This is one of those unforgettable holidays for a long time to come. Zighy Bay – tucked away in the Musandam Peninsular in Northernmost part of Sultanate of Oman that juts out into the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It is hidden from the rest of the world by the breathtaking Hajar Mountains. This place is a surprise gift, waiting to be unwrapped. The journey to the place is as breathtaking as our stay in the rustic yet luxurious, understated yet exotic, luxury Eco Resort – Six Senses Zighy Bay. Many moons back, before the Z-Sisters had come into our lives, we used to regularly camp in the Hajar Mountains. Technically, we would be camping in the Omani territory – a small fringe of Oman slides into this Eastern part of the Peninsular. A steep, curvy foot road would take you up the rocky mountain. Standing atop, if you ever happened to glance Eastwards, you’ll be looking at the transparent, azure blue waters of the Bay of Oman, with your back towards UAE. If you looked down, that would be Zighy Bay – a white sandy beach with a few Omani huts scattered amidst Date Palm trees and palmed in between the rough, rocky and breathtaking Hajar Mountain.
The Hajar Mountains have a different beauty altogether – brazen and bold, rough and textured, barren and rough. In Arabic, the word Hajar means stone mountains. This is the highest mountain range in the eastern Arabian Peninsula and fringes along northeastern Oman and the East coast of UAE. The topography of the UAE side (I will not be able to tell about the Oman side) suddenly changes from undulating sandy desert to the sudden barren stones with the appearance of the Hajar Mountains. We take the new Dubai-Fujairah highway – it glides smoothly through the Ras-al-Khaimah desert and brings us close to the Fujairah Cement Factory in an hour. Though the drive time is shortened, I lament that the charm of driving past the Friday market (read stopping and shopping!) has been lost. The province of Musandam, is separated from the rest of Oman by the two emirates of UAE – Sharjah and Fujairah. After crossing the town of Dibba in Fujairah, a small drive along the East Coast brings us to the Border Check-post. Our visas await us with the Omani Border Police, while we await the drive to the place which we had always seen from atop. And from afar, many moons back!
A small drive and the tar-road ends. The adventure begins with an unpaved path. We drive through the rugged roads and reach the first Reception point of Six Senses Zighy Bay (above) and the first Receptionist who welcomes us, is this Billy goat to the left. Suddenly, we are surrounded by a herd of Billy Goats! Big Z and I get out from our cars, click a lot of pictures and resume our journey only after getting the permission from this particular Mr Billy (left). He wouldn’t leave us!
This is also the point where you can park your cars in case your car is not equipped to drive on these rocky terrains. A Toyota Landcruiser from the resort would transport you to the main reception area in the resort. See the mountains above? We would be driving up across the range and then to go down to the actual resort. The unpaved, steep and snaky road soon brings us to the point from where we get the first glimpse of the Bay of Oman (below). This is definitely an Omani version of an Italian Amalfi Coast. Excepting that the mountains surrounding the Bay here is not green. Instead, rocks and stones and pebbles frame the mountain range. Who knew barrenness could be so beautiful?
The direction signs (in one of the photos above) directs us down to the resort, while the other arrow points upwards to the Six Senses restaurant called Sense on the Edge – an experience that we would be embarking on, in one of the evenings during our two-night stay at Zighy Bay. It also takes one to the point from where many prefer to check-in to the resort, paragliding! We choose to drive down (quite naturally!) and enter what I would describe as an Omani village. Enter would be the wrong word – we had already entered the premises long back, where the Billy Goats had greeted us. It was time now to halt – sit down on the crispy white cushions dotting along the mud walls (below), sip into cool Date Shakes offered to us as Welcome drinks. The Dates, as I had expected, had been plucked from one of the Date Palm trees dotting the resort. Dates are abundant and are used for almost everything – they go into the scrubs for the resort Spa, they go into Desserts as Date Cème Brulee, they also go into their Martinis – a subject that I might have to make a separate post on!
Most of the Six Senses resorts are located in remote places. Zighy Bay is no exception. The Hajar Mounatins have isolated communities for centuries and still today most of the coastal villages in the Musandam can only be reached by boat rather than by road. The slip road for the resort access (the rocky and snaky road that we had driven on), currently has facilitated the lives of the villagers living in Zighy Village. Six Senses shares the Bay with this village, which comprises of approximately 33 houses and is inhabited by a number of large families totaling a population of around 100 people. The resort blends into the surrounding environment. It practically blends into the adjacent Zighy village. No Bougainvilleas blooming or manicured green lawns. Neither are there any paved paths leading you to your villas. Sandy foot roads meander through the resort which stretches along the coastline for about 1.5 kms. The plants and the trees are also of indigenous origin – Dates (1,066 Female trees within resort and 14 Male trees within resort – I am told!), Figs (430), Lime (90), Sidr (340 in the Zighy Bay area) etc. I am stunned by the resort staff (or hosts, as each staff would prefer to be called) who discuss their dinner Menus with equal enthusiasm and passion as they would recount the facts and figures of the number of the plants and trees dotting the resort, or the number of cats they are homing, waiting for anyone who might be interested in a feline adoption! Our stay in Six Senses Zighy Bay adds to our list of the Eco Resorts that we’ve visited so far, trying to travel responsibly as far as possible. Six Senses Zighy Bay takes Ecotourism to a different level altogether. In a subtly luxurious way.
The villas are designed on the style of traditional bedouin houses of an Omani village – cobbled walls and floors, bamboos tied up in ropes forming the staircase railings, rough textured walls appearing like mud walls, a huge earthen pot in the entrance holding water to clean the beach-returned sandy feet, a small alcove outside the villa with cushions to curl up your feet with a book (above), an outdoor Majlis/traditional Arabic summer house etc. The small details in the nooks and corners fill up our aesthetic souls. 4 cycles of four different sizes (below) await at the entrance to the villa – the resort is wide spread and though we are staying quite close to the main dining areas and the Reception area, many guests staying in villas further away, cycle back and forth, kids in tow, riding on smaller cycles.
The balcony from the first floor overlooks the Bay waters through the Date Palm trees and another row of villas. The rays of the morning sun streams into the living cum bedroom upstairs through this balcony door. Each villa has it’s own infinity-edged pool – needless to say that the water is recycled and treated (practically no chlorine) and the pool water is tested everyday if there are kids staying in. This is a different world, cocooned within nature, in understated luxury.
Talking about kids… We’ve been trying to give the Z-Sisters a different kind of vacation each time. Our intention is not to make them realise at every stage how fortunate they are but to help them develop into compassionate and tolerant human beings. Most importantly, make them aware of the fact that there is a world beyond the flower painted walls of their apparently safe rooms! Yes, holidays are meant to be fun for the kids. But if learning about the local community and the region is subtly incorporated into the fun, then why not? But every stay hadn’t been as luxurious as Six Senses Zighy Bay. Neither have all holidays been as enriching (in an indirect, non-preachy way). A few holidays truly have been. For example, our holidaying in Nepal. The Tharu Village in Nepal showed a different world to them. Our stay in the Eco Resort, Machan Paradise View Resort in the Royal Chitwan National Park made the girls realise how the Tharu people were living dangerously close to nature. The Machan Resort had been much less luxurious. Food was excellent – fresh and organic, the resort staff prided themselves to be expert naturalists. The resort enriched us. This is exactly what happened in Zighy Bay as well. And what’s more, Six Senses Zighy Bay also touches the barometers of absolute exclusivity and luxury.
We learnt something new each day during our stay here. Considering the fact that the exclusivity of the resort that would appeal to romantic holidaymakers, it is unusually and surprisingly child-friendly. While the Chaica’s club organises activities for younger kids, like Kite flying, feeding the goats, Arabic lesson, mini snorkeling, Wii Games and more, the Al Feetean’s Club organises activities suitable for teenagers. Interestingly, we had to fill up forms regarding the kids’ personal preferences in terms of the various activities they might like to take up during their stay in the resort – all this while we were sending in the forms required for the Visa processing (first time any resort has asked for such forms!). Big Z found new friends who were all the way from Mongolia (we found friends in their Mama and Papa too!) and was already drawing a logo for the gang they would form – Dragons of the World!
BTW, Big Z wrote her post on Zighy Bay much before I downloaded my pictures onto my Mac. Yes, she has her own blog going – a diary of a 8 year old.
The Organic Garden and the fresh produce… Our initiation into the resort’s organic garden takes place by way of an evening of social mingling – all guests are invited to the organic garden for some Canapes and drinks, including fresh fruits juices – some of the fruits growing in the resort itself. The organic garden produces most of the herbs and green vegetables that are required in the kitchen – Flat Parsley, Rockets, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Radish, Eggplant, Pumpkin, Bitter gourd, Water spinach, Chico [zapato], Onions, Baby spinach, Beet root, Mint, Sweet basil, Dill etc. Tomatoes are abundant – the excess goes into making home-made, sun-dried tomato pastes. Only organic fresh produce is used in the Resort – vegetable that do not grow in the resort garden comes from the organic farms from Oman. I’m happy to hear that the Six Sense philosophy favours Locavorism over organic produce, a topic that has warranted a lot of discussion currently. So, if a fresh produce cannot be farmed organically but is produced locally, the latter would be given more importance. I did hope though that our Arabic cooking class would take place in this garden just like FooDiva had done, but technical glitches (composts attracting too many flies!) shifted the lessons to their restaurant, Spice Market (coming up in the next post along with a recipe).
Different fruits growing in the resort yield organic production throughout the year. Date trees blossom in February and the harvest spreads from May onwards. Organic vegetables grow from November to May, so does the Figs. Limes grow from May to March, while Hennas are there all the year round. Figs, Dates go into the making of home made jams, desserts, reductions, and Spa treatments. The wide array of home-made jams and compotes are served for daily breakfast – some of the combinations are interesting – Apricot and Basil, Tomato and Vanilla! Fig jam and Honey made from local Dibba Dates are the specialities here. So is the Passion-fruit Martini and the Date Martini (below). I think I must have been drunken on Date Martinis even during tea-times! Vodka, Date paste and crushed ice – what a serious punch!
The Norway of the Middle East… The rocky mountains surrounding the Musandam peninsula looms 2,100m above the coast and juts into the Strait of Hormuz like a fjord (Fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs). The beaches and the bays here are secluded. The view from the beach is ruggedly spectacular. Most of Zighy villagers follow traditional seasonal migration patterns, spending most of the winters in the mountains in nearby Haffah. During the summer time, they return to Zighy Bay to look after their Date plantations and live off Fishing and Goat herding. Fishing is the main economic activity still. The fish in the resort’s menu comes from these local villagers, provided, they have had a surplus.
The little green book… Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990). Six Sense Zighy Bay does full justice to this by ‘co-existing in harmony with the environment and the local community, to minimise the ecological footprint‘
We find the above green book lying on the study table of our villa. I go through it and I’m happy that a lot of commendable efforts have been made in terms of partaking sustainability – a key factor underlying Ecotourism. A few locals from Zighy village is employed at the resort, while the Zighy children undertake English lessons on a weekly basis at the resort and Souqs are organised involving the Zighy ladies to provide an additional income for their families. Community awareness regarding beach cleaning, waste management etc are carried on a regular basis.
The Six Senses 20/20 Vision… is not to achieve carbon neutral or zero carbon on-site operations by 2020, but to actually implement programmes resulting in a net absorption of C02. that is decarbonize!
Home-made Drinking Water? Yes, the resort purifies and bottles its own Drinking Water through Reverse Osmosis (what is Reverse Osmosis?) and re-usable glass bottles have replaced plastic bottles. Moreover, 50% of Six Senses Drinking Water sales from any of resort’s F & B outlets go to Social and Environment Responsibilities Fund (SERF), a fund for local social projects. Apart from the Drinking Water, the entire water supply of the resort is obtained by desalinating sea-water. Considering that the water requirement is enormous, with all the villas having their own independent pools, the resort’s sustainable management of freshwater is noteworthy. On International World Water Day, held annually on 22nd March, 100% of the revenue generated from Six Senses water sales is placed into the SERF, in-order to carry out clean water initiatives throughout Oman.
Slow Life and a sustainable Menu… Hammour and lobsters have not been in the Zighy Bay menu ever since they have been become ‘over-fished’. Instead, the fish menu depends upon the fresh catch from the local fishermen in the bay. Tuesdays are dedicated Meat Free days here. Recently, the other Eco Resort that we visited which is following sustainable fishing was Desert Islands Resorts By Anantara.
Reed Bed System? I thought these were grass flowers… I visit the Reverse Osmosis Plant as well as water treatment plant. All waste water generated on the resort is treated using the Moving Bed Bio Reactor technology (what is MBBR?) and the treated water is reused for landscaping irrigation. What I thought as grass flowers turned out to be a Reed Bed System which treats and reuses the resort’s sewage sludge. The reed plants (below) used are locally sourced from the region (Phragmites Australis) and are abundant in the surrounding Wadis. According to the little green book, ‘ It is estimated that after 10 years the reed bed will create around 400m³ of peat soil from 16,000 m³ sewage sludge. This peat soil will be used for soil improvement of farm land and landscaping’.
Six Senses Zighy Bay
5* Luxury Eco Resort;Zighy Bay, Musandam, Oman
Zighy Bay is located 120 km, or 90 minutes drive from Dubai International Airport
Paragliding, Microlites, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Scuba-diving, various Water sports (Water Ski, Wake Board or Tubing), Dhow Cruise, Fishing, Mountain hiking, Mountain Biking, Trekking etc – one can choose from various activities offered by the resort apart from the various specialised Spa treatment from the award-winning Six Senses Spa. A Six Senses Spa is a key component of a Six Senses. The resort features 79 independent pool villas plus the Private Reserve and 2 Retreats in traditional Omani style, with modern amenities and luxury. Six Senses Zighy Bay is one of the exclusive ecologically and socially responsible resorts as chosen by Eco luxury Retreats of the World.
Our holiday in Zighy Bay was an experience. We have been trying to travel responsibly over the years and visiting Six Senses Zighy Bay which has bagged the 2012 Middle East Hotel Awards for the Best Sustainable Initiative, was of paramount importance. Adhering to a Slow Life… Meat Free Tuesdays… no wild Salmons flown over the Atlantic… is not very easy when the mindset of a regular guest is that he/she has a right to demand whatever they want, specially in a resort as expensive as this. This is where the Guests have to be in unison with the Six Senses’ vision and philosophy. Was our stay all about visiting the Reverse Osmosis plant and reading the little green book? No, this post was in line with my green quest for my blogpost. I also managed to read some lovely stories from a book. The stories of the sea. The Z-Sisters were pampered spoilt. So were we, with our personal lady Butler-in-call. We’ll definitely return to this place once again. I have been told that the Billy Goats are waiting for me. And the next time we could opt for a Paragliding arrival – Inshallah! The next post talks about our family cooking class with Chef Hassan and a lovely Arabic recipe. Also, our candle-lit dinner in Sense on the Edge, their restaurant perched on a cliff top 293m above sea level!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: Room rates start at US$900 for a pool villa (for 2 persons) plus 9% local taxes and 8.4 % service charge per villa per night. While you enjoy reading a post with a lot of visuals, please don’t use them as some of them may have been taken from our personal albums, just to make your reading experience more pleasurable. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.