24 hours in the desert – Dew, Death and Dance Steps

Early mornings in the desert show you how lively the nights must have been. Small shrubs glistened with dew drops and the footprints of various animals lined the sandy floor like a dance studio for beginners. Before the heat of the day the desert offers up a serene landscape filled with birdsong, camel grunts and a misty outlook.

Misty Sunrise

Misty Sunrise

Once the sun comes up the temperature can soar over 50 degrees Celsius in the summer time and if you cannot find shelter then your days are numbered. It is as beautiful as it is deadly.

Palm Corpse

Palm Corpse

24 hours in the desert – sleeping on the sand

Hamid is a Bedouin.  His family have lived in the desert for generations. He is one of three sons and two daughters.  His family live in the local village, breed camels and run a desert camp where people can experience some of what life is like.

Hamid welcomed us to Nomadic Desert Camp and after we stowed our things we went for a drive.  The camp is basic and beautiful.  Each hut has 2 single beds (you can push them together if you would like to), a table and small chairs outside.  Showers are at the back of the camp, work very well and surprisingly large. There is no electricity in the camp.

Before our drive we visited a camel that was resident in the camp.  And if you think Matthew was nervous, he was.

Hamid drove us to where his family’s camels are.  Camels roam freely unless rounded up.  Pregnant females are penned just prior to giving birth to help them when the time comes and also to make sure that the foal can suckle. This is Hamid’s grumpy, feisty camel who has just given birth and loves him.  Surprisingly camel hair is very soft, especially the foals – we were asked not to touch her back as it wasn’t yet fully formed. 

Camels in the Middle East have a variety of purposes – meat and milk of course, but also camel racing and beauty contents (I kid you not). 

After camels we drove further into the sand dunes to watch the sunset while Hamid built the fire.

After sunset coffee and dates are served. Right hands only are washed in a finger bowl and then dates are offered along with rich, sweet, thick Omani coffee.  Your cup is filled and refilled until you shake it to indicate you’ve had enough.

We are a mixed group from all over the planet and while we are chatting Hamid quietly excuses himself, walks to the ridge facing the sunset and prays.

Then it’s back to camp for a dinner and time to sit around the campfire in the Majlis.

Next day Hamid is up early making bread on the fire ready for breakfast.  It is served along with humous, Arabic breads, coffee and fresh camel milk still warm (from the camel Matthew met in the morning).  We took a stroll before breakfast and this is what we found.

While we were breakfasting these camels were being got ready for our camel ride – the last experience before leaving the camp.

24 hours in the desert – Wadi Bani Khalid

Ana has lived in Muscat for several years and took us into the desert for 24 hours.  First stop Wadi Bani Khalid. Drive over the mountains that frame Muscat one side (the sea is on the other) and into a valley of desert, mountains, villages and trails.

What does wadi mean? Wadi is an Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley.  Sometimes it may refer to a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain [1]

Over the mountains and into a long stretching valley of occasional villages, scrub and mountains.  The wadi is literally in the middle of nowhere.

When we arrive, nearly 4 hours later this is what we find.  An oasis, with crystal clear water, fish that nibble your toes (free pedicure) and sweet spring water.

Wadi Bani Khalid is a beautiful place that surprises you in how large it is.  For families, there is a restaurant and large pool that is child friendly, for the more adventurous, you can hike up into wadi and choose a pool to your liking.  You will need to be sure of foot though – the trail can be narrow and uneven in places.

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Reference

[1] Wadi definition: Wikipedia Accessed 4 April 2018

Maroubra Beach

Growing up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs meant sun, sand, surf and a wonderful life outdoors. Ok, I wasn’t much of a surfer, too uncoordinated! But that didn’t stop me from hanging out here – Maroubra Beach.

The South Maroubra rock pools were always full of interesting crustaceans, anemones, sea squirts (aka cunjevoi) and the odd blue ringed octopus to which we gave a wide berth. If the north-south runway at Kingsford-Smith Airport was in use then the only other sounds to be heard were the crashing of the waves, the laughing of the children and the crack of rifles on the range behind us.

North Maroubra (below) was where the majority of the surfers hung out. Although the waves today were a little low, and the wind slightly chilly, there were a few brave souls out in the whitewash. The “Rubik’s Cube” in the picture above marks the storm water outlet that, as adventurous teenagers, we walked up inside quite a distance whenever the grate wasn’t in place to catch the rubbish. People have since drowned in there, so I wouldn’t recommend it as tourist destination 😉

Fisherman also enjoyed the rocky outcrops hauling in schnapper, flathead, black fish, sea bream and salmon. About 50m off the coast at North Maroubra is the wreck of the Hereward, a clipper built in Glasgow in 1877. The ship was blown onto the soft sands and wrecked in 1898. Thanks to Stuart Ritchie for the video below.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of Maroubra as a child, a teenager, an adult and a dad, but my fondest occurred earlier this year when Heidi and I got married at Mistral Point overlooking my favourite beach in Sydney.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

According to Wikipedia, in 1992 His Royal Highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said held a competition to design and build a Grand Mosque. Construction took six years to complete and the result is a stunning reflection of Islamic architecture.

The mosque occupies an area of approximately 416,000 square metres and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers within the grounds.

The external dimensions of the main prayer hall are 74m x 74m, with a central dome that rises 50 metres from the ground. Up to 6,500 people can pray at any one time within the main hall.

Intricate architecture inside the dome.

Intricate architecture inside the dome.

Hanging within the dome is the former Guinness world record holding 14 metre high Swarovski crystal chandelier that weighs a staggering 8.5 tonnes. It took four years to build and, until recently, was the largest chandelier in the world.

Underneath the 600,000+ glittering Swarovski crystals is arguably the second biggest hand-woven carpet in the world comprising 1,700 million knots and weighing 21 tonnes. Apparently it took 600 Iranian women 4 years to make. The size and scale of this rug made it hard to photograph properly.

There are sixteen smaller chandeliers lining the edges of the main prayer hall.The mosaic pattern of the Mihrab (below) deserved a closer inspection however the crowds on the day of our visit just would not allow this to happen. Built in the traditional semi-circular way the Mihrab indicates the direction of Mecca and hence the direction that worshipers should face when praying.

Buildings and walls surrounding the main prayer hall were inspired by traditional Omani fort architecture and incorporate verses of the Quran into the design.

Many of the internal walls have small niche’s like the one below that incorporate the Islamic motifs of other cultures. This one reflects ‘a contemporary interpretation of the patterns and designs which flourished during the reign of Tamerlane (1336-1405 AD) ruler of Central Asia’.

There are also fine marble ablution rooms for men and women.

Within the grounds are five minarets that symbolise the five pillars of Islam being Shahada (faith), Salat (prayer), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fasting) and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). The four smaller minarets occupy the corners of the mosque and a larger central one located adjacent to the dome.

The height of the central minaret (below) reaches 91.5m and has a 10.9 metre square base. From here the call to prayer is broadcast over the city six times a day.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the Grand Mosque between 8:00am and 11:00am any day other than Friday and it is definitely worth a visit. Please dress conservatively though out of respect for your hosts. Men should wear long trousers and have their shoulders covered, whilst women should have a covered head and arms, with either long trousers or a long skirt.

If you are unable to visit the Grand Mosque please feel free to check out the 360 degree virtual tour provided by the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque official website.

Islamic Art and Architecture Vol. 5 – Art of War

Our final post on Islamic Art and Architecture looks at the military. The 15th century war mask above was used in both Turkey and western Iran to motivate troops. The story told to us by the guide was that the commanding officer would charge into battle wearing the mask. Should he be killed then the next in command would quickly don the mask so that the infantrymen would think their leader was invincible. The mask also hid the pain from his face from the wounds he would undoubtedly have received from fierce face-to-face combat.

Turkish turban helmet from the early 16th century.

 

Ivory Italian Oliphant (Hunting Horn) c11th or 12th century.

 

Turkish axe and shield from the late 16th – early 17th century.

 

A 17th century Indian priming flask made of ivory, steel and glass, for loading early versions of muskets.

 

Dagger and Scabbard from India c1800. Made of steel, jade, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, gold and velvet.

 

Carved Afghanistan Cenotaph 1455 AD.

Islamic Art and Architecture Vol. 4 – Science and Literature

Astrolabes, like the one above, were used throughout the Islamic world for many centuries mainly to determine prayer time and the direction of Mecca.

The astrolabe at the top comes from Granada in Spain c1309 and the one at the bottom comes from the same region c1304. Both are made of brass.

 

Indian brass celestial globe c1640

 

Anatomical Illustration from the manuscript of Tashrih-i Mansuri a 15th century Persian physician.

 

A section of a 16th century Chinese Qur’an with ink pigments and gold on paper.

 

Another ink and gold section of the Qur’an this time from 14th century Egypt.

 

‘Babur Visits Humayun’s Camp’ a 16th century watercolour and gilt paint image from the Baburnameh, a book that recounts the story of Babur the founder of the Mughal dynasty, an empire in India.

 

Top: 19th century Turkish compass.
Centre: 19th century Syrian compass.
Bottom: 19th century Turkish ruler.

Islamic Art and Architecture Vol. 3 – Finery

Here are some of the finer things in life including the emerald wine cup (above) from India c1605. Wait! What? Wine?? 😉

18th century Ottoman wooden chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl. There is a mirror inside the box (not visible here) that suggests it was used by an elite member of the court.

 

Jewel encrusted Chopat (game set) from India c19th century

 

Bronze Fountainhead, Spanish Umayyad, Spain (Cordoba), mid 10th century.

 

Decorative silver sphere encrusted with rubies, emeralds and diamond. C1680 – India.

 

The Seal of Shah Sulayman of Iran carved from rock crystal c1668 – 1669.

 

Jeweled Falcon from India c1640. Gold and enamel encrusted with rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires and onyx.

 

Shirazi Wooden Chest from the Arabian Gulf – 18th century. Decorated with brass studs and engraved brass sheets.

Islamic Art and Architecture Vol. 2 – Decor

The Museum of Islamic Art had a fascinating section that included ceramics, textiles and woodwork dating back to the 7th century. Here are just some of the stunning samples we saw, such as the Turkish tile above c1560, that uses a technique called ‘fritware’ in which ground glass is mixed with the clay and baked at high temperatures to ensure appropriate fusion with the ceramic.

Not so old 19th century Indian cabinet – wood with ivory, pewter and ebony inlay.

 

15th century carved wooden panel from Iran.

 

17th century Cuerda Seca tiles from Kashmir or Lahore. Tiles like this were traditionally used to decorate the walls of both palaces and tombs. The Cuerda Seca technique involves the use of thin lines of some sort of greasy substance to prevent the water soluble glazes running together.

 

17th century carved sandstone Jali screen from India.

 

Early 15th century silk pile Ashtapada (Chessboard) carpet from Central Asia.

 

Further examples of Cuerda Seca fritware tiles, this time from 17th century Iran.

 

Egyptian wooden door from the 14th century with ebony, cedar, walnut and bone (ivory) inlay.