Fascinating Al Jabal al Akhdar
BEGINNING from Bid Bid, the road to the historic city of Nizwa looks more and more like an intestine coursing its way within the bowels of a range of mountains flanking both sides of the highway.
And just a few kilometres before the heart of Nizwa, one of those mountains rises to a dizzying height. At about ten thousand feet above sea level, Al Jabal al Akhdar (The Green Mountain) is undoubtedly one of the highest points in the Sultanate, making it a hotspot for the adventurous.
But Al Jabal al Akhdar is not just another geological curiosity or challenge waiting to be unraveled or surmounted by the curious and the adventurous.
One of the protected areas in the Sultanate of Oman, it is inhabited by as much as 54 nuclear communities sprinkled over different levels on the mountain.
At about ten thousand feet above sea level, Al Jabal Al Akhdar is undoubtedly a hotspot for the adventurous
As in other communities, the inhabitants of Al Jabal al Akhdar are entitled to essential municipal services by the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources (MRME&WR).
Accordingly, the ministry’s presence is registered by a municipal building whose staff patrol the area, help the inhabitants to become more environmentally aware, and report their needs to the appropriate authorities, among other tasks.
In our bid to highlight the people and resources in the municipalities great and small, conspicuous and obscure, we set out to the communities of Al Jabal al Akhdar.
Cool as cucumber
As it was a typically hot and humid day in summer, we took all the accessories that we believed would help us assail the sweltering weather.
But the very moment we arrived at the military check-point at the foot of the mountain, we were pleasantly surprised by the temperate and breezy atmosphere that greeted us.
There was a spontaneous feeling of being in an entirely different world, a difference that became even more pronounced as we made our winding way up to crest of the mountain.
Scenic mountaintop hamlets
on Al Jabal al Akhdar
The coolness was so pervasive the offices and houses we happened to have gone into, during the trip, were so comfortable without fans or air conditioners! According to Salem Amir Awlad Thani, one of our guides, the hottest summer does not exceed 30 degrees Centigrade on the Jabal, while in winter the temperature can plunge below 5 degrees Centigrade. But in most of the summer season, the temperature is pleasantly average as we experienced.
Going for the green
At the heels of the mountain, you could be excused for wondering why it was called the Green Mountain, for the surroundings are typically semi-arid features, largely rocky terrain and dusty soil.
But once again, a pleasant surprise awaits you at the higher planes of the mountain. Scattered over the area are vegetations comprising fruit trees, flowers and shrubs.
According to our sources, Al Jabal al Akhdar receives an average of 303mm of rainfall in a year. Coupled with its cool climate, it is therefore a friendly turf for these plants.
Communities such as Wadi Bani Habib, Saiq, Al Manakher, Al Ain, Kotom al Hail and Al Shuraijah have clusters of farms growing pomegranates, apricots, peaches, cherries and walnuts.
Terraced gardens overlooking the mighty Wadi al Mayali gorge in the jabals
Apart from serving the immediate food needs of the locals, most of the fruits are sold in the markets in Nizwa and nearby municipalities, thereby constituting a considerable proportion of the income of the residents.
Another item of ecological importance as well as source of income for the inhabitants of the communities on the mountain top is the desert rose (Adenium obesum) whose sweetly scented flowers are used in the making of rose water.
For more than half a century, Mohammed al Sakri, one of the residents of Al Shuraijah community, has been tapping the fragrance and other properties of the rose flower in his distillery locally known as al dhujan. As he explains, the product is widely used in a variety of ways.
Primarily, its fragrance is used to keep houses freshly scented, especially during festivities such as weddings and Eid celebrations. The fragrance is also said to add pep to the aroma of the Omani coffee and halwa.
Additionally, rose water is believed to have medicinal properties. Locally, it is dabbed on the forehead to relieve headache or drunk to alleviate stomachache.
Gardens enhance the natural
beauty of Al Jabal al Akhdar
In line with the rising demand for the product, therefore, several traditional perfumers can be seen at work especially in Al Aqr community, where there is a dense rose vegetation.
A great part of the Jabal consists of woodland, with junipers, (Juniperus excelsa) constituting the dominant species. Their fruit are edible, but the leaves are of more ecological significance.
According to our sources, these leaves, soaked in locally made massaging oils, are very effective for the treatment of muscular pain and headache.
Another commonly occurring tree contributing to the woodland section of the Jabal is the thorn bush (Acacia tortilis) whose leaves and pods provide livestock with regular fodder.
There are also Monotheca buxifiolia trees locally known as butt, and whose fruit is also a staple within the area. The woodland areas, especially in Al Hail, offer very cozy premises for the many campers who visit the Jabal.
Springs and Aflaj
One of the alluring sights on the Jabal is the glistening water cascading down the rocky mountain against a sunny backdrop. In one area alone, Ain Wadi Kotom, there are more than 10 major springs.
These springs are the main source of water supply for the communities, especially those at the higher planes on the mountain. The entire breadth of the area is linked with a network of Aflaj which hold the water and deliver it, as it were, to the doorsteps of the residents.
Another highly prominent feature of the mountain connected with water is the wadi. Al Jabal al Akhdar has not less than 300 wadis and streams most of which extend further down into the wadis of Nizwa and neighbouring areas like Izki and Al Awabi.
Our guides say that the Jabal is home to a number of wild animals and birds. Of these, gazelles are said to be the most predominant. However, due to on-going construction work and the increasing human traffic on the mountain, most of the animals have been driven into the most obscure parts of the mountain.
However, by the joint collaboration of the MRME&WR and the Diwan of the Royal Court, there is a strong surveillance in the area to ensure that whatever population of wild animals and plants that are of importance to biodiversity in the Sultanate are protected.
An MRME&WR decree, for example, forbids the felling of Al Alan and other trees with sturdy wood which were previously used for ceiling and beams in traditional architecture.
Tourism and Recreation
The thrilling views from the Jabal, as well as its balmy climate, are among the qualities that distinguish it as one of the top tourism spots in the Sultanate. In appreciation of this fact, MRME&WR is playing a major role in the development of the area by providing the basic municipal facilities.
A sitting park at Wadi Bani Habib, where visitors can enjoy the breathtaking views below
These include the construction of access roads to the Jabal in addition to surfacing already existing ones. There are also plans to establish a market and a sewage treatment plant in the area.
In Wadi Bani Habib, which offers one of the best viewing points in the area, the MRME&WR has built a portable sitting park from where visitors can enjoy the breathtaking views below.
Stairs have also been built to let people down into the nearby wadis and farms. Furthermore, under the joint partnership of government and private entrepreneurs, a hotel has since been built on the Jabal. The Jabal Akhdar Hotel is centrally located at about 7,000 ft on the main road leading to the top of the Jabal.
There is so much to say about the fascinating features of the Green Mountain, but nothing can bring the message home more than a personal experience. If, during the heat of this summer, anyone ever challenges your belief in the maxim — the higher you go, the cooler it becomes — take them to Al Jabal al Akhdar.
© Adapted from Oman Observer.
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