Friday Feb 22. It was a chilly dawn; the wind that had whistled and moaned during the night had dwindled but not desisted, so our early (0600!) breakfast, while excellent, was taken quite hastily. Ironically, the tea we were offered by default was – you guessed it – Twinings Earl Grey, which made something of a mockery of our smugly eschewing packing it so that we could experience the mystery of the Arab world. However, the free supply of Earl Grey was always very welcome.
Very soon after breakfast we bundled ourselves into the relative warmth of the car to take us to our first item on the day’s agenda – a cattle market in Nizwa.
The sunrise, though cold, was pretty
and led to some lovely views over the mountains.
So, off we bumped (honestly, neck and core muscles get a thorough workout travelling these tracks; even with the expert driving of Rashid, I was still banging my head on the window pillar occasionally. I hereby apologise to Hud Hud Travels for the resultant damage to their motor).
We had to make an early start in order to get to the Nizwa cattle market (which happens every Friday, that being the start of the weekend in these here parts) whilst there was worthwhile action taking place. And action there was – a central platform around which sheep, goats and cattle were paraded with auction staff trying to conclude deals with the surrounding crowds. Here are a couple of photos, but to understand the dynamism and noise of what was going on, see the video below.
A video gives a much better idea of the considerable bedlam quotient of the market.
Then Rashid took us around the souk which adjoins the cattle market site, which has many conventional types of market stall,
but also features racks of dates (of which there are some 38 varieties in Oman):
(and there’s a booth where visitors are offered coffee and dates);
a local sweet called halwa;
which always contains saffron, alongside a selection of other sweet ingredients;
live birds and other animals (some for eating, some for pets);
even guns are for sale
though one wonders, sometimes, if people have the right idea!
It’s not at all clear why the trade in guns is so brisk, since hunting is forbidden in Oman. Still, boys will be boys, eh?
There are plenty of stalls selling tourist fodder,
and we spotted this group of old chaps sitting around and talking among themselves.
All in all, Nizwa on a Friday morning is a busy and buzzy place.
Another major tourist attraction in Nizwa is its fort. Many towns had forts to repel bands of maraudings Riffs (often, it seems, coming from Nizwa itself) but in most cases thes forts are disused and in a poor state. Many are being recontructed, and the one in Nizwa is a shining example – so much so that it was formally reopened by Oman’s ruler, the widely loved and respected Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said.
The fort itself is the circular tower, and the building which encloses it is Nizwa Castle. The castle courtyard beside the entrance to the fort proper plays host to a variety of things – occasional displays of dancing and singing
an elegant display of the local air conditioning technology,
(porous flasks filled with water, which slowly seeps through and evaporates in the wind, cooling the remaining water in the flask – which has a cup in the neck to allow for drinking and to keep the flies out – and also the room inside);
and demonstrations of the making of Omani bread, which is wafer-thin. The making of it is very interesting – the sort of skill that years of practice makes look easy.
Inside the fort there are several exhibit rooms, including some interesting photos of before, during and after its reconstruction. If you’re not careful, you come across singers and dancers in the corridors.
At the entrance to the fort can be found four patches of light on the floor, like this one
If you stand on one and look up, you see that there is a shaft going straight up to the top of the tower.
It turns out that these shafts guard every entrance to the fort and defenders can use them to pour boiling date syrup onto intruders. This is very nasty stuff which sticks to the skin as it burns it, so it’s a powerful deterrent.
If you go to the roof of the fort you can see the tops of the four shafts (as well as wells and access hatches to high security prison cells)
The roof is an attractive scene
and offers good views over Nizwa, including its Grand Mosque
an idea of what cannon might have once fired on
and a panorama across its huge date plantation.
Lunch was taken in Wadi Tanulf, which was (yet) another dramatic setting.
Along the sides of the wadi are some openings which have been used by people living there and tending goats – good choice of domicile, since it’s close to water, if there is any.
There are also openings much higher up. Anyone who lived here must have been pretty fit!
The afternoon’s activity was a walk up Wadi Ghul, which we had looked across yesterday. Now we had the opportunity to walk along part of it. Rashid took us as far along as the car would go, and then sent us off to explore. As ever the geology was quite epic, with huge boulders litering the bed of the wadi
and impressive rock formations.
For a country which is so dry, rain seems to cause a lot of problems. We came across this car, which (we know) is a rental car and (we think) must have been caught in a flash flood – it certainly wasn’t going any further!
It seems to be routine that after rainfall some tracks and roads are badly disrupted by rockfalls. The rainfall doesn’t even have to be torrential. Because the land is so dry, whatever rain falls just runs off immediately, hence creating a perpetual danger of flash floods. If you find a decent road surface, you can be sure that there’s a storm drain beside it to funnel the water away; and among the hills there is a lot of evidence of the erosion that shapes the landscape, even in this dry country.
After the walk, it was time to get back to our camp on Jabal Shams. The wind had died down a bit, but this was merely going from icy chain saw to freezing scalpel. I attempted to do some writing (these blogs don’t write themselves, you know) and Jane wandered off to look for – and found – some rock drawings that Patrick had mentioned (and some he hadn’t found, too!). These have presumably been done by the people living up in the mountains in times gone by, although it’s difficult to get any kind of detail.
A donkey? (above) and a camel (below)?
and a horse? (below)
But the cold drove us, after another excellent evening meal, to another early-night-with-hot-water-bottle. At least this time we weren’t having to get up at 5am, but in a more leisurely fashion so that we could depart for the next stage of our holiday – two days by the beach at Barr Al-Hikman. The promise was of warmth, which sounded great to frozen ears. Read the next gripping instalment to see how things went.