Trip Start Oct 13, 2009
Trip End Nov 26, 2009

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Flag of Oman  ,
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I’m in Jebel Al Akhdar which is about 180km south west of Muscat. It’s not the easiest
place to get to because it is at 2000 meters above sea level, and about 1000 of those
meters are in the last 25km. Although the road is paved, because of the steep incline (and
consequent steep decline on the return) there is a police checkpoint at the bottom of the
road, and they only allow vehicles with four-wheel drive to enter. Of course the car I had
hired in Muscat is only two-wheel drive (I should have brought my Subaru with me from
home!), but conveniently in the small town of Birkat Al-Mawz near the bottom of the hill, I
had seen a rent-a-car office when I passed through yesterday afternoon, that specialised,
not surprisingly, in four-wheel drive vehicles. Although it semed rather extravagant to be
hiring two vehicles at the same time, I was quite keen to get up here so after some
negotiation with the owner I managed to get a price of 25 OMR for a day (the car I have is
118 OMR for 9 days). However, perhaps because he’d rather not let inept tourists drive his
expensive vehicles up and down this hill, it turned out that he would supply a driver as well
for only 5 OMR more.
So at noon today, after visiting the souq and fort in Nizwa, I back-tracked about 25km from
Nizwa to Birkat Al-Mawz, and transferred my luggage from the hire car into a Toyota Land
Cruiser, which a young Mohammad, suitably attired in a chocolate brown dishdasha,
proceeded to navigate up this very steep and winding hill. Most of the time with one hand
holding a mobile phone to his ear, and the other hand frequently having to change gear,
leaving the steering wheel to its own devices for far too much of the time! I did note on the
thermometer that we dropped from 34 degrees to 21 degrees in about 15 minutes.
After about 20km, the road tops out on a plateau surrounded by stunning vistas of jagged
peaks all around. On the plateau, sliced through by several wadis (dried-up river beds) is
one small town and six or seven small villages, most of which are perched on the edge of
the plateau, with steep terraced plots below, irrigated by a maze of concrete troughs, and
planted with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. We parked outside a couple of the inhabited
villages, and Mohammad led me through the narrow winding alleys, with intricately carved
wooden doors on either side, and later he showed me a remote village that was
abandoned about 20 years ago when the government built new houses for the inhabitants
in the nearby town. As we scrambled about the rocks to get to that village, I noticed that
Mohammad hitched up his dishdasha a few inches revealing a layer of white underneath,
so seizing the opportunity to continue my previous research, I asked him what most men
wear under their dishdasha. He hitched up a little further, revealing baggy white cotton
slacks, which he called pantaloons, though he also indicated by hand motions, (he speaks
little English) that many men wear a wrap, similar to the Indian lunghi, underneath which is
what I must have detected previously.
I wasn’t bold enough to ask him how he pees though!

Later he dropped me at the only hotel in the area, and after a light snack of chicken tikka
morsels and salad, I headed out for a walk. The hotel staff had said there was nowhere
suitable nearby for walking, but I could see hills and mountains, which always invite a
challenge. After about an hour of steep climb, I crested a rocky ridge just in time to see the
sun setting behind distant jagged peaks. At twilight, with the plateau spread out before me,
the small town in the distance with lights starting to twinkle on, the sun setting on my right
and the almost full moon high in the sky on my left, it was truly a magical moment to
remember. I savoured the moment for some time, until I realised that it was almost dark,
and I ahd yet to get back down the hillside! But the light of the moon was strong enough to
guide me safely back.

Yesterday I had driven from Muscat to Nizwa, about 180km, stopping at a couple of small
towns on the way to visit an old fort and grab a snack for lunch. In Nizwa I stayed at the Al
Diyar Hotel, about 4km south of the town centre, in a large room with small balcony, but a
bit too much traffic noise, for 30 OMR. It was only about 50 or 60 years ago that Wilfred
Thesiger, being a foreigner, was not permitted to enter Nizwa by the Bedoun rulers, near
the end of his epic voyage through the “empty quarter”. However, I had no such problem
and wandered the bustling town centre in the evening, the only harrassment being the
occasional call from the souvenir stallholders, and the tailors offering to make me a

Later I ended up at a Turkish restaurant and sat outside with about 40 or 50 Omanis glued
to a giant TV screen showing a live football match - Real Madrid v. Getafe. Not being
beer-fuelled fans, they sat quietly watching the game, with a light cheer and polite clapping
when a goal was scored.

Zoe had posted a comment asking about women and their garb. Firstly, there are very few
women out and about; I estimate that only about 10% of the people on the street are
women. Secondly, the women you do see are mostly wearing the full-length gown and head
covering (not sure of the exact terminology), mostly in black, sometimes with a little
embroidery. Heads and hair are always covered, and the full face veil is common also. The
only bare-headed women seem to be Indian women, usually in full sari, and the occasional
indiscreet Western tourist who sticks out like a sore thumb if they have bear shoulders,
arms and legs! The fact that most women are hidden, either in their homes or under a veil
and robe, is one of the most striking and alien experiences in an Arab country. That, and
the frequent call to prayer, nowadays blasted electronically from the mosques, starting at
five in the morning!

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lmcfarland on

It's tough to imagine the difference between women's lives in the west and in some of the more restrictive Muslim environments. However, according to Gulf News*, Oman has become one of the most progressive of the Persian Gulf states regarding women's rights.

Since 1970, the Muscat government has been a strong advocate for women's education, and women been permitted to work**. However, their husband or a male relative must first approve her working, and she must have similar permission to obtain a passport.

Women who work are paid the same as their male counterparts, but because of schooling for women was rare before 1970, illiteracy (a significant employment barrier) is still common among older women. Women can vote and many serve as elected government officials.

* http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/oman/oman-regional-pioneer-for-women-s-rights-1.90692
** http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/nea/8286.htm

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