Oman is a place of rugged beauty. It has miles of coastline, mountains, and a rich culture and heritage. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming. One of the best ways to experience Oman is through an organized tour. As not all tour operators are equal, it is important to choose one that is reliable, knowledgeable, and provides first-rate service. I experienced Oman with such at operator through Zahara tours.
I wanted to experience a few of Oman’s sightseeing treasures so I decided to do a day trip with an itinerary near Muscat where we were staying. Zahara Tours came highly recommended and were recently named the Best Tour Operator in Oman by Travelex and have been in business since 1971. They have an extensive selection of tours from cave exploring, to dhow cruises, to dolphin watching. After speaking with their knowledgeable representative I decided on their JEBEL AKHDAR TRAIL.
After a welcome by our cheerful guide Quais, we were whisked away from our hotel in a new model four wheel drive. We set out for our first stop, which was Nizwa Fort and the Souq. Our guide Quais spoke easily about his love of Oman and what its like to live there. He had lived in Muscat all of his life and had no intention to live anywhere else. He was happy and it showed in his enthusiasm to share the Oman story during the tour. It was great to have an authentic tour from a real Omani. By the end of the tour I felts that we had just spent the day shown around with an old friend.
Our first stop was Nizwa Fort which is one of the top tourist attractions in Oman. On Fridays they have they animal market which sells goats, sheep, and other live stock as Omani bid, sell, and buy lifestock for slaugher or for their farms. The Nizwa Fort is a massive structure and bustling with tourists from around the world. Swedish, German, and Chinese were heard as much as English or Arabic. The fort was built in 1668 and is the largest fort in the region. It was both a home and a fort and the guides tell you about the different rooms and what each was used for. There’s a lot of heritage in the fort and history buffs will enjoy spending a few hours there admiring the structure and the surrounding views.
Near by the fort there is the Nizwa Souq, which had the expected tourism trinkets and other items. We stopped by the date market and were able to purchase some tasty dates and the Halwa which is like a date jelly and served at breakfast. In Oman there are millions of date trees and over 200 varieties. They cultivate the different vvarieties for sweetness, flavor, or for various usues in syrups, jelly, or for cooking.
After Nizwa we drove through the Wadi Al Madeen which was an interesting ride as Quais narrated the different landmarks, explained the rocky terrain, as well as the sights along the way. He shared copious amounts of information about Omani heritage and culture as well discussing economy and politics of the day. I really felt that it was a tour with a friend more than a canned disassociated recital as I’ve experienced with other tours.
Wadis are river beds that are active during the rainy season then dry up in the dry season. We proceeded to Wadi Al Madeen where there is a checkpoint. From there we drove the 20 miles of steep and windy roads up to one of Oman’s other famed attractions Jebel Akhdar which is a high mountain range over 2000 meters above sea level.
Jebel Akdhar is the green jewel of the Al Hajjar mountain ranges, a truly unique spot in the Arabian Peninsula. At that altitude, it amazingly cool climate up in the mountains and the weather is perfect. There seems to be every type of fruit and vegetable that grows there and the fruit trees are set on terraces or flat levels cut out of the mountain to support farming. They grow peaches, apricot, fig, grapes, apple, pears, plums, almond, walnuts are there. The region is also well known for the pomegranate fruit which of very high quality.
We went to Wadi Bani Habib which is a small village of the old houses where the people still live. You’ll see locals going about their daily life as you explore around the village. This particular village is known for its roses and the fragrance fills the air. They make rose water, which is made by the locals in their homes
We decided to break for lunch a late lunch at one of the restaurants along the way, which Quais recommended. We enjoyed a tasty Omani lunch and then carried on our way to take in the views of the village of Birkat Al Mauz. It is a somewhat desolate village made of traditional mud brick at the base of the mountains.
For as far as the eye can see, there are rows and rows of date trees fed by aflaj or ancient irrigation systems which draw water from underground springs and feed them along narrow canals. The irrigation system flows the water without pumps or hoses to the date trees and to other crops with coordination of each farmer taking his water for a certain time then letting it pass to the next farmer down the line.
So with that we journeyed back to our hotel. The tour was perfect for us…enough to see and keep us riveted and not so much that we were ready to stop. Back at our hotel, we said good-bye to our new friend in Oman, Quais, who made the day an enjoyable one. It was nice to have an authentic and sincere tour by a local who really understood what he was sharing, the history, and the culture. The day tour gave us plenty to reminisce about that night over dinner as well as the memories Oman that will not fade quickly.
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