We finally manage to get to the Musandam Peninsula, after I ascertain our new driver has brought his passport. Border formalities at Al Darah are straightforward – we pay 25 dirham p.p. to leave the Emirates and about twice that to enter Oman. This Wednesday morning, we are 10 people queuing; the whole thing takes about 30 minutes. Nice and easy.
Near Al Darah border check point
The others are UAE residents, surprisingly scantily dressed, all off to the Musandam to catch a boat out on the khor (fjord), for swimming and snorkelling.
The Musandam Peninsula is a remote Omani province, separated from the rest of the country by two emirates (Ras-al-Khaimah and Fujairah), jutting out into the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, as it is called here), facing Iran.
Musandam Peninsula landscape
We’re heading to Khasab, Musandam’s principal town. Winding up and down with rugged mountains on one side and the Straits of Hormuz on the other, the road to Khasab is very dramatic. Measuring sticks are placed at the lowest points, with signs warning us not to pass if the water reaches up to the red level.
Up close, the massive Hajar Mountains appear arid and inhospitable, yet oddly attractive. In places, the mountain sides look about to crumble and fall. Once or twice during the 45 km stretch of road, they have. A few large rocks block part of the road.
Near the town of Bukha, we pass by a fort, the 17th century stronghold Bukha Castle.
Just like us, our driver – despite having lived in the UAE for 15 years – has never been to Oman before:
Khasab is clean and quiet. Very quiet. Lonely Planet has oversold this little town a bit, talking of swarthy Iranian smugglers with lusty moustaches trading cigarettes for goats and a souk “resounding to a babble of foreign languages”. Sounds quite exciting, doesn’t it?
The souk is anything but lively this afternoon. A few men selling fruits and vegetables; that’s it. Across the road, another souk looks more promising, with several trading companies and a few shops; but most are boarded up. We have to imagine how Khasab looks, all full of life, with interesting people and illegal trading going on.
Khasab harbour – described as “bursting with activity”, has 10 – 15 small boats at anchor. Must be the famed vessels used to smuggle contraband between Oman and Iran across the straits. A few men (with moustaches, it must be said) haul crates onto a few of the boats. Could be cigarette cases; definitely not goats.
Although goats roam the streets of Khasab quite freely.
All in all, Khasab seems deserted, a bit like a ghost town. Granted, it’s early afternoon. The heat is slightly oppressive. Perhaps the place livens up considerably at night? We’ll likely never know, as I don’t have any plans to return. There’s just too much else to see of Oman: the wonderfully named capital Muscat, the green oasis city of Salalah with its frankincense and baobab trees and leopards(!), the solitude of Wilfred Thesiger’s desert…
No denying the unique beauty of the Musandam’s landscape, though. I’m glad to have seen that. And after the Emirates, the lack of shopping malls is very refreshing.
As we head back to the border, the sparkling blue water of the khor looks very appealing. We stop for a meal at the Golden Tulip, where we meet a Dutch family just returned from snorkelling. They tell of hordes of dolphins trailing their boat.
“Dolphins!! Why didn’t we do that, mum?”
Yet another Middle East destination I’m intrigued about. Sounds like it was very deserted and quiet where you were – was it some kind of off-season?
Thanks for reading and for your comments, everyone.
@Andrea and @Kirk: I think most likely the afternoon heat is to blame. Shouldn’t be surprised if everything comes to life in the evening. At least, I hope so.
@Sabina: Haven’t really though about the haze, but you’re right. There’s quite heavy oil industry in northern UAE, near the Musandam, so I’m afraid it could be smog.
@Nancie: I was surprised as well. It was very laid-back though; even the border police. Or perhaps they were just having a good day 🙂
It looks a like a ghost town! Were there any people out and about or was it the heat the simply kept everyone in. At least you saw it though i would probably visit.
I am sooooo looking forward to this country at some point in the future. Thanks for the post and info.
Ohh, I’ve never been! It looks pretty interesting. I love that goat! And yes, that looks like some incredibly happening souk. How ever did you manage to navigate through it? It always bothers me to see the desert, beaches, and wilderness in general covered in smog. It’s all over Asia and the Mid East. Smog, haze, whatever. I think it’s smog. What do you think?
I love following your travels in these amazing parts of the world. Thanks.
those smuggling boats look really cool
I love the photos. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. I was surprised when you mentioned that some people were scantily dressed in public in a Muslim country.
Nice photos. I particularly like the coastline shots with the cliffs. It reminds me of a turn on a bike race that I do in Baja (Mexico) every year.
Oman is one of those countries I so long to visit. Since I’ve been to the UAE, where everybody kept telling me how beautiful Oman was!
I love reading about this part of the world, and traveling to it too. The Middle East holds endless attraction for me. Missed Oman this time around but it looks a bit like Sharjah to me. Which I loved.
That is the most desolate border crossing I’ve ever seen!
anything middle east and I’m hooked – very interesting post!
Very interesting post. I always enjoy reading about/seeing photos of places that are totally unexpected. I had no idea that Oman was so mountainous!
I have to agree, I bet this place is more “alive” at night. I had to laugh at your Lonely Planet comment though, my husband and I always say things like that- Are we in the same place as this author?
Oman has always fascinated me. Strangely, I want to go see that half-dead souk and the smuggling boats in your photos.
Musandam khasab has spectacular landscape that is perfect for photography…
Musandam Khasab is one of the best places to spend a wonderful day out along with your family and friends.
I think it would be a fab day out on the water 🙂
Wow very well written article about this unknown area.
Keep it up.