The apricots, grapes, and mangoes bulging out of the bottom of your fridge may have a bit of a back story. Swati Basu Das explores an oasis and learns how well-grown fruit can be, well, sweet inspiration.
The wilderness of the desert lies in every single grain of sand that shapes the intricate creases of its dazzling golden dunes.
But its refreshing beauty lies in the oasis nurtured secretly in the remoteness of it all.
With 82 per cent of its topography ruled by the desert and rugged mountains, Oman also fosters some of the world’s lushest oases.
While some are high-on-demand weekend getaways with their refreshing emerald pools, there are also a few best known as agricultural belts.
Within this vast stretch of parched terrain, these green wedges are where Oman brings up its blooms.
Cradled amid the rugged Hajjar Mountains, plants and produce are irrigated by the ancient falaj system that dates back to 500AD.
The water channelling through the aflaj has an underground source, consisting of either a geothermal spring or rainwater, which occasionally floods the wadi.
Faraway from the city, these are the ‘green baskets’ of Oman. Each season here spreads its charm. Whether it’s the spring blossoms or the ripe fruit harvested during the summer, these fertile green blocks are indeed Mother Nature’s goodie bags.
Here, the countless sunny days, occasional rains, the burbles of aflaj and cool climate all have a part to pay in yielding the freshest watermelon, grapes, pomegranates, bananas, mangoes, exotic apricots and peaches.
While supermarkets have exotic fruit and veg imported from abroad, local shops sell seasonal harvests from local farms. These desert oases truly are booming commercial zones.
Me to local shopkeeper: “Are these mangoes from India?”
Local shopkeeper Ali to me: “No, they are from Oman. Try apricot, pomegranate, grapes; they are sweet. All are from our local farms.”
A desire to taste these succulent fruits, and grabbing them fresh from the garden took me to locales as exotic as their yields.
There I witnessed the farmlands and their farmers meticulously harvesting everything healthy and mouth-watering.
A drive along the tree-lined lane is a rare view in Oman. One hundred kilometres from the city of Muscat, the mango trees on either side of the driveway form a canopy at Hail Al Ghaf. They make the village entrance not only scenic but also a serene summer retreat.
Along the footpath, we spotted a few farmers toting baskets filled with papaya, lemon and raw mangoes. Sorting them in separate carrier bags, they wasted no time offering them to customers at a knockdown price.
“RO1 for a bag of 15 raw mangoes and six ripe papayas for RO2,” a farmer pitched to a local.
Grabbing three such bags, a satisfied customer gave me a streetwise smile.
Here, I came across Firdaus, a farmer who was diligently inspecting raw mangoes before handing them over to his customers.
The bunch of mangoes dangling on each branch behind him was green and aromatic. I plucked a few with his permission.
“It’s tangy and the best for chutney (pickle), a month later they will all ripen,” he said.
There are more than a hundred such plots and several skilled planters cultivating the land.
Some of the trees are leased out to expat farmers at an auction held by local owners of the farm.
Firdaus said: “During the season, mango trees are leased out to us for RO800 – RO1200 per tree. A large variety of mangoes cultivated here includes the Al Holkum, Zanzibarya, Al Mishmish and Zafran are the best quality mangoes grown in Oman.”
A gorgeous hamlet studded atop the Western Hajjar Range, Wakan village is a hidden gem. It displays the best of nature.
The apricot blossoms and the butterflies feeding on the nectar in February are a true delight to witness, as is the picking of luscious fruit in the summer months. With its beautiful and productive green terrace farms, photographers claim Wakan is ‘the adorable’ oasis in Oman.
It’s spring, and the flowers that are white, pink and red are all withered, and the matured pulpy fruits have taken shape.
Waleed, a farmer, handed me a few freshly-plucked apricots and pomegranates.
He gently plucked and gathered them in square boxes.
“Twenty of them will cost you RO4,” he said. That was quite a number to bring back home. I settled for just a few.
“Do visit during the grape season, in July. Black and white grapes of Wakan are high in demand,” he exclaimed.
Almost three hours’ drive from Muscat; Wilayat of Yankul presents the most picturesque palm oasis. The Al Wuqba village is best-known for the black grapes harvested in the summer months.
Each “alaba” (plot of land) has a vineyard. I met Ahmed who auctioned his land during the season.
“We reap a rich harvest every year,” he said.
Ahmed Al Harthy, owner of the vineyards, said:
“Grapes are high on demand. The plots are leased out to dexterous framers for RO460 during the season.”
The cultivated land falls amidst the Western Hajjar Range, nourished by the ancient aflaj. The farmlands produce an array of fruits and vegetables such as figs, apples, cherry, guavas, cabbages and cucumbers to name but a few.
All these lush farms proved to be a real treat. And you thought replenishing desert oases are only about the date palms?
You are so wrong. A trip here offers a rewarding insight into a world where meticulous farmers work wonders in the desert so that we can all eat healthily. What’s not to like?