The Rustaq Loop is an inland circuit via Nakhal, Ar Rustaq and Al Hazm, three of Oman’s finest forts; add in Al Awabi if you want to have a look at a smaller, simpler fort. Each of the three major forts takes at least an hour to visit, so set aside a day, or ideally two, for the round trip. Alternatively, if time is not an issue, the locations on the loop can easily be visited in a series of outings from Muscat. You can flag down local minibuses anywhere on this route to reach the main towns on the tarmac, but to head into the wadis you need your own transport, preferably 4×4.
The more scenic approach of the two ways into the loop is opposite Barka, taking the inland route marked Nakhal and Ar Rustaq. This brings you to Nakhal after 15 minutes and then on to the 40km stretch to Ar Rustaq, which leads through some spectacular mountain scenery in the approaches to Al Jabal Al Akhdar, with many water-filled wadis and picnic spots. The stretch from Ar Rustaq onwards via Al Hazm to the coast opposite at Al Miladdah is by contrast dull and flat; with no wadis and the mountains ever more distant, there’s little to see here.
From a distance, Nakhal Fort is dwarfed by the mountainous backdrop, but the closer you get, the more impressive it becomes. The fort has a number of bastions and towers, with walls that ingeniously follow the natural contours of the high rocky outcrop on which it sits. When you are in Oman you will see Nakhal Fort on the 500 baisa currency notes.
Nakhal Fort © Tony Walsh
Ar Rustaq Fort is said to have been built before the arrival of Islam in Oman, making it one of the country’s oldest. The highest tower of all, to the right (northwest) corner, is the mysterious Burj A’Shayateen (Devil’s Tower). You can walk up along the parapet around the courtyard to approach it, giving you superb views over the oasis.
Your first sight of Al Hazm Fort is its battlements peering over the scattered date palms in Al Hazm village, giving no inkling of the architectural complexity within.
Your first sight of Al Hazm Fort is its battlements peering over the scattered date palms in Al Hazm village, giving no inkling of the architectural complexity within. The date given for its building by the Yarubi imam Sultan bin Saif II is 1708, and it is a superb example of Omani Islamic architecture. Its exterior is plain, even a little disappointing, although once you are close up its scale more than compensates. In Arabic ‘Al Hazm’ means ‘the vanquishing one’ and when you have completed your tour you will understand why the fortress was never captured.