Discover Oman’s Al Hajar Mountain range
While I thought I had seen the most spectacular and dramatic ravine scenery on my visit to the USA’s Grand Canyon, nothing prepared me for the staggering landscapes and awe-inspiring geology that awaited me in the Al Hajar Mountain range in Oman, which extends from the very tip of the Musandam Peninsula to the dhow-making town of Sur, south of Muscat. Once a barrier to Oman’s interior, the Al Hajar mountains are now the gateway to the country’s heartland: the rugged landscapes, greatest wadis, crumbling abandoned villages, and extensive hiking trails.
For any visiting adventurer, this cooler, mountainous region is without a doubt a huge allure, and my recent exploration gave me a fantastic opportunity to discover the lesser explored Jabal Shams, which is often overlooked in favour of the well-trodden path of Jabal Akhdar.
First things first, if our clients are travelling to the mountains and have time on their hands, I would highly recommend catching sight of the traditional local fish market in the small seaside town of Barka en-route. Whilst it’s an early start, this is the best time to watch the fishermen haul in their catch in a quiet spot along the Al Batinah coastline.
Taking a left turn inland towards the sleepy village of Nakhl, home to the beautifully restored pre-Islamic Nakhl Fort and the Ain a’Thawwarah hot springs, we begin to understand why this part of Oman is so revered and the importance of an excellent accompanying guide, in our case, the delightful Abdul.
The best way to get a feel for the mountains is to take one of Oman’s greatest off-road drives through Wadi Bani Auf, an impressive dirt track which marks the beginning of many great hikes and walking trails, in particular the 6-hour route through ‘snake canyon’. Abdul navigates the tricky terrain with ease as we wind our way through the dry, dusty riverbed scattered with acacia trees, crumbling villages, intact mosques, and roaming wild goats. As we begin the ascent to Balad Sayt, we leave the heat and humidity behind and find ourselves embraced with epic views of the irrigated terraces below. Just a taster of what was to come, and the perfect spot to break for a picnic lunch.
With so many date plantations in Oman, it can often be overwhelming to decide which one to visit, however we found that some of the most beautiful were those in 400-year-old Al Hamra, in the foothills of Jabal Shams. Now deserted, the narrow alleyways of mud-brick houses and intricately carved wooden doors are lovely to explore, and the tiny Bait Al Safah Museum displaying the highlights of Omani traditions is certainly worth visiting. Clinging onto the mountainside above is Musfat Al Abreen, home to one of the most delicate and intricate al falaj irrigation systems around, along with manicured terraces and crumbling buildings, which are still inhabited today.
With so much to explore in the immediate area, and for those looking for something away from the usual mountain trail, I would highly recommend for our clients to stay in their very own private luxury tented camp, high up in Jabal Shams. And this is just what we did. As the day came to a close we continued the climb up to the peak of Jabal Shams, the highest point in Oman, on a series of cross-country switchback roads which cut dramatically into the cliffside. As the sun began to set over the imposing mountains reflecting hues of red and orange into the cloudless sky, we approached our camp camouflaged in its intrepid surroundings – the only sign of humanity on the horizon.
The sheer logistical effort required to put together such a camp was unbelievable, and our eyes grew wider and wider with awe as we were shown our sleeping tents, furnished with a high-quality mattress, crisp white linens, feather pillows and Omani storm lanterns. We were in for a good night's sleep, but not before a culinary feast prepared by Ray, our Keralan chef for the evening - the flare and creativity used in his dishes was beyond impressive. The complete privacy and attention to detail made this a spectacular stay, and it was the passionate, committed and experienced camp crew who made our experience all the more memorable.
The Jabal Shams Private tented camp is the ideal base for clients looking for some fantastic walking trails, and some of the greatest in the area incorporate Oman’s Grand Canyon, or more locally known as Wadi Ghul - provided one doesn’t suffer from vertigo. Although the lofty peaks are barren and void of vegetation, the vistas are beautiful and the stunning topography can be taken in from a fantastic walk within the craggy canyon itself along the balcony. Albeit rough, the path is not difficult and one I would suggest for the whole family.
The exposed rock faces continue through Wadi Ghul, plunging nearly 3,300 ft down to Wadi Nakher, an enormous scenic gorge home to yet another deserted village. For hiking fanatics, we can arrange for our clients to be accompanied by a trekking specialist, who knows the most intrepid, challenging and exciting trails through the mountains, only accessible with a guide. Not only is Vicky extremely intrepid, adventurous and knows the Al Hajar like the back of her hand, but she is also clued up on Oman’s history and culture, and is perfect for clients looking to delve deeper and gain a real appreciation of the Omani way of life.
With its exquisite scenery and cooler temperatures, the Al Hajar mountains are a wonderful inclusion to any journey to Oman. Situated amongst spectacular and dramatic scenery, the Hajar mountains provide an excellent base from which to explore this region and experience its rich cultural heritage. Oman has many captivating sides and this is one that should not be overlooked.
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