Saturday, June 16: This morning we check out of the hotel and go directly to Khasab Castle. We debate about whether to go in, because it costs 500 baisas and because it’s steamy hot. We’d frankly rather snap a few photos and hop back in the air-conditioned car. But, since we’re here, we decide to brave the elements and venture into the castle. A pleasant surprise awaits us inside.
Khasab Castle was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century in their bid to control regional maritime trade. Later it was modified by Omani forces. Originally on the sea front, the waters have gradually receded a considerable distance, leaving the castle quite far inland.
A couple of large wooden dhows stand outside.
Inside the courtyard of the castle we encounter three more boats — a battil, mashuwwah and zaruqah.
The battil vessels were noted for their speed and were popular for fighting and smuggling as well as for fishing, pearling and coastal trading. This boat was built in Kumzar around 1970. The battil has a pretty cowrie-shell decoration around the prow and rudder which are typical of Musandam.
The mashuwwah is an adaptation of earlier, double-ended vessels. It can be rowed, sailed, or fitted with an outboard engine. This mashuwwah was used in Khasab harbor to ferry goods and people back and forth between anchorage and shore. In days past, such vessels were used as “ship’s boats” on ocean-going cargo dhows where they served as lifeboats and provided a means of communicating between ships at sea. During the long sail to east African ports, the ship’s carpenter would often use his spare time on board to build a mashuwwah to sell at the end of the voyage.
Vessels of the zaruqah class such as this one built in Khasab in the mid-1900s are still a common sight in the bays of Musandam where they are the favored fishing vessel. They are quiet in the water and easy to maneuver and are suitable for use by a single fisherman or a crew of up to four oarsmen and 2-4 net handlers. A shoal of fish venturing into one of Musandam’s deep bays can be rapidly encircled by nets laid out by a zaruqah. A spotter is often positioned high in the adjacent cliffs to help guide the crew to their catch.
Also in the courtyard is a modern replica of a traditional barasti (palm thatch) summer-house, constructed using stone pillars with permeable walls made from palm branches.
I walk up some steps to a walkway where I can make a circuit of the fort and its towers, some with mangrove-pole ladders set into the interior walls. I dip into one room along the walkway where it is refreshingly cool. I go inside to refresh myself and let the sweat dry off.
Going back out into the heat, I walk along the walkway into a tower where there are displays on traditional Musandam culture featuring colorful rugs, crockery and some mannequins. One display is of an apothecary’s shop.
A large and completely detached circular tower stands in the center of the courtyard. This is meant to provide an additional refuge in case the outer walls are breached. Inside this tower are informative and interesting exhibits covering various aspects of Musandam’s geology, culture and history.
The massive central tower is believed to predate the castle itself.