Al-Shams in Arabic literally means The Sun. Jebel Al Shams is Oman’s highest mountain and takes you as closest to the sun as you can get without getting burnt. With a breathtaking view from the top, it is worth driving the 270 km from Muscat city to get to this beautiful summit. Jebel Al Shams lies in the Wilayat of Hamra in the Al-Hajar Mountain range. It is a popular tourist stop and many people who come here stay overnight at the Jebel Shams Resort (there’s not much room at the top for more than one resort.) We however decided to drive there early and return back late the same evening.
A trip like this requires a group of fun-loving friends to make it a memorable one, and we had all that and more. Armed with love, laughter and a whole lot of enthusiasm we drove from the city onwards to Jebel al Shams or Mountain of the Sun. It was the month of February so the weather was on our side. Going on long drives in Oman is always a pleasure. The beautiful roads guarantee a smooth and scenic sojourn no matter where you decide to go. It is, however, advisable to take a four wheel drive as the 40 km drive up from the base of the mountain to the top gets steep as you go climb. Further, once you get to the summit you may want to drive over some rocky terrain to get to some good view points.
The North Summit has an elevation of 9872 ft but is not accessible to the public. The South Summit is open to the public and has an elevation of 9832 ft. The roads have tarmac and the drive is smooth, except for about 15 minutes, where you have to drive over a gravelly expanse. We had an eventful drive up. There were a couple of view-points where we stopped to stretch our legs and click some pictures. The views were spectacular wherever we stopped. Not surprised at all that this is known as the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. We also got an opportunity to see and buy some local handicrafts made by the village women. At another stop, at the village of Al-Khitaym, we witnessed the most beautiful hand- made dyed rugs for sale. Made from the hair of mountain goats we were told.
We had our lunch at the Jebel Al Shams resort. Though it was a pre-booked buffet, we were a trifle disappointed with the fare that was offered. There are comfortable rest areas around the resort with majlis seating and also a small coffee shop where you can buy water, soft drinks & beverages. Washroom facilities are clean and adequate.
The clouds do seem a lot closer from the top of Jebel Al Shams. The mountain range is vast and impressive and in the distance when the weather is just right, you can see the tops of some distant peaks hidden by the clouds. The drop-down views from the edge of some mountains are stunning but you have to be a sure footed goat to trail down those paths. To confirm this, there are plenty of mountain goats here, displaying some impressive footwork.
For those who are interested in camping, there are many camping sites and hiking trails that lead from prearranged points. The local authorities however issue ample warnings about flash floods and irresponsible camping. During summer, the temperatures are around 20°C while in winter they can drop as low as 0°C. The weather was pleasant during the day but it became decidedly cooler by early evening. Overcast clouds and a light incessant rain prompted us to start our drive back home a little early than we had planned originally. It was a wise decision, as on the way down, it rained a lot more.
Though driving down the mountain side in the rain has its own thrills, we were relieved when it stopped showering, as the visibility was getting poorer. A little more than halfway down the mountain, the weather cleared and it became absolutely misty and beautiful. As a final parting gift from nature, the dark clouds dissipated and the sun emerged, playing hide and seek between the mountains. We enjoyed the different views of the mountain range in all its newly washed splendor. By the time we reached the base, the sun decided to set for the day in rather a hurry. We stopped our vehicles and rushed out to click the sunset pictures we had been waiting for.
(Pics: Donald Pinto, Melanie Tauro, Self)