A lone traveller is never lonely as it’s the people who make a place special. Shaquel al Balushi reports from the beautiful village of Al Hajar.
If you ask me to take you on a trip to a destination – one that will sum up the whole of the Sultanate for you in one day – chances are that you and I will end up relaxing by the tranquil waters of Wadi Bani Khalid, watching the sun as it sets across the picturesque mountains that clad the horizon.
It is the most sought-after tourist destination in Oman, and if you recollect, I had only recently showed Wadi Bani Khalid to a few of my friends who had flown in from the US.
But as I took a walk across the striking aflaj of Al Hajar, I failed to understand why I had headed to Wadi Bani Khalid and not here for my trip that week. After all, my aim was to show them the beauty and sanctity of what is essentially Oman.
Granted, Wadi Bani Khalid is scenic but Al Hajar is all of that, plus a generous sprinkling of traditional Omani hospitality.
My drive to Al Hajar took me a good 45 minutes in total. To get here, you have to take the road that leads to Quriyat. Once you hit that stretch of tarmac, just keep an eye out for the signboard that says “Al Hajar”.
I have been to Al Hajar before and every time, I take back home a good memory from my visit. Last time, I remember being caringly received by a lady who was happy to see me (and my friend, Imran) walk around her hometown exploring. Most people would have simply freaked out if they saw someone carrying heavy camera gear scouting their home turf. But that was not to be.
This time, however, I was travelling alone, and was mentally prepared for a solo journey. Surprisingly (and thankfully), the people in this area are very caring, and a few of the guys even accompanied me for the duration of the trip.
The people in this area are predominantly from the “Wahaibi” tribe and have established themselves in this area for centuries now.
They are by far the most thoughtful and compassionate people I have ever met (and that’s high praise). They even greet you with a double handshake, and make sure to enquire about your well-being and that of your family. Admittedly, this process takes a lot of time but it is all a part of experiencing Omani culture.
Talking about Omani culture, I must point out that the aflaj here are a treat to behold. If you didn’t know, the falaj system (an ancient form of irrigation) was developed in the Middle East and Al Hajar is known as one of the first locations in the world to adopt the system. It also happens to be one of the few places that still holds onto the ancient irrigation system.
That’s what Al Hajar is all about too: holding on to its traditions. While most of the houses here have now been renovated, I was still able to find some old structures that have been kept intact.
One particular structure was placed right next to a falaj. I am sure that the citizens could easily have renovated it but the fact that they left it all alone tells me that they really want to hold on to their culture rather than have it wiped off the face of the earth.
There is a lot of farms here, too. The people who live here can sustain themselves by cultivating their own crops. I couldn’t figure out what sort of crops they were growing, but I could tell that they were being watered by the aflaj in the area. Thanks to all this, the area is very green.
After a few hours of exploring, I decided to relax by one falaj. That was when I was approached by a few youngsters who wanted to sit down and have a chat with me. They were very warm, caring and well-spoken – a trait that many youngsters of today seem to have forgotten.
Scenery and landscape are decisive factors when it comes to the making of a tourist destination but Al Hajar is of those areas where it is the people that truly make the area inimitable and above all… unique.
Take Route 17 from Muscat and continue on the road for around 45 minutes. The village is signposted and you won’t need a 4×4 for this journey.