When the legendary Arab explorer Ibn Battutah came to Nizwa in the 13th century it was the capital of Oman. In his book “The Travels of Ibn Battutah” he mentions it briefly amongst the cities he visited in Southern Arabia. He seems to have had a great first impression of the area upon his arrival; for that he said “a city at the foot of the mountain, enveloped by orchards and streams, and with fine bazaars and splendid clean mosques”. He then continues with a disagreeable tone “Their womenfolk, however, are much given to corruption, and the men show no jealousy nor disapproval of such conduct”.
As it started to reveal itself to us (after an actionless 3 hours drive from Muscat) my first impression of Nizwa was similar to that of Ibn Battutah. The road cutting through the Hajar mountains terrain continuously curved to both sides passing by charming little villages and numerous dry waterbeds (Wadis). The drive in that area is seemingly therapeutic; it surely restored a certain much needed energy in me at a point when it was starting to feel like an infinite loop.
The plan was to visit the “Nizwa Souk” famous for its liveliness in the early hours as well as the ancient “Nizwa Fort” which is virtually located inside the souk. Unluckily for us this was a Thursday morning and the second day of Eid AL Fitr; the souk was mainly closed, but one or two souvenir stores. On a brighter note; the fort was open and there was very few tourists around so we spent most of the morning exploring the iconic building at ease.
If you climb the main tower to the top you will see this amazing view of the date palm farms surrounding the fort.
Lunch time soon arrived. We got in our car to go find a nearby place to eat; however the car digital thermometer indicated that it was 51°C out there! We put that idea aside immediately and we walked into an Omani restaurant that we spotted across the street.
The place had a foul fishy odor that made Angel walk around with flared nostrils and raised eyebrows. I joked about keeping his adventurous nature alive so he summoned the courage to enter. Meanwhile I secretly prayed that my stomach was keeping strong enough. I took a gel sanitized out of my bag and rubbed my hands with it , because I wasn’t going to use the toilet in there.
We were shown into a private dining room modestly furnished with floor seating. It was quiet appealing and reminded me of my late grandmother’s Majlis (living/guests room). I read through the traditional menu and was impressed with the authentic options it included. I ordered a Chicken kabsa. Angel went for the “Cod fish and coconut curry”. When the food arrived in the steel tray I told him that I must eat with my hands to conclude our traditional endeavourer. Suit yourself; I am happy with my fork he said.
After lunch we decided to go to Al Hoota Cave. My travel guide advised that it’s a must see when in Nizwa. The only problem was that we didn’t know how to get there. We asked few people but no one gave us good directions, neither did Annie (My car GPS) have a map leading to it. We grew increasingly skeptical about the internal mountain route that we ended up on, although the road was paved and nice. What happened next was totally unexpected. It set us both on a sharp edge. The temperature suddenly dropped to 20 °C and lower then pouring rain suddenly started. I told Angel to keep going thinking this could be just a passing cloud. About a minute later when we no longer could see the sun (or the road) he wanted to turn around. The rain kept getting heavier and the Wadis on the side of the road were quickly filling up. The water was starting to flood the road and we noticed that the cars with Omani number plates were stopped on the sides. It will be fine I said. Have you ever been stuck in a microburst before? He said. I had not even a clue what he was talking about, so I just rolled my eyes and waved my hand like “whatever”
We turned around and drove back to the town’s center. When and how the rain stopped and the temperature spiked back up to 50 C I didn’t realize. Back at the Souk area the evening fair was starting. The kidz were crowding around an ice cream truck; we bought us a couple of vanilla cones to cool off after the sheer excitement of our near death experience.
All in all Nizwa has given us some good and some bad, just like it did Ibn Battutah long time ago. I guess old habits die hard!
I wasn’t even scared I said to Angel on the way back to Muscat. I know that he replied.
Until the next journey…..