The White Monochrome of Sur
The Omani village that mesmerised globetrotter Ibn Battuta
June Mukherjee, January 20, 2022
We all know that Oman offers a picturesque landscape, with carefully cultivated greenery and lakes amidst mountains everywhere and centuries-old lighthouses, forts and castles. In addition to this, the extremely hospitable people of the land, especially with their affable behaviour towards the guests, excellent road connectivity and high standards of hospitality infrastructure even in smaller towns, has positioned Oman as a top choice among the niche vacationers. Often people mistake that Oman is all about Muscat, but once you decide to step out and discover the opulence of Oman's beauty painted in pastel colours, you will see there is a surprise at every step. Sur, which is the capital city of Ash Sharqiyah South Governorate of Oman on the coast of the Gulf of Oman is one such stop where you can flexibly spend a quiet and relaxing peaceful holiday.
From Muscat, you can drive or take a bus or a taxi to Sur which is approximately 200 kilometres away and takes about 2 to 2.5 hours by road. Historically, the city is known for being an important destination point for sailors. Today, the sea still plays an important part in life in Sur. Sur experiences a hot desert climate with very little rainfall and high temperatures. Because of its coastal location, Sur's night-time temperatures are never very low. There is no distinct wetter season, but March tends to be the wettest month, and September the driest. The best time to visit Sur is between October and April as these months are comparatively cooler.
Sur is a city that is best known for the craftsmanship associated with boats or traditional 'Dhows'. Shipbuilding, particularly building wooden ships is a trade that is a part of Sur’s rich heritage. Sur's Dhow yards are world-famous and is also considered as the home of the great 'Sindbad' the Sailor. However, the local Omanis don't call them "dhows" but rather just "safeena" (ship). Situated to the south of the Khor Al Batah suspension bridge, this museum is steeped in rich historical significance which showcases different sections, with the Wilayat emblem ‘Al Ghanja Ship’ adorning the entrance. A walk through the great factory can give one a fascinating opportunity to look into how wooden boats were made over the various centuries.
Fatah Al Khair
Fatah Al Khair is the name of a ship that is currently a part of an open-air museum that is dedicated to the shipbuilding lineage of the city of Sur in Oman. Built over 70 years ago, the wooden fishing vessel of Fateh Al Khair has strong historical significance to it. It was brought back to Yemen, restored and grounded on dry land. The ship is said to be hand-built without any nails, and hand-woven ropes were used to shore up. Visitors are not permitted to climb up the dhow but can get up close to look at the flanks. Fatah Al Khair is located in Al Qanjah Boat Yard within the Sur Maritime Museum.
Bilad Sur Castle
The Bilad Sur Castle is situated at the central part of the Bilad Sur Plain with its architectural splendour as one of the grandest bastions of Wilayat. Initially built to defend the town against the marauder tribes, these towers offer a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. Today, the dignified Bilad Sur Castle also houses a museum, where visitors can get a deeper insight into its rich historical significance.
Al Ayjah Fort
The Al Ayjah fort was built along with the merchant houses surrounding its perimeters. These houses have beautifully carved doors and lotus pillared porches having a uniform square structure as most of the other forts in the region.
Al Ayjah Lighthouse
Al Ayjah Lighthouse also known as Sur Lighthouse is one of the top attractions to visit in the city. Facing the Gulf of Oman, this attraction offers cultural, historical and natural experiences. The lighthouse is situated on Ras Ayqah, the highest east side point in Sur harbour square.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
On the east side of the Arabian Peninsula, Ras Al Jinz is a serene fishing village that is situated in Ras Al Hadd. The Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve houses the endangered turtle, Chelonia Mydas. Apart from researching about this endangered species, this eco-tourism environment also adeptly combines educational projects and tourism services. This turtle reserve is also the only place in the world where people can witness the miraculous nesting process of these gigantic turtles.
Old Town of Sur is an ancient abandoned town in the Al Ayjah area in Sur. Filled with culture, history and nature, it is surrounded by narrow streets, old, dilapidated and abandoned houses and structures. The Old Town stands out from the rest of the city because of its wooden carvings on doors, old merchant houses that are painted grey and other ancient houses that are now frozen in time.
Located at the oldest part of Sur, is the gorgeous Sur Corniche, making up the oceanfront walkway that is one of the most popular places in the city. Spread across four miles, Sur Corniche offers a spectacular view of the wooden dhows, or boats, that occupy the harbour nearby. The inlet side of the Sur Corniche gives a great view of the skyline dominated by beautiful mosques.
The Sunaysilah Castle is around 300 years old, located on Highway 23, which was built to provide for the defence system and to guard the city of Sur. The castle is built on a classic square plan atop a hill and has four round watchtowers. The rooms inside the castle have various traditional artefacts including poetry, Quran stands, carpets, etc. The fort offers a magnificent view of Sur, especially of the mosque adjacent to the castle.
Sur is the perfect place to sunbathe on exotic beaches and indulge in some local delicacies Omani Halwa is world famous and no tourist returns without a packet of Omani Halwa for home. It has a lot of nearby attractions where one can go to experience the rich Omani culture. It is the base for many day trip destinations like Ras-Al-Hadd, Wadi Shab, Wahiba Sands and many more.
Omani perfumes are world-renowned and have been for centuries, and perfumeries have long since been a part of Omani heritage. The Khanjar, an Omani dagger, is an artefact that epitomises Oman's rich traditions and their link to the past and can be bought as souvenirs from many traditional souvenir stores. Ibra Souq which is a local spice market is a must-visit attraction that allows visitors to take in all the bold scents, sounds, flavours, and colours of this ancient city. There are many restaurants that offer Omani, Indian, Chinese cuisines. You have to depend either on your instinct or on your guide or do some research before you chose one. It is better to select a big one rather than a small eatery.
Sur is ideal for slow travel, take a lazy ride and visit these places and collect some lifelong beautiful memories. Perhaps the most vivid memory one can bring back is the beauty of white monochrome it paints across the city throughout the year without any snowfall or an iceberg.