Living in the desert can get dreary sometimes. The endless expanse of sand stretching as far as the eye can see, to say nothing of the torturous heat, can drive you crazy.
So, what do you do? Forfeit your savings for a couple of days in Europe? With flight tickets that burn holes in your pockets, travelling often takes a back seat. But what if we told you that there exists a paradise incredibly close to home and is steeped in natural and cultural beauty?
Enter Khasab: a solution to all your pent-up wanderlust.
The Intriguing Hajjar Mountains
Khasab is the capital of the Musandam region, an exclave of Oman that is separated from the rest of the country by the UAE.
The Hajar Mountains that hang treacherously en-route Khasab have an interesting geography of their own.
These mountains appear as oblique stacks of flat rock surfaces. The result is that the mountain surface isn’t smooth and it appears as if someone had run a jagged-toothed comb through the mountain itself.
By Road: Imagine an unending blue on one side and mighty, brown mountain ranges on the other. Now imagine a sinuous road between the two and spectacular sights at every turn.
A road trip to Khasab is both convenient and rewarding. Throw in a picnic lunch, some good company and a healthy car and you’re in for the road trip of a lifetime.
The border crossing formalities at the Al Dara checkpoint near Ras Al Khaimah are generally hassle-free but make sure you start early as the office tends to be crowded, especially on weekends and public holidays.
If you’re taking your own car, make sure it has an Oman insurance (doesn’t cost more than AED 100).
If you’re renting a car, double check all the papers, nothing spoils a holiday like legal troubles.
By Air: Not a big fan of driving? You’d be surprised; the quaint old town of Khasab has a little airport of its own with regular flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat. Flying makes sense, especially if you’re based in Muscat.
Dive into the deep blue or enjoy a Dhow Cruise
The sea in Musandam is mystically protean: a deep turquoise near the shore, melting into cerulean and finally, a striking cobalt as it fades into the horizon. No amount of DSLR snaps can do justice to the actual scene. The cool blue of the sea juxtaposed with the dry barrenness of the mountains gives Musandam a mystic charm.
Over the years, the sea has been steadily rising and has claimed the cracks between Musandam’s fissured land mass thus creating exotic, secluded spots for water sports enthusiasts. Sure, scuba diving in Dubai is beautiful, but imagine exploring undisturbed sea-beds in Khasab’s fjords.
Fortunately isolated from the commercial hullaballoo (though this is changing rapidly as more and more people are discovering Khasab), these waters are great for observing indigenous species in their natural habitats. Here, friendly dolphins with their glistening grey bodies will swim alongside dhows.
Dive deeper and you may spot manta rays, turtles and hammerhead sharks in addition to schools of small, vividly coloured fish! Snorkelling and diving equipment is easily available in the town and most half and full day dhow tours anchor at spots favourable for swimming and snorkelling.
A tour package will generally include complementary refreshments and/or a full-course traditional Arabic meal.
Visit Telegraph Island: The Insane Island
Everyone’s familiar with the English phrase ‘round the bend’ which means ‘whacky’ or ‘insane’, but what’s interesting is that this phrase traces its origins to a small island in the Musandam Peninsula. An obscure dot of land in the intricate Musandam fjords was chosen in the 19th century as a repeater station in an important telegraphic connection between Britain and India, thanks to its strategic insular location.
European guards, who had essentially grown up in social atmospheres and weren’t used to the blazing Arab heat found it maddening to be stationed on the secluded island for months together.
‘Round the bend’ was a term used to describe the island’s location, just near the apex of the curve of the Strait of Hormuz. The phrase thus came to be associated with the harsh, maddeningly monotonous life on the island.
Today, Telegraph Island is a popular spot for tourists, but sadly, many of them remain ignorant of its historical significance. Not much is left of the British outpost but if you snorkel carefully, it’s possible to spot the underwater cable that, almost two centuries ago, connected England to the East.
Khasab might be a small village with only one modern supermarket, but it sure has an interesting line up of activities for its travellers!
- To every modern tourist’s surprise, many small fishing villages are nestled within the fjords and are accessible only by boat. There are also numerous natural caves that are havens for migratory birds and explorers!
- Ditch your 5-star facility for a while and spend the night under a canopy of stars on one of the many secluded beaches deep within the fjords. Bonfires, friends and the sound of tide- beats a hotel room any day! Check this out for more details.
- Drive to the highest point in the Musandam region on Jebel Harim to check out the Strait of Hormuz from a staggering height of around 1600 metres! Jebel Harim is also home to a fascinating collection of fossils and ancient rock carvings. Adventurists and fossil buffs, read this Rough Guides article.
- If you’re on a quest for overwhelming, jaw-dropping views, drive up to Khor al Najd, fairly close to the town, for a ride full of hairpin bends.
Traveller tip: Make it in time for sunrise and you’d thank yourself for waking up early.
Have you ever been to Khasab? What was that one thing that you’d never forget about the place? Been to any other hidden gems in the Middle East? Tell us about them in your comments!