along the falaj (irrigation channel)

The drive to and from the village was mildly treacherous but not really in the same league as the Salmah Plateau that we have visited, camped upon, blogged, videoed and raved about so much. We decided Wukan village would suit most of our visiting guests (should we ever get any more) as it has an appealing, rugged landscape, an adrenalin pumping drive, a pleasant climb, stunning views and a quaint village all rolled into one.

Wukan Village

Wukan Village

As the sun dipped down behind the jagged mountain peaks that prod and poke a pink and purple sky, we made our way back through the dry Wadi Mistall basin, back to the tarmac and finally back home just before nightfall. Unable to do everything we wanted to do in this region, which is pretty much in our own back yard so to speak, we decided to return sooner rather than later. We now have an overwhelming urge to find some beehive tombs, that supposedly pre-date the Egyptian pyramids, that we read about over lunch.

One for the album, lad.

One for the album, lad.

The trekking, camping, mad-cap adventure season is definitely upon us.

BRING IT ON!

Until the next time,

Insha’Allah