March 24, 2012 :: Day 2 – Wadi Bani Khalid and Sharqiya Sands
The next morning, we got up at 7am and after having a full breakfast, we set off towards the Sharqiya sand dunes. It seems like the roads have just been laid because we could not find any driving directions on Google Maps from Ras Al Hadd to Sur and from Sur to Al Ghabbi, the entrance to Sharqiya Sands. At 8.30am, we traced our way back to Sur and from there back on to route 23 towards the desert. Before getting to Al Ghabbi, we took a detour to the right into Wadi Bani Khalid. Getting to the wadi from the main road was a further 20km up winding mountain roads that eventually opened up out onto a panoramic view of green date palm trees below in the valley.
Our small Suzuki was practically struggling to go up the steep roads but it was not for too long because we were soon coasting down on the other side towards the wadi. We passed some small hamlets and groups of houses and finally arrived at our destination. After a brief walk through the trees, we were rewarded by the sight of clear blue waters surrounded by greenery and contrasted by the sharp rock faces that encircled the wadi. This must be one of the more popular wadis as there were people swimming and even a small cafe on the rocks. After some exploring, it was time to head back towards Al Ghabbi where our 4×4 transfer would be waiting for us to take us into the dunes towards 1000 Nights Desert Camp.
We arrived at Al Ghabbi around 13h30 and our driver to take us to the camp was only due to pick us up in another 30 minutes so rather than waiting in the hot sun at the nearby Shell petrol station, we decided to venture into the village. After a few quick turns, we realised we had hit a dead end – well at least it was a dead end for non 4×4’s because the tarred road gave way to a sea of sand. Spotting an opportunity to make some quick money, a young bedouin boy drove by in his 4×4 and offered to take us up to the nearby dunes and see his pet camels and home in exchange for some Rials. We decided to take him up on the offer since we had nothing better to do other than wait for a further 20 minutes in the heat for our driver to pick us up.
Turns out that our young tour guide, Mohammed was only 13 and despite his age, he was quite capable of manoeuvring his big car in the dunes. He took us in to see a bedouin home and welcomed us with some dates and strong black coffee. On our way out, he introduced us to his camels and brought us back in time for our transfer into the desert.
It was a 40km drive further into the Sharqiya Sands. The camp was opened in 2006 and over the years its has been slowly expanding with the addition of new tents each year. It is however not overcrowded and when we arrived, we were the only guests there so we got the opportunity to have the entire camp to ourselves for a while before a few other tourists started trickling in in time to see the sunset. The camp looks like its at the bottom of a valley, dotted by small trees and sheltered on both sides by huge sand dunes. We took some time out by taking a swim at the camp’s pool and eating some dates before heading up the dunes to watch the sunset and it was worth the climb. On top of the dunes, everything is quiet and peaceful. We could see our camp way down at the bottom and it looked tiny. We could see the other tourists as dots on top of the dunes on the far end of the camp across from us. As the sun set behind the ancient dunes, the sand got a lot cooler and the wind started to pick up as the air that flowed toward the sea during the hot day rushed back inland. Apparently the wind patterns here have remained the same and because of this, these dunes are considered to be old dunes, that is, they do not shift.
Lastly, we were all treated to a huge dinner prepared by the camp staff (who were of Nepalese and Bangladeshi origin). By 10pm, it was all lights out at the camp and for the first time in a long time, I could really see the night sky filled with stars.
“When it’s dark outside, you can see the stars” – Persian proverb.