Challenge ride Oman: combine crossing the desert and beach riding.Venture Co Worldwide Challenge ride Oman: combine crossing the desert and beach riding.

Wihibah Desert to the Arabian Sea

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Wihibah Desert to the Arabian Sea

Challenge ride Oman: 9 days; 5 days riding.

Ride outstanding Arab horses across the people-less Wihibah Desert to the Arabian Sea. Explore a hidden away wadi that contains a waterfall and discover why British Explorer Tim Severin chose Muscat as the place to begin his search for the truth behind the legend of Sinbad the Sailor.

The first ride is along the beach.

The first ride is along the beach.

The beach ride

Day 1: Getting there
The flight departs from Heathrow in the evening and is an overnight flight of 7 hours 15 minutes.

Day 2: Arrive in Muscat
Touchdown at breakfast time into the cool, bright morning of the Gulf. Transfer (35 mins) to the Al Nada  The rest of the morning is free to enjoy the facilities and settle in to this hotel that used to be a mango orchard! Many of the original trees have been preserved, so the grounds are refreshingly green and cool. Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon transfer to the beach (5 mins) just east of the Sawadi Al Batha point and meet the first string of horses.

The Arab Horse
Several thousand years ago horses are thought to have been domesticated somewhere in Eur-Asia, though no-one knows exactly where, but they were perfected in Arabia. The Arab was forged in the brutal conditions of the Arabian Desert at the hands of Bedouin nomads, “Camels are for load-bearing, but you trust your life to a horse”. Over the centuries bloodlines were developed: stamina, speed and courage being the guiding attributes and today a compact, not too tall horse, with small ears (“Only donkeys have long ears”) broad nostrils and a broad chest (“Eaters of the wind”) developed. Horses are ingrained in Omani culture

Traditionally the pregnant mare is fed on dates and camel milk and when her foal is born it is not allowed to touch the ground: they are lovingly bathed and sheltered with their dam. Bloodlines are crucial and Arab poets praise the Arab as “drinkers of the wind” and “swallowers of the ground.”

Back in the 11th Century Arab soldiers recognized the military advantage that their fast, light horses gave them compared to the large, slow horses ridden by heavily armoured European Crusaders. Naturally they were reluctant to trade horses with their enemies. Inevitably Arab blood mixed with cavalries of the Ottoman Empire, European armies and those of the New World. Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Spanish conquistadors, George Washington all rode Arab horses. Cavalries are no longer relevant but the fact remains that Arab blood dominates the world. For example the entire Thoroughbred breed derives from three Arab stallions imported to England, which means modern racing owes a nod to ancient desert nomads.

Take a ride along the empty beach and return the same way: welcome to the Arab!

Overnight at the Al Nada.
Distance ridden 25 Km; 3 hrs.

Ride Arab horses along the beach

Day 3: Drive to Al Wasil; desert ride
Leave Muscat behind and drive into the hinterland, crossing the tropic of Cancer on the way, towards the desert village of Al Wasil on the edge of the Wahibah Desert. Meet the second string of horses. Light lunch then set off due south. The aim is to cross this uninhabited desert in three days to reach the turquoise waters of the Arabian Sea at Ras al Saqlah. This is a sandy desert, but not as barren and waterless as the Empty Quarter 500 miles west in Saudi Arabia. Expect to see feral herds of camels which congregate around sporadic groves of tough desert plants. There is a programme to re-introduce oryx to this area, but the programme is in its early days.

An hour before sunset we’ll reach our private mobile camp and temporary stables that will have been set up in advance.

Camp Life.
We use traditional Bedouin tents which are made of a heavy canvas and stand on a square footprint. The tents are carpeted and accommodate up to four riders sleeping on camp beds (All bedding is provided). There is a separate ablution block with a loo and hot showers (towels are provided). The mess tent is separate again, though most riders choose to eat around the campfire. We provide sundowners in the evening (beers, wine and G&T available). Oman is a Muslim country, but on the tolerant end of the spectrum. Consumption of alcohol is fine, though restrictions apply to its purchase.

There is zero pollution in the part of the desert we cross – no light pollution and no sound pollution, so do take a sec to look at the spectacular star-scape.

Overnight in the private camp.
Distance ridden 15 Km; 3 hrs.

Day 4: full day riding.
Set off in the morning, continuing south. While the sand is cool in the morning we can make good progress. Some long canters. Long lunch break in the shade and as the temperature begins to dip ride on through the late afternoon reaching camp an hour before sunset.

Overnight in the private camp.
Distance ridden 40 Km; 3 + 4 hrs.

Day 5: full day riding.
Set off in the morning, continuing south. While the sand is cool in the morning we can make good progress. Some long canters. Long lunch break in the shade and as the temperature begins to dip ride on through the late afternoon reaching camp an hour before sunset.

Overnight in the private camp.
Distance ridden 40 Km; 3 + 4 hrs.

Day 6 Reaching the coast
Set off in the morning and by mid-day we will see the ocean and arrive at Ras al Saqlah on the coast. Transfer to the hotel leaving the horses at the stable block. In the afternoon return to the stable and take a ride along the empty beach.

This beach is famous for its Green and Hawksbill turtles. Both species nest here, though there is no infrastructure to protect them. They are protected by law, but in this area there is no need for hatcheries and the like because there is no human interference.

Overnight at the hotel.
Distance ridden 30 Km; 3 + 4 hrs.

Day 7 Visiting Sur
120 Km up the coast towards Muscat is the town of Sur, famous for its traditional boat-building.

Everyone’s heard of Wadi Rum, Jordan, but Oman can go one better! About 25km north of Sur is Wadi Shab where a desert river flows through a narrow rocky canyon. You can swim upstream (gentle current) to reach a waterfall where a fixed rope guides you to a lagoon above the falls. Stunning spot to explore (bring your bathers).

Tim Severin is a British explorer who specialises in retracing the steps of ancient explorers. One of his most inspiring books is “In Search of Genghis Khan” riding across Mongolia. However, more relevant to this journey is his tale “The Sinbad Voyage” which involved tracing the epic sea voyage from Muscat to China of the mythical figure Sinbad the Sailor. The thing is, Severin requires authenticity and Sinbad used a vessel that was built of planks, stitched together, using no nail. This is an ancient skill, all-but lost to the modern world. He eventually discovered some craftsmen in Sur, Oman who still understood the ancient way of stitching a craft together and stuffing the seams with cotton-wool soaked in coconut oil. The ship was built, the voyage was successful and the boat was subsequently returned to Muscat to take pride of place in the middle of a roundabout in Muscat city centre! We’ll take a look around the ship yard and visit the vessel herself.

Overnight at Jebel Sifa boutique hotel (2 night stay)  which is right on the seafront, overlooking the marina

Distance ridden 0 Km.

Day 8 Muscat city tour
Today is a non-riding day during which we will visit Grand Mosque (ladies will need to wear head scarfs and make sure their wrists and ankles are covered). We have been invited to visit the Royal stables where there are over 2,000 horses including some of the finest Arab horses you’ll ever see. Dressage, show jumping, flat racing and endurance are all disciplines that are followed here. We have a private tour.

Overnight Jebel Sifa boutique hotel.

Day 9 Departure
Transfer back to the airport for the morning departure. Arrive London just after lunchtime.

Staying on
If riders would like to spend more time in Oman (or be joined by a non-riding ‘other’) we can arrange follow-on trips to visit places such as Jebel Shams www.jebelshamsresort.com Nizwa, the Jabrine Fort, Wadi Bani Auf and a host of other spots.

Fresh footprints on top of a dune

Included in the price
• Accommodation on a twin-share basis
• Full service private desert camp
• Sightseeing tours and excursions as specified. Entrance tickets as specified
• Airport transfers in Muscat
• Two strings of riding horses
• All meals throughout
• Service of English speaking guide
• Transport in private vehicle
• Muscat city tour
• Visit to the Royal Stables

Not included
• International flights- Venture Co is ATOL bonded and can provide this service
• Travel insurance
• Alcoholic drinks
• Single room; available at a supplement
• Tips