Thriving life in a barren landscape

Endless thrills

safari Exploring desert life in Oman. photo by author

And when I was asked to accompany a large convoy of four-wheel drives that would venture deep into the Sharqiyah Desert (commonly called Wahiba Sands) in the Sultanate of Oman, not far away from the vast Rub Al Khali, more commonly known to Westerners as the Empty Quarter and the largest continuous body of sand in the world, I was awestruck.  The inhospitable desert spans Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Normally, desert safaris take people just about 20-25 km inside a desert, but our expedition spanning three days would take us almost 125 km into the desert. So, one fine morning, armed with all the necessary gears, we set out to the Raha Tourism Camp, just 20 km from the mainland. Here, tourists come for sand boarding, star gazing, dune bashing, quad biking, table football, camel riding, archery and folk  dances and barbecues, but for us, this was our starting point. After a night’s rest at the cosy cottage and a hearty Arabian breakfast, we were asked to assemble outside the camp perimeter for instruction classes. Mohammed Isa Al Zadjali, who runs a desert expedition firm, gave us enough instructions, after which we embarked on our journey.  Sand dunes, varying from deep red to a rich honey colour, were stretching as far as the eye could see — this is what we saw during our almost 70 hours’ tryst with the desert. It was like reading live the late Wilfred Thesiger's Travels in the Arabian Empty Quarter.

In the first few hours, we encountered dromedaries padding across the desert several times. After having threaded the easier stretch of the desert we stopped for lunch. And now the real adventure. The fairly good sunshine bathed the golden sand covered with a mosaic of red-brown cinder and flint, which made for a great picture, especially for shutterbugs like me. We continued our journey, seeking adrenalin jolts of roaring up and down the rose-coloured hillocks of sand and experienced all the collywobbles of a free fall.

There is no higher thrill than the romance between the man and the machine and the desert provides a perfect terrain for adventurous driving. There was a sudden change in weather as we could feel coolness in the air. As the sun sank lower, it started silhouetting the rain. Some deep dunes enhanced the tableau. Amazing feeling! Though we were novice in such a type of adventure, it was fun watching others ripping their four-wheelers through the desert.

We were now on the look out for the right place to erect our tent. After manoeuvring around, we halted at a beautiful place, deep inside the desert. On the far side, the organisers had put up a mobile stand where meals would be served. After some rest, we got together for dinner and entertainment. While a group played music, others danced. There were some who narrated stories while the food was cooked fresh. After sipping hot tea, we got back to our cosy and warm tents.

After a quick breakfast the next morning, we left the camp and ventured further into the desert. As we drove through the sand, we came across the occasional uzba, a hut and watering hole for camels. We also came across ghaf trees that survive in temperatures of up to 50 degrees in arid regions across Arabia.

After driving for about five adventurous hours, a bewitchingly beautiful view zoomed in. The desert now skirted the Arabian Sea. We landed on Ar Ruways hillock, which juts into the serene Arabian Sea. For lunch, the organisers had ordered, in advance, traditional Omani food, which we ate together in big platters. We then lazed around the area watching the dolphins bobbing up and down the sea and later, we drove down the entire stretch of Juweirah Beach. The sculpted cliffs on the other side provided a breathtaking picture. After a break at the Juweirah Fishing Village and visiting a Bedouin family, we took the Al Ashkara Road and through Al Khuwayma, Jalan Bani Bu Ali and Kamil, we reached Muscat.

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