Winding our way through the Al Hajar mountain range

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Middle East » Oman
March 9th 2017
Published: March 30th 2017
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Prior to visiting Oman, I had no perception of how mountainous parts of the country are, and while it may not stack up to the same heights for the statisticians, to my mind the Al Hajar mountain range, through which we travelled during our last couple of days in Oman, was just as impressive as many sights I had taken in previously in the Andes and Himalayas. Our first stop as we drove up into the range was at Jebel Akhdar (meaning 'green mountains'), a broad area around the Sayq Plateau, which is mainly famous for its gardens, farms and terrace plantations. Particularly impressive were the latter, which stretched right down the side of the mountains and must have provided quite some physical challenge to the farmers seeking to grow crops at the various levels. This area is famous for its traditional rose water extraction and agricultural products including pomegranates, walnuts, apricots and peaches. It is also the site of a large amount of honey bee breeding, of which we visited one location and checked out its produce range. We also paid a brief visit to Wadi Bani Habib, consisting of abandoned villages and fruit orchards, which were last inhabited 40 years ago.

From there, we moved upwards and onwards, finally reaching Jebel Shams (meaning 'Mountain of the Sun'), the highest mountain in the country at a touch over 3,000 metres. But it was not so much the height that made the landscape attractive but this area is known as the 'Grand Canyon of Oman' and while clearly nowhere near the same size, it was in parts equally impressive. It is a restricted area as it is occupied by a military base, but that did not detract in any way from the superb views. We actually stayed the night at the Jebel Shams Resort, and while it was not the warmest of nights, that was more than compensated by the superb view of the sunrise over the mountains as you opened your blinds in the morning.

After Jebel Shams, we started the downhill trek, but this did not imply the roads were any easier to navigate. The roads the whole way were unsealed, very windy and at times containing potholes, so it was a slow trip down. At one stage, we passed a volcanic region, and the lava on the ground resembled a moonscape, not unlike parts of Hawaii and the Galapagos. We stopped off at Al Hamra and Misfat Al Abriyeen to see one of the oldest villages in the region. The traditional mud houses dating back some four hundred years were in some cases still occupied.

Our final stop before returning to Muscat was at Wadi Bani Awf, the end point of a canyon comprising what is called the 'snake gorge' in the middle of the steep mountain cliffs. Had there been time, there would have been a great hike down Little Snake Canyon, but with our need to return to Muscat in daylight hours because of the terrain, we had to satisfy ourselves with the panoramic view.

One of the items I should mention with regards Oman is the traditional dress. Virtually all the men wear an ankle-length, collarless robe called a dishdasha, usually coloured white or grey, that buttons at the neck with a tassel hanging down. Traditionally this tassel would be dipped in perfume. Today the tassel is merely a traditional part of the dishdasha, but is seen on every costume. Women wear hijab and abaya, with some women covering their faces and hands, but most do not. The abaya is a traditional dress and it comes in different styles. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in public offices. On special holidays, such as Eid, the women wear traditional dress, which is often very brightly coloured and consists of a mid-calf length tunic over pants.

So what were my overall impressions of my week in Oman? Firstly, the scenery was superb and very varied, as hopefully illustrated in the attached pics in these last three blogs, Secondly, the warmth of the Omani people (or perhaps I should say 'men' as we had very limited access to the womenfolk), which I would have to say was a little different from that which I have experienced at times on previous visits (albeit usually on business) to other parts of the Middle East. Finally, at no stage did any of us in our group feel anything but completely safe, so despite it's unfortunate location, Oman has a good standard of living and a safe and friendly environment. It is not a country that I hear of as being on too many people's 'bucket lists' but I suspect that could change when/if the terrible conflicts in some neighbouring countries resolve themselves.

So from here, it is a flight from Muscat to Tel Aviv, followed by a few days taking in the sights and experiences of Israel.

Note: In my last blog, I referred to and showed a picture of the Omani Onyx. I was of course confusing my gemstones and my animals and should have called them Omani Oryx.

Additional photos below
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31st March 2017
... with the abandoned mud village in the background

You really do get around. Love following your travels.
10th August 2017

oman tour
thanks for sharing this post about middle east tour

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