To Omani adventurer Ahmed Al Mahrouqi, the old ways are always golden

Oman Sunday 27/December/2020 11:26 AM
By: Gautam Viswanathan
To Omani adventurer Ahmed Al Mahrouqi, the old ways are always golden

If you were, over the past week, driving on the road from Muscat to the town of Adam, some two hours’ south of the capital, you might’ve come across an Omani riding a camel.

To spot a local riding a camel is, even in this day and age, not a completely unusual sight. Arabs have, after all, shared a very close bond with the ship of the desert over the millennia, and it is the value of the ways of old, and the connections with nature that are so essential to our civilisation that Ahmed Hareb Al Mahrouqi wishes to share with us.

The 63-year-old began his journey from Adam on December 9, and ended in the capital a week later, having hopefully spread his valuable message of community, sharing and cooperation, in the hopes that it will be passed on and spread a little bit more awareness in all of our lives.

The role of the individual and society aside, though, Ahmed is also thinking about the position of Oman. The Sultanate’s reputation as a warm and welcoming nation is well known, and he wants to share that warmth and spread this awareness among others.

“There is a lot all of us must do to share the vision and mission of Oman with the world. Oman is going to expand its tourism offerings, so if we want to share this with the world, we must also make sure our heritage is seen by the public,” he says. “When our Sultan came to the throne, His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik spoke of unity, dedication and unity to the country, and I believe that is the way we need to go forward.”

Born in Tanzania, where many Omanis have ancestry and family ties, Ahmed was but a boy of three or four when his family moved to the Sultanate, making the journey by ship. It was in Oman that he understood the value of beasts of burden such as the camel to society, and has been dedicated to sharing that message since then.

This is far from the first expedition Ahmed has taken in this context: he began his excursions on camelback to spread awareness in 2014, when he successfully crossed the deserts of the Sharqiyah Sands before halting at Adam and then Barka.

His next journey, one that was equally, if not more arduous and testing, saw him walk all the way from the Sultan’s palace in Muscat to the one in Salalah, traversing about a thousand kilometres, a journey that takes a little more than a week by foot, were he to walk continuously.

His longest and most circuitous route, though, came in 2016, when he crossed international borders to spread his message with his kinsmen in the United Arab Emirates.

“I went from Sur to Burj As Sahwa in Muscat, and from there, went to Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and ended my journey in Ibri, back in Oman,” recalls Ahmed. “The main challenge you need to overcome during such journeys is, of course, the heat and the sun. If you are not careful, you will have adverse health effects because of them.”

There are, of course, other challenges – the wind, for example, which whips up thousands of tiny particles of sand, which feel like a swarm of microscopic insects stinging you all at once when they blow all over you – which need preparation and leave little room for underestimating the elements.

“I chose Adam as my starting destination, because near the town is a village that is home to Harith Al Busaidi, who promoted the status of Oman 275 years ago,” explains Ahmed. “I will be starting my journey from his home.”

He adds, “We visited many old villages, and there were older settlements inside these villages as well. Some of the oldest villages in the country are in places like Izki, Birkat Al Mouz and Manah.”

Joining Ahmed on his trip will be Rachel MacIver, a travel writer based out of Oman, but originally from Denmark, and hiking enthusiast Ahmed Al Jawahari. Like him, they too will be required to live life in the old way.

“We made our breakfast at our camp,” says Ahmed. “When we stopped at our second camp for the day, we set up our mobile kitchen and cooked there. We made food for ourselves, and took tents to sleep in. This is the olden, golden way of travelling – we did not depend on anyone but ourselves. As for washing ourselves, we took bath wherever there was a well, or whenever we came across a falaj.”

Keeping to the ways of old was the theme of the journey: Ahmed and his little band crossed the country on trade routes used by merchants who came to the country before the advent of cars. For Mohammed Al Jawhari, who is most at home among the country’s mountains, this was a brand new experience.

“We passed through many locations important to our heritage, reliving the ancient trade routes our ancestors took, and visited the old markets that are alive even today,” he says. “This is my first experience of travelling on camels – it is one that is completely different to hiking, my most common method of exploration.”

“Walking with camels is completely different, compared to how I normally cover long distances,” admits the young Omani. “While they are able to take long strides with just one easy step, I have to take many to be at the same pace as them: it makes for a difficult day.”

Through the challenges they overcame, the trio learned much about themselves and how our ways of life have changed so much with the march of time. The experience of eating dinner in the lap of nature while observing a stunning sunset was an added bonus seldom found elsewhere.

Much like our predecessors, the group rose early in the morning, moving from their campsite at about 7:30 every day, covering about 30 kilometres on average. Throughout their journey, good folk, curious about their travels, joined them, often bringing with them food or water for them to last at least some way of the road ahead.

On day three of their expedition, they were joined by Omanis from the surrounding areas, as they made their way towards Nizwa.

“It was an awesome day!” he recalls. “One of them even brought us a whole goat as a treat for our dinner. Their presence really motivated us.”

Ahmed Al Mahrouqi’s expedition in keeping to the tried, trusted and tested ways of the old world is one that seems to show us the importance of communities working together, and of our shared experiences making for a richer, deeper understanding of the world around us. But this union of man and nature would not have been possible without his trusty steeds, who have steadfastly accompanied him on all his travels without as much as a grunt of discontent.

“I have my own camels,” he says. “The male is named Rahhal, which in Arabic means traveller. If I call him, he responds instantly – he knows his name. The meaning of the name of the other camel – Luhderiya, she is female – is ‘to cry’ because the sounds she makes are quite high-pitched.

“These are my loyal animals who come with me on all of these journeys. I would not be able to do this without them.” –