A hard wind smacks us squarely in the face and the Arabian Sea roars disapprovingly as we stumble along the beach in the silvery moonlight. We should be feeling thrilled. After all, we are in Oman, at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula. But truth to tell, we’re more focussed on surviving the adventure without a twisted ankle. And hoping that we will meet the protagonists of this blustery show.

We are at see th, a pristine stretch of sand sheltered by craggy cliffs, and considered the largest nesting ground for Green Turtles along the Indian Ocean. It’s a spectacular spot, and the Ras Al Jinz Scientific Institute is a must-visit for tourists. So after a day spent along Oman’s shimmering coastline and the pretty town of Sur, we head for the Institute. We are staying in a cluster of ‘eco-luxury tents’ overlooking the beach — and we spend the evening on our wooden porches, enjoying the big sky, dramatic rocks and balmy breeze. Then we have a quick dinner at the buffet restaurant — where the beaming Indian chef brings us a bowl of his special ma ki dal.

Thus fortified, we are ready for our encounter with nature. Nasser, our guide, has just read us the riot act. No phones. No photographs. No loud chatter. Nothing that will disrupt this critical moment in the circle of life. “This is not the peak season,” he warns. “So no guarantees that we will see anything.”

About ten minutes into our walk, Nasser gets a message from his colleagues on the beach. A couple of female turtles have swum to shore. One is already digging a large hollow in the sand with her flippers.

We wait at a polite distance, till the turtle eases her body and carapace into the hollow. Then we tiptoe towards her — and gasp. Even in the dark it’s clear that this is one big mama. And although we’ve visited the museum at the Ras Al Jinz Institute and know that Green Turtles are often about 100cm long, we are still startled. We approach the turtle in small groups — and are thrilled to see eggs the size of golf balls plopping into a deep cavity at the back of the nest. The eggs are covered with thick, sticky mucus so that they don’t crack when they fall.

Once about a hundred eggs are laid, you would imagine that the mother turtle is due some rest. But she still has work to do. First she uses her flippers to shovel sand and cover the nest. Then she plods ponderously to another spot, where she digs a decoy hole to confuse hungry  foxes. Only then can she return to the water where she is happiest. “In all these years I’ve never seen a male turtle help out,” Nasser remarks, as the women in the group laugh sardonically.

“Then what happens next?” we ask Nasser, fascinated by this wildlife saga.

“Then nothing,” he shrugs. “Khallas. Finito. The mother’s job is done.”

About two months after the eggs are laid, the sand above the nest suddenly starts to quiver, a little hole appears and within seconds tiny turtles scurry onto the beach. We are lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time — and gaze in delight as some of the small creatures rush about like confused clockwork toys. Others stand completely still. “They’re looking for clues,” says Nasser, explaining that the babies’ survival depends on being able to get to the sea before the crabs, foxes and seagulls make a meal of them. “The vibration of the sea, the moonlight reflecting on the water and the glow of the plankton tell them where to go.”

Afraid that a clumsy tourist will trample upon a disoriented hatchling, Nasser gathers the miniature turtles in his dishdasha and deposits them at the shoreline. Within minutes the little creatures have toddled towards the inky water and a strange, nomadic future. We sigh fondly. But Nasser squashes our romantic notions with a grim statistic: out of a thousand hatchlings, only one or two reach maturity.

Nevertheless, every hatchling is programmed as carefully as any super-computer — and each knows exactly what to do. For three days, they will paddle about the shallow waters, and then head for the Gulf of Oman where they will spend about 18 years before setting off on their grand migration. Some Green Turtles will swim to the Maldives; others all the way to Egypt.

The female turtles reach maturity when they are between 18 and 35 years. After this, every few years, they head back to the very beach where they were born. There, they mate with a number of males, and go through the nesting rigmarole between five to eight times a season. “One year of hard work and then two or three years of vacation,” quips Nasser. “This pattern continues till the female dies when she is about 80.”

We are about to leave the beach when another Green Turtle arrives. She stops just a couple of metres away from us and determinedly starts digging. Returning to our tents, we wonder if she was born on this precise spot 40 or 50 years ago, and whether she has just arrived from Egypt to fulfill her karma.

It’s a mind-boggling thought — befitting this evening of miracles and mysteries.

The information

Getting there
Muscat is connected to several Indian cities via direct flights by Air India, Indigo, Jet Airways, Oman Air and SpiceJet. A round trip from Mumbai starts from about Rs 15,000. The drive from the airport to Ras Al Jinz takes about 4 hours by taxi (Rs 9,000) and about five-and-a-half hours by bus (Rs 2,500). Sur, about 150km southeast of Muscat, is the nearest town, about an hour away from Ras Al Jinz.
Visa
Visitors can apply for single-entry 30-day tourist visa online via rop.gov.om (costs OMR 20). Alternatively, if you have a family member living in Oman, that person can serve as a local sponsor and apply for the visa, or you contact an Omani tour operator like Zahara Tours (zaharatours.com) and ask them to do the needful for an additional processing fee.
A scanned copy is delivered within four to six working days (Thursdays and Fridays are holidays) and the original visa is deposited at Muscat International Airport. Tourists must carry a printout along with a confirmed ticket, and the PNR must be attested ‘okay to board’.
Currency
1 Omani Rial (OMR) = Rs 157

Where to stay
>Ras Al Jinz The Ras Al Jinz Scientific Institute (from Rs 13,000 for a double room, including taxes, breakfast and turtle watching; rasaljinz-turtlereserve. com) has simple but clean accommodation, both rooms and tents, overlooking a beautiful beach. Only visitors staying at the Ras Al Jinz Institute are guaranteed a spot on the turtle-watching trips. Those staying at other hotels in Sur may be turned down by the institute. So, those who’ve made the long trip to see the Green Turtles should try to book rooms here.
>Sur Sur Plaza Hotel (from Rs 5,000 for a double room; omanhotels.com/surplaza) is clean, modern and close to the many attractions in picturesque Sur.

What to see & do
The Ras Al Jinz Resort conducts two turtle-sighting trips daily — one at night and the other before dawn. Contact the information counter for precise timings, and be sure to visit the excellent museum at the centre to make the most of your encounter with the turtles.



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