THE TRAVEL GAME
Oman The Sultanate which languished in a medieval time-warp until 1970 is cautiously opening to tourism. "Everybody welcome, except the backpackers", says the director-general of tourism, who hopes his country's hospitable traditions, rich history, desert landscapes and wildlife will draw discerning travellers.
Around the Bend going troppo and where better than on an utterly remote desert island at the farthest extremity of the Arabian Peninsula? The spectacular setting and turquoise waters of the Khawr ash Sham, a steep-walled fiord, seem to have been lost on the British garrison who coined this phrase in the 1860s. Today's visitors to the Musandam Peninsula enjoy the option of beating a retreat from the so-called Norway of Arabia, an enclave of Omani territory which guards the strategic Straits of Hormuz.
Mountains of Musandam: Back to the future. Living in the United Arab Emirates, I was able to venture into the Hajjar Mountains forming the border with the Sultanate of Oman but the rugged Musandam Peninsula, a tangle of barren ridges jutting into the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz, remained off limits. Eighteen years later, I peered through the heat haze into the Wadi Bih from the slopes of Jebel Harim on the Omani side.
Oh, man dune bashing in Oman. Salim Al Harthy gunned the big white Landcruiser up to the main ridge of the giant red sand dune, pointing the vehicle's nose steeply down to negotiate the dips between dune crests. Then we pulled up ahead of the longest and steepest drop of all. "Shall we try it? Don't know if we can..." queried Salim, trying not to grin. Just kidding.
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