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I take a jeep ride into Oman’s rocky desert hills, then see a bit of life in an oil emirate

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

Even during Ramadan, when restaurants are forbidden to open and the hours of other points of interest are curtailed, Oman is a very cool place. Well, it is hot, but it is cool.

We landed first in Khasab, a small, clay-coloured city on the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

I honestly did not see much of Khasab itself, though it seemed like a much cleaner and more modern version of Mos Eisley, the town where Luke Skywalker met Han Solo in the first Star Wars - except, of course, there is no Cantina because, well, Islam.

I had booked a spot in a caravan of Jeeps that headed out into the barren hills of Oman, and serendipitously ended up in a vehicle with Irish John and an Australian couple. Our driver, Hassan, was super friendly but drove with both hands on the wheel and I was only moderately fearful as we skidded in the gravel on the tight turns of the switchbacks.

Our first stop was at the top of a tall hill overlooking a fiord that spills into the Arabian Sea on one side.

On the other it overlooks a flood plain (yup - there are floods in the rainy season even though it is obviously desert) where there are some of the posh homes belonging to well-to-do locals. This is John with that vista of residences behind him.

Then we stopped at a bit of an agricultural oasis in a valley where there were goats and donkeys, and wheat had been planted.

Hassan explained that no one lives there anymore. When pressed about who is harvesting the wheat, and taking care of the animals, he explained that, oh yes, there are workers from Pakistan, but not any real people ... ie Omanis. In this picture, he is trying to lure a donkey, without much success.

Then we drove up and up and up until we arrived at a crest of a small mountain from which we could look down on a dry riverbed below. This picture does not do it justice.

The country was unlike anything I have seen before ... all shades of beige and pink and brown. And, frankly, stunning.

On Thursday, we docked in Muscat. This is the capital of Oman and it is a modern and vast metropolis... though, by Dubai standards it is relatively low-lying. We got there the day before the Eid that ends the Ramadan fast (kind of like Christmas Eve to put it in Christian terms) ... so not everything was open.

Terry and I had booked an excursion called 'Mystical Muscat.' I am not sure how 'mystical' it was, but it was an interesting glimpse of a different culture.

We first went to the Sultan Kaboos Grand Mosque, which is the only mosque in Muscat that admits non-Muslims. The dress code was strict - women had to be covered to the wrists and ankles and their head scarves could reveal no neck.

We were taken to the part of the mosque where women pray.

And then to the room for the men.

Quite a difference! But our excellent guide, Assan, explained that the women don't really come to the mosque to pray anyway.

This is Assan in front of the magnificent mosaic that is the key feature of the men's prayer room.

After the mosque, we went to the souk where I paid way too much for saffron.

The dark rabbit warden of streets housed hundreds of small shops like these which sell women's dresses.

We stopped at the national museum, which has a small collection of Omani artifacts, like this woman's dress from 500 years ago.

And this ship which is a replica of one made in the 12th and 13th centuries that is strapped together with rope.

And these hand axes from 5000 years BCE.

And finally we walked from the museum to the royal palace, which is across a large marble plaza. Apparently the Sultan does not live here but uses the place for greeting visitors.

Assan explained that Queen Elizabeth came here to meet the Sultan but she does not come any more. We explained that it would be difficult in her current condition.

Now we have five days at sea before Jordan (Petra!) and the transit of the Suez Canal.

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