My tiny off-road adventure last weekend got me excited about getting out and about in Oman, so with Eid upon us and work closing down for a couple of days, I headed back out onto the open road to take in some castles and some amazing wadis. The Rustaq Loop is west of Muscat and runs from the fishing village of Barka on the coast, through the foothills of the Western Hajar mountains and spits you back out onto the coastal highway back to Muscat.
The first village on the loop is Nakhal, a small town tucked up against the Hajar Mountains with a prominent fort on a rocky outcrop. Nakhal Fort sits with a fantastic backdrop of Jebel Nakhal and date palm plantations below – your typical desert rocky landscape with oasis levels of greenery around! I wasted no time in working my way through the corridors and stairwells of the fort to reach the highest watchtower. There’s an incredible view over the plain that the village sits at the edge of and I could see the road I was about to follow, twisting towards the mountains.
I wrapped it up at Nakhal Fort when I realised how hot I was getting and needed the safety of my refrigerated car! Once in, blowers on full, I headed off for Wadi Mistal. As I approached the wadi, a car flashed me a few times and sped past me. Further up ahead, he dropped off two men and a goat, spun round and came back towards me giving me the thumbs up! As I approached the men… and the goat, I slowed down out of curiosity and as I passed them, they then started jogging after me. It was at that point that I realised they wanted a lift… and that goat was NOT getting in my car! Although I felt bad, I carried on driving. The wadi led to the Gubrah Bowl, a flat plain enshrined by mountains. The bowl must be at least 15km across with air that was so clear compared to the haze that was present down the coastline. The track through the middle of the bowl was a good graded dirt track, that although needed a 4×4, didn’t test it! Thankfully. I only came across a handful of other cars along the road, all of which were local Omani men driving, who smiled and waved enthusiastically at me like a long lost friend!
At the other end of the bowl, I approached the steep climb up the slope to Wekan, a small village, literally perched on the hillside. This road did test the 4×4. The winding track forced me to move the car into the lo-torque mode to provide enough power to push the behemoth over some of the sections of track. There were moments where you had to trust your memory as to what was below the bonnet as you rode over a hump and a turn in the road! Really makes you aware of the lie of the land ahead! At times, it was so remote that it felt like you were driving up to a monastery in the mountains. The village at the top was worth the wait. Barely accessible, this little village of what must have been 20 houses, if that, was so remote that I wondered where their supplies came from! A watchtower at the entrance to the village gave an amazing viewpoint over the track I’d just climbed and the Gubrah Bowl I’d travelled across – what a view! I had a quick walk around the village, where kids were a little surprised to see me, a white man?! Their chuckles and whispers confirmed that, but they were playful enough and ran off into side alleys laughing when I tried saying hello to them. The locals I walked passed wished me Eid Mubarak and smiled, making me feel like I wasn’t intruding in their village. I smiled and returned the greeting, holding myself back from throwing my arms in the air and shouting the greeting like you would “Happy Hanukkah!”.
My drive back down the valley was less unnerving and easier as I could see the turns in the road! As I approached the narrow valley to exit the wadi I passed the two men and the goat, who had tried to hitch a lift with me on the entrance to the wadi – sadly, no one else had given them a lift.
With time pressing on, I pushed on to Wadi Bani Kharous, my final stop for the day, and a relatively short one it was too. The wadi was beautiful, with small villages dotted all the way along and before I knew it, I was at the end in Al Aliya. The wadi floor was covered in date palm plantations, irrigation channels and the main wadi dry riverbed through the middle. So, although a short trip in this wadi, it was a great one to end the day with (bar the 2 hour trip home!).
Nakhal Fort: 23.3946926N, 57.8287157E
Wekan: 23.1433848N, 57.7350235E
Al Aliya: 23.1860731N, 57.6313656E