Sharqiyah Sands: Oman’s Very Own Desert Safari Camp Sharqiyah

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14 Apr 2019 Posted By Y Magazine


Aftab H. Kola finds space and solace amid the ever-fluctuating sands of the Sharqiyah desert.

Even before I took up a reporter’s job in Oman, a copy of Wilfred Thesiger’s ‘Desert, Marsh & Mountain’ (1979) was one of my favourite books.

And I never imagined that one day I would be experiencing the shifting, constantly-changing nature of the Sharqiyah Sands that are so beautiful in their barren wildness.

In Eastern Oman, the Sharqiyah Sands (formerly known as Ramlat al-Wahiba or the Wahiba Sands) offer an exciting adventure.

Rolling mighty sand dunes, deep-red to a rich-honey in colour, stretch as far as the eye can see.

This is what I witnessed during a desert crossing, organised by Guide Oman. It means one can explore Oman’s wondrous desert with the luxury of a full support crew around you.

The silence of the Sharqiyah Sands can be overwhelming while its ever-changing colours are like a tonic for the soul.

The Sharqiyah Sands are different from the Rub’ al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), a basin some 650km by 1100km in area containing approximately 400,000 square kilometres of sand. It’s the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world, which also includes Oman. For getting to the desert the ideal place to start is to go to Bidiya, 230km from Muscat.

As one ventures into the desert, the stillness of this environment overwhelms you. The eerie sense of being off the beaten track is palpable and empowering, even when just 20km in, within a tourist camp where the possibilities for dune bashing or camel riding are all here for your pleasure.

Camping overnight in the middle of the desert makes for an amazing experience. It is a heavenly feeling when the dawn breaks in a flood of molten gold as the shy morning sun bathes the desert at the camp-site.

After a night under the stars, the prospect of going farther begins early in the morning, which is when the adventure starts.

As you thread the vast contours of the desert, in the first few hours you are likely to encounter dromedaries padding across the desert several times.

The scene is dream-like. The morning sunshine bathes the golden sand, and a mosaic of red-brown cinder and flint provides opportunities for shutterbugs. The adrenalin-fuelled jolt of roaring up and down the rose-coloured dunes of sand, experiencing all the collywobbles of free-fall, are there to be had.

Sometimes, some experts and frequent desert-goers perform acrobatics with their vehicles just for fun. They make their vehicles heave and plunge up and down the crests and troughs like a dolphin with hiccups, before being stuck in the sands.

On a crossing, one drives hard through the sand, skimming over the harder-packed stretches and roaring through the softer parts.

It is team work that counts on trips such as this one. Getting stuck in the sand is actually rather fun, as one is certain in the knowledge that help is on the way, which otherwise wouldn’t be the case.

The desert crossing trip, though, looks arduous, despite being armed with the skilled manpower provided by the organisers. The most striking feature of the Sharqiyah Sands is the diversity of colour, and its chameleon-like quality in changing hues according to the time of the day.

You can often come across the occasional uzba, a hut and watering hole for camels; and ghaf trees, which, despite being unattractive to look at, can survive at 50ºC in arid regions across Arabia. Such trees provide shade and a nesting habitat for birds while their tiny leaves are eaten by goats and camels.

You end up with a bewitching view as the desert skirts the Arabian Sea. It is the Ar Ruways hillock, which juts into the serene Arabian sea. Then, there’s the magical Jeweirah Beach, which is always inundated with seagulls.

So there are some wonderful natural spectacles here, and it’s an environment with which Mr. Thesiger himself would not
be disappointed.

How to get there?

From Muscat, take Route 15 and, just after passing Fanja, take Route 23 at the Shell service station. Follow the signs to Bidiyah, where you’ll begin to see the dunes of the Sharqiyah Sands.

N22°06’08.4”; E58°45’33.5”


Difficulty: Difficult
Dist. from Muscat: 300kms

GPS Location

N22°06’08.4” E58°45’33.5”

Known For

Adventure, Desert Safari, Family Tour, Off road, Oman Sights


From Muscat, take Route 15 and, just after passing Fanja, take Route 23 at the Shell service station. Follow the signs to Bidiyah, where you’ll begin to see the dunes of the Sharqiyah Sands.

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