Back to civilisation

My back was less than thrilled at a night under what passes for canvas these days but we all slept and apart from what sounded like a lizard mucking about by the groundsheet it was a very peaceful night. The muezzin’s call to prayer drifted up to us at dawn. The songs from different mosques mingled and separated as they floated over the dark landscape. P and I got up as the sun was turning the very top of the nearest peaks pink. I lit the brilliant little wood stove, and have discovered that the perfect ingredients are: three coin sized chunks of Omani barbecue lighter wood which is soaked in vegetable oil, a big handful of Waitrose cat litter, a piece of cotton wool and a flint and steel. One spark does the rest and the stove stays hot for a good hour.

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P and I had tea and then made porridge for breakfast, watching the sunlight creep across the plain towards us. Then we dismantled the tent, packed everything away and drove to Al Ayn to see its beehive tombs. These sizeable stone tombs were built 5000 years go and twenty one of them line a ridge behind the village. There are no signposts, no car park, no barriers in fact nothing at all to say you are at a remarkable historic site. Apart that is, from the great brooding tombs, sombre on top of the hill. We drove into a dry wadi a little way, parked in the shade and walked up the hill in blistering heat.

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The tombs are made from cut stone and double walled. Archaeologists discovered that each contained the bones of dozens of people. We were the only people there and walked through the site, wondering about the people who had built them.

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Next stop Bahla; Oman’s capital for at least four hundred years. The road curved through a succession of date plantations, each of which had a small mud brick fort. These little castles still looked used to some extent.

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We then took a mountain road which was disappointingly tarmac for most of the way, but became a very rough, very bumpy and very steep track which was in the process of being made properly driveable and “motorists enter at your own risk”. One section was steep enough for Tom to admit he was nervous, which I count as a small success.

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Our hotel was just this side of Bahla and although it was only eleven “we have been expecting you Mr Lister”. City slickers that we are it was nice to have a shower and Wi-fi, before heading out to lunch at a cafe full of Omanis. It was hopping and we got just about that last table in the place. Much of the food is Indian-influenced and P and I had biryanis, Tom had squid masala, and we were brought plates of salad and chapatis and a bowl of yoghurt and sweet lassis. It was an absolute feast and all around us waiters were rushing with trays of food and people were eating with gusto. It worked out at about a fiver each. It was so good and we were so full that it was nearly three when we emerged and I wimped out of going to the massive Bahla fortress. We can do that tomorrow. Instead we went to Jibreen Castle which was smaller, but only just… it’s where one of the early rulers of Oman lived and has been restored to the eyeballs. This meant all the rooms came out rather the same, but here and there were glimpses of the old decor; beautifully painted flowers around doorways and on the roof beams.

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The Sultan’s meeting chamber had strategically placed grates in the floor so his soldiers could leap into the room at the first hint of conversation turning violent. There were deep wells and a grate for pouring boiling date sap over intruder’s heads. They were ready for anything though it seemed to have had a fairly peaceful existence.

And that was our day. We’re about to have dinner in the hotel, which we suspect will be largely along the lines of what we had for lunch.

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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