It is true what is said about travel: The journey is where the best moments are experienced. This old adage was once again proven right, because in the height of summer it takes an unlikely journey through incredible stretch of nature to make you forget heat and humidity.
That is what happened on the way to Khassab, the prodigal child of Oman, nestling on the end-side of Mussandam. Let me begin the journey right from the immigration check-point, where the UAE territory ends and Oman begins. I guess, even the friendly immigration officials at the border are affected by the landscape. The smiles never left their face and if they were shocked to see a woman wanting to go to Khassab in the middle of summer they did not show it.
The road that takes you to Khassab is interesting. The sea runs along on the left and high mountains stand firm on the right and the only way you can go is ‘ahead’. So ahead I pressed and the sea continued to throw its blue luminescence against the otherwise grey and barren landscape. The photographs are quite easy to remember. There are only two shades in them…blue and grey!
After meandering around mountains and plunging into the deep roads cut into the rocks, I reached Bukha, a smallish town set in neat rows and the only element worth taking note of was the Bukha Fort, standing very high and isolated on another hill. Here, gear shifting is necessary to reach to the top. The view from the top is fantastic and adding to the beauty is the sea spread far out in the horizon, and the village of Bukha itself snuggling up to the shores.
From there on to Khassab is an adventure. There were moments I felt I was driving right into the sea! The road rises and suddenly I was looking at the blue in front of me wondering where the road had disappeared, of course, it was very much there, having turned around a particularly grey rock under a very blue piece of sky.
At last after negotiating more curving roads and inlets, I arrived at Khassab! A Friday afternoon is not the best time to visit Khassab for the town (like all Gulf towns) sleeps away the stress of the week and pray for strength for the week ahead. Nevertheless, the trick is to look in the right place…
That is how I found a smallish tourist office who agreed to take me on a dhow cruise! Well, not I alone, as I found later, for there was many enthusiasts looking for a quick post noon dive/swim/snorkel in the fjords of Mussandam.
The ancient dhow, fitted with colored cushions sailed with the first afternoon breeze. The twenty-odd people, strangers till we set sail, engaged in posing for pictures with the water and the mountains in the background! While thus engaged, from nowhere a pod of dolphins appeared! Few things in the sea match the excitement over sighting dolphins! They trailed alongside of the dhows, playfully breaking surface…and suddenly it occurred to me that nature is very charming indeed. First it has the sun blaze down on you like crazy, then the winds just about wash away some of the heat, the fjords provide some visual relief and dolphins…just about round the purpose of a holiday! Only later I learnt that the waters of Oman (this region being in the Straight of Hormuz) had over 20 varieties of dolphins!
We sped along, the silence of the strangers broken with the first sighting of the sea creatures and suddenly it was a whole new family. Someone took up the role of explaining the tiny houses that appeared in the foothills of the ridiculously grey mountains, and thus we sped past villages like Nadifi, Qanaha and Maqlab before reaching the Telegraph Island . Of course we didn’t see any road, shop, school or hospital anywhere and I guess the islands had no more than hundred inhabitants…yet the idea of living in one of the smaller houses seemed suddenly appealing…if only for the isolation!
Telegraph Island was our destination. While the dhow prepared to anchor, one eager swimmer jumped overboard…and before I knew it, three others followed. I was the fifth to hit water…the moment my feet left the dhow I knew what I was in for! Down I went into the salty water, breaking surface after what seemed like an eternity before swimming up to the island! Where were the life jackets? On the dhow of course because we had forgotten all about it!
Not a smart move, that, especially because the water was extremely salty, deep and to even sight any marine life, snorkeling gear was a must. So I was forced to swim back and with much reluctance, allowed myself to be fitted into a jacket and gear…voila! It was fun! So, in reality, a stint in snorkeling happened mid-sea, and how! I thanked whoever invented the life jacket and remained afloat looking up wondering about the colour of the sky…it had turned grey!
From the skies, we would have looked like bobbing corks, just the dhow anchored peacefully and frolicking snorkellers…the heat, sun, humidity all forgotten in the moment when strangers helped each other into jackets, adjusted their goggles and shared their skills with the novices.
Only the water kept getting into the pipe for air and it isn’t pretty to have a pipe stuck between your lip and teeth!
But we snorkeled to our hearts content, chasing butterfly fish groupers, barnacles and admiring corals, the life jacket and goggles aiding much and walked over the Telegraph Island which has an interesting history. Apparently the British Government laid the first telegraph cable in 1864 which ran from Bombay to Basra, Iraq and onward to London . I wonder if the British telegraph-layers had as much fun back then as we did now! I personally thought it was quite cheeky to come over to the hidden islands and lay cables…and for what?
Much later when we could corrupt our skins no more, we embarked, the dhow picked up speed and the fjords faded away in the evening…no more dolphins followed us but birds did…they circled around our boats as though bidding us a safe journey and disappeared over the tip of the sleepy grey mountains…