Mountain villages clutched against canyon walls, clusters of dates weighing heavy in the plantation oases, a ribbon of sand blown across the dunes, a lone camel padding across the limitless interior - these are the kinds of images afforded by the beautiful and enigmatic country of Oman.
It’s a curious observation about traveling in Oman that the moment you tuck behind a sand dune and begin erecting your tent, however discreetly, someone will park alongside and start camping too. Never mind that it is the only car you’ve seen all day; never mind that there are 2700km of beautiful, empty sandy beaches; never mind that the mountains are so lonesome in parts that only wolves and hedgehogs meander into the night.
What makes this observation a particularly topical one is that it’s only relatively recently that a network of roads and graded tracks, such as the coast road from Filim to Shwaymiyah, or the adventurous mountain track to the ancient tombs at Gaylah, has made it possible to penetrate Oman’s pristine landscapes, as well as its more visited ones. Muscat has been a port hub for many years, and today is the arrival point for everything from goods to cruise ships. In the Sharqiya Region you’ll discover some of Oman’s main attractions, like the beautiful beaches of Sur, turtle nesting sites in Ras Al-Jinz and the desert dunes of Sharqiya (Wahiba) Sands.
Those who are sufficiently intrepid to get off the beaten track will find that they can have the desert to themselves quite easily without mounting a major expedition. Now that the secret of Oman’s great untouched beauty is out, however, it surely can’t be long before groups of visitors are a common sight and it will no longer be necessary to seek the company of strangers at the end of a day’s exploration.
In the meantime, what should you say to the happy camper who parks in your space? As every hospitable Omani you’ll meet on your travels will tell you, there’s only one answer: "Ahlan wa salan! Welcome!"