Felicity Glover heads up to the “Green Mountain” for her first visit and finds it the perfect time to escape the summer heat of the city.
It’s been three years since I arrived in Muscat and I’m ashamed to say that after all this time, I’d never visited Jebel Akhdar. Of course, I’ve heard many things about the “Green Mountain”, which forms part of the 300km-long Al Hajar mountain range. From the famous rose season to the stunning Saiq Plateau and the cooler climate, particularly during the summer months, it’s a must-visit destination for anybody living in Oman.
My visit happened to coincide with last week’s heatwave, in which the temperature had soared up to 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country. In Muscat, the temperature was hovering around the 45-degree mark, so it’s safe to say I was looking forward to a little relief from the heat and humidity.
Just a little more than a two-hour journey from Muscat, it’s an easy drive to the foothills of Jebel Akhdar. But from here on, you will need a 4×4 to continue as you must pass through a police checkpoint that will not allow you to go any farther if you are driving a sedan. And if you’ve come all this way, that would be a shame.
The road is well maintained but safe driving is a must going up the mountain – very steep gradients are the norm while hairpin bends abound.
Heading up, I was keen to stop and take in the vista and plateaux that appeared over each rise – the sides of the mountain were scattered with green bushes while I was beginning to notice that the vegetation was quite different to that of Muscat.
We were staying in an apartment in a village close to the Anantara Al Jabar Al Akhadar Resort, which opened last October. It’s a handy location as it also marked the first stop on our itinerary: Diana’s Point.
Named after the late Diana, Princess of Wales, she visited this spot in November 1986 with Prince Charles. According to the plaque commemorating the site, they reached this spot of then “untouched wilderness” by helicopter and spent six peaceful hours there. Charles spent his time painting the stunning scenery while Diana read a book.
Offering incredible views from the Saiq Plateau to the villages and rose terraces perched precariously on the cliff face of the wide canyon below, Diana’s Point is 2,000 metres above sea level. The soft, misty blues of distant peaks form a beautiful backdrop to the russet browns of nearer mountains, while green shrubs are dotted everywhere.
Up here, the air is cooler – perhaps 15 or so degrees lower than in Muscat – and cleaner than the city and you can see, quite literally, for miles.
Back in the car, we started driving towards Saiq Airport where we took a turn-off towards a village. The steepness of the road going down was a little too much for some of the passengers so we parked by the side of the road and walked. Here, we were practically opposite Diana’s Peak, which we could see in the far distance and while the view was just as beautiful, this had a more “wild” feel about it, with no safety fences or glass-enclosed viewing points.
We’d missed the rose season by just a couple of weeks and now that it was Ramadan, there were few people about during the day. But we did meet some of the animal inhabitants of the mountain, such as cheeky goats and some curious donkeys; all of them happily munching on a variety of shrubs, such as wild olive trees and junipers.
Al Hajar, or the “stony or rocky mountains”, pushed up from the seabed millions of years ago to form spectacular limestone rock formations. A geologist’s dream, you have on show millions of years of geological “processes”, while you can easily spot ancient marine fossils buried in the limestone rocks that are scattered everywhere.
It’s a remarkable place – and I was surprised to learn that it was a military base until 2005, open only to the mountain’s villagers and visitors with special permits. But perhaps that has contributed to its charm, from the crumbling abandoned villages to the friendliness of the locals, to the rose-making experts who continue to ply their trade as their forebears did before them.
How to get there?
From Muscat, join Route 15 from the Clock Tower roundabout and head towards Nizwa. Take the exit to Izki and follow the road. There are signs to Jebel Akhdar. When you reach the police security check, you will need to stop. You will not be allowed up the mountain if you are not driving a 4×4.
GPS location to the foot of the mountain: N23°11’08.6” E57°’22’17.3”