At the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, cupped by the Arabian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman, lies Musandam, a land of harsh, stark beauty. If the name Dubai conjures up images of steel and glass skyscrapers, luxury yachts bobbing in state-of-the-art marinas, bespoke shopping, 5 star hotels, malls the size of small towns, and the pell mell rush of traffic, people and progress, then take a drive two and a half hours north to the end of this earth and discover life of centuries past.
An enclave of the Sultanate of Oman, Musandam is isolated, far from the beaten path. More about enclaves here. Enclaves and Exclaves Once past the Oman/UAE border check point, a new road stretches, sinuous and smooth, hugging the Hajar Mountain’s contours like a starlet’s satin gown, each bend offering views of sea, stone and sky. The dramatic rock landscape of sheer cliffs, crowned by bright blue sky, dives into a kaleidoscope sea of changing blue hues. NASA Image.
Surviving on tourism and fishing, the small town of Khasab is as far north as you can get by car. Tourists drive here to take a half or full day dhow cruise. Dhows, traditional Arabian fishing vessels, have been tricked out by no less than ten tour operators. There are options for diving, kayaking, snorkeling, exploring or just plain lolling and watching the waves and go by. Once leaving the harbor, the boats steer for the fjords of Elphinstone Inlet and the fun begins.
The severe, forbidding landscape creates a dramatic contrast for the rich and diverse marine life below the waves. Just a snorkel and fins allow you to search for sea creatures. Unlike other Arabian waters, the Elphinstone Inlet is crystal clear, with no oil pollution or algae to cloud the view. To the delight of all on board, pods of dolphins often surf the bow line of the dhows.
Tiny clusters of homes nestle at the bottom of steep waddis and local children are boated to Khasab for school on Sunday and brought back on Wednesday. Perched precariously, fishermen use any available rock ledge for shelter. This is truly a land untouched by modern ways and the tour boats keep their distance from the shore.
You may choose a dhows that docks at Telegraph Island, a reminder of colonial history and the importance this area held for Great Britain and India. 125 miles of telegraph cable were laid in a submarine line as part of the London to Karachi line. A British repeater station was built on this tiny, rocky outcrop, to boost the telegraph signals along the cable. Damage from hostile Arabs was feared if a land line was used. The size of a football pitch, Telegraph Island, a mile off shore, could be safely defended from attack.
Officers posted there had to deal with a whole lot of boredom, severely high summer temperatures and humidity, and complete isolation. It has been speculated that the expression “go round the bend” comes from this locale. The British soldiers stationed here went crazy as they desperately desired a trip around the bend in the Strait of Hormuz safely back to civilization in India!
Dry, rough camping can be had on the beach just before town, and locals make camp there for picnics and bbqs. A much more scenic spot about ten miles away, down a steep switch back road, has amazing views of the fjords. Kayaking and paddle boarding are excellent ways to explore the area, providing you bring your own equipment. I was able to see twenty feet below my board and watched spotted skates, thousands of fish and two turtles glide beneath the inflatable SUP. There may not be other campers but there are sure to be lots and lots of goats!