How One Travel Blogger Found Peace In The Arid Omani Desert

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By Natalie Augustin

There is a desert I long to be walking, a wide emptiness. Peace beyond any understanding of it

– Rumi

Almost a third of the earth’s surface is covered by expansive, dry, and arid desert.  The Sahara and Kalahari are the ones that come to mind most easily, but if you look closer, you can find deserts on every continent. 

Few living things, if any, thrive in the desert. In this harsh wildness, it is all about survival.

Yet the desert seems to have a strange pull, a mystery surrounding it that has convinced many a prophet, king, and poet, to abandon their circumstances and journey into the unknown in search of peace, strength, and solitude. What is it about the desert that continues to have a spell over even the most formidable among us?

Nestled in my cool, air-conditioned SUV, driving 40km into the heart of the scorching Wahiba sand desert in Oman, I was about to find out. Like its other Middle Easter counterparts, the Wahiba dessert is a popular tourist destination. Most visitors spend a night or two in a desert camp in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountainous shifting dunes, indulging in traditional delicacies, sights, and sounds. 

To say that I was excited would be an understatement. I was about to experience the real Oman, in all its harsh beauty. I was sure this experience would be the highlight of my Middle Eastern sojourn, and I was not wrong.

After what seemed like forever, we veered off the chartered route, down several small sand hills, and stopped at a cluster of tents with pens of camels and goats outside. These belonged to the Bedouins – an ancient tribe of desert nomads who were the land’s original settlers. 

These days, much has changed for the Bedouins. They no longer live off the land or roam the desert as their forefathers did. But what hasn’t changed is their impeccable hospitality. Arab geniality is legendary, and the Bedouins’, even more so. According to my trusted guide, Bedouins are so hospitable that they reportedly open their homes to visitors for up to three days at a time, complete with free meals and boarding!

As tempted as I was to stay in the Bedouin camp and participate in that experience, I had to leave. There were still many sandy miles ahead of us. So after a very interesting conversation, a cup of special Arabic coffee, and a small taste of the Bedouin world, I was back in my SUV, headed for our final destination.

By late afternoon, we had made it to the desert camp – aptly named 1000 Nights – located in a desert basin surrounded by massive dunes. Glancing around the camp, it was clear that my Arabian night in the desert was going to be way fancier than I had imagined. While I would still be spending a night in an authentic Bedouin styled tent, it was maxed out to the hilt with modern amenities. 

To be fair, the camp did give their visitors tent options, ranging from the basic to the luxurious. My choice was the latter, and it was super deluxe, as far as tents go. There was a king sized bed, furniture, television, air conditioning, a private bathroom, and a balcony equipped with a fire pit. The rest of the camp also seemed to have undergone significant upgrades. There was a play area for kids, a breezy boat bar and a pool! Yes, all in the middle of the desert!

But before I had a moment to further explore the area and its facilities, it was time to make my way over to the dunes to witness the sunset.

A desert sunset was not to be missed, my tour guide kept reminding me, so I set about climbing out of the basin to find a proper vantage point. 

I made it up to the top of the first dune, and then another, realising a tad late that I had no idea what I was doing. Everything around me looked the same. Where surmountable, the dunes were so high that I couldn’t tell what lay behind them. There were no reference points, just an overabundance of sand

My brief experience at the Bedouin camp did not a navigator make, and so I continued wandering aimlessly through mountainous piles of sand. After what seemed like forever (but was really just 30 minutes), I spotted my guide racing towards me in his trusty 4×4. I could have not be happier to see him.

Under his watchful eye, we made our way to an adjacent part of the desert, where the dunes broke and gave way to undulating plains of sand. My daughter’s cackling laughter echoed through the still air, breaking the deafening silence, as she rolled down the sides of towering dunes. 

Where 30 minutes ago I was cursing the desert, now, I was speechless in awe of it. Unobstructed by mankind, construction, and civilization, the desert sunset is a sight to behold. Ribbons of lilac, cerulean, aqua, auburn roped their way around the sky, obscuring the fast fading sun.

As the sun began to sink lower, submerging itself in the golden sand, I realised I had no desire to leave.

Gauging from the look on my guide’s face, spending the night vulnerable to the elements was definitely not an option. A quick drive later, we were back at the camp, just in time for dinner. I blame my large appetite that night on my tryst with the desert. There was no meal I enjoyed more on this trip than the one I had that night – a delicious blended menu of Omani and Indian cuisine that left me yearning for more. 

After dinner as all got even more still at the camp, I could hear gains of sand hitting the roof and sides of the tent carried by the strong evening winds. The wind had also swept the clouds away, revealing a clear and dazzling sky, which just happens to be the other must see when you are in the desert.

After that meal in my belly, there was nothing left to do but head back to the tent and drift away to sleep. But first, it was time for a little bit of star gazing. Luckily, I didn’t have to venture far. 

The tent, with its glass walls facing east and west, was a great spot to observe all things celestial. Snuggled in my bed, I  could drink in everything, from the calming hues of the setting sun, to the cloudless midnight blue, the sea of twinkling stars, and, as dawn broke, the first rays of the sun hitting the sandy dunes.

After having breakfast – Bedouin style – my entourage and I were off. 

I was leaving behind the desert, but not for long. In the words of Rumi, there’s a desert I long to be walking, and I’m coming back for it soon.

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