The first major stop on the Rustaq Loop is the small town of NAKHAL (also spelled Nakhl, from nakhl, meaning “palm”). The town is home to one of Oman’s most picture-perfect forts, dramatically situated atop a small natural rock outcrop and backdropped by the jagged peaks of the Jebel Nakhal, a spur of the main Western Hajar range. The fort is about 1km off the main road, just right of the road through the village (and surprisingly easy to miss, despite its size). As with many Omani forts, the history of the castle is somewhat convoluted. The origins of the fort probably date back to pre-Islamic times, although the structure was continuously remodelled over the following centuries, including a substantial rebuilding in the mid-seventeenth century, while the present gateway and towers were apparently added in 1834 during the reign of imam Said bin Sultan, and the entire structure was comprehensively restored in 1990.

Enter through the main gate (where you buy your ticket), then walk up the steps and turn left through an impressively spiked pair of wooden doors and a second gateway to reach the interior of the fort. To your left is the finely carved stone archway which leads up to the fort’s main residential quarters. Opposite this is the Barzah, a large two-storey building which sits atop the fort’s outer walls above the main gateway. This was formerly home to the wali’s majlis (or “sitting room”, as it’s translated); the room on the lower floor was used in winter, while in the hotter summer months the wali would move to the airier room on the upper floor, which makes the most of whatever sea breezes are blowing in from the coast.

Continue past the Barzah, where you’ll find a kitchen, followed by a small watchtower equipped with loopholes just big enough for a rifle barrel, plus wider openings through which (in traditional Omani fashion) boiling date juice or honey could be poured onto attackers below. Past here is the imposing east tower, reached by a narrow flight of stone steps and equipped with further rifle-sized apertures, plus wider embrasures for the fort’s cannon, one of which survives in situ.

Retrace your steps to the Barzah and head through the archway opposite, from where further steps lead up past a date store and a large jail to reach the wali’s living quarters. This was the castle’s main residential section, with a series of rooms arranged around a small terrace at the highest point of the fort, including the wali’s own bedroom, along with a living room, guest room and rooms for boys, girls and women, all modestly furnished with old rugs, crockery and fine old wooden chests, plus a couple of antique (and very rickety) four-poster beds. The women’s room, despite being the highest in the fort, is notably less breezy than the wali’s bedroom opposite, as it faces inland.

Exiting the women’s room, turn left and follow the steps and walls around the rest of the complex and thence back to the entrance. En route you’ll pass the fort’s middle and western towers. The latter is equipped with a neat little wooden ladder built into the internal wall, while there are particularly fine views from the small watchtower immediately outside across the fort’s impressive quantity of spade-shaped battlements and out over the sprawling date plantations and rugged mountains beyond.

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