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Arabian Desert Tour: The Search for the Lost City

Tour Arabian Desert
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E solitude on the summit of a huge sand mountain, all around just Rub al Khali - the empty quarter of Arabia. The dunes stretch as far as the blinking eye can see, glowing golden orange in the shimmering afternoon sun. We are in the middle of the largest sandy desert in the world, bigger than France or Texas. The thermometer shows 44 degrees, the hot wind blows sand spray over the ground. The air is dusty. Everywhere sand ‚- in your hair and, gritting, between your teeth ... now a cold beer!

Once famous, now a wasteland

1700 years ago camel caravans passed here - up to 2,000 animals all at once, loaded with valuable cargo for the northern markets of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia. Humans and animals were in good spirits, because shortly, at their next stop, there would be water. And that stop was Ubar, famous for its treasures. Today this place is just wasteland. A modern desert ship is looking for its way at the foot of the dune: A Range Rover TDV8, the body pumped up and the Terrain Response in sand mode, gropes for solid ground - and yet gets stuck in quicksand time and again. Then it's time to get out the sand trays and shovel - an unbelievable ordeal in this glowing hell. We follow in the footsteps of the researcher Sir Ranlph Fiennes (born 1944) in search of the lost city of Ubar, which Lawrence of Arabia once called the Atlantis of the desert.

Ubar, according to the legend, was a fairytale oasis, which came to immeasurable wealth in 2500 BC through the trade in incense, which was practically outweighed by gold. At the time, incense was used to extract perfume and medicine, and it was also used in religious ceremonies. The most famous customer of Ubar incense was the Queen of Sheba. But sometime between the years 300 and 500 AD, so the legend goes, decadence and viciousness of the inhabitants angered God so much that he destroyed Ubar. Since then, the city in Dhofar, southern Oman, has been considered lost.

Frankincense made Ubar immeasurably rich

The main town of the region is now Salalah, a dusty coastal patch where Fiennes was an elite soldier in 1968 of the army of the Sultan of Oman first heard of Ubar. From that moment he was infected, as he wrote in his 1992 book Atlantis of the Sands: 'I had to find the golden pillars of Ubar, no matter how deep they were buried under the sand or how long it would take.' Fiennes found the first expedition to Rub al Khali with two Land Roversabsolutely nothing. And it would take 24 years and many more attempts before Fiennes discovered Ubar in the Shis’r area with the help of NASA satellites, helicopters and modern Land Rover Discovery in 1992. More than 13,000 historical objects could be excavated. The sudden demise of Ubar could now also be explained: Large limestone caves under the city had collapsed and tore down its walls.

For our four-day adventure tour, we are in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with the Range Rover TDV8, started a 650 mile ride over a sand and gravel road to Salalah. The next day we arrive at the old port city of Khor Rori, from where the dhows, the typical Arab sailing boats, set off for Asia, Africa and Europe with their precious incense. Then it's north over the rugged, 1000 meter high Quara Mountains to Thamrait, where there is the last refueling point. The asphalt ends in the direction of Shis’r and we continue on the barely recognizable, unpaved old incense road. The landscape is flat and the air shimmers in the heat. 10 a.m., 42 degrees Celsius - and the thermometer continues to rise. Fortunately, the air conditioning works perfectly. A few tufts of grass, acacias, tamarisks and a few ugly little incense trees have taken root between the rocks.

The ground is bumpy and broken down by the torrents - less often - downpours, but the range's air suspension ironed out most of the unrest Way away. Only now and then, when things get really bad, can you hear a faint crackling sound in the dashboard. We have finally reached Shis’r, a small collection of concrete structures on a hill. And opposite our gaze falls on a fenced area the size of a football field - Ubar, the lost city!

Today just an inconspicuous accumulation of ruins

Today it doesn't look like much. A couple of overturned columns and broken walls are grouped around a limestone cliff, at the foot of which a freshwater spring rises. But the years of excavations have proven that once, for millennia, there was a large settlement in the middle of green vegetation, which was certainly an important trading post on the incense route. The long journey was worth it - actually more for the off-road trip than Ubar himself. And our journey is not over yet: We turn north, into the endless desert, towards Al Hashman, past other sights and bad smelling ones Sulfur springs: This is where a 500,000 square kilometer off-road paradise begins, a true ocean of sand dunes up to 300 meters high - and nothing else.

Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia: The sand layer is getting thicker, the dunes are steeper, the track is narrower, and the Pirellis are starting to dig. We curve around the sand hills, always looking foras firm a base as possible. But despite the Range Rover's excellent off-road capabilities, it happens again and again that we dig ourselves in - and dig ourselves up again in the sweat of our brow. But the view over the golden waves of the sandy sea at sunset compensates for everything. It is said that Ubar has been found. But we believe that this place is still hidden deep under these waves of sand.

The basic requirement for a tour in the Sultanate of Oman is a tour that is valid for at least six months Passport.

How to get there
Oman's only international airport is located 30 kilometers west of the capital Muscat. In addition to Lufthansa, British Airways and KLM also offer flights to the sultanate. The prices for the return flight start from 700 euros.

Entry requirements
Entry is very easy for German citizens. Various visas can be obtained at all border crossings, be it on land, water or at the airport. The fee for the one-month visa is around 40 euros. If you want to stay longer, you can extend your visa by one month for the same price. A short visa for ten days (not extendable) costs around 10 euros.

Rental cars
The major car rental companies are located directly at the international airport. However, it is advisable to reserve in advance so that a suitable 4wheeler is available. The American rental company Thrifty, for example, sells a Toyota LandCruiser, also known as the Toyota Prado in the Arab world, for around 500 euros per week, with no mileage limit Almost 2.5 million people live in the Sultanate of Oman in an area that is almost the size of Germany. So it is hardly surprising that you can drive through the area for days without even meeting a soul. Due to the subtropical climate, a trip between January and April is recommended, as temperatures and humidity will otherwise exceed tolerable levels. Oman has been independent since the early 1970s and has been ruled by Sultan Qaboos Bin Said ever since. The main source of income for the sultanate is the export of crude oil.

An Omani rial currently costs around 2 euros - for example, 10 liters of gasoline are available for that!

German Embassy in Muscat
P. O. Box 128, Ruwi, PC 112
Telephone: 00968/24 83 24 82
Internet: www.maskat.diplo.de

Further useful tips can be found at www.omantourism.de


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