The ‘Norway of Arabia’ is home to the world’s only desert fjords

Musandam Governate, Oman CNN  — 

As our tiny dhow glides serenely along the sinuous desert coastline, it’s hard to believe the glass and steel jungle of Dubai is just a couple of hours’ drive away.

You won’t find a trace of skyscrapers, malls or even roads here. The only heights within sight, some even taller than the record-breaking Burj Khalifa, are the almost vertical walls of barren rock that enclose the pristine, warm waters of the Khor ash Sham inlet.

The Musandam Peninsula, at the northeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has sometimes been compared to Norway, and not just because it happens to be next to oil-rich waters.

Here, the desert flatlands of Ras-Al-Khaimah, the northernmost of the seven United Arab Emirates, give way to a dramatic mountainous landscape interspersed by a labyrinthine succession of coves, bays and inlets.

This is a land of desert fjords that can be every bit as magnificent as its Nordic counterpart.

Rugged isolation

The Musandam Governate is only accessible by land through the UAE, but the peninsula is an exclave of the Sultanate of Oman, whose mainland lies some 100 kilometres to the south, separated from it by a large chunk of Emirati territory.

It’s not the border, though, which is responsible for the traditional isolation of this tiny speck of land, slightly larger than Rhode Island, but its extremely rugged terrain.

There’s only one paved road linking the governorate’s capital, Khasab, to the rest of the world via Ras-Al-Khaimah. And while some cross-country tracks traverse the rocky, desert interior of the peninsula, you would need a 4x4 vehicle and pre