Inland from Muscat, Highway 15 winds up into the craggy Hajar mountains, Oman’s geological backbone, which extend all the way along the east coast of the country, from Sur to the Musandam Peninsula. The region southwest of Muscat is home to the Hajar’s highest and most dramatic section, often described as the Western Hajar, or Al Hajar al Gharbi (as opposed to the somewhat lower and less extensive Eastern Hajar, covered in chapter five). The area is also sometimes referred to as Al Dakhiliya (literally, “The Interior”), one of the seven administrative regions into which Oman is divided and which encompasses the towns and mountains of the Western Hajar, as well as a large swathe of desert to the south.
The main focus for most visits to the region is the famous old town of Nizwa, the pre-eminent settlement of the Omani interior and formerly home to the country’s revered imams. Nizwa also provides a convenient base from which to explore other attractions around the hills, with its mix of rugged mountainscapes and dramatic wadis along with historic old mudbrick towns and idyllic date plantations bisected with traditional aflaj. Leading attractions include the spectacular massifs of the Jebel Akhdar, east of Nizwa, and Jebel Shams, to the west, the highest summit in Oman. There are also memorable traditional villages at Al Hamra and Misfat al Abryeen plus a number of the country’s finest forts, including those at Bahla, the largest in the country, and Jabrin, perhaps the most interesting.Read More
Walks in the Western Hajar
Walks in the Western Hajar
The Western Hajar boasts virtually limitless trekking possibilities, with spectacular mountain scenery and a well-established network of trails – many of them along old donkey tracks through the mountains. Many of these paths have now been officially recognized as public trekking routes by the Oman government; some have been waymarked with yellow, white and red flags painted onto rocks en route to assist with route-finding, although you may still prefer to enlist the services of a specialist guide to make sure you don’t get lost in what is often inhospitable terrain. The high altitude of many of the treks means that temperatures are pleasantly temperate, although it’s wise not to underestimate the possible challenges of even relatively short hikes. Carry ample supplies of water and warm waterproof clothing at all times – weather conditions can change with spectacular suddenness up in the jebel.
For an excellent overview of some of the most rewarding routes, pick up a copy of Oman Trekking, published by Explorer, which details some of the country’s finest hikes, including ten in the Western Hajar, and one through Wadi Tiwi in Sharqiya. Unfortunately, virtually all the treks are linear rather than circular, meaning that you’ll either have to retrace your steps or arrange for transport to collect you at the end of the walk. The following are the best of the Western Hajar routes.
Around Jebel Shams and Wadi Nakhr
Route W4: Al Qannah Plateau to Jebel Shams
(9.5km; 5–6hr one-way). This extended and challenging hike follows the sheer cliffs ringing the top of Wadi Nakhr (Oman’s “Grand Canyon”) to the summit of the country’s highest mountain, with views into Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Awf en route.
Route W6: Al Qannah Plateau to As Sab
(3.5km; 1.5hr one-way). Probably the most famous walk in Oman, popularly known as the “Balcony Walk”, this spectacular trek follows an old donkey trail inside the rim of Wadi Nakhr to the abandoned village of As Sab (aka Sab Bani Khamis). Links up with route W6a.
Route W6a: Al Qannah Plateau, Wadi Ghul to Al Khatayam
(6km; 3–4hr one-way). Moderate trek following an old donkey path above the southern end of Wadi Nakhr. Links up with route W6.
Around Wadi Bani Awf
Route W8: Balad Sayt
(5km; 3–4hr one-way). Challenging high-level walk which climbs from the beautiful village of Bilad Sayt up the northern flank of the Western Hajar above Wadi Bani Awf. Links up with routes W9 and W10h.
Route W9: Misfat al Abryeen
(9km; 5–6hr one-way). Long trek along old donkey trail starting at the beautiful village of Misfat al Abryeen, with views into Wadi Bani Awf en route. Links up with routes W8 and W10h.
Route W10h: Sharaf al Alamayn
(3.5km; 1.5–2hr one-way). Relatively easy high-altitude walk from the village of Sharaf al Alamayn along the top of the mountains. Links up with routes W8 and W9.
Around Jebel Akhdar
Route W18b: Seeq to Al Aqr
(4km; 2hr one-way). An easy but spectacular walk through the traditional villages lining the edge of the Saiq Plateau, following the rim of the cavernous Wadi al Ayn.
Route W24a & W25: Wukan to Hadash via Jebel Akdhar
(14km; 7–10hr one-way, 10–13hr circular walk if combined with Route W24b). Challenging and extremely exposed high-altitude trek around the northern edge of the Jebel Akdhar above the Ghubrah Bowl. Links up with trek W24b to form a circular route, just about doable by very fit walkers in a single day.
Route W24b: Hadash to Wukan via Al Qawrah
(4km; 2.5–3hr one-way). Short but challenging walk through a trio of mountain villages.
The rose harvest
The rose harvest
The Saiq Plateau – the small village of Al Aqr in particular – is famous for its rose gardens, probably brought to Oman from Persia, where rose cultivation has a long history. The damask rose (Rosa Damascena) flourishes here thanks to the plateau’s temperate climate; the gardens are at their most colourful for a few weeks in April, when the flowers come into bloom.
Aesthetics aside, the Saiq Plateau’s rose gardens are also of considerable economic value thanks to their use in the production of the highly prized Omani rose-water. The petals of the fully grown roses are carefully plucked (usually early in the morning, when the weather is coolest, to help preseve their intense aroma) and then taken off for processing. This remains a largely traditional affair. The petals are stuffed into an earthenware pot with water, sealed up in an oven (traditionally heated using sidr wood, although nowadays it’s more likely to be gas) and boiled for about two hours. The resultant rose-flavoured steam condenses into a metal container inside the pot, which is then repeatedly filtered to produce a clear liquid. Demand for the area’s rose-water usually outstrips supply. Genuine Omani rose-water is itself an important ingredient in Omani halwa, while it can also be added to drinks and food. Locals believe that it’s also good for the heart, and can ease headaches if rubbed into the scalp.
- The falaj