Trip Start Oct 13, 2009
Trip End Nov 26, 2009

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Flag of Oman  ,
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Slight change of plans today!
Mohammad, in a dashing white dishdasha today, collected me from the Jebel Al Akhdar
Hotel at 9.30, took me to see another couple of tiny villages, and then commenced the long,
steep, windy, 25 minute, descent to the bottom of the hill, much of the time in low gear but
still going a bit too fast for my liking, cutting the corners and squealing the tyres.
Transferring to my hire car, I headed back through Nizwa with the intention of visiting a
couple of small towns with forts, and ending up in Ibri about 100km away. However, not
long after Nizwa, I saw a sign for Jebel Shams (37km), which, at 3075 meters, is the
highest mountain in Oman. Stopping to look at my trusty LP, I see that this road apparently
goes a long way up the mountain, though the book says “it is possible, but foolhardy, to
attempt this road without 4WD.” Well, I have a penchant for mountains and their attendant
views, so giving it a try, I follow this steep road as it twists and turns up the mountain,
pleasantly surprised to find it smooth and well-paved, until it suddenly turns into a dirt road
after about 20km. Having got that far, I figured I would keep going as it is actually quite well
graded, though my FWD Mazda spins the tyres on some of the steep, sharp curves. The
lack of guard rails was a little disconcerting, especially as I got higher and higher, and the
road got narrower and narrower. Eventually the road crested and I found a little cluster of
chalets which claimed, rather grandiosely, to be the “Jebel Shams Resort”. I stopped and
looked at the chalets - basic, but quite appealing given the isolated, wind-swept location
with grand views - but as it was only about 1pm, I wasn’t planning to stop for the night. The
helpful chap who showed me around, pointed out a dirt road that continued, he said, for
about 2km where there was a tiny village and some good views of the Wadi Ghul. So I
headed on for a bit and came across this tiny collection of shacks, a few ragged children
selling handcrafts, and an ancient wizened man who was trying to sell stones. Quite why I
should pay him 5 OMR for stones that I could pick off the ground myself, he failed to
explain. Also admiring the view was a young English chap named Nick, who was working
for a couple of years in Qatar and had taken a few days to visit Oman. He said that he had
been told there was a hiking trail with some better views, that would take about an hour,
and asked me to join him. So I figured I could hike for an hour, grab a late lunch at the
“resort” and head on to Ibri.
Well, it turned out to be about three hours round-trip, but was one of the best hikes I done
for a long time. The trail almost immediately passed over the rim of the canyon, and then
hugged the edge of the canyon as it slowly descended, with spectacular views of the other
side of the canyon, and the peak of Jebel Shams itself above. Not for the faint of heart, the
trail was barely more than a goat path about 30cm wide, with a sheer drop off to our right -
looking down, the bottom of the canyon was about 1000m below! I kept my eyes on my
feet. Eventually the trail ended at an abandoned village of primitive stone huts, where some
adventurous people had, incredibly, created steep agricultural terraces on the canyon side.
A bit ghostly in the absolute silence of the canyon, we then re-traced our steps back to the
start, stopping frequently to admire the awe-inspiring views.
By this time it was about 5pm and I didn’t fancy driving after dusk, so I went back to the
“resort” and took one of their basic chalets (45 OMR including dinner and breakfast), just in
time to have a cup of tea and a date biscuit, while doing a Sudoku and watching the sun
set over the mountain peaks in the distance. Beautiful.

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