Jebel Akhdar – not the highest mountain in Oman, but what an incredible place! It sounds pretty far-fetched for a mountain in the desert to be called green. It is not so much a mountain, as two plateaus, the lowest being around 2000 meters above sea level. Up there, even in the desert, it is much cooler, with around 12″ precipitation per year. Winter temperatures can get down to 0C degrees, and lower than that on the high plateau. Even in the height of summer, it is around 30 C, without the humidity that makes it uncomfortable in Muscat.
The road up the mountain is very steep and winding. There is a checkpoint near the bottom, and they only allow 4 wheel drive vehicles to proceed, as there have been accidents with cars burning the brakes out on the trip down, with disastrous results. There are high barriers along many of the outside curves, so you don’t get to see just how high you are and how steeply you have ascended.
When we arrived at the Saiq Plateau, we drove through the town, past the new hotel, and went first to Diana’s Viewpoint – where Princess Diana stood when she visited Oman. The rocks we were standing on were full of fossils.Robert had been talking about gardens and terraces, but I surely was not prepared for what I saw.These tiny villages are hanging by their toenails on this cliff, and the terraces go all the way down hundreds of meters. Each one of those tiny lines on the photo is a terrace where they grow fruits and vegetables, both to eat and to sell. Can you imagine walking DOWN to the bottom garden to pick, and climbing all the way up for lunch?
The green bushes at the top, where it is nearly level, are a type of rose bush that only grows here. In the spring, they are heavy with sweetly perfumed pink flowers, which are distilled locally to make rose water. Lower down there are pomegranates, apricots, peaches and walnuts.
After viewing the gardens from across the canyon, we drove to the nearest of the three villages and began our walk. The houses are old and poor…. they have electricity now (every village in the whole country has) but the people still live quite a primitive existence. Some of the doors are quite amazing…And look at this prickly pear – it is a tree! I’m glad we don’t have cactus this big in Saskatchewan.This is a look back at the first village – notice the terraces below.At one point we went along a fairly narrow path (well fenced on the down side) to the village that is at the top of the rose garden. Just before it, there is a spring and pond. See the cave at the back?And this small goat found us there, and just loved Robert.When we went down near the top of the hanging gardens, we discovered this electric pulley system, used to carry things down to the midpoint of the gardens. I was glad to find that they don’t have to carry everything up and down on their backs.
We didn’t go all the way to the third village as it was getting late.It was just after sunset when we were returning to the car and passed some girls coming back from prayer. I thought it was interesting that they have the sign in English – probably to keep curious male tourists from going down.
After our hike, we went to the new hotel for dinner – and sat out on the very edge of the back patio, overlooking the canyon. The walk was paved with fossil rocks, and there were some embedded in the walls in the lobby as well.