The start and end point of this fly-and-drive tour, where the G-Class is provided, is Muscat. Although some 1.5 million people live in Oman’s capital, it does not have the feel of a metropolis. This is partly due to the height restrictions on buildings, which are not allowed to have more than twelve storeys, but also simply because the pace of life just seems to be slower in Oman, which has none of the hustle and bustle typical of big cities. It is quite unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi in that respect.
To head inland or south from Muscat you need to cross the Al Hajar Mountains. This mountain range is only half as long and half as wide as the Alps, but it still has a 3,000m peak to offer in the shape of Jebel Shams. Instead of the motorway we will be taking the route via the Wadi Bani Awf, where almost 1,500 metres of altitude difference has to be negotiated. The dusty tracks are barely wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two, and feature sheer drops descending hundreds of metres on one side and rock walls ascending just as high on the other. During one of the rare rainfalls, everything starts to move, so it’s better not to be driving here at the time.
Experience has shown that drivers tackling this mountain route for the first time get quieter and quieter the further they get, and their passengers are simply grateful to have arrived safely when it’s over. Full concentration is required at all times, as in some particularly steep sections it is not always clear whether the track goes right or left after the summit. But the effort is rewarded with views across a landscape of incredible beauty. Or rather, with views of many different landscapes of incredible beauty!
In the Rub’ al Khali desert, known as the Empty Quarter, the backdrop takes on an almost spiritual dimension. The Wahiba Sands are the sandbox of Oman, big but not too big, and – depending on the chosen route – passable for all. Provided you have an off-road vehicle at your disposal.
There are two options for travelling across the mountains and back to the coast: the partially completed motorway to Sur or the off-road route via the Salma Plateau. Guess which one the G-Class will be taking. The track here leads through one of the most isolated regions of Oman to destinations such as the Kibaykib Al Jaylah Tombs, which are more than 4,000 years old. Or to the Majlis Al Jinn, one of the biggest caves anywhere in the world. The stunning view of the sea from the plateau is followed by a descent about which one Omani had the following to say: “The sin that does not come to your mind on the way down there is one that you have not committed.” On arrival, the participants can expect three of the most beautiful and verdant wadi valleys with garden oases. But Oman is also a land of castles. Smaller residences, such as Jabreen Castle, and gargantuan Fort Bahla are featured along our route. As is the Falaj irrigation system, which is thousands of years old and which made ancient Oman suitable for human habitation and still makes some areas habitable today.