A faded historical edifice still has the power to keep Shaquel Al Balushi’s lens busy, and can still cut it as view of veneration.
In my Destination article last week, I talked about how I had headed towards the Sharqiyah Sands for a night of camping with my friends. And despite the incident during which we (our Jeeps) had got stuck and were forced to drive for kilometres with almost zero visibility, we actually had quite a lot of fun.
But there’s something I kept from everyone in my previous article: when I was on my way towards our camping location, I had actually taken a slight detour to look for some interesting locations, which I could potentially feature as Destination stories for the weeks to come.
And that’s just when I stumbled onto (not literally) a brown-coloured sign board that read, “Al Wasl Castle”. The board was located just a few kilometres before reaching Bidiyah and before our camping location from last week. But I didn’t head to the exit that led to the castle, and ploughed straight on to our location – you know – in fear that I would not reach our camp site at Sharqiyah on time.
However, I had set my eyes on the castle and wanted to head there once we had all split from the pack.
So, after we had all packed up after camp, I caught hold of Imran (my long-term travel buddy) and Badr – another friend of mine and a photographer himself – and headed towards the castle.
It was still the early hours of the morning and the sun was shadowed by the fog that had enveloped the entire region.
It was very dark and we had to resort to driving with our headlights as well as our fog lamps on full blast. Progress was slow too because we didn’t want to cause any accidents due to speeding.
In all, it took us almost an hour to get there but in reality – if the conditions are right – it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. The best part about this road is that it takes you all the way to the foot of the castle. So there’s no chance of you getting lost or searching for directions on your way there.
But still, here’s a gentle piece of advice for you: always keep your phone with you. In that case, if you find yourself in any sort of trouble, you can reach out for help. I’ve heard of many cases of people getting into tricky situations without the possibility of receiving any assistance – and paying the price!
But, let’s not go off topic.
Upon reaching the megastructure, I was inclined to appreciate the sheer beauty of the castle that was Al Wasl. More astonishing was how beautiful the neighbouring surroundings were: it took me back to the more simple days when I was young, and was able to enjoy my time exploring new areas and clicking pictures of the same.
By now, the fog had dissipated and I was finally able to take my camera out. But the humidity in the air meant the surrounding sandy land was quite mushy.
Nevertheless, we continued to look for the ticket counter from where we could buy our entry passes.
The ticket counter – or at least, the structure that looked like it – was completely empty and shut (probably because it was Friday). So, we resorted to entering the castle and explore things on our own.
Upon doing so, the first thing that struck me was how certain parts of the castle had been renovated, and how some remained untouched. It was like someone had decided to keep away from completing his task of renovating the castle because it was too fragile or something.
But, in my eyes, doing so preserved the sanctity of the castle. It doesn’t look like a brand-new structure with shiny walls and rooms to match. It still has that rustic effect to it – one that has to be seen in person to understand.
The walls of the castle are made of mud, therefore, there is quite a lot of erosion happening. I guess, years of exposure to the elements have to have had some sort of an effect on the structure.
Still, the exterior looks structurally intact, with only wind patterns carving deep patterns in the walls.
I’m also assuming that someone lived here before; there are rooms and other areas within the castle that seem to suggest so.
However, these portions of the castle are not well preserved as there seems to be a lot of degradation, which is a pity.
Even the windows that once kept people within the castle safe are falling apart and this makes me feel sad.
What is also surprising is how the castle remained empty throughout our adventure. I could click away with no disturbance at all. However, I cannot be sure if the castle is open to the public on other days of the week. Nonetheless, it was still a blessing.
And just as I went through the door that took me back to where we parked our car, I saw the Omani flag fluttering on top of the castle.
Most of you who follow my adventures would know that I’m a very patriotic man. For a few minutes, all I did was stare at the Omani flag in silence, just as the sun rose over the horizon. Imran and Badr joined me in admiring the flag. It was a beautiful sight; and more importantly, offered a powerful feeling.
From Muscat, take Route 15 and just after passing Fanja, take Route 23 at the Shell service station and follow the signs to Bidiyah. En route, you will find a sign board for Al Wasl Castle. Take the right and head straight until you begin to see the castle.