A Day trip to Oman – Exploring the Fjords of Musandam on a Dhow

I arrived into Dubai International Airport around 3am I navigated through passport control and left my luggage at baggage storage for the day and set out via taxi to the Radisson SAS Dubai.  I wouldn’t be staying in Dubai today.  Today I would be heading to neighboring Oman!  It was probably around 4am when I arrived at the Radisson and I worked on my laptop until I was picked up around 7pm.  My destination was Musandam – a small piece of Oman that is actually separated from the rest of the country and occupies the very tip of the Arabian peninsula along the Strait of Hormuz dividing Arabia with Iran.

The border between the United Arab Emirates and Oman

The border between the United Arab Emirates and Oman

After driving for around three hours we arrived at the Al-Dara border of the two countries and proceeded out of the UAE and into Oman amongst dozens of wild goats.   Borders certainly exist for a reason and this one marked the change from flat and sandy to extremely mountainous. The mountains were unlike anything i had ever seen before. They were desert mountains. Huge, ragged, sedimentary and nearly devoid of all plant life.  Our destination was a place called Khasam which is the capital of Musandam and was about 42km away. The drive was fantastic.  Mountains meeting the water with sheer cliff faces. With no way to traverse this terrain the Omanis built a road on reclaimed land around the outside rim of the mountains just above the Persian Gulf. The road follows the outline of the coast zig-zagging in and out following every inlet, every fjord.  Finally we arrived Khasab and boarded our Dhow.

Live aboard an Omani dhow is pretty great

Life aboard an Omani dhow is pretty great

A dhow  is a traditional Omani boat that is basically large and flat with one deck, a rounded hull and canvas for shade. Comfortable soft carpets covered the deck of ours with pillows and cushions all around the outside.   Early on in the dhow ride we saw a bunch of speed boats heading across the gulf.  Our guide told us they were heading to Iran (which is incredibly close – nearly visible) and were smugglers.  The boats smuggle American cigarettes among other things from Oman across the gulf to Iran.   Everything seemed oddly okay with this arrangement.

Smugglers heading from Oman across to Iran in the Persian Gulf

Smugglers heading from Oman across to Iran in the Persian Gulf

During the ride we enjoyed a lunch of fresh grilled fish and learned a ton about Oman.  I learned that 35 years ago the entire country had no infrastructure at all. No roads, no hospitals, no schools, no power, nothing, zero. Then a new ruler took charge who was educated in the west and changed the country entirely. Through a series of 5-year plans the Omanis built up roads, schools, hospitals, and other necessary infrastructures. They became the fastest ever developed country.  Having tons of oil helped.  Now Oman provides all Omanis with free healthcare and education and this country of 3 million is on the rise in the region.  Tourism was definitely a current focus.  For my $180 i got transfer to and from Dubai (3+ hours each way), an entire day on a boat cruising the gulf and the khors, all the apples bananas and drinks i could ask for and an amazingly delicious fresh fish lunch. Oman is definitely a very affordable destination in the region.

Typical landscape of Musandam Oman.  Rock meets ocean.

Typical landscape of Musandam Oman. Rock meets ocean.

Besides countless small fishing villages accessible only by water, we passed a landmark called Telegraph Island (Jazirat al Maqlab). Here the British laid the first telegraph cable in 1864, it ran from India to Basra, Iraq and the island was manned for some 10 years. Although important to connect Britain with India this was one of the most remote outposts in the British Empire and the solitude that came with a post here often led to madness. It was also the birthplace of the phrase “around the bend” as it was a bend in the route of the telegraph cable system.

Telegraph island off the coast of Oman.  Once the site of a British telegraph station and origin of expression "around the bend"

Telegraph island off the coast of Oman. Once the site of a British telegraph station and origin of expression “around the bend”

Most of our journey was contained to Khor Sham which is a sheltered 17km long fjord. During the rest of the cruise we saw tons of dolphins often some swimming and jumping just along the dhow.  I watched them,  relaxed and spent time laying in the sun and reading.

Dhow near fishing village somewhere in the fjords of Oman

Dhow near fishing village somewhere in the fjords of Oman

The tour concluded around 4:30pm back in Khasam.  From there it was a 3+ hour drive back to Dubai where I had them drop me right at the airport for my night flight back to America.  If you’re ever passing through Dubai and I have a day to kill I would strongly recommend a visit to Oman.  Contact Khasab Tours to set it all up.  It makes for a long but very rewarding day.

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  • Mona

    This is one of the most memorable experiences that can be done in the region. Another full day dhow cruise can also be taken to Kumzar which is one of the most remote villages in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and especially in Oman. Here the local Omani’s speak a different language known as Kumzari” and the village can only be accessed via the sea – a real step back in time. Also the capital is KHASAB not Khasam.

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