There’s daily bus service from Dubai to Oman, which leaves from Deira bus station. I went by nocturnal express, as I usually travel at night to save money, so that I can sleep on vehicles and I don’t have to look for accommodation. It works, more or less, I’m quite good at sleeping anywhere, though on that journey I barely slept.
There were three controls by each border crossing, they looked at me as if I was an alien, because of the Hungarian passport.
- Mate, are you sure you wanted to come this way? That wasn’t really dependable at first, but I realized later that low-cost train service is hardly ever used by European tourists, that’s why they were surprised. I had nothing to worry about, I arrived to one of the most beautiful and safest places of the Middle-East, when the dicky bus rolled into the train station of Muscat, after an overnight, pedal-to-the-metal ride…
Oman is the perfect rebuttal of all the negative beliefs, which the European think about the Islamic world.
…I wanted to get off at the airport, cause my rented car was waiting for me there. I didn’t think about that the bus would only go there, if I asked the driver to do so. Well, I didn’t ask him. Due to that, I travelled 35 km more.
The bus arrived early in the morning, when taxis were mainly out of service, I didn’t have current money, so it was beyond hope to get to the airport. The bus driver, seeing my anxiety, offered me to go with him.
I got back to the bus, he drove to the garage. There, we changed to his enormous GMC jeep, whereby we got to the airport. I was wonder-struck. It’s a miracle in Budapest if the driver doesn’t
close the door in front of you if you’ve been running to get on the bus, while that guy takes me to 35 km away, after working hours, by his own car?
That’s gonna be a charge, I thought…
I paid a compliment on his car, and he said: - Yes, I have a nice car, thanks to God and the Sultan… And it happened many times, when I mentioned somebody’s nice house, shop or car.
They never said: yes, I’ve worked for it; they were never proud of themselves about that I envy their stuff, but they thanked it to God and the Sultan. That was the point when I fell in love with the people of Oman. The driver didn’t ask for any fee for the ride, he said goodbye, and he wished me luck.
Well, I wasn’t quite lucky at the airport, unfortunately I had to wait to my rented car until 5 pm, until then, I slept for about 8 hours by a table in a restaurant. It wasn’t the coziest, but it was okay.
My first way led to my Couchsurfing host, Qamar. The Pakistani guy had learnt in Germany and had travelled around some
European countries before he settled down in Oman. We talked a lot in the evening, he helped me plan the itinerary for the following day, and we viewed photos of our previous trips. He told me
about his Pakistani mountain trips, and I got a room with a mattress.
The next day, in the morning, we set out together to Sultan Qaboos mosque.
That is the 4th biggest mosque in the world.
They used 300 thousand tons (!) of Indian sandstone.
In the main chapel 6500 men could pray at the same time, which is always reported on the governmental TV channel.
In that room you can find the 2nd largest handmade tapis, which had been made during 4 years.
The 60x70 cm tapis contains 1.7 billion of knots and it weighs 21 tons
(I love these amazing data). Mentioning amazing data, we must talk about the chandelier, as that is the biggest one in the world.
Its diameter is 8 m, like a huge room; it weighs 8.5 tons (!) and it’s decorated with 600.000 pieces of Swarowski crystals.
The ceiling and the walls are covered with an incredible amount of finished frescos and stuccos. If you get to Muscat, don’t miss it!
Here are some pictures that can be zoomed:
The country is quite rich in rock oil, natural gas and cooper, living standards are high and therefore it’s peculiar, that they managed to keep its original, authentic Arabic atmosphere.
In contrast with The Emirates there are no skyscrapers, shopping malls in city-size, ski in the desert, and other megalomaniac insanities. Wealth can be seen in that all the parks, plazas, roads are astonishingly clean, decorated and colorful. Janitors and gardeners keep maintaining the city, they sweep, wipe, plant, cut the plants, etc. Buildings, especially public facilities and offices are huge and built in traditional Arabic style.
Roads are of the best quality, public safety is outstanding. Tourists, who come here rarely, don’t have to be afraid there. It is totally safe to be in the streets in the night, or to sleep on the beach, as I did.
There are no riots, assassinations, there has never been any blasting operations. It’s perfectly peaceful and calm, people are friendly and helpful.
The leader of the absolute monarchy is Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who is surrounded with vast respect and honor, since
he came to the throne in 1970. And it’s not because it’s obligatory, but sincerely. The Sultan has done and still does a lot for his people. He revived the small deserted country, where a few
decades ago there hadn’t been anything but some palm trees and camels – he built up infrastructure and established international relationships. His photo can be found in every house, car, wallet,
shop and office. Well-being is also demonstrated by huge luxurious cars and sports cars, though those are way cheaper there than in Europe and the fuel is dirt-cheap. In the picture below, I made
photos of a car park, the beasts in the right picture are my favorites;
I would definitely accept a Patrol made for the Arabic market as a world travelling car.
Here come some pictures from Muscat. Left pic: gardeners in every park. They collect parched petals in a bucket, weed out and cut the plants. Gardens are spotless everywhere. Right pic: roads are bordered by enormous palm trees and flowers, which are watered constantly. On the road, sometimes you feel like you were in the jungle, although behind the plant-line there is desert.
Left pic: roundabouts are really big and decorated in Oman, here you can see a boat in the middle in a small artificial pond. In the right picture you can see the park in front of the Sultan’s palace. Even the surface of the sidewalk is made by polished sandstone.
Oman is a paradise for off-road lovers, we can rent huge jeeps in European price. It’s enough to have European driving license, they don’t ask for international license. You can leave the roads kind of anywhere. Local people do it many times. More than 2/3 part of the country is desert that is cut by tiny, hidden oasis of the first water, called Wadis. Camping is legal everywhere, and they do it a lot. There are no campsites, but you can pitch your tent anywhere. As a beginner it’s not recommended to set off to the desert alone. It’s easy to get lose or stuck, temperature can raise until 50 °C and there’s no phone service.
The third day I went to Nizwa, the old capital. The road was bordered by the huge crests of Omani mountains and sometimes you can see hundred-year-old small ruined towns. Qaroot was one of them, where I stopped to take some photos.
When I arrived in the old town of Nizwa I felt like I was walking in a ghost town.
Streets are empty, most houses are abandoned.
Even the air refused to move, as if time had stopped passing centuries ago.
There was perfect silence and tranquility.
Entrance fee to the fortress, which can be seen in the main picture of this post, was dirt-cheap, and it was very pleasant, you mustn’t miss it. From the top of the tower there was a 360° panorama to the city and to nearby mountains. The fortress itself was like a labyrinth, stairs going up and down everywhere, towers, cellars, chambers, doors, passageways. It would fit as a Counter Strike map (down to the left).
From here I left towards Jabel Shams, which is called Grand Canyon of Oman, not groundlessly. Along the roads there happened to be stores, restaurants or pensions, which were weirdly not directly beside the roads, but about 40-50 m from them; without any opportunities to turn with car. Those times you simply put the turn indicator, leave the road anywhere, and roll to the building.
Cars were generally functioning when parking (down to the right). If one leaves his vehicle for only 10-15 minutes, the engine and air conditioning function, because fuel is almost for free, public security is remarkable, and the car can be very hot in the sun in a few minutes. Buses and trucks on stations and dumpsites can function for 30 minutes or an hour, needlessly, those are not very nice to be close to…
Road upwards was frightfully steep, at the end I wasn’t sure at all whether I manage to conquer the peak with a front-wheel
drive. I gouged out poor Suzuki’s eyes by the time it got on the top, but myself was all of a sweat, too. I had to play with the gas, the break and the gears to complete the mission. On the top I
stopped to take some photos immediately before the sun went down, when all of a sudden a parking attendant appeared – a curious goat. He walked around the car, while sometimes
looking at me or the car, but he stood pat.
I sat in to continue my trip, when he stood directly in front of the window, as if he asked me to open it. I let the window down, he threw his front hooves up, leant in and looked around.
After he made sure everything was alright, he let me go.
I returned to Muscat late at night. Driving at night was specifically pleasant, air was still warm but not sweaty hot. It was
perfectly dark on the highroad, you rarely met another car. Due to that there was no light pollution, the ceiling was pretty starry.
At a gas station I ran into a Hungarocamion trailer that could’ve lost a long ago. I would’ve been curious how it got there, anyway it was a pleasure. The driver didn’t understand why I was taking photos of it, he didn’t even know where Hungary was.
At night I didn’t have Couchsurfing accommodation – I had to improvise. I went to the beach to look for a place to sleep. After I freed my car which stuck in the soft beach sand I found an abandoned pickup, I put my mattress and sleeping bag on its platform. I was too tired to set up a tent, especially after the car-saving maneuver.
I just laid down on my back, put my earphones in and started to listen to Clandestino from Manu Chao, which is my No.1 travelling music, and I fell asleep.
Next day, early in the morning I woke to the glances of two fishermen leaning into the platform and wondered under their breaths about that who could I be, and how could I get there. Of course, it was my tip, I don’t speak Arabic, but I was hoping they were not talking about using me as a shark bait. I had better woke up with a ‘Good Morning’ and with a wide smile, as if it was the most common thing to sleep on somebody’s car. They couldn’t say a word, and I went to swim in the sea.
I watched the fishermen, who collected fish in a very special way, not with a boat, but with a fishing car! One fella took the net into the sea, then they tied the net with a long rope to the fronts of the two jeeps which stood about 50 m away from each other, and they started to back the cars as you can see it in the picture. They fished an amazing amount.
My bus left at 6 pm to Salalah, a southern town. Distance was more than 1000 km. I was hoping to go by a lightly better bus, than the one was on the Dubai-Muscat journey. I returned the car on the airport, I tried to get to Ruwi, to the bus station with public transport.
The first bus stopped, the driver looked around, didn’t open the door, then left. It was really weird, especially because I had been waiting for 15 minutes. Unfortunately on that bus there weren’t any free seats, only in women’s section – men couldn’t get on. The next one was the same, but the driver let me up among women, as I was a tourist. The rest of the men stayed at the bus stop.
I got to the station an hour before the bus left, but of course, the engine was functioning. Fortunately I was travelling with a European level tourist bus, by the way, it all costed 5 Rial, equal to 10€. Transport is quite cheap, not like accommodation, which I didn’t resort to for that reason.
When leaving I was about to watch a film until we get to Nizwa; from there, we would get out to the desert, where there would be no stops through 900 km, and I could sleep peacefully.
Well, when we got to the desert, all hopes for sleeping fell to the ground, as there was a sandstorm with a power of a hurricane. It kept throwing the bus so hard that the 18 year old driver hardly could keep the vehicle on the road with 140 km/h. The co-pilot kept shouting like ‘Now, pull it back! Now, to the right! Pass by!’ etc., but he didn’t reduce speed.
Sometimes we literally by-passed oncoming trucks with only few cms distance, who were using their dazzle lights and horns in advance.
I don’t recall the last time when I had such a fear of death. I wasn’t the only one with this, though. Practically all the passengers were praying to Allah to survive the journey. Maybe that was what helped, because miraculously we avoided at least 20 frontal crashes and the same amount of turnovers.
After the bus arrived in Salalah at 4 am, learning from the previous case I signed in advance that I wanted to get off at the airport. The bus stopped, the driver waved to me. When I was getting off, half of the passengers tried to hold me telling me that it isn’t the airport; the other half told me yes, it is the airport. The whole bus was having an argument about this, I was getting on and off five times, finally I had enough and I stayed down. It turned out that the bus put me down 13 km away from the airport. But it wouldn’t have gone to the airport anyway, so it was a good decision to get off.
Again, an unknown oncoming stranger helped me. I walked him home and he gave me a lift to the airport. He was an interesting little old man, he didn’t speak any English but he understood my problem, by the way he was walking alone in a dead part of the city at 4 am, when even birds are still sleeping. At the airport I tumbled like a bag and I slept.
A fella in suites woke me up with a question: ‘you need a car?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about, then I realized I fell asleep in front of a car rent. He rent me a cool Nissan Sunny for a day in a very cheap price (13€).
The coast of Salalah is beautiful, with snow-white beach sand as far as the eye can see. Local people never use the coast as a beach, so you don’t have to expect a crowd, probably you would be the first sunbather / swimmer, if you set to it.
The town is quite different from Muscat, the capital. There are many strolling camels in Salalah, and a lot of palm forests; bananas, dates, coconuts, mangos, etc. Fruits are sold for very low price, fresh collected. It’s not that green banana that mellows on a cargo ship, and you buy it in a hypermarket. It’s a lot different.
Salalah, by the way doesn’t have many sites, it’s more suggested to those who prefer to take photos and relax. You can walk around the town in a day. If one can afford It’s worth going there, too, but if you have to choose only one, than go to Muscat and the northern coast. My flight left at 2 am next morning from Salalah. In the last picture you can see the recently opened imposing airport, from which international flights rarely leave, only about 2/day.
So it was weird being kind of alone at the airport.
I booked the flight with FTI Tours, for only 350 €, which included forth and back, and the car rent in Muscat.
All in all I recommend Oman to anyone who is interested in authentic Arabic culture, but they’re not keen on going to risky areas. To those who like off-road, and taking long tours in the desert that take a few days, even by camels or by jeeps. Children are also being loved, it’s a family-centered nation, in the afternoons parks are filled with families having picnics. It’s worth going from October till May (I deliberately travel in the winter to warm places), this time the climate is nice – in the summer hot is unbearable for a European man. It’s not a party place, there are no discos or nightclubs and they don’t serve alcohol.
Oman is the first vacation-destination, where I’ll probably return repeatedly.
For more amazing high resolution pictures click here: GALÉRIA
Translated by Dávid Kaposi. Thank you!