Empty Quarter

Experience uninterrupted silence in the magnificent Empty Quarter.
OVERVIEW

Visit the capital city of Southern Oman’s Dhofar province, Salalah, which boasts banana plantations, a hot desert climate and the annual ‘Khareef’ monsoon. Located between the Arabian sea on one side and the Dhofar Mountains on the other, this is Oman’s second-largest city though still nowhere near as large as Muscat. After exploring Salalah’s atmospheric old town we’ll head over to The Empty Quarter – a spellbinding desert covered with enormous sand dunes.

Sophy Roberts travelled with Hud Hud in this area and wrote about it for the Financial Times, How to Spend It magazine:

‘I have never been able to find the author again, as if he or she were some figment of my imagination, but I still remember the passage clearly: the writer described, without punctuation, a single moment when everything in the city fell silent, a splinter of a millisecond when the traffic lights paused on red at the exact same moment as every human in the vast metropolis stopped talking, when every television was turned off, when there were no planes in the sky, no clapping in the theatre, no brawling, barking, nothing.  The sound of silence, the absence of everything in a brilliantly construed fiction, is something I have listened for often.  It was only recently that I encountered it, on a trip to a little-visited desert in Oman.

In a curl of 500 ft-high dunes, their spines filed sharp by the wind, we struck camp. I slept, or tried to sleep. Perhaps it was the high heat from the day before, or the slight fear that comes from feeling so far away from everything one’s familiar with, but when I stepped out of the black, camel-hair tent, the kind used by the Bedouin, I didn’t expect to experience the intensity of feeling that can come from nothing.  ‘Life in western countries is clearly very hectic’, my Bedouin guide, Musallim told me earlier in the evening. ‘Here your people seem to like the peace and silence of a place where there’s no such thing as a rush.’

He had a point. The crackle of the campfire had died; the staff slept elsewhere, behind the wall of sculpted sand. The sky was black and clear, with shooting stars making their journeys through the night, the tiny pin-pricks of light casting a luminescence that felt alien to someone used to a diet of street lamps. I could hear no animals, insects or birds. There was no wind, no candle light, just my seven-year-old’s slow and regular breath as he slept in our bed nearby. In that moment the silence filled me with a visceral sense of freedom and of acute vulnerability.

Such is the power of the desert.  The desolation puts one on edge, or at least shifts the senses into a state of almost hyper-alertness, with ‘ghost water’, as the bedouin call mirages, one of the better-known examples of this response. Even without the sensorial trickery, the landscapes themselves can be breathtaking.’

ITINERARY

After a short flight from Muscat to the historic town of Salalah, you will be met by one of our experienced Hud Hud team and guided southwards along the coast, stopping in Mughsayl before heading up and over the Dhofar Mountains. The wildlife in this area is both diverse and fascinating; there are numerous exotic plants with some parts scattered with the fabled Boswellia Sacra (Frankincense tree) whose famous incense has been harvested and traded by Omanis for millennia.

After a picnic lunch we’ll continue inland before heading North towards an extremely remote and isolated area where the traffic is virtually nonexistent. Next we’ll say goodbye to the vegetation and enter the barren landscape of the Mountains of the Moon and Negd desert. Finally, we’ll drop down into the deep canyon of the Wadi Aydam, home to small groups of Bedu from the Bait Zabnawt tribe, before continuing North towards flat open plains with sparse rocky outcrops. After leaving the main track we begin weaving our way through the russet red sand dunes of the Rub al Khali, otherwise known as The Empty Quarter. It’s the largest sand desert in the world and one of few last true wildernesses, with dunes that stretch out as far as the eye can see. Take in the exquisite sunset as we set up camp deep in the dunes ready for a typically dark and silent desert night.

We offer a four night / five day safari in the Dhofar region with two nights in the Empty Quarter and two nights spent on a beautiful beach near Mirbat.

To get a more integrated picture of the country, combine a visit to the Dhofar region with a tour of Northern Oman.