Visiting the Musandam peninsula makes for a fascinating day trip from Dubai. This small governorate of Oman has sealed away from the rest of the country, landlocked by the United Arab Emirates. The peninsula juts into the Straits of Hormuz and Iran is literally a few miles across the way. In fact, during my visit we witnessed a few small powerboats jetting across, subsequently learning these were Iranian smugglers scooting over to score contraband cigarettes.
Musandam is a lightly populated natural wonder. The attraction is a majestic complex of fjords, leading to the region being known as the “Norway of Arabia”. Despite the uncanny resemblance, Musandam’s inlets have no connection with glacial sculpting. Being on the leading edge of the Arabian continental plate that is plowing beneath Asia, these fjords are literally the result of mountains burrowing into the sea.
The beauty is witnessed by making a boat tour on a dhow, the traditional Arabian watercraft. These sturdy vessels feature broad decks, padded with colourful rugs and pillows to add comfort to your journey. Dhow tours last a half or full day, so it is quite reasonable to drive down from Dubai, enjoy the splendour and return the same day. You can complete the drive, including stopping at a UAE station to exit, then an Omani station to enter, in two hours (if you successfully escape Dubai traffic at either end). There are plenty of inviting stops to see along the way, however, and more opportunities within Musandam, so you may want to put up stakes in Khasab, the capital and only town of any size (population 20,000). All dhow tours depart from Khasab.
Our taste of Musandam was beyond stunning. Mountains plunge dramatically into the water, which is crystal clear and allows you to watch fish swimming below. Better yet, our bow apparently disrupted schools of flying fish, with clusters occasionally bursting from the water and wildly flapping fins to remain aloft for ten to twenty feet. The premier aquatic attraction of the tour, however, was being chased by dolphins. They seemed to enjoy riding the dhow’s wake, and Mohammed, our captain, would encourage them by speeding up (dhows retain their historical design, but do come with engines these days). Our bottle-nosed friends would pursue us in great leaps, then breach and cross beneath to pop up on the other side. What fun!
We twisted and turned through numerous chasms. The landscape is nothing but rock and water, nurturing a deep sense of serenity – at least when your dose is limited to a half-day. Our dhow made a single stop during our excursion, docking at infamous Telegraph Island. Named for an underground wire he utter desolation (1/2 day = serenity; longer = desolation?). Due to the curvy water path delivering the unfortunate souls, Telegraph Island is where the phrase “going round the bend” originated.
Weighing anchor at Telegraph Island afforded the opportunity to go snorkelling. Though the collection pales when compared to some of the world’s premier dive spots, it is always impressive to swim with schools of brightly coloured fish. Fishing was clearly the sole industry beyond tourism. We only passed two teensy villages, mere collections of several dozen mud-brick hovels, Mohammed informing us the inhabitants were fishers who returned to Khasab during torrid summer months. I was amused by seeing an occasional pile of fishing gear piled on a rock outcrop, reinforcing crime is not a concern.
If you have overdosed on the high-velocity pulse of Dubai, a quick jaunt down to Musandam will restore peace to your soul and serve up unique visions of natural beauty, whose memory continues to enchant me a decade later.