Jerzy Wierzbicki follows in the path of Persian soldiers on an ancient trail that snakes through a wild and rugged landscape
A few months ago, a friend of mine told me about a very special location that was historically important and that had significant archaeological value. But the real beauty of this destination is that it still forms an integral part of the landscape.
Located near Izki, just 100km to the south of Muscat, is the small village of Qaroot Al Janubiyah. And it’s just out the back of this seemingly unremarkable little settlement that visitors can find a prominent clue to the past – a pathway of steps allegedly constructed by the Persian army.
Last Thursday, I decided to battle the 45°C temperatures and take a look at this fascinating glimpse of the Sultanate’s history with my friend.
We set off from Muscat and after nearly an hour driving south on the highway, turned off the main road just north of Izki and headed into the surrounding hills in a north-west direction.
Probing our way into the wadi, we passed a small dam. It was a sure sign, along with the nearby date plantations, that this was an area that received significant rain, or at least run-off from the surrounding hills.
Not long after the dam, we parked the car and set out on foot. Following the wadi north as it narrowed rapidly, we were just 500 metres from the car when we saw a white arrow pointing to the path.
The heat was severe as we gazed up at a path that wound along the hillside above us.
But we had made it here, so there was no point in turning around now, especially because clouds had gathered and started to obscure the sun’s punishing rays.
Anybody will know from my adventures in Y Magazine that I’m far more at home in a 4×4 vehicle than on my own two legs. If I venture into the hills, I prefer to use a motor, not lungs, to power my way up the tracks.
I’m also a lot more comfortable in the wide-open spaces of sandy deserts. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I set out on foot into the mountains. The environment, formed by high peaks and rocky ridges, whether in Oman or in my native Europe, can leave me feeling slightly overwhelmed. Even Al Huqf, one of the most inhospitable regions in Oman, seems to be a better fit for me than the rocky hill paths of Jebel Akhdar.
Nevertheless, equipped with our photographic equipment and plenty of water to fend off dehydration, we started to make our way slowly up the path.
After just a few hundred metres, we came across the unmistakable sight of a step. With relatively clean lines and an easily distinguishable shape, the rocky form indicated that we were definitely on the right track. More ancient steps soon followed.
However, with the rising elevation and gradually increasing steepness of the path, our progress inevitably slowed. And my friend wasted no time in pointing out my sorry condition for taking on this relatively tough challenge. Quite simply, I wasn’t physically prepared for long hikes at high elevation.
But no matter how short I was of breath, when we took a breather and stopped for a moment, the views were fantastic.
The raw form of the rugged landscape was perfectly exposed and my friend, a geologist, dazzled me with geological stories of how the landscape was formed millions of years ago. It would become a pattern of the day, with myself stopping every now and then, and my knowledgeable companion taking the opportunity to talk about the rocks and formations around us.
After another hour, we reached a fork where two deep wadis divided the mountains before us. The dividing feature was a huge outcrop that seemed more bare than the rest of the landscape, which was dark brown and covered by just a few sparse shrubs.
Thankfully, the temperature began to dip a little and there was a slightly cooler breeze upon our reddened faces.
Soon after, the clouds became darker, more threatening and we felt a few light splatters of rain on our heads. It was a good time to take stock of the situation and check our GPS coordinates.
With heavy clouds looming menacingly overhead and our cars parked in the wadi, this was no time to be complacent, so we decided to turn back.
It was the sensible decision, but frustrating all the same. We had to pull up short, just a few hundred metres below a giant plateau where you can find a ruined mosque. It would also have afforded us great views over the surrounding landscape.
I took several photographs to ensure that we at least returned to Muscat with the Persian steps documented in photos and then started the journey back. It had been a fascinating insight into a historic trail.
Head south out of Muscat on route 15 towards Nizwa. Just before you reach Nizwa, turn off the highway towards Birkat Al Mawz. You will immediately come to a small roundabout.
Turn right and drive through the small village of Qaroot Al Janubiyah into the wadi. Follow the track and pass a small dam under construction. After a few hundred metres, park your car and start to walk along the narrow wadi, which will take you to the foot of the steps, marked by a splash of white paint. It is possible to reach this point without a 4×4. Do not forget to take adequate supplies of water.
GPS location of the start of the Persian steps: 23° 1’0.64”N 57°45’12.83”E