Setting sail to Omani shores

Magical middle east
Last Updated : 29 March 2014, 13:24 IST
Last Updated : 29 March 2014, 13:24 IST

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A country’s economic interests are intertwined with its maritime interests. And Sur, Oman’s eastern seaport, exemplifies this best.

The picturesque laid back coastal town holds many charms for tourists — dhow building, fishing, silk weaving, khanjar making, etc.

And the construction of Quriyat-Sur dual carriageway three years ago has reduced the distance from Muscat to Sur.

Historians believe that this coastal city was established by the Phoenicians, and the ruler Malik bin Fahim al Azdi made it the capital during his regime in 2,500 BC.

For centuries, Sur was the bustling gateway to Oman, the first port-of-call for boats on their return from East Africa and India.

People of Sur were distinguished from other Omani seafarers by their ship building skills.

Sea vessels have probably  been built in Sur in one form or another from the era of the shipwrights of Magan 4,000 years ago to the first half of the 20th century. 

Even the legendary Sindbad the sailor is believed to have come from Sur.

All types of vessels used to be crafted on this shore.

Though now dwindling, the Sur boat building yards were once upon a time the most famous in the Indian Ocean, Arabia and the Gulf.

Among the most famous types were baghlah and ganjha, which were built in Sur. 

Fath Al Khayr, a ganjha-type ship, sits overlooking the sea as a mute testimony to Sur’s maritime heritage.

It is said that Fath Al Khayr weighs 220 tons and was built in Sur in the 1920s by the shipbuilder Mohammed bin Khamis Al Shaqqaq for its first owner, Said bin Ali Al Qasimi, who used it for trading voyages around the Gulf, and to and from the ports of East Africa and western India.

It was in Sur in 1985 that maritime historian Tim Severin constructed his handsewn boat, the Sohar, and sailed 6,000 miles to Canton in China, retracing the trail of Sindbad the sailor.

Another defining landmark is Bilad Sur Castle, which used to guard the main entrance to the wilayat on the desert road.

Sur’s creek with two watch towers on adjacent hillocks offers a picture postcard scenery.

A recent addition to this fairyland sight is the suspension bridge called Khor Al Batha.

A ferry from Sur side carries passengers across to the unpolluted village of Ayjah.

Apart from the ferry, one can go to Ayjah over the bridge.

Ayjah is the port of Beni Bu Ali tribe, whose centre lies inland at Bilad Bani Bu Ali on the edge of the Sharqiyah Sands.  A tour of the town’s labyrinth of alleys reveals many splendid old houses with carved doors and arabesque windows. 

The souq in Sur has some interesting shops and one of them is a place where one can watch khanjar (dagger) making. 

Beyond Sur lie the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Junayz where every year about 30,000 green turtles come ashore for nesting.

On the Quriyat-Sur carriageway, one can stop at several picnic spots like Bimmah Sinkhole, Wadi Shab, Wadi Tiwi and Fins Beach.

The historical town of Qalhat, which was once visited by Ibn Batutta, also falls enroute.

At the idyllic Wadi Shab, one can witness the serenity of mountains, the sparkle of sand, the hush of wind and the surf of the sea.

Published 29 March 2014, 12:43 IST

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