For a day trip or an overnight stay on weekends, the terraced mountain destination offers lots to unravel but the best part of it is that it provides a great relief from the scorching sun in Muscat.
Till you take the detour to Birkat Al Mauz from Route 15, the shimmering heat will haunt you. Have a snack break here before taking a left at the fort and head into the mountains. Take the ascent slowly and gently, try to keep the revs down on your engine which might be hot after the long drive from Muscat and keep an eye on your temperature gauge. The outside temperature must be going down as you climb up the asphalted black ribbon. There are many lay-bys with great views along the way, where you can take photos and enjoy the cool air, which may prompt you to down your car window glasses.
Continuing on the road you will see the Jebel Akhdar Hotel on your left. Keep on driving towards Sayq, and take a left turn towards the petrol station and you will see the Sahab Hotel on your right. There are many places to pitch your tent and camp. We met many such campers; some of them are from Dubai, who want to enjoy the cool climate in its full steam on outdoor tents. After climbing over the crest of a final hill to see the Sayq plateau, follow the signage of Alila if you want to have an unforgettable overnight stay in the green mountains. The road to Alila is impressive with great views of canyons and valleys on either side.
The Alila looks different from other usual hotels as we get a feel that it grew out of the ground, built in the same colour stone as the rock it sits on. The resort is decorated in earthy tones using locally inspired materials such as juniper tree, stones, and potteries to complement the natural surroundings. Temperatures are around 25 degrees in the mountains while it is above 46 in Muscat, making it the ideal spot for some respite from the heat. You can explore the mountains by foot, going for a hike to an abandoned village or drive down to Sayq to explore the rose garden or the orchard in the famous Wadi Habib. We drove along the winding road, past twisted juniper trees and wild olives, mountain goats, and sleepy donkeys.
If you want to feel the real terraced gardens don’t look at it from your car or the parking space. Walk down, go into it and see the culture and converse with people in the middle of the vegetation they grow. There are labyrinth of old houses, alleys and dark deserted corridors which smells dried grass and livestock. The corridor ends at a cliff with a vast view of the great valley and you realise you are in the terraced garden. We walked on the narrow ledge of the falaj, as the water channelled to feed a terraced corn field, and the thick dark green rose bushes between the mountainside and a small mosque. About three weeks before, more than 90 such farms turn this terrace garden pink, their petals picked at dawn to produce the country’s esteemed rose water. “You were too late,” said Ibrahim, who was cutting down corn stalks for his goats to feed. His small family was around him helping to tie the green corn stalk bunches. Ibrahim is working with Omantel in Muscat. Every weekend he drives to Jebel Akhdar to be in his orchard.
We walked further beyond the mosque, crossing a small dried wadi full of rocks that may come from uphill during a rain. Far above us, at a cliff we see ‘Diana’s Point’ where the princess gazed the valley in 1986. We continued through Al Ain’s terraced orchard full of blooming pomegranates, walnuts, figs, and sprouting apricot trees till we ended up in a cliff where the falaj cascades in to a pond down under.
It’s these falaj that feed oases such as Wadi Habib, where bushy walnut trees, the bright red flowers that would yield prized fruit for the pomegranate trees in autumn, apricot trees grow. It is dusk and the temperature is low again, the climate is sticking us back in the mountain. We were thinking, ‘Why would one go down to the hot world?’ while driving back on the ribbon of asphalt that looked as if the mountain is garlanded with a glittering necklace in twilight.