Oman: Notes 1993-2001

Woodrow W. Denham

United Arab Emirates University
Al Ain, UAE


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Kitnah, December 1993    

 If you own a four-wheel drive vehicle (or have friends who own them) it's easy to take day trips westward into the sands of the Empty Quarter and eastward into the Omani mountains.   Our first excursion of this sort, with a group of about twenty people in a convoy of Land Cruisers and similar vehicles, was to the village of Kitnah in Oman where water erosion has cut narrow but very deep canyons into lo ose conglomerates at the base of the mountains.   In the midst of absolutely dry and extremely rugged mountains with almost no vegetation, we hiked down into the canyons and found running water with pools as much as ten feet deep, and tiny date palm oases that probably have been maintained for centuries.   We though we would have the place to ourselves, but found a group of Polish expatriates from Dubai sitting there when we arrived: sort of like landing on the moon and finding a CNN camera crew waiting for you.


Exploring Oman, February 1994

Visitors from Home     Our January vacation began with a wonderful five day visit from Lettie and Ashton Crosby, our neighbors from Franconia.   While they were here, we took a pretty diverse bunch of day trips.  

[One trip] took us eastwards to Oman where we drove deep into the mountains to the old village of Khatwah set in a lush green oasis.   Khatwah's water comes down from the high mountains in a new concrete falaj (aqueduct), that clings to the edge of a deeply eroded wadi (dry riverbed) for several kilometers before emptying into tiny channels that supply the palms.   Wandering through the dense date groves and among the small stone houses and narrow lanes of the hillside village suggests some of the major contours of traditional Arabian culture, while walking up the falaj provides grand views of the barren, tortured mountains in which much of that culture developed.   One night, we made a very short excursion into Al Ain's neighboring city of Buraimi to visit the new Friday mosque that opened about a month ago.   It is by far the largest mosque in the oasis with a capacity of perhaps five thousand worshipers, and two cylindrical minarets so tall that red aircraft warning lights blink on their tops.   The dome is malachite green while everything else is the whitest white imaginable.   A single huge carpet in green and red covers the floor, and a chandelier with a thousand points of light illuminates the inside of the dome.  

Seven Days in Oman    With Lettie and Ashton safely on their way home, we spent the next seven days traveling in Oman.   Although Oman and the Emirates are contiguous and share a common culture and climate, they are strikingly different from each other.   The Emirates consists primarily of open dunes of the Rhub Al Khali interspersed with many small oases and the single huge Buraimi Oasis, a lot of salt marshes along the coast, an oil and trade economy based in the new cities of Abu Dhabi, Jabal Ali and Dubai facing the Gulf, and rule by something like a committee of sheikhs from all seven emirates.   Oman has a steep spine of mountains, ancient seaports on the coast and large fortified cities on the western interface between mountains and deep desert, an economy based on oil but a lot less of it than in the Emirates, and one-man rule by Sultan Qaboos, a benevolent despot who seems to micro manage virtually the entire country for everyone's benefit.

Muscat, the capital of Oman, once had its own maritime empire on the East African coast and was a major center of British influence in the region under the Raj.   Now it has oil.   Fifty kilometers from the city center on the coastal freeway, we passed the international airport and Sultan Qaboos University, and entered gleaming white suburbs containing residential areas and high-rise business districts, government and embassy compounds, majestic new mosques capped with jewel-like domes painted gold, emerald and turquoise, a fine historical and cultural museum, and parks full of bougainvillea draped over the surrounding hills.   The close-in suburb of Mutrah, which holds the seaport and the dusty old covered souq selling frankincense, tobacco and brilliant African fabrics, is built on a bit of coastal plain surrounded by steep mountains and massive red forts that offered millennia of nearly ideal protection from low-tech enemies.   Further in still, the tiny core of Muscat itself overlooks an even smaller and more heavily fortified harbor.   Now the Sultan's compound occupies most of the city center, with open walkways and peaceful gardens surrounding a lapis blue and gold palace and an unobtrusive grand mosque, multi-domed and beige, a rounded hill among ragged peaks.   

Sur is a slow day's drive south of Muscat.   The coastal road between the two is open only to four-wheel drive vehicles, so we used the route through Inner Oman that crosses, then parallels, the central spine of mountains.   Many of the cargo and fishing dhows used in the Gulf and on the trade routes to India and Africa are made in the harbor at Sur.   The land is low and flat with mountains rising far to the west.   A narrow inlet admits water to a shallow, sandy bay where boat builders can work on the beaches safe from rough seas.   The designs and techniques are ancient, the wood is from Southeast Asia, the tools are the finest that money can buy.   

The keels of dhows get progressively deeper toward the stern.   When the boats are afloat, their decks ride more or less parallel with the surface of the sea,   but when they are in their scaffolding on the beach, the keels hold the sterns high in the air, forcing the bows down toward the sand.   In profile during the minutes before the red-gold sun drops behind the mountains, the boats appear as enormous flying wedges creating an illusion of incredible speed as they rest by the bay.

During dinner at one of the small cafes, we asked Nasser, Hamid and Abdullah at the next table where we could hear some Omani music.   The young men invited us to a wedding later that night in the village across the inlet.   Drumming by pairs of performers accompanied men's dancing in the sandy square by the bride's home.   Two groups of men and drummers danced in semicircles around each other, while various pairs of individuals engaged in mock combat near the center of the square, using swords and small round shields of leather, basketry or carved wood. The combat was dramatic but as silent as pantomime, while the drumming was monotonous to me for I was ignorant of its nuances.   I stayed in the square while Nancy joined nearly a hundred women and children at the bride's house.

Nancy says, "The bride's house, brilliantly garlanded with strings of lights, stood at the end of a dark courtyard.   Men of her family guarded the door and 'sponsored' women like me who sought to enter.   Once inside, I found the floor carpeted with singing, clapping women dressed in their best - colorful African prints covered by gauzy, flowing black abayas embroidered front and back with rectangles of silver.   After greeting me with dates and rosewater, some of the women drew me into fast-paced "follow-the-leader" clapping and dancing.   The drummer set the rhythm and each dancer embellished it, making it ever faster and more complicated.   I was upstairs meeting the bride in the bridal chamber when the throaty ullulations or wails of the women over the drumbeat signaled the arrival of the groom.   The women suddenly donned their burqas, the beaked black masks that Omani and Emirati women wear over their faces. Leaving the bride and groom together, all of us went out into the square with the men and waited anxiously for a rifle shot to announce that the marriage had been consummated."  

Some men at the wedding wore gorgeous handmade robes called suria decorated front and back with intricate pleats and embroidery.   The next morning I saw a man wearing a suria at the fruit and vegetable market and asked him to tell me about it.   Juma answered my question, then invited us to a private museum built by his father-in-law where he told us a great deal about the culture and maritime history of Sur.   Being African himself, he was especially proud of the many Africans, including his grandfather, who served as ships' captains in the royal Omani fleets of the 19th and 20th centuries, of whom the museum housed a fine collection of photographs.

Nizwa and Bahla are ancient cities with their backs to the mountains, their faces to the Rhub Al Khali, and their feet planted firmly in huge date plantations. Both have massive forts that were centers of commerce and tribal government for centuries before Sultan Qaboos unified the country in the 1970's.   When Wilfred Thesiger first penetrated this area in the 1940's, he avoided Nizwa because it was too dangerous.   Although these forts are made of mud brick like the little ones in Al Ain, that's where the similarity ends.   The circular Nizwa Fort adjacent to the Friday mosque has an earth filled base reaching 14 meters above the surrounding surface, its walls reach another 10 meters above the base and are as much as 2 meters thick, and its wells and stores would support a force of 300 troops indefinitely.   The fort at Bahla appears to be even larger and is situated on top of a huge hill that juts out of the plain beside the oasis.   Nizwa Fort has been restored and welcomed us as visitors, but Bahla Fort has deteriorated badly and is being restored now with an estimated completion date early in the 21st century.  

The jewel in the Omani historical crown is Jibreen Palace and Fort, about 10 kilometers out in the open desert southwest of Bahla.   The day before we visited Jibreen, Nancy noticed an oud, a stringed instrument like a lute, at our motel and asked about it.   That night, we were invited to a room occupied by some members of an Omani TV crew who were making a children's film at Jibreen Palace to show during the upcoming Month of Ramadan.   Sayyed, the oudist, gave us a private performance and answered many of Nancy's questions about his instrument and his art.   The next morning, just as we were leaving the motel, Saad, the star of the show, invited us to join the crew at Jibreen and see it with them in all of its intricate detail.   We spent about three hours wandering deep within a maze of twisting stairways, royal chambers, women's quarters, storage and cooking areas and defensive installations.   Not only has the structure been beautifully restored, but also it has been filled with a truly magnificent collection of Persian carpets, books, clothing, furniture and everything else needed to make a medieval palace fully functional.   It is an extraordinary showplace for the Omani cultural heritage, and a superb setting for TV productions about that heritage.   We were especially taken by ceilings bearing delicate designs that matched the Persian carpets on the floors.

Each of the villages that we visited in Inner Oman was distinctive in some important way - its setting, its souq, the crafts produced there, the people we met - but we visited so many that they have merged into a montage of scenes and experiences, with swirling clouds of red-brown dust thrown up from graveled roads as the only constant.  ...  Deep in a dense oasis, we found a village of two story mud brick buildings that had begun to dissolve and collapse, revealing interior wall recesses that once served as cupboards, and ceilings decorated with porcelain plates set firmly in the mud.   As we rounded a corner we came upon a flock of laughing children carrying serving trays and piles of dishes atop their heads on their way to the falaj to wash up.  ...  On formal occasions, older men in rural Oman still wear khanjars in very lightweight silver scabbards.   In a shady village with dense trees near the souq and bath house, we noticed about a dozen serious Omani men with flowing white beards wearing short white thobes and khanjars.   A group of African men sat silently on the ground near the souq obviously staying out of their way, and some Indian men scurried past and disappeared into the forest of palms.   As a prayer call unlike any we had heard before began at the mosque,   someone told us a man had died and the funeral was in progress.   ...  We spied a group of children and teenage girls in brilliant clothes as we were trying to find a shop where fabrics were made.   When we stopped to ask for directions, they invited Nancy into their courtyard where she spent nearly an hour learning about clothing in that part of Oman, and watching the women make dresses for the children.   Despite women's general reluctance to be photographed, these approved and Nancy took two of the best photos of the trip inside the women's compound, one of a little girl and the other of her mother, both wearing gorgeous traditional clothing.   Meanwhile I sat in a small room with the young men, one a farmer and the other a soldier, and ate apples and oranges while they tried to figure out what to do with me.  ...   At Sanaw, a village near the Wahiba Sands, a great dune field east of the Rhub Al Khali, we entered a small gate in a crumbling wall and found ourselves in a sprawling Bedouin souq filled with tents and tent makers, immense copper pots, water bags, hunting equipment, dried fish and all manner of supplies used by nomadic herders.   In some of the shops, silversmiths were making khanjars with bone handles like ones we saw for sale in many other souqs.   We haven't seen Bedouin tents in use here - we saw them frequently in Saudi Arabia - but it appears that the lifestyle hasn't entirely vanished in Inner Oman.   ...   In Wadi Ghoul, a mountain district behind Bahla with a reputation for evil spirits and excellent carpets, we reached the end of the road shortly before sunset.   As I turned the car around, someone stuck his head over a wall on a hillside and waved to us.   Inside the compound, an old man and a young boy were making a fine flat weave carpet of red and black wool using a ground loom of a design that has been popular for about 3000 years.   While we and an audience of about a dozen women and children watched them do the last few minutes work on the carpet, we bargained vigorously but still bought it for exactly what they wanted us to pay.  ...   A   boy in Bahla offered to be our guide in exchange for an opportunity to practice his English.   He led us to the place where pottery for domestic use was made on a wheel and kiln dried without glazing.   The red-brown clay was the color of everything else in the region, and the pots were fragile and decorated only minimally or not at all.   Not surprisingly, the principal product was an amphora-like water pot, porous to allow for evaporative cooling, with a narrow neck to hang by a rope from a peg in the wall.   The one we bought goes well with the carpet from Wadi Ghoul.   ...   Guidebooks and maps remain imprecise here.   We thought we were supposed to drive along a wadi to get to a village built into a cliff, but discovered that the road traversed the face of the mountain in a long series of switchbacks - not around it but straight over it!   We did it, but our Honda definitely wasn't designed for that kind of adventure.

Despite our encounters with Omani history all along, we saved the oldest sites for last.   The foothills in front of the mountains near Bat hold stone tombs dated at 3000 to 5000 years ago.   They are beehive shaped, of broken stones that cover the ground in that region, and   as much as 4 meters high.   The most amazing things about them to the casual observer are their locations and their enormous numbers.   There must be thousands of them, and a great many stand like sentinels along the crests of ridges, visible for miles like tiny volcanic cones silhouetted against adjacent mountains or the all seeing blue sky.   As yet they are not protected, so it remains possible to climb over them and see the internal chambers of those that have partially collapsed.    In the vicinity of the first tomb that we approached, Nancy found enough pieces of worked flint to convince her that it was a significant Mesolithic tool production site.   After having studied archaeology for years without ever working on a really interesting site, here she accidentally stumbled onto one that would justify extended study and she had to leave it almost immediately.

Perhaps our most lasting impression of Oman concerns the openness of its people.   The encounters with Omanis mentioned here are a small sample of the many that occurred.   Their society's openness stands in stark contrast with the totally closed society that we experienced during our travels in Saudi Arabia, and with the more reserved and sophisticated attitude that Emirati's take toward expatriates.   The photos say it all:   no Saudis in those from Saudi Arabia, several Emiratis in those from the Emirates, a multitude of Omanis in those from Oman.  


Musandam, March 1994    

We planned to join a group from the Natural History Society last Friday to sail all day on a dhow off the east coast of the Musandam Peninsula, the point of land that juts eastwards toward Iran to form the Straits of Hormuz.   Earlier in the week, a huge oil slick formed in the area when two tankers collided about ten miles off shore.   The first news report said everything was under control, the next was a plea for international assistance in containing the spillage, the third was a morose announcement that 17,500 barrels of light Iranian crude were headed straight for shore.   And then our trip was canceled.   Not exactly the Exxon Valdez, but enough to kill a lot of fish and birds and make a real mess of the beaches.


Musandam, January 1995    

Another weekend, we joined the Al-Ain Natural History Group on a dhow trip of the kind that was canceled last year when a couple of oil tankers collided and fouled the beaches.   No trouble this time.   We went to the village of Dibba on the Gulf of Oman and boarded a fishing dhow with about thirty other people and spent the day chugging along towards Hormuz on the east coast of the Musandam Peninsula that almost touches Iran with its northeastern tip.   The Musandam is a great block of barren, largely uninhabited brown mountains deeply indented by steep sided fjords, many of which are large enough to hide supertankers.   Despite the continuing tension between the UAE and Iran over some of the islands in the Gulf, nothing disrupted our leisurely cruising, snorkeling, eating and sleeping on the big old wooden boat.   However, we had an exciting time when one of our group found a juvenile black tipped reef shark tangled in a fishing net.   The four foot long fish was exhausted from its efforts to escape, so our gang cut it out of the net and gave it artificial respiration for about half an hour.   Artificial respiration for a shark entails forcing water through its gills until it begins to process oxygen normally.   Nancy was among those who held the little fellow in their arms and swam back and forth near the shore until it finally recovered and dashed toward the open sea.   Giving artificial respiration to a shark may be even stranger than scuba diving.


Sohar, Bahla and Nizwa, March 1995    

In March, the Sultanate of Oman began to issue two-year multiple entry visitors’ visas to interested holders of US passports, so we immediately got them and spent two consecutive weekends there.   First we stayed at Sohar on the coast north of Muscat with several other members of the Natural History group.   On Thursday, we visited a number of fishing villages where we saw motorized reed boats like those used all the way from the devastated homes of Iraq’s Marsh Arabs to the temple encrusted Coromandel Coast of South India.   On Friday we drove up to the edge of the mountains to visit Rustaq and Nakhl, towns with forts where the people of mountains and plains traded and fought for centuries.   We were delighted to see tiny bits of green vegetation responding to recent rains.  

The following weekend we returned to the interior region centered on Bahla and Nizwa that we enjoyed so much when we visited Oman in January 1994.   Some of the towns in that area have awful names by our standards (Bat, Dank and Ghoul are examples), but the mountains that punctuate the plains are full of productive oases that apparently have been rich farming areas for millennia as attested by the multitude of Mesolithic tombs along the mountain ridges.   After sunset we parked the car approximately in the middle of nowhere, had dinner on reed mats, and slept in the car.   After breakfast the next morning, we again found the stone tool production site that we stumbled onto last year, and spent a couple of hours collecting carefully worked scrapers and cores.   Rameyalata, our one-afternoon-a-week Sri Lankan maid, doesn’t understand why she dusts these things.

We arrived in Bahla shortly before the Friday midday mosque service began, and held a geography lesson with a group of teenage boys who were eating watermelons until they became fascinated by our highway maps.   The old part of Bahla has been neither modernized nor destroyed, and continues to function as a classic pre-industrial Arabic city. It has a small central souq with a gigantic old tree at its center, a pottery maker, an ancient open madrasa (mosque school) adjacent to the mosque where old men in flowing white robes still congregate wearing silver khanjars, palm groves interspersed with residential neighborhoods of two story mud buildings, and dust everywhere.   As we drove back toward Al-Ain late Friday afternoon, we spotted a great, fortified city on a bare hillside, surrounded by several kilometers of high stone walls, long since abandoned. It was near Ibri, but it appears in none of our maps or guidebooks.   How can you simply lose or forget an entire city?   The place seems to contain not a single sprig of vegetation, and feels like a set for a Biblical movie whose producers went broke.


Sanaw Market, August 1997

... we went camping for a couple of days deep in the interior of Oman, at the ancient market town of Sanaw on the edge of the Wahiba Sands, a place where all the men wear great silver khanjars over their bellies, all the women wear shiny aubergine-colored burkas like falcon beaks over their faces, and all the children are above average. When we visited there in 1994, we did not arrive on Thursday, the weekly market day, so we returned this time specifically to attend the market. The opportunities for photography were excellent.


Muscat, December 1997

If all goes according to plan, we’ll spend five days later in December in Muscat, Oman, where both of us are scheduled to present papers at a UNESCO conference on computer-based in-service teacher training in the developing world.  


Musandam, April 1998    

While Nancy was in Seattle late in March, I used my last bit of free time to explore a few more corners of this fascinating place.

First I went to the Musendam Peninsula again.   I drove from Al-Ain to the small city of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) which is on the Arabian Gulf coast just north of Dubai, and then went up the west side of the peninsula to the Omani town of Khasab which is near the top end of the peninsula, tucked inside a fjord ...   a hot little Arabic town in a setting that reminds you of the Norwegian coast except that it doesn't have any trees.

The west coast road from RAK to Khasab is still under construction here and there, but most of it is finished and those parts are superb, the way the Omanis do everything - real class!   And the views are great too - the Arabian Gulf spreads out to the left and the mountains jut straight up into the sky to the right.   It’s just over the border in Oman, and utterly unlike anything in the UAE.

A broad valley runs inland from Khasab into the mountains and leads up into the highlands, then back down to the town of Dibba on the Indian Ocean coast.   Even though I decided not to drive to Dibba for the road was too steep for our little Honda, I did drive about 20 km down the valley.   On the way, I gave a lift to a man whose car had broken down, and he wanted to go to a coastal village that was inaccessible by road until somebody used a bulldozer not long ago to cut a road of sorts up one side of the mountain and down the other.   The Honda was really panting when we got to the top of the pass on the way to the village, so I decided not to drive down to the village itself because then the car would have had to make it back out through a infinite series of hairpin turns right up the side of the mountain.    The views of the sea and the mountains from the top of the pass were worth the effort, but having to stay in the village because the car melted down seemed unreasonable.

We're about half way through the month of the Hadj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia.   At the end of the Hadj, every adult male Moslem is supposed to sacrifice a sheep or goat as part of the ritual.   Since the UAE has a lot more adult male Moslems than it has sacrificial sheep and goats, the UAE has to import animals for the slaughter.   Many come from Iran, and the big goat movement is ON!   They come into the port at Khasab in huge twin-engine outboard motorboats - no doubt called goat boats - each carrying about 30 animals.   Indian laborers were taking the animals off the boats, putting each boatload into a separate truck, and driving them to RAK and Dubai for distribution throughout the UAE in time for the big killing a couple of weeks from now.   I must have seen a couple of thousand immigrant sheep and goats that day.   Cleaning out a boat after bringing a load of seasick goats from Iran must be a truly grim experience.

All things considered it was a good day - left Al-Ain at 05:30 and got back at about 22:30, pretty well wiped out - almost 400 miles of fairly difficult driving.  


Al Hajar al Garbi Mountains, April 1998    

The next couple of days, I went back up into the foothills of the Hajar Mountains behind Buraimi.    There I wandered through three oases and hiked up the wadis and falajes that bring water down from the mountains to the date plantations.   Culturally the places are quite similar to each other - tiny villages of mud huts that have been upgraded with cement blocks - but the physical settings of the three are strikingly different.   

My first stop was at the village of Khatwah, where we took Lettie and Ashton when they visited us. To get there, I had to go over a low, steep pass - sort of like a double-sided ski slope - and into the bowl that contains the village and the oasis.   I parked at the bottom of the oasis and spent a couple of hours walking uphill through lush palm groves, then along the edge of a deep gorge cut by floods through gray boulders the size of small houses, then three or four kilometers up the edge of the cement falaj that follows the contour line beside the wadi and reliably brings water down from the higher elevations year round.    Ancient abandoned villages and long disused agricultural terraces sit here and there along the fringes of the wadi under an intense blue sky, overlooking a gorgeous but desolate moonscape of boulders and jagged mountains.

The second oasis had the same basic components, but there the floods had cut the wadi straight down about 200 feet deep into an alluvial gravel plain.    I couldn’t even see the wadi until I was standing right on the edge of it - reminded me of some parts of the Snake River in Idaho, but nowhere near as deep.    In addition to the village and the oasis in the relatively accessible areas outside of the wadi, there were several small plantations right down in the gorge itself, surrounded by cement walls to keep floods from washing them away.   Getting down into the gorge and back out again was something of a challenge for a novice like me, but the men who were working there scampered up and down the trails like mountain goats.   There were a few quiet pools tucked under the rocks avoiding the sun, but it must be truly awesome to be “at the farm” when a flash flood comes thundering down the mountain.   

An old wall stretched across the bottom of the third oasis, so I parked the car outside and walked in, again up hill, but this time for several kilometers in the bottom of a broad, shallow wadi where a lot of water still was running in multiple braided channels cut in the smooth rock surface.   The pools contained small fish as well as frogs and tadpoles. This must be butterfly mating season, for several times I found myself in the midst of great flocks of them, some bright orange, others small and white like flurries of snowflakes.   Just around the first bend, I found an ancient brown mud fort sitting on a small hill out in the middle of the valley, abandoned, desiccated and partly dissolved by winter rains.   Further upstream, the wadi narrowed and I was in a calm, humid, even lush micro-environment full of banana, mango and papaya trees that reminded me of limestone gullies in Barbados.   Further up, the gorge broadened again and I came out into something that I must call a meadow that seemed to continue for several more kilometers up into the mountains.   The winter was wet, and the hills were wearing a light coat of green fuzz that made them look a lot less austere than they usually do.   A family of five passed me as I entered the meadow, and they were still going uphill at a pretty fast clip when I decided it was time for me to head back down to the car.

This is the season when date trees must be hand-fertilized by their owners to make sure they produce the right kind of fruit, and a lot of people were working up in their trees in all of the oases.    It's really quiet out there.

I stopped at a tiny restaurant / grocery store in the middle of nowhere and had mutton biriani for lunch.   It was NOT quiet there!   While I was eating my meat and rice, a Nissan 4WD and a Lexus sedan stopped and unloaded a family of UAE nationals consisting of one man, four women at least two of whom probably were Marine drill sergeants, two teenage girls, four teenage boys and a whole preschool of little kids including a girl of about five or six who had an enormous and much used pacifier in her mouth.   The crowd hit the restaurant and store like a storm.   In less than ten minutes, they managed to totally scramble the contents of the ice cream freezer, rip open a package of muffins and scatter the contents all over the floor, scatter plastic bags everywhere, knock over a chair, and spill a can of Pepsi. Clearly the staff had had that experience before, and set up a roadblock at the door to catch people on the way out and collect money from them. On the average, each of them bought about $6 worth of candy, cookies, muffins, potato chips, soft drinks, and other junk food, so it probably was by far the biggest sale of the day for that little store.   But I'll bet it took the staff at least an hour to put it back together after the gang blasted off.


Buraimi, January 2001    

Then we crossed the border into Oman and drove toward the Hajar Mountains that separate Al-Ain from the Indian Ocean.   One of our favorite places when we lived in Al-Ain was Khatwah, in the foothills where we could walk through the oasis, up a huge dry wadi and along the falaj that brings water down from the mountains to the palm grove.   So that's what we did with Kristi.   By then the day was late and the sun shown fiercely on the yellow and brown sandstone through which the dry riverbed meanders.   In a region that has become pretty noisy in a lot of places because of cities, freeways and the oil industry, it is amazing how quiet it can be back up in the mountains where every sound is filtered out.

On the drive back to Fujairah, we stopped to visit a mosque that Sultan Qaboos dedicated in the Omani border city of Buraimi while we lived in Al-Ain.   The Ibadi version of Islam that is practiced in Oman is different from that in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, and like all of the larger Omani mosques, the one in Buraimi has a distinctive bulbous dome that clearly announces its Omani lineage, like a great glorious turban floating over the base of the structure.   

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