Travel Diaries

Hiking in the mountains

I have just over nine days before I bid adieu to the home of my childhood. And like most people who are overrun with nostalgia, there is a moment too many, when I have asked myself whether I really want it all to get over this soon. Unfortunately, as heavy as my heart is right now, the answer is, yes. The longer I stay here, the more the memories and the harder it will be to leave. You can’t give up on what you’ve learned to love. But sometimes distancing from it, helps. You appreciate it more and hold on to everything good that the place had to offer. That’s what I want to take back from Muscat. Speaking about memories, I just made a new one today.

Early this Friday morning, when most of Muscat was enjoying their extended weekend siesta, my colleagues/friends and I took off on a short hiking trip in the mountains of Muttrah – a small province in Muscat, which overlooks the sea.

It’s a beginner’s trail and is the best route for any novice wanting to get a feel of the ground realities of hiking. Nonetheless, the two hour-long hiking trip wasn’t such a cakewalk. But this is one route that everyone visiting or living in Muscat must explore, more because of its proximity – it is sandwiched within the city – and also because it can be covered within a matter of a few hours, and doesn’t require you to be an ace trekker. All you need to know is how to “walk on your own two feet”. And we humans have been afforded that luxury.

The trail is just a short distance from Riyam Park – one of the oldest in town. The starting point is not hard to locate. An ascending graded path has been etched out and is clearly visible from the parking lot of the park. It’s from here that we started out at around 8.45 am. To be honest, this particular climb was the only obstacle I encountered during the entire trail. The rocks have been worn by gradual erosion, making its surface smoother and the terrain harder to traverse. A decent pair of walking shoes that offers great grip, should, however, resolve the issue. Not just that, the ascent is steep, so the steps that you take, are wider – tiring you too soon. The edgy start can be discomfiting, but it’s only about 30 minutes of that trouble. After this, the hike is fairly smooth.

Unlike most trails, where it’s usually advisable to have a guide along, this one can be covered on your own. But it is important to keep an eye for markers (three stripes of yellow/white/red) that have been painted on stones at regular intervals. Chances of being lost are next to nil, (if you follow in the direction of these landmarks).

As I went deeper into the mountains, a friend of ours suggested that “we wait a moment, and just look back”. The gigantic monument of the incense burner, which stands atop a hill at the park, and has been part of Muttrah’s landscape for eons, appears as a white speck against the dominating backdrop of the Arabian Sea. We ascended upwards and it receded further away from our eye, looking tinier than it actually is. If you walk further ahead, you fear that it could almost disappear. This view is captivating.

Once you reach the highest point, you get a spectacular view of the Muttrah corniche. A small fort on a hilly outcrop, the souk and anchored yachts, can be seen in the distance. After this point, the descent begins. One needs to be careful when heading down because there are a lot of loose rocks that keep pelting down. While on slopes, it is easier to sit down to help yourself to walk down. From here, a narrow stretch sandwiched between the mountains – that almost appears to be a dried up canyon – takes you towards the end point. We couldn’t overlook the irony of how the trail ended at an old Muslim graveyard.

“So we are at the end of where all of life ends,” an amused co-trekker mentioned, while navigating tomb stones at the graveyard.

By then it was 11 am. And though the water and energy drinks had kept us from dehydration, we were famished and hungry. “All men must die, but first we will eat,” somebody else added (The Game of Thrones pun intended, for all good reasons).

From start to finish, our journey in pictures:




Travel Diaries

Wadi wonder

Once in a while, the occasional adventurer in me shoots up, asking if I’d like to dare a wild trip that would push me to the hilt and rid me off all my fears and anxieties. I have come to realise that ever since I moved to Muscat two years ago, that side of me keeps coming back to haunt my parents, who would rather that I play badminton in a garden than frolic in the mountains and wadis (valleys/ravines) of Oman. Their worries are justified, but they have little to fear because to be honest, I’m not bold enough. I like an adventure, but a good one, where even though I exhaust myself completely, the full glory of nature resists me from feeling the pain and fatigue that comes along with it. So yes, I would only brave an adventure, if the place has something breathtakingly beautiful to offer. What’s the use of putting your life at risk, when your eyes don’t assure you that this adventure is worth that effort. It’s like being in love. What’s the use of giving your heart away, if your mind doesn’t convince you that this could be worth it after all, even if it means a heartbreak someday. When it comes to adventure, we could swap the heartbreak for broken bones, bruises and fractures. It couldn’t get any worse, trust me. Unless you decide to do something very, very foolish.

Just two months ago, I made this crazy trip in the Hajar (name of the range) mountains of Oman. The immediate motivation was a travel feature, which had to be written for the publication, where I work. But it was more than just that. I wanted to do something that I would take back with me when I left this country. I wanted something that I could remember on a very bad day, and then tell myself, “If I made it through this one, I can make it through a rough day too’.

That’s how I ended up going with a group of avid trekkers, who willingly complied to be part of my story on the hiking route near Wadi Bani Khalid – a popular tourist spot in the Sharqiyah region. Located 200 kilometres (four-hour drive) from the capital city Muscat, Wadi Bani Khalid is quite popular among tourists looking for a quiet weekend getaway by the lake. But the 4.5km-long trekking trail, which is a few metres away from the lake spot and is near Baadah village, is an anomaly. Forget comfort. Forget leisure. Because what awaits you is a string of six to seven aquamarine pools that surprise you with its limitless capacity to never end. I had just learned some basic swimming a few months before this trek, so this was where I was going to put my skills to test.

The good thing about the Wadi Bani Khalid trail is that because it is a valley, it offers a wider scape that is less claustrophobic, and offers more choices within the terrain, for hikers to negotiate through.

The hike is actually very basic with your feet mostly navigating boulders and cave-like passageways naturally created within the mountains. The relief comes from the swims that keep you cool throughout. What makes this hike tough, especially for a novice, is the long stretches of water that one needs to swim through. The length of one stream spans over 300m, wearing down even the most skilled swimmer. The fact that the water is deep means that wading the pools without life jackets would be dangerous.

On one occasion, I did avoid a pool because I was too tired to swim. That meant, I had to brave through the narrow ledges of the mountains. There was an instance where I nearly missed my footing, and risked falling into a deep crevice. Thanks to a local lad, who joined us for half the trail, I was guided safely to other end.

The good news is that if one is too drained to complete the entire course, you can return halfway. Then there are the cliff jumps that you can enjoy – unfortunately too fearful of landing down with broken bones, I steered away from attempting any such stunts.

Coming to the vista of this wadi, I know that no matter how much I try describing this spectacle, mere words – as cliched as it sounds – would never do justice to what I saw. Every pool opens up to a different shade of blue – sometimes turquoise, sometimes teal, on other occasions cerulean, and often, even green. My advice when swimming: “Don’t push yourself too hard”. Just let yourself float skywards, so that you can observe everything above you. The sheer vastness of the craggy mountains, which narrow in from either side, humbles you. Your body may be fighting severe ache and exhaustion, but when you see what you see, you know it’s worth every bit of that muscle you are stretching and that battle you are fighting in your head. Stop when you see the magic unfold before you, soak in everything and then move on. Remember this is not a race. You are on a ride – a dreamy one that too. Care little for what your body tells you.

We finished the trek some six hours later. And am happy to say, I came home intact. The parents were happy too. After heaving a sigh of relief, they however asked me if I had had my full of such maddening adventures. Just for the record, I haven’t made any commitments yet.

What you need for the trek?

A guide is a must or at least someone who has covered the trail before/ Wear a life jacket/ Good walking or aqua shoes/ Waterproof camera if you want to take pictures/ A waterpoof bag for food, water etc