“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” Dr. Seuss
Well here’s a subject I didn’t expect to be writing about, trekking! Yes, little old me went for a hike in the Western Hajar Mountain region whilst on HOLIDAY! This is so far out of my comfort zone and away from normal activities let alone whilst vacationing, it’s not even funny! I had envisaged jetting off somewhere and relaxing, cocktail in hand after exploring a new city, but no the polar opposite happened this Eid.
So the other half and I left the teenager in the capable-ish hands of the eldest (they lived on takeaway Nandos for three days as the food I left didn’t immediately jump out of the fridge and freezer and into their hands) and went on a three-day road trip across the border to the Sultanate of Oman. If you have seen my previous ‘Oman in Pictures’ post (if not, read it here) you will have seen the contrast between the desert backdrop of Abu Dhabi and the mountainous terrain of Oman, which is quite stunning.
Once we had negotiated the busy border crossing point at Wadi Jizzi (stood in line for an hour while ineffective people did very little, nothing compared to our friends experience of 4 1/2 hours at another checkpoint on the same day!!) we joined the throngs of people visiting Oman for the four-day long weekend for Eid al-Adha.
We travelled far down south (longest car journey ever) to Nizwa, to stay at the Golden Tulip Hotel which I think should be named ‘Faded Tulip’ as its 4* billing was a little off compared to its UAE equivalent. It was however traditional, clean with large rooms housing comfortable beds but let down by its bathrooms, restaurant facilities and staffing, still better than a tent with no toilet!!!
The trek route (source:www.omantourism.gov.om)
The next day, we rendezvoused with our friends, the experienced Oman trekkers (they had hiking boots and compasses and everything!) at the hottest part of the day (very sensible) after their night camping under the stars, at the end of the tarmac road at the top of the mountain and the start of the W10h trek or Sharaf al Alamayn as its also known.
Now it’s no secret that I am not an outdoorsy type and slightly exercise adverse (well more than slightly) but the trek was described as ‘an airy high altitude walk along the top of mountains‘ which put me more at ease (such a fool) luring me into false pretences.
We set off in a westerly direction on the self guided hike looking for the tri-coloured yellow/white/red painted markers that denote the ‘start’ and route of the trails, the first one was in all honesty tricky to find, just a bit of faded paint on a random rock.
Trails like this one were established after a two-year-long initiative by the Ministry of Tourism in the Sultanate to encourage trekkers and hikers to explore the interior region of the Western Hajar mountains and increase nature tourism.
I relaxed slightly as we followed a moderately inclined goat/donkey track at the start of the route but the terrain quickly changed to boulders and it was a rocky climb down a much steeper section, perfect terrain for novice trekkers (apparently). A little harder to navigate but not impossible, a few more squats may have come in handy!
The two-hour hike (3.5km) ran along the ridge towards the highest point at 2,000 metres above sea level, with a sheer drop one side into the wadi (canyon) below, giving us a spectacular viewpoint to take in the amazing scenery across the mountain range. Probably not advisable for those who don’t like heights, that’s for sure but obviously peering over the edge is optional! Luckily there were plenty of the painted route markers clearly visible that led us to the end of the trek, which was symbolised by a ring of stones (we think).
The thing that struck me the most, apart from ‘bloody hell we are high up‘ was just how peaceful it was at the top, not a sound just the odd breeze (sadly not strong enough to blow the other half’s orange bucket hat into the gorge below) that was very welcome, some very agile mountain goats and several speedy long-tailed lizards (there may have been a snake but no-one is admitting it!).
As I looked back at the terrain we had already covered, the realisation kicked in that I had to go back the same way and this time it was up not down! The trouble with the end of a two-hour trek is that it’s another two-hours and 3.5 kms back to the car! Bit surreal to be sat at the top of a mountain under a lonely single tree seeking some shade, eating snacks and taking in the wonder of nature (bit deep I know!).
This area is also referred to as ‘Al Dakhiliya‘ (The Interior) which includes villages, towns and mountains of the Western Hajar region and after we wound our way back down the mountain in convoy (in the comfort of our cars and air conditioning on full blast), our next stop was the ancient mountain village of Misfat al Abreyeen located in the wilayat (province) of Al Hambra.
As visitors, we were instructed to leave the cars at the top of the village as only locals are permitted to take cars further and we had to walk down the steep entrance road (just what the legs needed and going down meant it was up all the way back to the car). The traditional village affords stunning views across more scenic landscape, but this time a lush green tranquility filled with date palms grown on terraces instead of the usual plains.
Misfat al Abreyeen still uses an ancient ‘falaj‘ water system, the traditional form of irrigation used in Omani mountain villages in days gone past. The ‘falaj‘ is a system of narrow, mud-walled water channels used to provide nourishment to the village from underground springs as well as water for the animals and to irrigate the fields, crops and date plantations. Along with the abundance of date palms we saw banana, limes, lemons, pomegranates and papaya trees.
The village has a series of alleyways lined with traditional houses with the colourful doors and windows that are a feature of Oman’s history. The houses have hanging ‘jahla‘, ceramic pots that hold drinking water, keeping it cool. Mud brick houses dating back over eight hundred years sit alongside the date palms on agricultural terraces and gardens. It was just like being in a scene from an Indiana Jones movie!
The rustic village is a perfect example of the old and new working together in Oman, with one world traversing to the next. Ancient traditions are still alive but sit alongside the added luxuries of the new world, like electricity, cars and a local shop. There was a sense of serenity here and it’s peaceful and uncomplicated existence seemed relatively untouched by modern-day life. The W9 trail runs through the village and the wadi, we followed part of it as it winds around the village in series of steep and uneven steps.
So what started off as a day of trepidation of the impending trek and the unknown turned into a day filled sense of achievement on completion of the hike followed by the wonder of the ancient village, a stunning sunset and the biggest thunderstorm I have ever witnessed. A day of firsts that would have been well celebrated with a beverage or two if the hotel had not been dry for Eid, praise the lord for the mini bar!
All photos on this page © Jo Brett 2014. All rights reserved. Thanks to Firoze Khambata and Anna Mäkinen for the photos of us.