Sometimes you don’t have to travel far to discover a place of true beauty, finds Shaquel al Balushi as he stumbles on “pigeon” village
As we bumped along a track in the middle of nowhere, with no idea of where we were going, a small building suddenly came into view. It was a tiny ancient mosque, the stone painted white but faded over the years, with the smallest of minarets topped with a crescent moon. It was as unexpected as it was beautiful. My friend and I concluded that this charming mosque was probably for travellers passing by, enabling them to stop on their way and pray. I snapped away and managed to get a few good shots of the building.
The mosque signalled that we were at Hoqum; a village nestled in a protecting circle of mountains, with little more than a smattering of homes to be found.
Half an hour earlier my travelling companion and I had set off from my home in Amerat in a 4×4 car to find a new destination. I had a notion for exploring nearby, but no clear sense of where to go.
It was actually the day after my wedding. And instead of being with my wife, I was in a wadi with a friend doing a new Destination for Y Magazine. While my friend teased me about it during our trip, he knows that the demands of work sometimes come first.
We set off on Route 17 from Amerat, heading towards Bawshar, and as the blacktop road ended and a track began, we weren’t quite sure where we would end up until the mosque came into view.
As far as I am aware, the Arabic translation of Hoqum is “pigeon”. While there were lots of birds in the area, who unfortunately proved too tricky to photograph, perhaps some of them were pigeons, hence the name.
Looking around, I realised that the landscape was amazingly untouched without a drop of litter or rubbish in sight. It was pure and unspoilt – Oman, as it should be.
I can honestly say that in my 35 years of living here, I never knew that this place existed. It sits deep in “Red Mountains”, as we called the peaks as children, with the most spectacular backdrop of rocky outcrops, the like of which I’ve not seen before. The rocks were layered, creating horizontal strips of differing composition and texture, almost pyramid-like in their structure, although these were placed by nature’s hand and not man’s.
What struck me most was how the odd small tree or shrub sprouted out between the rocks, a vivid green standing out against the dark colour and harshness of the terrain. It spoke to me of hope. It shows that we cannot stop life no matter how tough things are.
One of my favourite photos of the day was a shot of a solitary tree growing on a rocky crag, emerging up between the cracks.
As for signs of human life, we only came across some local children playing outside and an old man who greeted me warmly, as is the Omani custom in the smaller towns and villages.
Further on, a rock that had tumbled down from the mountain caught my eye. The photo here doesn’t do it justice but the colours, yellow and pale red, standing out against the darker background, were stunning. I also liked the image of a small red and white telecommunications tower standing proudly in its splendid isolation, although I’m not sure it was working as I couldn’t get a mobile signal while there.
Hoqum is a fantastic find, a mere half an hour drive from civilisation, but giving you a sense of space and peace. It would be heaven for trekkers or anyone who simply wants to get away from it all.
Keep an eye out for those elusive pigeons…
From Muscat, take the road to Amerat. At the ROP roundabout, take a right turn onto Route 17. At the next roundabout, turn left and follow the road straight. At one point, the road splits. Make sure to follow the curve right and continue on. Hoqum will be signposted several times. The tarmac road will end. but just follow the track. A 4×4 is advisable but not essential. Time from Muscat to Hoqum is a little over an hour.
GPS location of Hoqum: N23º 20’ 46.767” E58º 22’ 1.481