We arrived in Barr al Hikman a little past noon two weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted. Had we come a week later, the condition would have been perfect as there will be more exposed sand than what we were seeing.
Photographer and local explorer Ahmed al Jaabri was in contact with one of the residents of Mahoot. He met the guy, also named Ahmed, in his previous trip when they had to call for help because they got stuck in the tricky mudflats.
As a caveat, while Barr al Hikman is indeed as beautiful and stunning as the Maldives, the two are very different in so many levels.
Ask anyone who visited the area and chances are, two out of three will tell you stories of horror — of how they have to shovel their way out of being stuck.
No paved roads are going to Barr al Hikman. The only stable roads are the ones that have hardened because of the constant use of the locals. Take the wrong turn and you’ll end up in a menacing debacle which Al Jaabri shared has been the case for their last trip.
“We were helping out this other car that got stuck but we ended up getting stuck ourselves,” he said.
From the main village in Mahoot, it takes another 30 to 40 minutes drive towards the beautiful sands of Barr al Hikman that is seen in the pictures here. You would have to pass through salt flats and muddy shores and if you didn’t time your trip, have to wait out the tide to go low. That’s one of the challenges going here — you also have to check the ebb and flow of the tide.
There are no permanent fixtures in Barr al Hikman, at least, as far as the protected site is concerned. There are stilt houses and barastis owned by the fishermen but these are temporary. Some fishermen stay in these barastis for days as they collect enough fishes to sell back when they get to the city.
The evenings can get really dark as there is no single light post built here but it offers a great opportunity to gaze at the star-filled nights. The loud crash of the waves on the white sandy shores will lull you to sleep and set up tent in the wrong spot and you’ll wake up with a nesting turtle throwing sand your way. This is, after all, still a part of the network of nesting sites of sea turtles.
Conservationists and environmentalists had always known of the beauty of Barr al Hikman. The fishermen had always been aware of its impressive, nearly pristine shores but after years of secrecy, the public has started to take notice of its beauty.
White sand embraced by an emerald sea
It has the longest natural sand bar in the Middle East expanding several kilometres into an emerald sea. Nearly six hours drive from Muscat, there’s a reason why not a lot venture into this part of Oman.
In winter, it is home to half a million migratory birds making it one of the most important coastal wetlands worldwide.
When coming here, one should bring along camping gears and provisions and knowledge of tides and season is important.
Based on what we saw, even four-wheel-drives had a hard time navigating through its mudflats. But the reward of the long drive is going to be worth it as just like what you see in photos, the sand is as fine as powder and Barr al Hikman has some of the best pools for swimming.
The number of visitors going to Barr al Hikman has more than doubled just this year alone. Although not based on official records, local fishermen noted that there had been more visitors coming compared to the previous years.
It will take some time for Barr al Hikman to be developed to its full potential. Some reports said that the area will be developed as a tourism destination but this is met with a dire warning from conservationists.
In a book published in 2018 called ‘Barr al Hikman, Shorebird paradise in Oman,’ the authors sounded “Its remote location has helped safeguard the pristine condition of Barr al Hikman so far, but emerging threats and plans of development in the area indicate that the natural protection of its remoteness can no longer be relied upon.”
While there are still no proper checks and balances in place and people have the freedom to do whatever they want in the area, it is wise to also think about the overall beauty of the place. If in case you are visiting here to take a glimpse of Oman’s very own Maldives, remember the old cliche, ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”