Introducing Sharqiya (Wahiba) Sands
A destination in their own right, or a diversion between Muscat and Sur, these beautiful dunes, formerly known as Wahiba Sands, could keep the visitor occupied for days. Home to the Bedu (Bedouin), the sands offer the visitor a glimpse of a traditional way of life that is fast disappearing as modern conveniences limit the need for a nomadic existence. The Bedu specialise in raising camels for racing and regular camel races take place throughout the region from mid-October to mid-April. Contact the Ministry for Camel Affairs (26 893804) for details.
The sands are a good place to interact with Omani women whose Bedouin lifestyle affords them a more visible social role. They wear distinctive, brightly coloured costume with peaked masks and an abeyya (outer garment) of gauze and are accomplished drivers, often coming to the rescue of tourists stuck in the sand. They are also skilful craft-makers and may well approach you with colourful woollen key rings and camel bags for sale.
It is possible, but highly challenging, to drive right through the sands from north to south, camping under the seams of native ghaf trees or tucking behind a sand dune. There are, however, no provisions available, petrol stations or any other help at hand in the sands, beyond the desert camps at the northern periphery. As such, it is imperative that you go with a guide, or at least with another vehicle, driven by someone who knows the route. Off-road guidebooks describe this route but all will advise you not to venture through the sands alone. In the summer the sands don’t take prisoners so avoid exploring too far off-the beaten track between April and October.
For the casual visitor, the best way to explore the sands is by staying at one of the desert camps. The owners of the camp will meet you at the Muscat–Sur Hwy, and guide you, usually in convoy across the sands. Needless to say, it is essential to have 4WD and prior knowledge of off-road driving is very helpful!
If you don’t fancy the prospect of getting your vehicle stuck in the sand, there are plenty of tours available and some camps will come and collect their nondriving guests for an extra fee.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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