A stunning vista reminds Shaquel al Balushi why he likes to capture life and landscapes through a lens.
After my failed attempt to find the source of the wadi in Ain Al Zam last week, I was motivated to take up another challenge in my latest adventure just to redeem myself. Choosing a location wasn’t difficult at all: I decided to head towards Ain Al Zam from the opposite side, which meant that I had to head into the mountains through the village of Qafail.
And because my travelling buddy Imran and I took more than four hours to reach the location last week, I decided to set a challenge for myself to reach Ain Al Zam in 30 minutes or less from Qafail. Quite a daunting task, perhaps, but I knew that I could do it if I stuck to the main roads and kept within the routes paved by the villagers.
Sadly, however, I was travelling alone this time around as Imran was caught up with some work of his own. Nevertheless, I set off on my brisk journey before the crack of dawn (at about 5am) to avoid getting caught up in the pre-weekend traffic that riddles Al Amerat on Thursdays.
It did not take me long to reach Qafail: it’s a fairly straightforward journey if you stick to the highway that leads to Al Amerat. After just 30km, I saw a brown board that pointed towards the village of Qafail. You have to keep an eye out for it, however, as you could miss the signboard very easily and end up mooching around the rather deserted area.
Once I reached there, I knew that I was against the clock. I now had exactly 30 minutes to reach Ain Al Zam. However, almost instantly, I noticed two shepherds herding goats. But it was what I saw next that worried me. The two shepherds had brought along two of their guard dogs. Now before you judge me, you have to know that guard dogs are quite fierce animals, and they can easily cause havoc if they see an impending threat.
And for them, an open-top Jeep Wrangler with a man holding a camera is definitely a “threat”. So, without any haste, I quickly (but cautiously) decided to drive away. And thankfully, I managed to escape them without any problems.
A short drive (five minutes or so) later, I stumbled upon 10 to 15 houses – all traditional Omani houses – which seemed to be on their last legs. But because the clock was ticking, I quickly drove off without clicking many photos.
But what I saw next was my highlight of the trip. It was the landscape of Qafail, and I cannot quite find the words to describe it. It is absolutely stunning, to say the least.
And just as I grabbed my camera and gear, I saw the sun rise above the beautiful rocky horizon just to give me a peek of the day that lay ahead. The mountains weren’t brown anymore; they seemed to be coloured in an orange and yellow hue, making it seem like the opening sequence of a Paramount movie (sans the snow, obviously). It was breathtaking, and I just couldn’t resist taking photographs. It is moments like these when I am grateful that I am a photographer.
A few moments later, I continued on my path. Of course, my stop had cost me 15 minutes, and I knew that I couldn’t complete the challenge unless I pushed my Jeep to its limits.
The terrain in Qafail is best suited to this sort of driving. Last month’s rains had washed the paths away so I was exploring the area on my own. I was creating new paths.
Thankfully, my Jeep took the beating and kept going strong. I presume that most off-road enthusiasts will find this sort of terrain best-suited for testing their SUVs. You can really push your vehicle to find its strengths and weaknesses and tune it accordingly.
However, do note that there is no cell-phone reception in the area, possibly because of the uneven terrain and the lack of relay towers.
So make sure you go with a group of friends and with a lot of supplies (water, energy bars and even fuel for your SUV). The last thing you want to do is break down and have no means to contact anyone.
I headed deeper into the village in search of Ain Al Zam but after a few hours of searching, I declared myself lost! It was unfortunate but as the heat blared down, things only got harder. So I decided to ditch my search for the wadi and head back home.
So there you go. Another challenge, another letdown. But, if you look beyond that, I would say that I enjoyed every moment of my time in Qafail. And I will be heading there again with friends for a night of camping soon.
Take the Al Amerat Heights road and continue on Route 17 for 45km. After a while you should be able to see a brown sign board that leads to Qafail. Follow the road for another 10km to reach the heart of the village.