Sunday, February 18

Musandam Dreams

 I’ve had a dream list of travel destinations filed away for many years.  It includes a standard list of countries and territories I’ve yet to visit, along with a few more obscure and unusual places that have captured my imagination.  This second, more exotic list features places like Palau’s jellyfish lake and Scotia, an island off the coast of Yemen renowned for its unusual Dragon’s Blood trees.

Another exotic locations on the list include the fjords of Musandam, Oman.  Its craggy peninsulas sit isolated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates.  They form the southern coast of the politically sensitive Strait of Hormuz.  Years ago I read a fascinating blog post by a sailor who’d wound his way along the region’s stark and rugged coastline. 

We spent a long weekend in Musandam while on our annual pilgrimage to the Nuremberg toy fair.  The break was a perfect way to celebrate an Australia Day weekend and enjoy a little fresh air before a hectic week of back to back business meetings.  The experience didn’t disappoint.  It was well worth the effort.

We were picked up by our tour operator’s transfer bus at 6:00am.  A two-hour drive north soon saw us crossing the Oman border.  At this point the road began winding and weaving its way along the shores of the Persian Gulf before finally arriving in the compact, regional capital of Khasab.  This town is home to 18,000 people nestled in a broad valley carved between the majestic hajr mountains.

Our first day was spent touring the Musandam fjords.  Our tour operator had its largest boat on the water. It included a second deck that offered an elevated, open-air viewing platform.  This gave us an opportunity to soak in the scene from every direction.  This vantage point proved invaluable for watching dolphins frolicking in the boat’s wave.

The Omani fjords are truly awe-inspiring.  Unlike those of Norway or New Zealand these waterways aren’t surrounded by lush greenery.  Instead, their crystal clear waters reflect towering peaks of barren, parched sedimentary rock.  This is the Middle East after all and this is a region where the average temperature year round never falls below 23C. 

I had worried that the lack of vegetation might make the cruise a little tedious after the first hour. However, nothing could be further from the truth.  The stark beauty of the region was truly mezmerising.  We spent most the day cruising the  Khawr Shamm. At 16 kilometers the Khawr Shamm is the longest fjord in Musandam. Its imposing – up to 1000 meter high – cliff walls, the small islands and peninsulas and five remote villages can only be reached by boat.

Perhaps the most fascinating highlight of the day was Telegraph Isaland. Located in the middle of Khawr Shamm this small, flat island’s most notable feature are crumbling walls that support a wide gravel platform.  This is all that’s left of a British telegraph station, meant to protect the new telegraph cable between India and England.

Only five years after going into service in 1864 it was abandoned. In summer, in the time before air conditioning, the hellish heat and the high humidity proved unbearable for Europeans. The local population was also hostile both to the British and to their new technology.

Our day finished on a wonderful high note.  As we cruised back to Khasab we watched other boats constantly racing at speed through the midst of dolphin pods. At first we thought local tour operators were simply abusing the wildlife in pursuit of perfect photo opportunities for the tourists onboard. 

However, we soon discovered that the boats were doing this because the dolphins actually enjoy surfing in their bow wake. The animals love jumping and frolicking in the waves, often following a boat for hundreds of metres at a time.  Our boat spent almost an hour playing with them.  At one point we witnessed a family of dolphins, including a cute little baby, leaping and torpedoing through the water as our boat barrelled down the fjord.

We ended our day with a private speedboat transfer to an overnight beach camp.  Here we slept in tents on the beach surrounded by craggy cliffs in a quiet cove of the Persian Gulf.  It was truly an escape from the pressures of modern life.  Here the only stress was caused by a cheeky herd of wild goats hell bent on finding any scrap of food left over from our fireside BBQ dinner.  However, when dawn broke the following morning they'd disappeared leaving us in blissful solitude.

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