When you arrive in Nizwa, you get the feeling it is a city that is experiencing a high degree of growth and change. This is supported by all the construction in the city that will render your GPS almost useless! It is also a part of Oman that is steeped in conservative traditions and the historic part of the city will give you a feel for this. Travel out into the surrounding areas and you will feel as if you have travelled back in time as you take in the ancient ruins and villages clinging to the cliffs of Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams. This is an area so diverse that I am sure it has something for every taste.
We started our explorations by heading to Bahla about a 30 minute drive from Nizwa. Although most visitors know it for its fort, it’s more famous among the locals and others in the Arab world for its ‘jinn’, supernatural creatures often connected to black magic. Some will even try to convince you that the fort was constructed by the jinn and that the jinn then tried to halt its reconstruction, which is why renovation started in 1998 and was only finished in 2013. Unfortunately on our trip (or perhaps fortunately!) we didn’t encounter any jinn, but the newly re-opened fort was a great place to spend an hour or so. Although it lacks explanations of rooms or a museum, you are provided with a handout explaining the purpose of some of the rooms and there are great views of the surrounding town and mountains.
Besides Bahla, we also visited the ruins of several ancient cities: Old Al-Hamra and Birkat Al Mouz. Slightly east of the inhabited city of Al-Hamra are the ruined Yemini style mudbrick buildings of the old village. It’s best to park your car and go for a wander to get a feel for the place (kind of unsettling as it feels like it was abandoned in a hurry). For great views, follow the road around to view the entire ruins from a distance. Although we liked the ruins at Al-Hamra, we found Birkat Al Mouz, which seems to be less well-known, even more enchanting and the geological rock formations there are quite amazing! At the foot of Jebel Akhdar this abandoned village has two compact sights and some structures in very good condition. As with Al-Hamra, you are free to walk around and if you are in a four wheel drive and head to a nearby hill with a steep dirt track up it, you can get great views of the entire ruins.
If you like your villages with people still in them, Misfat may be more your style. Hugging the cliffs partway up Jebel Shams, this little village gives you an excellent opportunity to experience traditional Omani village life. You need to park in the lot outside of the village as the road is very narrow. You can follow marked trails to the date palms or other parts of the village. Because the road up is sealed, it’s easy to access so for once there is no reason to worry if you don’t have a four wheel drive. There are a number of viewpoints to stop at on the way up or down that would provide great photo opportunities if you visited at the right time of the day - in the afternoon - we didn’t.
Nizwa itself is also worth a day. Although construction makes it a bit of a pain getting into the city centre, once you are there you can park and easily walk to the various sights. The fort, souq and mosque are all right next to each other, creating a wonderful atmosphere. Once again, the fort provides stunning views and it also has a very informative museum that can help you understand Oman a bit better. Plus, at 500 biasas, it’s a steal! You can do your souvenir shopping at the souq, or enjoy the goat market if you are there on a Friday morning. If you are properly attired (long sleeves and pants, with a headscarf for the ladies) you can go into the mosque and have a look around.