The toned down charm of cold ashkarah

Ashkarah is deceptive, beguiling. These are the two things you should know if you’ll ever make the drive towards this village located about 312 km from Muscat. Once you’re within its arms, do not think for a minute that it is but a sleepy town because there goes more beyond its facade.

After passing through Sur and the long stretch of road of Jaalan, Ashkarah, when you see it, looks deserted. Many of the houses appear broken down as if its owners have totally given up. The wind is cold even in the middle of summer.
‘This is the people of Sur’s best-kept secret. They don’t have to drive all the way down to Salalah or go to the mountains in the north to experience cold temperature. They just have to drive to Ashkarah,” shared Ahmed al Jabri, head organiser of trips for his interest group Oman Outdoor Adventure.
An inspection of the town would reveal a couple of small grocery shops, perhaps enough for the day to day needs of the residents. The restaurants looked ran down and some of the houses are almost merging with its environment — sand climbing three feet towards the wall and in some area, it looks like nature is taking back what humans cleared out for their homes.

In Ashkarah, there is a fight going on — between nature and humans. Nature, of course, is winning but the people seemed to not care.
“Most of these houses are owned by Bedouins. That is why they appear deserted because they only come at certain time of the year,” Ahmed surmised.
“But people go here for three reasons — the sea, sand and sun,” Ahmed said. “You’ll see later why,” he added.

The Sea
Coming to this part of Oman in summer, we weren’t prepared for the cold. We arrived at noon and when we were traversing the road from Sur to Jaalan, we were sweating almonds. So it was a big surprise that things changed all of a sudden — temperature-wise that is.
The wind was strong probably because it’s in the direct path of the wind and is facing the Arabian Sea.
But Ashkarah, without a doubt, has some of the best beaches in Oman. One of the beaches, the one favoured by locals, was a long one and the waves were strong and quite unceasing.
“People had been coming here for different water activities. Now, it is becoming popular amongst surfers and kitesurfers,” Ahmed shared.
“They also have some of the best seafood. Its close proximity to the sea allows people to harvest a wide variety of fishes including cuttlefish and lobsters. I know a few people who come here just to enjoy the ocean’s bounty,” Ahmed said.

The Sand
A few kilometres from Ashkarah, however, was what captured our attention. A road that on the left has the view of the sea and on the right, the view of the desert.
At some point, the sea and the desert meet and it was something that we don’t get to see every day.
On our way to Duqm, that part of the trip was quite a treat. What was most magical however is when the sand, driven by a strong wind coming from the desert, crossed the street.
Although we were warned it wasn’t a good idea to be on its path, we all went down to capture on video the ‘crossing of the sand’.
“This is what’s remarkable about taking the coastal road trip. Unlike taking the direct route of Adam-Thumrait road, you get to see a different scene. This desert also runs for miles so quite plenty to see. There are other small villages along the way and that added a layer of adventure,” Ahmed explained.

The Sun
The spot where the sand meets the sea is the perfect spot in catching sunrise and sunsets. Even the dunes, although not as grand as that of Wahaiba, create a unique and photograph-ready feature.
“Because the temperature here is lower, you’d almost forget that the sun is just there. So it’s the perfect escape and I would definitely say a good spot for camping and other outdoor activities,” Ahmed said.
“There are of course a lot of things not fully discovered in Ashkarah. People only tend to go where others have gone before. We’re trying to chart the best spots and in a few years time, more and more people will definitely discover the potential of this place,” he added.
“It requires patience though. Driving three hours, that can be quite challenging to some,” he said.
Personally, Ashkarah is becoming a new favourite. Once we can identify the best places that cook the most delicious food or the best spots to set up camps, its cold temperature would definitely pull us back and stay for several weekends.

YERU EBUEN & TITASH CHAKRABORTY