"Land of Legend"
Green Mountain Summer < OMAN EXPLORER
                               

Summer in the Jabal*


Despite its remoteness and the heavily mountainous terrain, Al Jabal al Akhdhar is undergoing a quiet transformation, perhaps in preparation for the era when it will emerge as a new tourist destination in northern Oman.

Stunning gorges and scenic mountain hamlets are part of the Green Mountain’s tourist charms

Although this vision may seem far-fetched given the present difficult road conditions to this unique locale, many believe the Green Mountain has the potential to pull in tourists and nature buffs in enough numbers to sustain a vibrant tourism industry here.


Salem bin Abdullah al Abdisalaam, Deputy Wali of Al Jabal al Akhdhar, is quietly optimistic that the Green Mountain will eventually figure on the tourist map of the Sultanate, and indeed that of the Gulf region.

“When the road project is completed in a couple of years, we reckon tourists will come here to enjoy the unique characteristics of these mountains.

There are so many interesting things to sample here: terraced gardens, the unique architecture of old mountain hamlets, natural heritage, the cool mountain springs, and of course, the stunning gorges and peaks,” he remarked.

The key to the realisation of this vision lies in the construction of the road linking Birkat al Mauz on the main Muscat-Nizwa highway to Saiq plateau in the heart of the Green Mountain. The 36-kilometre road link is one of the most ambitious road projects of its kind ever undertaken in the Sultanate, given the extreme ruggedness of the mountain terrain.

Work on the first 15-km stretch of the road link, spanning a treacherous expanse of deep wadis, vertiginous gradients, and sharp U-bends, is due to be completed by the year-end.

The remainder 21 kilometres will be constructed in two subsequent phases, with the new road cutting a swathe through mountains and gorges, skirting the existing road.

With a new road in place, private investment in economic and tourism infrastructure will not be far behind. The private sector is quietly eyeing the region’s potential in attracting Gulf tourists during summer, when temperatures prevail at 20-24 degrees Celsius, while the rest of the Gulf sizzles at 45 degree Celsius plus.

Juniper trees are a key element of the rich natural heritage — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi

It is envisaged that GCC tourists would break journey at Al Jabal al Akhdhar en route to the Sultanate’s popular summer destination — Salalah. Despite the inaccessible terrain, government facilities and civil amenities for the 6,000-odd inhabitants of the Green Mountain have not been lacking. Over the years, the government has established significant infrastructure to cater to the essential needs of residents currently living in some 58 villages and remote hamlets.

“The government recognises the importance of developing Al Jabal al Akdhar,” said Salem al Abdisalaam, Deputy Wali. “A wide range of ministries and government departments have set up offices here to meet all essential civic, social, healthcare, educational and other needs of the people here.”

Besides four schools for boys and girls, the Green Mountain also boasts a 24-bed hospital, post office, Social Development Centre, municipal services and offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Ministry of Water Resources.

Electricity and telecom services cover roughly 70 per cent of the population, while tankers supply drinking waters to all villages free of charge. Significantly, a 42km internal road network has been established, linking all key towns in the mountains.

 

Al Jabal al Akhdhar Hotel — stylish and comfortable
Embodying the vision of the Green Mountain as a potential tourist destination is the Al Jabal al Akhdhar Hotel, the region’s only hotel.

This charming establishment, built last June, is perfectly placed for exploring the many wonders of these mountains, while enjoying the amenities of a three-star facility.

Furnished in contemporary style with a high regard for comfort, the hotel is a great favourite with visitors from the Muscat region and a growing number of Gulf and international travellers as well.

“Majority of our guests are expatriate visitors, with a lot of tourists coming from the UAE as well. Besides, we get some direct bookings from Germany, Belgium and France as well,” said Nadim M Zaarour, Administration Manager.

Al Jabal al Akhdhar Hotel — conveniently placed for exploring the Green Mountain’s charms

“They come for the weekends, to enjoy a spot of camping in the mountains, visiting quaint hamlets, trekking to Wadi al Muaydin, and so on. While here, they make the most of what this hotel has to offer.”

The hotel boasts 24 single and double bedrooms, and two suites, all equipped with cold and hot air-conditioning systems, satellite TV and a range of other amenities.

Coloured glass dome of the Al Jabal al Akhdhar Hotel

Two coloured glass domes, emblazoned with icons of the local natural heritage, adorn the front of the hotel. A stylish coffee shop serves a selection of cuisine, while buffet and BBQ services can also be arranged.

In the next phase of its development, the hotel is planning to add a temperature-controlled swimming pool with chalets, children’s park, and fitness centre. The restaurant will be expanded to include facilities for live entertainment.

The surroundings will be landscaped and a sampling of indigenous trees, including the wild olive and juniper, planted in the courtyard.

Zaarour, a veteran of the local hospitality industry with 21 years of service, strongly believes Al Jabal al Akhdhar has all the ingredients for a successful tourist destination.

“The Green Mountain is unique considering the exotic fruits grown here, the valuable rose water produced here, and its natural and geological heritage.


Also, the warmth and hospitality of the local people are legendary, to say the least,” he remarked.

By promoting the Green Mountain through brochures and the Tourism Department’s regular marketing campaigns, Zaarour argues that Al Jabal al Akhdhar can pull in tourists in significant numbers. The hotel is already arranging road permits, courtesy of the Ministry of Defence, for visitors to the mountain.

* © Adapted from Oman Observer.