Jerzy Wierzbicki ventures into an unexpected oasis of wildlife and vegetation in the south of Oman
In comparison to the mountainous north, the south of Oman, looks very flat, with few significant geographical landmarks. With the exception of the Dhofar region, the Empty Quarter and the coast’s rocky shore, there’s just the silhouettes of nodding donkeys spread over the oil fields to be seen. It’s one of the most oil rich regions in all of Oman so is host to a number of exploration companies.
Desert countries are mostly associated with scorched earth, permanently exposed to the heat and sun, and without either greenery or plentiful animal life. It can appear like a moonscape at time and few tourists venture into this wilderness. Yet it is possible to find some phenomenal and unique places to visit. The Nimr Forest is one of these.
A few years ago I was on my way back from Salalah to Muscat and I was driving on Route 39, which looked like a shortcut between Thumrait and Hayma. It was late in the afternoon and I was tired after a number of long days in Dhofar. I just about managed to travel 250 km from Thumrait before I had to stop for a rest. So upon seeing a concentration of trees nearby, I went and established a small camp before trying to get to sleep as fast as possible.
In the early hours, I was woken by camels on the way to their feeding grounds. Rising from my bed, I looked around and was met by a scene that resembled more of an African savannah than a desert! I was surrounded by trees, their shape resembled crowns, created by the camels and other animals that like to feed on them.
I still had to drive almost 700 km home, so I decided not to hang around but to just take some pictures and make a note of the place as a potential destination for the next time I was in the area.
A few weeks ago, I was on my way back from Dhofar again, but this time I had the firm intention to be in Nimr a few hours before sunset to have enough time to take photographs. So I set off from Mirbat in the early morning and drove slowly to Thumrait. I stopped only to refuel my vehicle – as well as myself with some marvellous biryani from a small restaurant – before happily heading back on to Route 39. Nimr lay 250 km ahead of me.
During the afternoon, when the sun was still high in the sky, I turned onto a sandy track and drove on towards a massive concentration of trees lying about 3 km ahead of me. Reaching the trees, I parked my car in their shade and put my dog on his leash before moving off to explore. I was again struck with that same feeling I had had years before. The environment was radically different and one you’re more likely to find in Africa, not the Middle East. Green vegetation stretched away from me towards the horizon. The light was perfect and the whole area was veiled in an astounding silence. The only sound I heard was the wind blowing gently through the trees. It was the perfect experience I had hoped for.
Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I quickly equipped myself with a camera and long lens and moved between the trees bathed in a warm light. Their small green leaves waved gently to and fro in the wind. After several minutes my dog caught the scent of an animal. I was sure that there had to be camels in the area, so I moved quietly over to a small sand heap and hid behind a huge dead root. I set my camera upon a monopod and waited for the camels to appear in a landscape that glowed warmly, lit by the yellowy-orange light of the approaching evening.
Suddenly I saw a camel walking back from feeding, so I tracked him with my camera and waited for a moment when the animal would be framed by two small trees. It was my shot of the day. The camel was a few dozen metres away. The long lens helped me to maintain a distance from my subject and avoid frightening the animal.
Having returned back to the car, I sat under a nearby tree and made a quick check of the photos I had taken. They were perfect and I was so happy that I felt I deserved a traditionally prepared dinner on a small wood fire. Refreshed by the tasty food, I headed back out on the road to Hayma.
It was a fantastic experience and I hope to return there one day in the future, perhaps with my medium format camera and some traditional black and white film. They would be ideal for capturing the specific mood that prevails there.
The total distance from Muscat is around 680 km.
Go to Hayma on Route 31 and several kilometres beyond Hayma turn on to Route 39. Travel on this road to Marmul and then Nimr.
A few kilometres before the Nimr oil facilities on your left hand side, you’ll see a concentration of trees. Turn on to the sandy track. You’ll need a 4×4. If you have an SUV, reduce the pressure in the tyres and at all times keep to the tracks as the sand between the trees is sometimes very soft. Take extra special care of your children and pets due to the host of creatures in the forest, not to mention the camels and goats, for which this area is a feeding ground. Take care not to startle them. As always, remember to take your rubbish away with you.
Location of Nimr Forest: 18°38’12.82”N 56° 1’10.73”E