Far from the organised desert camps of Bidiyah, deeper into the heart of the Al Sharqiyah sands, is a flat land surrounded by tall walls of sand dunes. It is seldom that people camp this far primarily because why would you go to all the trouble when you have the convenience of luxurious tents that can protect you, your guests or family not only from the foraging desert animals but also the harsh elements.
But on a Friday evening, this is where Oman Outdoor Adventure decided to spend the night. A few metres away from this location is a spot used by many daredevils for sand dune bashing. The group originally planned to camp on top of one of the highest dunes but the strong wind carrying grains of sands were too much of a challenge.
The group, comprised of more than 25 people, were all packed in six different 4WD cars. They have members coming as far as Dubai and a few who drove all the way from Nizwa to join in on the adventure.
Arriving late into their camp area and catching the last few minutes of sunset on top of one of the tallest mountain dunes, the members of the group were all in awe.
“I’ve always considered this as a dream — one that is on my bucket list,” shared Khezia Resma.
“The truth is, yes, here in Oman, most expats came to work. I came here to work and do as hard as I can. But I ought to explore and unwind too. A well-deserved weekend trip is necessary after a long week of toxic duty. Getting out was a way of keeping work-life balance and keeping myself sane,” she said.
For her trip, she brought her friend Jaja along. It was a trip she has always been looking forward to.
“It feels different to put your feet on the sand and feel them pass through your toes. And sitting there just watching the sun set is an extraordinary experience,” her friend Jaja shared.
The group’s team leader, Ahmed al Jaabri, said that the goal is to bring a different experience to the team. Over the course of three months, they’ve not only explored wadis, climbed the highest peak of Oman in Jebel Shams, and coordinated a clean-up drive, they wanted to add a desert adventure into the mix fully utilizing the fine weather and the friendly temperature.
“We promised the team we would give them a memorable adventure and a fun experience, and so far, we’ve delivered,” he shared.
Far from the crowd
It’s easy to fall into tourist trap whenever in Bidiyah. The camps organised different activities including camel rides and sand dune bashing either using ATVs or 4WD cars.
Salim, who frequents the area and served as our guide and driver, shared that he usually heads out to the desert to clear his head. He also opt camping out.
“I’ve driven as far as 120km deep into the desert. It’s my way of unwinding,” he said.
“You need a high level of familiarity and skill to navigate your way into desert sand. Not only you have to get the preparations right like taking some air from your tires, you also have to make sure to cover all contingencies,” he said.
“It’s easy to get stuck and when you are alone, it can be a difficult problem to solve,” he added.
It was the group’s collective decision to move away from the top of the dune and into a flat land where the tall towering walls of dunes protect it from the elements for the night’s camping. It was a place far from the crowd.
The temperature dropped to as low as 12 degrees in the early morning. Although it was very cold, the bonfire helped to keep everyone warm.
In the desert where everything was very quiet, Bob Marley’s songs were instant hits and have started a unique bonding experience for all the participants. A karaoke session had many of the participants crooning at the top of their lungs.
“We had this little party going, with a lot of singing and ended like three in the morning. It was truly a different experience — one you don’t usually associate with being in the middle of the desert,” Ahmed said.
Had the ball they brought didn’t end up problematic, the group would have played volleyball until wee hours of the morning.
Fog, sunset and dune bashing
But the best kept secret of the Wahiba happens in the early morning before the dawn breaks.
“You can see the fog covering the whole area. The visibility is almost zero and you can’t recognize where the camp is located,” Jaja described it as such.
For this writer, it looked like a sea of clouds and you can almost touch it.
“It truly is beautiful to watch the sun come out and shine through,” Jasmina, one of the participants shared.
The Wahiba sands experience will not be complete without dune bashing.
Securedly fastened into our seats, Salim took us for a spin. Gaining enough speed to climb on a tall dunes wall, Jasmina thought it was a crazy idea.
But it was truly something to enjoy.
“I was born ready,” she said. “And this driving experience definitely make this whole trip memorable.”
WHAT TO DO
This can be arrange through resorts or private drivers. Dune bashing through the golden dunes of the Al Sharqhiyah Sands is an exhilirating experience one shouldn’t miss.
Drivers are especially skilled and trained to guide their car through the loose desert sand and dunes that are constantly shifting and changing with the winds.
This is a must do during your visit to the desert as this adventure sport doesn’t require much. If you’re not a skilled driver, all you have to do is strap yourself safely into the seats of a 4WD and get that rush of adrenalin as the car zooms through the dunes.
What is a desert without the famous ‘Ship of the Desert?’ Camel riding is the part and parcel of the Bedouin lifestyle and now is a major tourist attraction that is a must do.
Riding camels is a truly unique experience and very different from riding a horse or a donkey. The camels walk on the soft, loose sands or on the edge of the sand dunes without the slightest of difficulties and can take you to the highest peaks of the tallest dunes and giving you the excitement of experiencing the authentic Bedouin life!
Watch the Sunset
Usually perfect after a camel ride to the tallest sand dunes, sunsets in the desert are truly one of the most beautiful experience one can have.
As the golden ball of light descends into the horizon, the golden sands change colours shifting from the bright ochre seen in the day to orange and darker shades of brown till the sun sets away, leaving the sands glistening in the moonlight.
Doing a lot of desert activities on the same day can be exhausting and could ruin their charm so the perfect thing to do would be to camp out in one of the many camp sites and spread your activities out comfortably.
This also gives visitors the opportunity to stay the night and watch the starry night, undisturbed by the pollutions of the urban settlements.
Most camps host authentic traditional Bedouin barbeques at dinner. For the more adventurous ones, it is possible to set up camp in a place of your choice.
Other than the camel riding and dune bashing that are mostly a passive activity, most camps provide safe areas for tourists to have a bit of fun themselves.
Many places provide small ATVs for visitors to do a little bit of dune bashing themselves along with providing slides, body boards and things alike to enjoy sliding down the desert sands.
Most camps will have these activities available along with providing safety instructions and safe environments and proper equipment.