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While we all #stayin due to the current situation around COVID-19, reminiscing, and dreaming about our past and future travels are totally acceptable. Don’t we all love to vicariously live through our favourite travel bloggers’ amazing travel stories? Through #TNLRevisits, we get your most loved travel bloggers to spill the beans about their favourite places, off-the-radar destinations, and about countless other experiences that they have encountered through their journeys. Sharanya Iyer, the girl behind the travel blog Truly Nomadly, tells us why she recommends the Sultanate of Oman, for the post-Corona travel bucket list. By Amitha Ameen
1. Tell us about your fondest trip of 2019.
My solo road trip across the Sultanate of Oman in November 2019. This was the first time I drove alone in a foreign country, on the other side of the road. I was in the country for two weeks and explored everything from its Wadis, mosques, the desert, ocean, mountains, forts, and more, all by myself.
2. If you have to revisit the same place once travel bans are lifted, how differently would you explore the place this time around?
I’d definitely spend more time there and pack in a lot more; I would spend more time with the locals and contribute to their income, and generally just treasure each day more knowing not to take travel for granted anymore.
3. Do you remember meeting and interacting with locals there?
Absolutely! I couch-surfed a lot since Oman is not a backpacker-friendly destination at all. This means no hostels and no budget hotels. It is a country where you can freely camp anywhere in the wild. From a rich oil tycoon’s beach-side home to a Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert, and from bonfires atop Oman’s highest mountain (Jebel Shams) to learning to write my name in Arabic on the sand, about 90 per cent of my stay there was with locals.
In particular, there is one local I will likely never forget from a morning of exploration in Wadi Shab. I could’ve been all alone there, but my brand new friend Saif was with me. We had met just an hour earlier, and I had initially assumed he was a guide as he kept offering to guide me around.
Over the next three hours, he spoke to me in English, said he was just visiting the area from Muscat, showed me a secret path to avoid the initial round of swims so I could do my first cliff jump beyond the cave waterfall everyone stops at. After a day of exploring and as I was preparing to depart, I offered to drop Saif off. This was his reply:
“Nowhere, Sharu. I’ll be here only. I like to guide people through the Wadi. You were all alone this morning and I couldn’t have let you go alone. You didn’t want a Guide, so I decided to be your friend.”
4. What hidden gems did you discover there?
Oman is a land of Wadis. While a few of them fall on the popular tourist trails, I accompanied some local friends I made on Instagram, to Wadi Mangal, a place that is hard to find even on Google. We spent close to seven hours bouldering and hiking through this immense Wadi which was completely empty of tourists or locals!
5. Any particular local food that you would like to recommend?
You can’t go to Oman and not overindulge in their traditional Omani Coffee with dates! Also, their Halwa, shawarma, and mashaltat (a type of Egyptian bread) are to die for. These were some of my favourites that were so rich in flavour and texture.
6. Give our readers five reasons on why should they visit this place once the pandemic evaporates?
a. When you think of the Middle East, one typically thinks its all desert and barren land. But Oman has some of the most diverse landscapes I’ve ever seen. From mountains to rivers and natural pools, the desert (of course) to turquoise oceans with whale sharks and turtles and dolphins, and modern cities and opulent mosques — Oman has it all!
b. It’s one of the safest countries in the world to travel to. Crime rates are so low, they’re almost negligible.
c. It’s so easily accessible from India. I booked a month or two in advance, you can get return tickets to and from Muscat for about INR 14,000 (back then)!
d. If you have a US visa, you can get a quick e-visa for a 30-day period.
e. There are a lot of Indians there as well so it still feels like home, in the strangest of ways despite the very different atmosphere, language, food, landscape, and environment.
7. How are you coping with the lockdown?
I’m revisiting old trips and editing vlogs and videos to share with my audience. I’m also learning to cook (about time!), and I often dance and sing away the lows. Lots of reading and quality time with my family are some of the other ways I am riding through this quarantine.
8. Where would you travel to when things get back to normalcy?
Within India. To support the local economy and tourism, and also because it’s going to be the most affordable thing to do. I’m not really sure when it would be okay to cross international borders and enter different countries without any imposed quarantine. I’d love to head to Kerala, Lakshadweep or Andamans to dive since I’m an advanced diver, and maybe even head to Northeast India.
9. Any armchair travel tips?
We are so lucky to have access to the internet. Use it and watch travel documentaries like Given or Blue Planet on Netflix, travel shows, and vlogs on Youtube, read books based on countries – like I always turn to Murakami to virtually travel to Japan.