A'zwa or "battle chant" is celebrated as an Omani tradition in several towns within the Sultanate of Oman. This year, I was able to be part of the ceremony that took place on the fourth day of Eid in the town of Fanja, just 30 minutes from the capital city - Muscat.
The ceremony itself takes approximately 2 hours, starting around 4 pm. and ending around 6 pm or at sunset.
As you make your way through the village and its intricate streets uphill to the old fort, you will come across the men of Fanja, both old and young, chanting and parading with the Omani flag upfront throughout the main streets of Fanja.
In previous years, as these men echoed battle chants throughout the streets in lines of four, they would also shoot into the air. This used to be a typical part of their celebratory gunfire; but as of this year, the ROP (Royal Omani Police) issued a prohibition of the use of armed guns to shoot into the air. It is worth noting that during this celebration, all men are armed up to their teeth with swords, guns, rifles and their traditional Omani khanjars.
Once at the top and within the main square of the old fort, you will see the men of Fanja parade straight through the main square and exit on the opposite side right away.
Then there's a pause within the activities surrounding this event, women return to their conversations, or take care of their children; some older children play with their plastic swords while others sell and/or buy water, soft drinks and even toy guns other small trinkets.
Maybe ten minutes later, a voice announces that the cannon will be fired and everyone gets excited and returns to their strategic points to have a better view of the cannons.
... and so it starts ...
As the cannons have been fired, a few minutes later, the men of Fanja return to the main square chanting in groups rather than in their initial 4-lines formation as the sword-dance is about to begin.
Close to 6 p.m., those who came to presence this ceremony at the old fort of Fanja start to slowly but steadily leave the place.
... and then, the town of Fanja ... goes back to its normal routine.
For four consecutive years (2012 - 2015), I have been camel trekking throughout the Ash Sharqiyah Sands formerly known as the Wahiba Sands, but after attending a presentation by British explorer and desert dweller - Mark Evans, I got inspired to write about my journeys desert crossing Oman.
Dune driving in the desert is quite an experience especially if your driver is a skilled-one who can safely steer the 4x4 up and down the steep golden dunes that lead to the camp.
Once at the camp, the comfort you experience at the 1000 Nights Camp is unparalleled to other camps in the vicinity; here you can lounge by the pool, go dune bashing during the day, hike the highest nearby dune to experience the majestic sunset and then roll down, sandboard or walk down the dunes back to your oasis in the desert!
At night, as you enjoy your dinner, a group of bedouin shows up to dance the night away to the rhythm of drums and the Arabic oud - a pear-shaped guitar.
The camel trekking begins ...
This journey is not as epic as the 49 days desert dwelling trek that a group of Omanis and Mark Evans bravely accomplished from Salalah, Oman through the Empty Quarters and into the towers of Doha, Qatar recreating the first desert crossing that took place in 1930 by the Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut and the Briton Bertram Thomas. Learn more about their historic journey here.
Nonetheless, in our own epic way, we started our trek throughout the desert for 2 nights and 3 days accompanied by 10 camels and 3 local bedouin guides. Camel trekking is the desert's oldest means of transportation.
We trek throughout the desert for 8 km every day. We trek 4 km in the morning until we reach our first stop around noon to be well-received and delighted by a well-deserved lunch buffet and plenty of water and juices to replenish our strength for the afternoon trek.
After eating lunch under an improvised tent, we all succumb to a midday nap; an hour later, we embark on the last 4 km trek to our final destination of the day where we will set up camp and spend the night under the starry night and the vastness of the desert.
As we reach our desert camp site, we notice that we will be doing so next to the camp site of a local bedouin family. As a result, our Omani guides introduce us to the family who welcomes us with their traditional bedouin coffee, flat bread cooked in the desert and some dates.
Afterwards, the young local guides challenge us to a few desert games which include a running competition, a camel race we politely declined and a high jump competition.
In the evening, we are treated to the bedouin desert cuisine which is known as arcilla and which consists of rice with lamb cooked underground and laboriously stirred by hand in order to achieve a pasty consistency. My conclusion: A very delicious meal worthy of not being missed by anyone visiting this region!
The 2 nights and 3 days we did our desert crossing throughout the Ash Sharqiyah sands was filled with sand dunes and once in a while, a dust storm would cross into our path prompting us to improvise a tent to seek shelter.
There are no major sites within this area but rather extraordinary beauty and uniqueness of its landscape and the vast solitude of the desert. However; throughout these past 4 years, I have been able to witness how climate change has brought more greenery into this desert. When I first trekked here back in 2012, it was just a plain barren desert; nowadays, more and more desert bushes keep appearing ... to the joy of camels and locals alike!
I participated on a week-long program called Discover Oman during which we explore hands-on the landscape, the culture and traditions of this wonderful country that has hosted us.
Salalah, the capital of the southern region of Dhofar, can be reached by car on a 10 hr drive or a 45 min flight from Muscat. We took the flight from Muscat to Salalah by means of Oman Air. It's worth mentioning that Oman Air has a Dreamliner on this route!
Salalah is also famous in the region due to the following:
We stayed at the Arabian Sea Villas which is a somewhat exclusive bed and breakfast located right on the beach. It's owner and manager Mussalam is readily available to help you in almost anything you need. You may also want to inquire about his beduin-style camp in the Empty Quarters. For more information you may contact him directly at +968.9949.5175 which also works for WhatsApp.
... and remember, don't be too surprised to see camels running freely through the highway and at almost every location you visit. Drive carefully and share the road/venue!
Places to visit:
Well know for sardine fishing, it hosts really nice beaches, white sand and azure waters; but beware that the sea shores have strong currents and it does steep drastically.
It is said that its architecture is quite similar/linked to that of the Hadrami style in Yemen.
One of the landmarks you can't miss here is the Taqah Castle which is a compact castle now turned into a museum (1994) which showcases what was life like for tribal leaders back then.
On the ground floor you can find a prison, a reception hall and rooms formerly used by guards or destined for storage; as well as others used now for different exhibitions of metalwork and cookware. On the upper floor you can find the watch towers photographed below.
Sumhuram / Khor Rori Archaeological Site:
A former major/wealthy port in southern Arabia used for trading frankincense. It is now a UNESCO site that overlooks an inlet where fresh water and water from the sea come together.
Other than the ruins of this archaeological site, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse at flamingos or any other migratory bird as this is a sanctuary for them.
It's a wadi with frankincense trees in the wild and also a UNESCO site which protects 5,000 planted trees. They are currently upgrading the reservoir to double its capacity, that is 10,000 frankincense trees.
Frankincense is an essential element in Omani life as it is used with a frankincense burner to perfume (bukhoor) clothes, hair and beards. It is also used to repel mosquitoes, and Oman's signature scents as you pass by mosques, malls, hotel lobbies; in short, almost everywhere you go.
On the above photo, our local guide showed us how frankincense is collected by making a small cut or tapping the peely/papery-like bark of the tree in order for it to secrete a resin called tears that will later dry and harden up for proper collection.
It is worth noting that:
Make sure you visit the Land of Frankincense Museum in Salalah!
... and if you're looking for a gift to take back home, contact The Nejd as they have handcrafted candles, soaps and oils that make very unique gift.
This is the place to go during the khareef as it is a wadi that contains water all year long but during the khareef season, the water creates waterfalls that plunge meters down over the edge of the wadi.
This is also the location where many bedouins still bring their cattle (goats, camels and yes, cows).
The alleged tomb of Job:
This tomb is a small mausoleum and I have written alleged as there are at least 4 other locations that claim that they have Job's tomb.
This tomb is located on the mountainous region of Jebel Al Qar north of Salalah. This area is also used by the bedouins in their daily life agriculture.
Marneef Cave / Al-Mughsayl:
The scenic view of the sea with the mountains as a backdrop make this visit worthwhile.
The following are random photos within Salalah: