For the next two days, we based ourselves in Sur, which is a convenient location from where to explore the coast. In Sur itself there’s not a lot to do except maybe for taking a walk across the suspension bridge to the lighthouse or to one of the watchtowers that look out over the city and the ocean. Sur is a dhow-building (nowadays actually only dhow-repairing) center, so there are quite a few wooden dhows in the harbor.
Wadi Shab is one of Oman’s best-known wadis and draws quite a lot of visitors, especially on a weekend. Some of those visitors, however, leave behind their garbage when they go. Sure, it’s not as bad here in Oman as it is in some places in Asia, but it’s nevertheless a shame.
From the parking lot, a boatman brings you across the water to the beginning of the trail. The first part of the hike leads through plantations and then a pretty narrow gorge. After that, the wadi opens up and get ever more beautiful.
Steep walls tower on both sides, there’s an old falaj (irrigation channel) and houses, now abandoned, have been built into the rock under an overhang. At the end of the trail, turquoise pools with cool water invite for a swim. Somewhere, there’s a trail leading further into the wadi, to other pools and small waterfalls but it’s hard (or impossible without someone who knows where it is) to find it.
Not far from Wadi Shab – at the other end of Tiwi village – is Wadi Tiwi. This one is very different from Wadi Shab: A road leads through the wadi, connecting the many small villages. So yes, it’s possible to drive all the way to the end of the road but I wouldn’t recommend it: After a kilometer or two, the road becomes very narrow, there’s no way two cars can cross and the bends are almost impossible to take.
Before the road entered the first village, we left our car and walked for an hour or so. One might think that because there’s a road through the wadi that ii’s less beautiful but in fact we found it even nicer than Wadi Shab. You can’t swim here but with its small villages, narrow roads, and green gardens where bananas grow, Wadi Tiwi is a wonderful and very peaceful place.
For two centuries after 1300, Qalhat was a wealthy and famous city and trading port under the control of the kings of Hormuz. Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta both visited Qalhat and were both impressed by the beauty of the city, its buildings, and its wealth. In 1508 however, Qalhat was destroyed by the Portuguese and today, not much remains of the ancient city. The only building still standing is the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam.
But: There’s more than meets the eye at first. The city has been destroyed, but it was then just left to decay. The buildings collapsed over time, leaving heaps of stones and once you realize the whole city’s still there, you can see stones that once formed houses wherever you look. Some foundations are exposed, offering a look into the houses. Except for a cistern, two tombs, and a mosque that have been cleared by archaeologists, no visible work has been done (which adds to the mysterious atmosphere of the place). Shards of pottery lie on the ground, some painted and glazed in beautiful blue and green colors. To some, Qalhat may be just a heap of stones, but for us it was one of the most memorable places in Oman.
According to local legend, the huge hole filled with turquoise water was created by a meteorite. Hence the Arabic name Hawiyat Najm, literally “fallen star”. A carefully tended park surrounds the sinkhole; a fence surrounds the park, of course, to keep the hungry goats out. The salty (!) water in the sinkhole is quite chilly but for sure nice to swim in on a hot day. I didn’t try it.