"The Mountain"
The Green Mountain < OMAN ENVIRONMENT

The Green Mountain Beckons *

For the handful of enterprising tourists who venture into the rugged precincts of Al Jabal al Akhdar every weekend, the Green Mountain — as it is popularly dubbed — offers discovery, adventure and a fascinating insight into the life in one of the most inaccessible places in the Sultanate.

All come away with a sense of awe of nature’s primordial beauty as seen in the soaring peaks and plunging canyons.

Many of the Green Mountain’s plant species are coveted for their medicinal value — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi

They delight in the romance of the terraced fruit orchards and rose gardens abuzz with the giggly banter of mountain belles. And are stirred by the simplicity and generosity of the mountain folk who, despite the rigours of daily life in almost hermetic seclusion, exude good cheer and geniality all around.

This unique destination is within easy access of Muscat. Driving towards Nizwa, turn right at Birkat al Mauz and proceed along the graded road signposted Saiq, which is a key town at the summit of the Green Mountain. Given the nature of the road, interspersed with steep gradients and sharp U-bends, visitors are well-advised to use sturdy 4WD vehicles only, with an experienced off-roader at the wheel.

A road permit from the Ministry of Defence is necessary before venturing up the mountain. This can be arranged by the Al Jabal Al Akhdar Hotel, the Green Mountain’s newest landmark, which serves as a superb base for tourists to sample the many natural delights of the jebels.

Al jabal al Akdhar’s salubrious summertime climate — reaching a maximum of 26 degrees Centigrade while the rest of northern Oman sizzles — stems from the lofty altitude to which the Green Mountain soars.

The Green Mountain comes abloom with a multitude of roses during April

Reaching a height of about 10,000 feet, the mountain range is reputed to be the highest in the entire Arabian-peninsula. In winter, however, temperatures plunge to 5 degrees minus, sometimes freezing up natural ponds and attracting seasonal hail.

At these altitudes grow a variety of fruits and nuts such as peaches, apricots, grapes, apples, pears, plums, almond, walnut, and not the least of all, pomegranates — prized of the Green Mountain’s bounty. Coveted for their nutritive and therapeutic value, the jabal’s produce commands premium prices — often 2-3 times the value of commercially grown fruit.

In fact, April marks the start of the flowering season when each pomegranate tree breaks into blooms of white or red flowers. Pomegranate trees are a ubiquitous sight in the jabal’s remote villages and towns. They grow along mountainous pathways near villages or in the backyards of homes and government offices.

Jabal al Akhdar’s rugged landscapes are ideal
for mountain-climbing buffs

The Green Mountain’s famed fruit orchards are typically laid out terrace-style along the slopes of mountains, which are endowed with natural springs and aflaj. The most picturesque of these settings are the terraced

Tiny villages at the bottom
of the gorge
gardens of Al Ayn — one of some eight pomegranate-growing villages clinging perilously to the mountainside at Saiq.

Scenic mountaintop hamlet overlooking
Al Jabal al Akhdar’s main gorge

Terraced gardens enhance the natural beauty
of the Green Mountain.
The views from Al Ayn, overlooking a landscape of dramatic peaks, gorges and wadis, are indeed spectacular. On a clear day, especially after a spell of showers in the area, one can see parts of the Nizwa plain in the distance.

Water is key to the Green Mountain bounty of fruits and flowers. A network of channels fed by cool, crystal springs, nourishes the fruit orchards. The channels follow a serpentine course all the way down the mountain’s slope, leading to the terraced gardens at various intervals.

Diana Point — named after the late Lady Diana’s visit to the Green Mountain — offers perhaps the most panoramic of views of Al Jabal al Akhdar’s rugged peaks and precipitous ravines. From this well-known viewing point, located just 3.3km from the hotel, tourists can behold nature in all its primitive splendour, as well as scenic mountain hamlets nestled on the edge of a gorge. Terraced gardens cascade all the way down to the floor of the gorge.

For the energetic, a walk along the rim of the gorge can be an exhilarating experience. Nature buffs, particularly those with a penchant for geology, will find in these parts some unique geological treasures, many among them still awaiting scientific scrutiny.

Camping sites abound in the mountains offering tranquillity and seclusion. Significantly, the Al Jabal al Akhdar is home to the ancient juniper tree — now protected by law — in whose shade a picnic can be a delightful experience. Indigenous olives, myrtle and a variety of medicinal plants and shrubs are part of this interesting natural heritage.

* © Adapted from Oman Observer.