Oman was for long time high on my travel list and one of the main reasons is the amazing Rub al Khali (or Empty Quarter) desert. This is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world, shared between Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen and Oman. One of its most interesting features is tall sand dunes – taller than anywhere I’ve seen so far. And that’s the main reason I wanted to visit!
The journey to the desert
Our Oman trip started in Muscat, the capital of Oman, next we visited the mountain area of Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar and ended in Nizwa. From Nizwa to Rub al Khali it is a looong drive. Fortunately the road is brand new, high quality and not too busy with traffic. It is also very scenic if you like desolate landscapes, Mad-Max style. I do. Before we left the main road (leading to Salalah) we stopped at a petrol station to fill our car and a short stop at a local mosque, our guide Hussain had to do his prayer.
We also met with Ahmad, our guide, who served military service for many years in different locations around Rub al Khali. He was an experienced driver and understood what we came for – beautiful photos of pristine dunes, without footsteps, car trails or other human impact. We soon learned Ahmad was the right guy for us. He even brought coconuts for us from his hometown Salalah.
Driving into the desert is an experience! First, there was still some lone buildings, tents and camel enclosures. Some trees and dry riverbeds. The landscape soon turned into a real desert with sand dunes and occasional bush resisting cruel environment.
It was late afternoon when we got to an area of beautiful, unspoilt dunes. It was windy as hell, dust was blowing everywhere and it took us only once to leave the vehicle and everything was covered in sand, cameras, backpacks, clothes, hair… There was no way to change lenses so I kept a telephoto 70-200mm on one camera and 24-70mm on the other. The good thing about the desert dust is that it doesn’t stick to the gear and is easily cleaned with a dust blower and a brush.
A little bit of context about our trip. This was my first time to Oman and I wanted to do a bit of scouting before I run a photo tour to this part of the world. I invited Sue and Dave to join me. We traveled together before and there is a good, relaxed atmosphere in our group. Before we left to the desert Dave had to reschedule his flights and return home to Canada early (COVID19). So it was only Sue and I who traveled to Rub al Khali.
Photos of Rub al Khali
Here are some photos of the dunes in strong winds.
Since the light was getting really nice , Sue and I left the our guides behind and ran into the dunes. We didn’t care much about setting a camp, we were determined to get some nice shots of low sun and blowing sand in the dunes. All above photos were taken handheld in that evening.
When sun got lower on horizon it lost its strength because of so much dust in the air. We returned to our “camp” where we had improvised dinner in the car. The winds were too strong to set up a kitchen and cook. The night was interesting:) Our tents were flopping in the relentless wind all night and unfortunately we couldn’t shoot night skies – the wind was way too strong to get any long-exposure photographs.
I woke up a few times at night to check the wind status and to admire night sky. The wind did not calm down so I just walked around our camp for a while admiring the views of starry sky. I was full of hope for our next night – if only winds calm down!
The morning was a bit less windy so we could actually use tripods. Sue and I have spent about two hours walking the dunes and while we photographed I got totally immersed in the scenery. I haven’t realised everyone was waiting for me to come back to our camp for a breakfast. Well, who needs food when there is such beauty surrounding you!
Unfortunately our Oman trip came to an abrupt end when we learned the news about upcoming flight bans and travel restrictions – we decided to return to Muscat immediately, rebook our flights to first available option and return home. It is amazing how one can change a flight in the middle of the desert using only a mobile phone while driving across sand dunes! When we got back to the main road, we freshened up at a petrol station, said farewell to Ahmad and hit the road to Muscat where we arrived around sunset. Sue and I flew back home early in the morning and I literally caught the last flight to Slovenia before the airports closed.
I was disappointed that we couldn’t go deeper into Rub al Khali to find the real tall dunes. But this is life, things were out of our control and now I have a good reason to come back. I am even more determined to return and I am already planning a photo tour with my new friend Hussain.