In the furthest reaches of the Sultanate, isolated from the rest of Oman by the arm of the United Arab Emirate’s east coast, arises a land of dramatic beauty. Musandam took shape 1850 million years ago during the Cretaceous and Miocene ages. Here, awe-inspiring mountain faces overlook pristine blue expanses. These mountains, originally from the Zagros Mountain range, separated under earthquake and volconic violence to form the Hajar Mountain range. A starkly beautiful region of fjords, mountain-draped roads and bustling villages, Musandam is a must visit for any visitor to Oman. Nature in Musandam is raw, untouched and pristine and civilization is isolated distant from the world around. The looming mountains which descend into the sea are brown and grey and shaped alike anchored ships. A perfect setting for a poet to write a few lines, for the ambience leaves one feeling as mere mortals, caught and suspended between the unfathomable depth of the sea and the sky, totally dominated by nature. The Musandam peninsula in the extreme north of Oman offers some of the most breathtaking and spectacular scenery in the country. In the last glacial period, the sea level rose by almost one hundred meters and submerged a large number of wadis, thus creating a landscape of fjords, which earned Musandam the title, ‘Norway of the Gulf’. Musandam in Arabic means anvil. And the name suits it as it reflects the geological changes the Arabian Peninsula has undergone over millions of years including the separation of the tectonic plates between Arabia and Eurasia. Musandam has a series of inlets into which the Indian Ocean has penetrated, digging out fjords until the far north of Musandam became onelarge isthmus, which appears as a pointed finger between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, a strategic site, known to the world as ‘Strait of Hormuz’.
The passage of time has not changed the raw natural beauty of Musandam. Flanked by the Arabian Gulf on the North West and the Gulf of Oman in the East, this land is home to four wilayats, Khasab, Bhuka, Dibba and Mudha. A boat ride across the coast of Khasab is a breathtaking experience, with panoramic views of craggy cliffs, a jagged coastline, and glimpses of little fishing villages nestled among them. Dominating the coast and surrounded by towering mountains, is the Khasab fort. Dating back to the time of Al Bu Said, it been renovated by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in 1990. The Kumzan fort ruins and the towers of Al Siba, Kabas Al Kar and Said Bin Amad Bin Sulaiman Aal Malik are other areas of interest here. A stone’s throw from Khasab port is the village of Tawi, where you can admire ancient rock carvings, the work of artists from prehistoric times. Research has also proved that Mudha has been home to settlers for over 3500 years. Here rock paintings dating back to pre-Islamic times have been uncovered. And excavations have thrown light on ruins from the Iron Age, 1000 – 1500 years B.C.
The Shihuh tribe has survived the rigors of the living amidst the bare and solitary mountains of the Musandam. Up to a decade or so Musandam was an isolated region of Oman where communities existed in isolation, and the people spoke only their own typical language and lived contented within them. They lived in stone huts, nestled like birds nests in the mountains and collected the winter rain in large containers for irrigating the terraced fields where they grew food crops for their sustenance. Pockets of flat land supported meager agriculture. In summer, when the water got depleted, they moved closer to the coast, collected dates in palm groves and fished. Today, some of the villages have been abandoned. In spite of leading a hardy life, the Shihuh’s have followed their traditional ways of life. They still carry long handled wooden hatches on their belts. Since 1970, the village of Khasab has become a modern town of Kamzar, the most distant village in Musandam, in the isthmus and which can be approached by boat and has more inhabitants than Bhukha on the west coast. Today there is an air network connection between Muscat and Khasab.
The Musandam coastline is peppered with many small islands and inlets, all teeming with bird and marine life. Seabirds, dolphins, whales and a colourful spectrum of fish species make this a nature lover’s and diver’s paradise. Divers especially, find an underwater haven in these blue waters. Mushroom Rock, a small island that just kisses the surface, has a reef that gently slopes down to the sand floor, making it the perfect dive spot. Another ideal dive spot is Limah Rock, a large island rising from the sea. Divers in these waters are astounded by the variety of reef fish and shoals of larger fish like the batfish and barracuda, which give it an almost aquarium like feel. Corals abound here – large green cabbage coral, red and yellow teddy bear coral, soft purple coral, brown and green table coral, and more. A land that grows on you. Khasab means ‘fertile’ in arabic, and the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, fishing and animal rearing are the occupations followed by the inhabitants here. Mudha is irrigated by a falaj and natural springs. Some of these have astonishing properties, which put them high on a must-visit list. Al Samaai springs contain sulphurous water, which is said to cure skin disorders. Al Sheikh Mohammed bin Salim al Madhani falaj is cold in summer and warm in winter. To experience these rejeuvenating waters, be sure to make Mudha part of your Musandam itinerary.
You can get to Musandam by air, with Oman Air which has three direct flights from Dubai to Khasab, and year-round Muscat- Khasab flights. The airline also has convenient connections from many Gulf cities. Also, check out the attractive pagkages linked to these flights. Holiday package to Khasab includes Economy Class airfare to Khasab and back, airport / hotel / airport transfers, 2 nights accomodation with breakfast on a twin sharing basis at the Khasab Hotel, two half-day 4WD tours, and a full day Dhow Cruise with lunch. You could also drive down from Dubai to Dibba (120 kms) or from Dubai to Khasab (150 kms) via the Dahra border crossing. Alternatively you can also arrange to get there by sea from the U.A.E. Local tour operators (details below) will be helpful here.
Citizens of GCC nations and most residents can enter Oman by road or air with valid passports. Citizens of 59 other countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan can apply for a visa at the border or at Khasab airport. (For the latest in visa formalities please check the details at www.rop.gov.om)
Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel Resort is a Four Star hotel which is homed in lap of spectacular beauty of Khasab and is situated 10 minutes drive from the Khasab airport, 40 minutes from Ras Al Khaimah, and 1.45 hours drive from Dubai. Its 60 beautifully decorated guest rooms and suites, have a breathtaking view of the sea and mountains. The hotel’s services suit the requirements of both the business and leisure travelers. Khasab Travel & Tours is one of the best and oldest tour operators in Khasab, which was started in the year 1992 by Abdul Khalique Ahmed, a native of Khasab, Musandam. It conducts package tours and excursions which include Dhow cruises to the Fjords and, 4 WD Mountain Safari to Jebel Harim and City Tour of Khasab.