We decided to set out on the open road this long weekend of Eid al Fitr. On Friday, August 17th we drove to Al Ain. Today, it’s only an hour and a half drive from Abu Dhabi, before the discovery of oil, the journey took 5 days by camel caravan. Al Ain is the second largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and the capital of the eastern region. It is the birthplace and childhood home of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, the former ruler of the UAE. There are seven natural oases and 18 fortresses within Al Ain. It has been inhabited for at least 7000 years and was part of an important ancient trading route from Oman to the Arabian Gulf.
That evening, we drove to the top of a nearby mountain, Jebel Hafeet. A well maintained road winds its way to the top with a number of lookout points along the way. It stands at 1,180 ft rising above the relatively flat surrounding area. We could see that there was some sort of storm blowing in and even had a little rain at the top.
Once we were back down the mountain, we stopped at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort. Interestingly, in the summer, the zoo is only open in the evening (6:00 pm – 12:00 am) so it was a bit different being at the zoo at night. When we arrived, the wind continued to pick up and we were soon caught in our first sand storm. The wind was quite strong and was followed by a rare rain storm. Minus the storm, the zoo had a lot of neat animals with a focus on animals from the Middle East.
The next morning, we drove to the Sultanate of Oman border crossing, which is about 50 km from the centre of Al Ain. We crossed into Oman and drove through the Hajar Mountains on our way to Sohar on the Gulf of Oman. The Hajar Mountains are very scenic…barren and inhospitable with deep reds and browns. Once in Sohar, we traveled down the coast to Muscat. The drive took about 4 hours from Al Ain. We arrived at our hotel with enough time to catch the sunset on the Al Qurm Beach.
On Monday, we set out to do some sightseeing in Muscat. Our first stop was the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Inaugurated in 2001 by the Sultan, the mosque is made from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers on its grounds. We then drove to the district of Mutrah and walked along the Corniche. Mutrah is home to one of the Arab world’s oldest souqs (market). The Muscat port is the largest natural port in the world and saw an immense amount of trade because of its location en route to India and China. We continued to Old Muscat which is home to the Al Alam Palace of Sultan Qaboos and other various government buildings. We then drove to the Oman Dive Centre outside the city in an area called Qantab. We relaxed on the beach, swam in the sea, and took in the beautiful cliffs of the bay.
The next day, we started our drive back home. We decided to drive inland from Muscat and stop in the city of Nizwa. There, we found the Nizwa castle, fort, and souq. It is Oman’s most visited national monument. It was built in 1650, but its underlying structure dates back to the 12th century. The souq is still an important market and meeting place for the surrounding villages. After our visit, we continued our drive home to Abu Dhabi.