Destination: The Roses of Akhdar

16 Apr 2015
POSTED BY Y Magazine

With the arrival of spring, the Green Mountain gets ready for rose season when the pink blooms burst into life. Shaquel al Balushi goes on a mission to find them



Perched at the top of a vertical drop on a narrow dirt track, there was a brief moment when we wondered whether all this effort would be worth it. We were hunting for flowers, “Rosa Damascena”, the distinctive pink blossom, which turn the manmade terraces of Jebel Akhdar into a riot of colour.

The roses are handpicked and used to make Oman’s famous rose water, renowned for its smoky aroma.

Our quest to find the roses had brought us to this steep incline in front of us, which led down to the villages near Saiq, where the flowers are grown before being taken to the local distilleries.

The rose harvesting season begins during March and continues until the middle of May.

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In a SUV borrowed for the day, a friend and I headed off from Muscat early to make the most of the early morning temperatures and quieter roads. Safely through the police checkpoint – a 4×4 is compulsory for this journey – at the bottom of the mountain, we wound our way up the twisting road, watching the temperature gauge dropping as we climbed. It’s around 10 degrees cooler up Jebel Akhdar and I enjoyed gulping in the refreshing air.

As it’s name suggests, the “Green Mountain” is blessed with an abundance of greenery, with trees and shrubs against the harsh brown rocks making for a spectacular landscape.

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I was looking for something else however. Veering off from the main blacktop road after passing through Birkat Al Mawz near the top, we followed the road to Saiq. This tiny village is the hub for rose water production, producing some of the best in the region to be exported around the world with the amber-tinged liquid fetching between RO6 and RO7 for 375ml.

We made our way to the rose terraces via the steep path that I mentioned at the beginning, inching our way down slowly, towards the row upon row of bushes planted on the side of the mountain. At peak time, these bushes are groaning under the weight of flowers in full bloom and the sweet scent of roses wafts in the air, as a river of pink cascades down the terraces. The day we were there, a few flowers were out and the remaining buds were closed waiting for their moment. I walked around clicking away to capture the precious petals, with the sound of the falaj, which provides irrigation for the rose bushes, gently carrying on the breeze.

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As dawn breaks, the rose pickers of Saiq will leave their homes armed with whicker baskets to make the two-kilometre trek to the terraces built on these precipitous slopes. Before the morning sun begins to heat up, they will head back with hundreds of flowers for the distillation process.

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Happy with my shots, we went back the way we had come. It’s a narrow, single track and meeting another car would have necessitated some tricky manoeuvres, which thankfully we didn’t have to try out. Wandering around, I found some old ruined houses, abandoned long ago and crumbling away, which made a nice contrast to the pretty flowers I had just taken. Jebel Akhdar is not just a one-trick pony; there are lots of places to explore and sights to see. But I will save those for another time and another article.

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How to get there:

From Muscat, take the road to Nizwa. Just before the town, turn right when you see the road signs for Jebel Akhdar. There is a police checkpoint before the mountain where you must show your driving licence. A 4×4 is compulsory. Towards the top of the mountain, you will pass through Birkat Al Mawz. Follow the signposts to Saiq.

GPS Location of Saiq: N23˚ 04’ 40” E57˚ 40’ 14”

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