Mad'ha's serene charms

Serene landscapes in Mad'ha wilayat
Picture by Khamis al Moharbi

Among the dozens of holiday hideaways dotting parts of the Sultanate, the wilayat of Mad'ha is perhaps the least known. This tiny tract of Omani territory, belonging to the Governorate of Musandam, is near the border of the United Arab Emirates. Yet, this secluded world boasts a rich mix of landscapes — rocky hills, quiet valleys, tranquil oasis-villages and gentle streams — all inviting discovery.

Getting there

To get there from Muscat, drive all the way to Shinas and onward to Khatmat Malahah, the frontier post on the border between Oman and the UAE. The road sweeps along the Gulf of Oman coast as you cross the emirate of Fujairah and proceed north in the direction of Musandam. About 60km down this route from Shinas, a signpost appears indicating the turn to Mad'ha, which is just 3km from this intersection. New Mad'ha is the wilayat's main administrative town bristling with government offices and all modern amenities like schools and health centres, besides smart villas and social houses for low-income citizens.

To explore some of the wilayat's better attractions, take the dirt track leading westward deep into Mad'ha's rugged countryside. Just a kilometre down this route is Al Andhar, a charming oasis-village nestled amid date palms. The famous Al Hura Wadi skirts the village, replenishing aquifers that feed a number of aflaj coursing through farms and orchards around the village.A short distance away is Al Gonah, the wilayat's second most populous village, nestled in the wedge of rocky hills. A circular watchtower of a pastel hue, quite unlike the typically buff-coloured towers found elsewhere in Oman, watches over this tranquil village.

Drive ahead to explore the picturesque Sa'ad village, surrounded by date palm gardens. You can relax at the Al Madh’har park, laid out by the local municipality amid natural settings close to the edge of a wadi. There are opportunities for picnicking close to the burbling streams of the wadi, besides a play area for children. Hajar bin Humaid, 12km west of New Mad'ha, is the last village on this route and a major tourist attraction as well. Nestled close to the mountains, this village is endowed with myriad springs that contribute to the area's varied flora.

Samples of rock calligraphy found in Mad'ha

Its main attraction is Jebal al Rukham, or the Marble Mountain, where quarried sections of the mountain reveal white marble that gleams during the day. Apart from its natural attractions, the wilayat of Mad'ha also boasts an antiquity dating back over 1,000 years. Rock art and calligraphy are an important part of its historical heritage as seen in the numerous examples of ancient calligraphy scrawled on rocks scattered around the wilayat. A study done in 1992 reported over 500 such pieces of rock calligraphy in the wilayat, notably in Al Husei and Al Maeqlah.

Just about a hundred of these valuable relics remain, which interestingly, feature the Arabic script without the dots associated with the modern version of the script. Preserving all of these priceless samples of history is a near impossible task considering the size of the rocks on which the calligraphy appears. Most are believed to be of 10th and 11th century antiquity, while a few even date back to pre-Islamic times.

Other samples of rock art found in the wilayat include drawings of animals and folk dances.While in Mad'ha, be sure to visit the private museum of the local historian, Mohammed bin Salem al Mad’hani. His modest home is filled chock-a-block with samples of relics, curios and handicrafts — all Omani. A retired government employee, Al Mad’hani began pursuing his passion for antiques in 1972 and has since amassed a hoard of over 12,000 samples of Oman's heritage.

They include valuable manuscripts, samples of rock art, Omani silverware and jewellery, khanjars, ancient weapons and other trappings of Omani daily life in antiquity. He is now working to house his priceless collection in a full-fledged museum as part of his contribution towards preserving Oman's rich and varied heritage.

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