Sculpted over many millennia by the northern shamal trade wind and the south-west monsoon, the Wahiba Sands are vast panorama of rolling sand dunes, deep gold and red by turns. Also known as Ramlat al-Wahiba or Sharqiya Sands, the dunes cover a total area of 12,500 square kilometres, reaching to a prodigious height of 100 metres in the north. Although desert, the sands support a surprisingly rich eco-system: in 1986, the Royal Geographical Society documented the terrain and noted 16,000 invertebrates and 200 species of other wildlife, along with 150 species of flora.
But the desert is not uninhabited by humans either. The Bedouin, whose name literally translates as ‘those who live in the desert’, have been roaming the region for centuries. Numbering four million across the Middle East, their tribes in Oman include the al-Amr, al-Bu-lsa, Hikman, Hishm, Janaba and of course, the al-Wahiba, after whom the sands are named. Traditionally, the Bedouin are nomadic sheep farmers who roam the countryside with camels, living in portable tents woven from goats’ hair. Half of the tent is for women, children, utensils and storage. The other half contains a fire and is used for cooking, eating and entertainment. Despite a decline in traditional lifestyles (the political and economic pressures of the 19th and 20th centuries did much to undermine the Bedouin) the archaic codes and kinship ties binding their society remain strong. A visit to a traditional Bedouin homestead is a highlight of any trip to Wahiba. Between June and September, the tribesmen gather in great numbers to harvest dates at Al Huyawah oasis.