Stumbling upon an old castle at Harat Safala sees Shaquel Al Balushi appreciate a venerable symbol of Omani unity.
Morning drives are the best: there’s something oddly satisfying about taking charge of the wheel before the crack of sunlight. And because you’re out in the early hours of the day, the highways are empty too. It’s a great feeling knowing that you own the roads; there’s no traffic, nobody tailgating you and nothing to actually worry about.
Therefore, I start my day at 5am before anyone is even up. Thankfully, Imran stops by my place to accompany me for our latest excursion. Having him on board is a blessing, as he knows his way around even the tightest of gullies around Oman.
We decide to head towards the same location as last week, because one of our friends had told us that we had missed a “mammoth castle” by only a few metres during our trip to Bait Al Ghesham.
So yet again, it’s an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive towards what is predominantly a part of the Wilayat of Nakhal.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of banter and laughing, as Imran and I like to catch up on weekday stories during our long drives to our destinations. So, for once, there’s no real music in the car, which is good because there’s no fighting over who gets control of the audio player.
Upon reaching Nakhal, however, we find ourselves lost and going around in circles in search of the “mammoth castle” that our friend told us of. And after 20 minutes of mucking about, we decide to head off-road in search of the castle.
Soon, we stumble upon this gi-normous structure, which can only be described as a castle. However, there’s no identification of it being a castle or a fort. We even searched online but to no avail.
Imran steps in to tell me that the Nakhal area has been known to house some of the most amazing forts and castles, and that some of them may not be listed online.
The entire setting is stunning, to say the least: everything around the large, light-brown structure is green. There are plenty of palm trees surrounding the entire edifice.
Soon, we also learn that the name of the castle is Harat Safala. It’s quite an interesting name, as Harat means “area” in Arabic. Even more intriguing is the layout of the entire castle: this is not your average fort or castle. The inside of the Harat Safala is like that of a maze. It’s not extremely complicated but we find ourselves entering completely disjointed rooms every single time.
Imran, being the daredevil he is, actually wanders into one of the rooms, leaving me to navigate myself through the labyrinth of rooms and corridors alone. But, somehow (I’m guessing the way the castle is created), both of us reunite at the uppermost section of the building.
It is here where I actually let loose my inner photographer. I find myself taking pictures of the same object many times, and in various angles. It is one of those rare photogenic places.
Standing on top of the castle is quite captivating. It is also thought-provoking to think that there was probably a dignitary living here, decades ago. And just as I am passing into a moment of contemplation, I notice the Omani flag fluttering in the cool breeze.
I don’t think there’s anything more patriotic for an Omani. Imran and I stand still in silence, soaking in the sheer beauty of the surroundings that make up Nakhal. And this castle is a symbol of how tight-knit we are as a community, and as a country.
Take the Muscat Expressway and when you reach Route 13, take the exit to Nakhal Road. When you reach Nakhal, you will have to go off-road, but the GPS co-ordinates below should ensure that you find the castle easily.
GPS coordinates: N23°27’26.6”; E57°48’28.2”