Friday, April 27: Sohar is the major city in northern Oman and lies about halfway between Muscat and Dubai. Sitting on the Batinah Coast, the city was once the maritime capital of Oman and a major local producer and distributor of copper, according to Oman Off-Road and The Rough Guide to Oman. Copper was mined in the nearby Wadi Jizzi as far back as the 5th century BC, and the city was also famous for smelting, mining and agriculture. It was also the center of an extensive trading network stretching up and down the Gulf. According to local legend, Sindbad the sailor was born here. Over its history, the city was raided by Persians and the Mongols, and finally by the Portuguese in 1507; they controlled the city until 1643, when they were finally ousted. Later the Persians returned twice more, finally to be thrown out in 1742. Despite its Arabian Nights background, nothing remains of an old town and the Sohar Fort is closed for renovations, as are many forts in Oman.
In the last few decades, Sohar has had an economic resurgence due to the reopening of the Wadi Jizzi copper mines by the Oman Mining Company and by the creation of the new Sohar Port. The city made international headlines in 2011 when it became the focal point of nationwide protests against the government.
This morning, we wake up at our Butterfly Suites Hotel and decide to take a walk on Sohar’s beach. We are all suitably impressed with our gleaming and modern hotel and its friendly and helpful staff. We slept comfortably in our sleek suite of graphic blacks and reds, so we are ready to go out and explore Sohar for the morning.
We have to walk out behind the hotel where a big tent is still set up from a wedding the night before. There is a pervasive smell of garbage from the rubbish set out from the wedding, and in the morning heat it’s quite a stink. The whole area behind the hotel is quite trashy and disgusting, but when we finally escape from the decrepit buildings between the hotel and the sea, we find ourselves at a lovely beach with brown sand and a sea gently lapping the shore.
We wade through the cool tidal pools and look at seashells and the white buildings lining the beach. We can’t help but be drawn to the white turreted Sohar Beach Hotel, which is next door to our hotel and apparently THE place to stay in Sohar. It has lovely but slightly unkempt grounds, a bright blue cross-shaped pool and a huge chessboard, all overlooking the beach. We take pictures of this palm-fringed set-up and then walk onto the grounds to admire the enticing pool and the chess pieces; the king’s head is tossed carelessly to one side of the board and Tom comments that that’s certainly one way to win the game.
After checking out the prices at the Sohar Beach Hotel, we head back to our much more contemporary Butterfly Suites for the breakfast buffet, which surprisingly is missing eggs of any sort. We eat about half of our breakfast when the African woman there informs us we can have eggs prepared any way. We order omelets, happy to have our egg fix.
Kathy decides to go swimming at the beach and I stay in the room to take a shower. I hope to read some of the book I brought, but Tom tells me a long story about all the different types of cameras his father owns and the types he’s owned, and before he starts to tell me about every kind of camera there is on the market, I take off to look for Kathy. I return quickly when I can’t find her because it’s just too darn hot outside.
When Kathy returns, we all pack up our stuff and check out to go see Sohar Fort in the daylight. Apparently the fort was recently whitewashed, but it seems the paint is peeling off in chunks. Though said to be the largest in Oman, the main fort is plain, with long stretches of white wall and small gun towers. A tall keep rises within the walls, but it is closed for renovations and is engulfed in scaffolding. Archeological surveys suggest that the present-day fort was built on the rubble of the pre-Islamic fort in around 750 AD.
Since the fort is closed for renovation, all we can do is walk along the outside, which, to be frank, is pretty boring.
Next door to the fort is the large Sultan Qaboos Mosque with an attractive gold dome. This is the third Sultan Qaboos Mosque I’ve seen in Oman, the Grand one in Muscat, one in Bahla, and this one. So far, I like the Bahla version the best.
We take a short walk along the corniche, where we see some boys taking their bulls for a walk on the beach. One of the bulls gets to go for a morning swim. He’s lucky because it’s hot already and it isn’t even noon yet. Bullfighting is big sport in Sohar, and these boys say they’re preparing their bulls for the Friday night fights.
Finally, we decide it’s just too hot to walk around any more, so we hop in Tom’s Kia Sportage to continue our loop. We head for Ibri via Yanqul, stopping to take pictures of the Globe roundabout and grabbing some drinks for the long drive ahead.