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.