The Rock Garden, Duqm

23 May 2013
POSTED BY Y Magazine

Shaped by wind, water and other natural forces, the limestone and sandstone rocks provide a sublime backdrop for the local habitat, finds Jerzy Wierzbicki
As regular readers will know, I enjoy travelling the country capturing landscapes and the spectacular scenery of Oman. Usually my subjects are inanimate objects. This time, however, I tackled the altogether more challenging area of wildlife photography.
Taking photographs of beasts in their natural habitat is one of the most difficult arts to master. First of all, you need to know something about the species you want to photograph. Then you have to research the conditions in which you will be working in, which often requires heavy and expensive equipment.
The most important things, however, are patience and time. And adaptability – you never know what can happen in the shooting zone.
Because of this, the best wildlife photographers in the world command a lot respect among their peers. For instance, American Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, an award-winning expert dubbed ‘The Indiana Jones of Photography’, whose work has taken him to the most remote corners of the world, and Frans Lanting, a Dutch photographer, both work for, and have had their work published in National Geographic.
Here in Oman, wildlife photography is rare. Only a few species can survive the barren and harsh conditions of the desert, and those that do flourish in such a climate are often hard to track down.
My best hunting grounds to date have been the bird sanctuary on the Hikman peninsula, where flamingos with pink-tipped wings gather, and Masirah Island, a hatching ground for loggerhead sea turtles.
Recently, during a trip to the southern part of the Al Wusta region, we stopped off in one of the country’s foremost areas of natural beauty just a few kilometres from the centre of Duqm – the Rock Garden. I have visited this fascinating site a few times before, with its moonscape-like scenery made by the limestone and sandstone rock formations. It is one of the top 25 sites of geological importance in the country, giving visitors an impressive insight into the wonders of the planet.
This time, the weather and light was not perfect for landscape photography. As I walked with a couple of friends around some unusual shaped rocks, we saw a few lizards in the shade.
They seemed timid, and approaching them without scaring them off proved a lesson in patience.
I tried using a long lens to take photographs from a safe distance but the result was not as interesting as
I’d hoped.
After half an hour, one of my friends called out that he had found a small lizard, an Agama, sitting on top of a big brown rock. Unlike his fellow lizards, this one seemed unperturbed by our presence and sat surveying our movements. I took some shots from around three metres away but, again, the results were not what I expected. Not wanting to miss this chance, I went back to my car for another lens. When I got back, the lizard had changed position and was much closer to me. Very slowly, I moved in. The little Agama, a long-tailed, insect-eating lizard, stood his ground and appeared not in the least bit afraid of this strange, large creature moving towards it with a camera in hand.
As I approached, I continued taking photos while gradually closing in on the subject. The lizard very proudly posed for photographs.
Even when I changed the lens again for close-up shots, he remained in place. He obviously enjoyed the attention. I managed to get some amazing, sharp pictures from only 10cm away.
When we had finished and got back into our cars, the lizard remained atop his rock, watching us and surveying the land around him, like the ‘Duke of Duqm’ and ruler of the Rock Garden.

HOW TO GET THERE
Just follow the same route that I’ve been travelling constantly since 2007. Take Road 32 from Muscat to Duqm. Total distance is around 550km, around a seven-hour drive. A 4×4 is not absolutely necessary. You can park your saloon car on the gravel track and go the Rock Garden on foot, a walk of only around 300m.


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