Packing up after a splendid day out at the Millennium Resort at Mussanah, Shaquel al Balushi catches a glimpse of Tharmad Castle and succumbs again to its irresistible charms.
The term ‘serendipity’ is one that I hold close to my heart. Roughly translated, it is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.
Sadly, however, the advent of social media has taken away all its charms. Today, a quick search of the hashtag (#serendipity) on Instagram reveals a whooping 850,000 posts; it’s a word that is overused, and up to a point that it no longer holds its relevance.
But I am going to gloss over all of that when I talk to you about my latest adventure: a trip to the beautiful city of Mussanah.
It all began when I was invited for a day out frolicking with several other media folks at the Millennium Resort, in Mussanah. I thought of taking the trip, spending some time there, and simply heading back after it was all done.
As luck would have it, there were other plans in store for me.
After packing up to leave from the resort exhausted and spent, I could not help taking a look at the mammoth castle that spread across the side of the road. Now, I am not the type of person who usually rushes through work, but a glimpse of the castle was enough to make me realise that it was one that I couldn’t simply gloss over. So, as any keen photographer would, I headed there – even though it was not for the first time.
It is the Tharmad Castle, one of the few fortresses that still looks over a bustling city. Most other forts and castles reside on the outskirts of Oman; places where you could have expected to see an ambush or an uprising occur in the days of yore. This one, however, has been preserved for decades and continues to watch over its citizens.
To visit the castle, you must drive past the Millennium Resort and to the next roundabout. A few metres in, you can begin to catch glimpses of the castle sitting atop dishevelled rocks and towering over every other building in the vicinity – it’s a sight you cannot – and should not – miss!
The drive will take you roughly two hours from the capital, so make sure you manage your time and resources efficiently. It is one of the safest locations to visit when you are on your own (as I was, in this instance).
Sadly, I realised that it was quite foolish of me to visit the castle past the working hours. The evening sky was also drab, meaning the photos didn’t turn out as well as I had initially hoped. But something is better than nothing, right?
I was surprised with the electrifying energy of the residents flocking the nearby market. The hullabaloo is good enough to keep the whole place alive and beating for hours even if you are dead exhausted.
Without any haste, I clicked photos of the market and the castle.
The insignias of Tharmad Castle – as a citadel of defence, ancestry and heritage – reek through the images that I captured.
Everything from the dome-shaped windows, the cannons and the escape passages are evidence to what I just said. Of course, the aura carries on to the large and heavy wooden doors, the thick walls and even the narrow, but damped halls.
Sadly, this means that even when the castle is open to the public, access to certain rooms and “hideouts” are limited.
I continued exploring the castle from the outside. The walls are of a beige hue, typical of forts constructed during this period. Unlike most castles, however, Tharmad is well-maintained thanks to the efforts of the Muscat Municipality and the residents in the region. It takes a union of forces to keep a structure as large as this clean and attractive.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if passersby mistook this to be a functional castle. Why? Well, droves of goats gawk at you – almost like you’re a spy trying to infiltrate the castle.
Some of the older audience – the human kind – also sit on the footsteps of the fortress to discuss of older and simpler times. I could overhear some of them ask each other what I was doing with cameras strapped around my shoulder.
This is exactly why I continue to love Mussanah: it’s a wilayat (state) that brings out the cultural side of you. I could be an Omani living in New York for years, but if I were to come back and spend an hour with the folk here I would go back to feeling like
All of this is probably why Mussanah is still considered one of the nation’s most prominent cities, and Tharmad one of our most significant castles.
How to get there?
From Muscat, take Route 1 to the Millennium Resort Mussanah. Tharmad Castle is easy to find and is just past the hotel at the roundabout. You don’t need a 4X4 for this journey.
N 23°47’24.8”; E 57°31’09.0”