The "Norway" of Arabia
The Musandam Peninsula is the northernmost part of Oman jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The province, or governorate of Musandam as it is officially known, is separated from the rest of Oman by various of the United Arab Emirates - Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. Musandam more or less begins where the mountains rise from the plains of Ras al Khaimah.
The mountains have isolated communities for centuries. Coastal villages can be reached only by boat rather than by road. Pockets of flat land support meagre agriculture. The population of approximately 29,000 is concentrated in the capital, Khasab (18,000 in 2004) in the north and Dibba (5,500) on the east coast. Fishing is the principal economic activity supported by employment in government jobs. Tourism could be a major earner. Traders from Iran boost the port trade of Khasab.
At its nearest point Musandam is just 55 km from Iran across the strait.
The mountains rise straight out of the sea giving rise to the fiord-like appearance of the coast, superbly evident from the air.
Rocks of the Hajar supergroup in the north appear to be flat-lying but are actually folded in a north-south trending anticline. Thinly-bedded yellowish-orange dolomitic limestones and mudstones indicating a near-shore environment progress upwards into highly fossiliferous shelf limestones. Shell fragments, brachiopods and micro-fossils in limestone indicate continental shelf conditions. These limestones were deposited from the early Jurassic to the Cretaceous period and are reckoned to be older than 65Ma.
Way of Life
Occasional flat ledges of land have been terraced for small-scale agriculture. Low walls are built round the cultivated areas to trap surface run-off. Silt settles from the water flattening the profile of the land and adding to soil. Three dams protect Khasab town from flash floods.
Stone houses, several centuries old, can still be seen hugging the mountain sides in some of the wadis. Rock art made by pecking boulders with a stone implement, can be seen in Wadi Qida.
Thick date-palm groves lie to the west of the inlet from the sea at Khasab and at the entrance to the wadi. Red posts on the road at the extreme end of the inlet warn motorists that the sea encroaches at high tide.
The Portuguese built Khasab fort at the beginning of the 17th century at the height of their naval presence in the region. Unlike many forts built on higher ground with a defensive purpose, Khasab fort was a supply point for dates and water to Portuguese ships sailing through the strait. The harbour gave shelter from rough seas. Access by land was virtually impossible.
Until quite recently, the Wali (the local governor) used the fort as an official residence. Prisoners were also jailed here. The ceilings were supported by teak timbers from India filled in with plaited palm fronds and mud plaster. Khasab gets very hot in the summer.
Life may appear to be very bleak when you visit the small fishing villages at the end of the fiords, which you can only reach by boat. But close up, you can see electricity power lines and a big water tank filled by the Municipality every week. The children board at school in Khasab from Saturday to Wednesday returning home at weekends. The communities remain very independent in spirit.
'Round the bend'
The British, in their inimitable fashion, arrived on this lump of rock called Telegraph Island in the fiords back in the mid-19th century, staying 5 years. They were laying a telegraph cable from India to Basra in Iraq. Taking the cable "round the bend" of the Gulf gave rise to the expression, since living on Telegraph Island in the summer must have sent them crazy.
These days, the island is noted for its rich underwater life. Dhows stop off here to enable tourists to go snorkeling. Take your mask and snorkel with you if possible. These may not always be provided on the dhows.
Fishing is rich. Large species abound, such as king fish and tuna. All over Oman, you will see fishing for very small sardines which are spread on the beaches to dry and then used as animal feed.
Omani fishermen also ply the tourist dhows. It's a delight to watch the dolphins. Dolphins don't like the speed-boats but will stay close to the dhows, playing "chicken" by crossing repeatedly under the prow as close as they can go, and matching their speed to that of the dhows
Traders from Iran
Khasab makes its money now from the port trade. Iranians import sheep and goats in small fibre glass hulls with very powerful engines into the local port, where the animals are shipped off to UAE and Saudi Arabia in trucks. On the return trip, the sailors load their boats with electronic goods and American cigarettes.
They have to arrive in Khasab port after sunrise and leave before sunset. The Irani boats gathered outside the port in the late afternoon, taking off together at high speed at some unseen signal. They have to avoid the Iranian coastguard as well as other shipping in the strait waters; the crossing is dangerous with so many oil-tankers passing to and fro.
Diving in Musandam
As well as publicizing the stupendous scenery, tourist developers are working on advertising Musandam as a diving destination. Trips cater for experienced and inexperienced divers alike, as well as snorkellers. Check out this discussion at Dive Forum in January 2004 which concludes that diving in Musandam will attract more experienced divers with an interest in big fish. Visibility is reckoned not to be as good as the Red Sea.
Arranging your trip
We offer mountain, dhow and 'city' tours, as well as diving trips which will take experienced divers round the northern edge of the peninsula and offer sheltered diving and snorkeling sites to novices. Ourmotorised dhow, began daily trips in the fiords in 2004, and will also be available for diving excursions.