From Oman’s mountains Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams are easiest accessed, both providing spectacular views
Nizwa is a good base for excursions into the Hajar Mountains, the mountains that separate the interior of Oman from the coast. Nearest is the road that leads up to Jebel al Akhdar, which starts at the village of Birkat Al Mawz, some 45 minutes out of Nizwa, in the direction of Muscat.
Just past the village is a police check point, assessing whether you have a 4WD or not – without it, no access to the mountain is granted; apparently, there have been many deadly accidents with people descending the steep road using their breaks instead of the gears. In the past the only way up was by donkey, but Oman wouldn’t be Oman if they hadn’t done the infrastructure. Now a modern tarmac road leads up the mountain, through a multitude of hairpin bends, and in places indeed frighteningly steep. However, in the urge to provide a safe road, much of it has been lined with a concrete wall on the valley-side, taking away most of what could have been a spectacular view. All along are small, and some larger, parking places, with a sign stating the elevation, and an explanation of the view – useful, but in most of these places the views somewhat obscured, and it being pretty hazy didn’t help.
Once on top of the Saiq plateau, at around 2000 m elevation, there is not much to see anymore, either, except some undulating rock landscape, loose boulders and very patchy vegetation. Nevertheless, there are lots of tourist facilities, in the form of picnic shelters around yet more parking lots, complete with fruit stalls and coffee shops – mostly closed, today; I suppose this is a popular weekend destination in summer, when it is a lot cooler here than down at the coast.
It is only at the town of Saiq that we manage to reach the edge of the plateau again, and look down on several villages – Al Qasha almost at the bottom of the valley, and Al Ayn and Al Aqor perched on the opposite slope, above a series of extensive terraces stretching from top to bottom. Some of them are even being irrigated, and show traces of green, a colour conspicuously absent on Jebel Akhdar – which means Green Mountain…
A little back from Saiq another road leads right, to an even higher plateau – we are well over 2200 meters, here -, equally devoid of interesting scenery, except for the canyon at the end. This is also the location of a flashy resort, called Alila, literally in the middle of nowhere . Altogether a lot of effort, for perhaps too little reward.
Which cannot be said of a trip up Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest peak at just over 3000 m. Not that you can get to the mountain peak itself, which is a military zone closed to the public, but the drive up to a plateau near the top is a great way to experience the mountain landscape of this country. The first part leads past a wide dry river bed, Wadi Ghul, with half-way the village of Ghul. The hamlet on the left has been abandoned in favour of the more modern houses on the right side of a steep gorge that ends in the wadi here.
A little further the roads starts to climb to the plateau, where a feeble wooden fence protects the visitor from a drop 2100 meter down – or 1500, different sources state different numbers, but in any case, it is a lot – into Wadi Nakhl, better known as Oman’s Grand Canyon. Fifty meters along, even the fence has disappeared, and one looks unobstructed into the abyss, the deeply eroded valley of the river that, far below, meanders uncomfortably in between the rocks. There is no better view point in Oman. And there is no better picnic spot than here, protected from the wind behind some outcrop.
next: to Misfat and Al Hamra