Monday Column: Jabal Shams - a winter gem in the desert

Opinion Sunday 05/February/2023 19:35 PM
By: Saleh Al Shaibany
Monday Column: Jabal Shams - a winter gem in the desert

I was in Turkey’s highest snow mountain when the temperature in Jabal Shams dropped to sub-zero degrees and I was wondering why I was taking a winter holiday in a foreign land when we have snow right here in the country.

I browsed the online pages of the international newspapers and Oman’s highest mountain dominated the travel pages. The fascinating question they had is that how a land in a desert could snow like a European country?

I was asked the same questions by European tourists in Turkey when they found out that my country is Oman. I did not have to struggle with my answer. I told them that Oman has a diversity of weather that spins around tropical, to cold and the severe heat conditions.

I also told them that all they know of Oman is just about the desert where British travel writer Wilfred Thesiger immortalised the sands with his book written in 1949 about the harsh temperatures of the Empty Quarter.

Thousands of photos circulating in the social media, including of a snowman dressed up in Omani turban carrying the national flag, captivated the world. The photos also showed people skiing down the slopes of the Jabal Shams mountain.

One of the questions some social media users had whether the snowy peaks of Jabal Shams were mistaken with the Swiss mountains. But I had to explain to fellow tourists in Turkey that snow in that part of Oman is an annual occasion and it is not a one-off incident. I could understand the surprise on their faces because here in Oman we do not take the time to promote the country in its finest glory.

They also asked me if there were any good hotels around the area or skiing facilities. I scratched my head and said sadly “not really.”

I looked at the Turkey’s snow mountain I visited and all the facilities around it, from cable cars that takes you to the top to the skiing stations and first class hotels, cafes and restaurants. Then I read in the social media of visitors to Jabal Shams who could not get to the top because of “dangerous and icy narrow roads.”

The roads towards the towns of Jabal Shams were also packed with cars frustrating holiday makers from getting there. But the winners of the spectacular snow mountain views were the owners of drones. They made a brisk business taking photos and videos for people who could not get to the top.

The international coverage of Jabal Shams will undoubtedly put Oman in the world tourism map as a winter destination that combines a multitude of attraction from snow peaks, desert, trekking, beaches, old villages, history and heritage in one holiday package. The best coverage was from the British newspaper, the Guardian, with a headline. “Arabian Tallest Peak Turns White. It is true that Jabal Shams, standing at a little over 3,000 meters, is the highest mountain in the Arabian Peninsula.

Another British newspaper, the Times, said in its travel pages, Oman’s Jabal Shams is a winter gem in the desert. Such was an international euphoria of a mountain that most of us here in Oman take for granted and perhaps, not much is done to give it a privilege it deserves.