Hajjar Mountains around and on Jebel Shams - The highest mountains in Oman and this region standing tall at just over 3000 meters above sea level. Wadis covered are Bani Awf and Sahtan.
Sultanate of Oman
Complete Offroad Experience!! Far off villages, very steep dirt track driving, and mountains.
Total Distance Covered:
Total No. of Vehicles:
5 with five families
Wadis in Hajjar Mountains were on the list this time around. Due to Eid holidays we were able to make a 5 days trip to cover. We planned to enter into Oman from the Hatta border and early in the morning to avoid the holiday rush that will be nasty to spend a few hours at the border checkpost, however God had other plans for us. We got to know that John forgot to bring passports when we where 40 minutes away from the border. After a long discussion we convinced him to go back to Abu Dhabi and bring the passports. We also fixed two meeting points just in case the cell phones wont work which turned out to be the best idea as the phone connections really played hide n seek with us and there were hardly any good stretch of time when the phones continuously worked.
It was not crowded at the border when we reached but right after we formed a queue the number of people flocked to the windows and we could see a long line behind us but we were lucky to be in the first five in the line. Visas were arranged without any hassle and the custom people just let us go without check as always.
After leaving our house at 5:30am to pickup some nice Aalu Naan for the afternoon and a few stops on the way, we were on the Muscat road at around 10am. We drove slowly to give ample time to John for a catch up. About a 100km away from Muscat and just before we had to turn towards the Hajjar Mountains we made a stop for John to reach and join us. Phones were not connecting after numerous numbers of tries so we had no choice but to enjoy the time. We played cricket by splitting all the members into two teams including all the women and children and really had a good time. Eventually we were also connected to John who was driving towards Al Ain to cross the border from there. As he was coming from another side so we decided to move on to reach our second agreed spot.
We took a turn towards Rustaq and small town at the foothills of Hajjar. It was about 60kms from the main highway, which was covered in no time. This town reminded us of our trip earlier in the year when we visited the area right after the floods and people didn’t suggest us entering the mountains due to the tracks been blown away with the floods and all the more we were just us – one family and they advised not to venture our alone. This time we were there to conquer the area, as we were five 4x4s equipped to do so. At Rustaq refueling was done and we drove towards Ibri road, we took off towards Wadi Sahtan after 9 kms on Ibri road. I was still worried for John and when the phone connected last time I gave him this location to stop and wait for us but there was no sign of him reaching here. Therefore we decided to go into Hajjar and find a spot to camp and then one car could come back and wait for John to join.
The road ended soon and became a rough dirt track. It went through a closed wadi right in the beginning and we missed the track only to back track and take the right path. It was an interesting track that was going up and down and through some water etc. We drove for 10 kms in the wadi and found a flat surface closer to one small village to camp. I quickly dropped everone with the tents to be erected and drove back to the road. Nabeel came along with me and we drove to Rustaq and asked around if someone has seen and weird looking Ford Sportrac but the answer was negative. Hence we stopped at the 9km mark to wait for John. The clouds were rising from Hajjar side and made us really nervous. The wait was very tiring and we had to sit patiently as there was nothing else we could do when the phones were not working either. It was quite dark already and we decided to call off our wait / search at about 8pm and will try to find him next morning. As we decided this we heard a sound stopped next to us and to our amazement that was he. One could imagine, in this world of technology and gadgets it is still possible to find each other without the phone, it also tells us how dependent we have become upon technology. We were very happy, as the whole day effort had paid off finally. We drove back to camp in no time and had a quick diner; the tents were already up so no further work but the enjoyment of campfire. It was very windy and chilly earlier but as we moved into 10ist and later the wind diminished and the weather settled down. The fire was on and everyone especially the kids loved it and enjoyed the first night in the bush.
Morning was crisp with sun peeking through the edges of the mountains. Some boys from the village came to visit us. A soccer match was arranged with them and our kids went to play a match with the local boys. Breakfast was good and tasty, tea was hot and soothing. After the match we packed up to move on. We had a target to visit two villages today, which are high up in the mountains only accessible by 4x4 vehicles through a very thin dirt track climbing high in the mountains.
Wijmah was the first to be visited. The track went through a couple of other villages which were on the flat track and after that the track starting going up and up. The vehicles were roaring at first gear with 4x4 engaged. The steep track was about 10 kms and finally we reached a small kind of parking outside the village. This village is in a small wadi way up in the mountains and is tucked in some kind of huge cave just beside the cliff. The walk through the village was a walk through time. The houses are just like old blocks stacked up, the small street through the village takes you to the small pond where the villagers gather their water supply and they were out of water from august this time as there have been fewer rains and less water coming from the spring. But despite their hardships the people were very happy and offered us tea. The village left and impression on us, and one must wonder how this village came in to being and why people live here, go wonder…
After spending some time in the village and a short walk we came back to the cars and drove off. We took a loop to join the main track below in the valley but after a mile or so the track got closed near the football ground. We turned around and joined the main track again to reach the base from where we started. We reached a village to take bathroom break and then decided to attempt for another village named as Yaseb. A person at the masjid told us that the track is really rough and a caution required while driving on it. He was absolutely right as when we saw the track from far it looked like a hike trail just going to the top of the mountain. We not only stopped here rather discussed whether to continue or to call it off for this village.
Eventually we decided we are going to do it no matter what. We drove up into the real difficult track and the track tool full toll on our vehicles and we remained in first gear for the rest of the journey that was about 17 kms. It was a difficult track for any vehicle and major part of it was repaired after a landslide and it was not very firm either. There was only room for one vehicle to go through and one would have to really careful on the switchbacks. The turns were very tight and at times I thought that the vehicle was giving up despite having a 4500cc engine in a Nissan Patrol, but still kept going. We stopped at a very high point to have a snack break and to provide rest to the vehicles.
By the way the vehicles in this trip were Nissan Patrol, Toyota Landcruiser, Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Landcruiser Prado and Ford Sportrac Truck.
We had some sandwitches and made fresh tea, courtesy Nabeel bhai’s wife. It was a quick but interesting lunch and a good break with spectacular views of the pass leading in the Wadi Bani Awf (a similar difficult track with several hairpin turns). We enjoyed the lunch and the view and continued our drive to find the lost village. After tiring several miles we saw some greenery far into the valley as we were just sliding down on a steep dirt surface newly surfaced after a landslide. We entered into Yaseb and stopped at an open place at the far end of the village. Some locals boys were playing some music, so we enjoyed with them for some time. We decided to find a good place here to camp rather than going back to the flat area through the same track in the evening. The road to Yaseb was a dramatic one with such steep track and so many curves in it that not all the vehicles or the drivers could make it. We only saw Toyota trucks carrying local people to and from here. However we were surprised to see the development being done here by the government, as there were a few buildings under construction including one for a school and one for a health centre. It was amazing to see such commitment.
I drove around with two local young fellows for find a place to camp for the night. Both of them volunteered to help us finding one. Though the spots they took me were either not flat or these were in the wadi, and we were not comfortable to camp in the wadi due to the flash floods hitting those places first if rains comes. So after a considerable amount of search, we decided to drive back down 20kms to find some suitable place. Although it was evening but we had to do that to find good place for the camp. This helped us eventually to avoid a cold night also as Yaseb was at quite a height and we could feel the cold going through our spines even in the early evening.
Driving back was dangerous as the as it was a very steep surface and we had to engage the vehicles in low 4x4 for engine braking and to reduce pressure on the brakes. Once we were down on the flat track and looked back on the track climbing high, it was hard to believe that we just came through that one. It was a real thrill and adrenaline had really kicked in for this drive.
While driving we saw a field where a few people were working so we stopped and found a nice gentleman named Khalik who could speak nice English as well. He drove us to a nice location for camp and also offered to bring a musician at night to have fun. We accepted the offer and 8’o clock was agreed to have a party.
We pitched our tent quickly and cooking started in two different groups. Sohail, Nabeel and fmly started cooking the meal and John and us started the fire for bbq. There was a lot on the menu tonight including the chicken bbq and steaks. Suddenly we saw clouds rising from the south and we were under heavy clouds in minutes and it started to rain heavily right after. The meat was on the tripod grill and the fire was going good and we were not ready to give up any one of those, except John and myself and the young boys everyone rushed either to their cars or to the tent. It was very windy and the rain was coming down hard but I was sure due to the wind and all the more as a mountain passing shower its gonna go away in some time. That’s exactly what happened the showers stopped after 40 minutes or so but had soaked us completely as we were giving shelter to our bbq. The fire was still on and the bbq on the track to cook in the next few minutes. The other dish was also ready in 15 minutes and the diner was served with sausages as a side dish. It was an incredible evening and a scrumptious dinner. Winds still continued and helped our cloths to dry quickly.
By the time we finished eating the music party joined in with one flute guys and one with a small Arabian kind of drum and a couple of people to give them company. The music started right after. It was good fun that continued for the next hour and a half. We enjoyed the music had a good dance around the fire and this really added colors to the outing and night became ordinary to glorious. We tried our best to give some money to the musicians but those guys were so nice and turned our offer down by saying that we were their guests. We had hugs and said good buy to our hosts for the night. Everyone settled either into their tents or into their cars as a few decided to sleep in their cars from this night. We few nuts sat out in the cold late into the night before crashing into our beds.
Day 3 started with a first look as Sohails punctured tire which had a sharp stone hit into it and it had become totally flat over night. I refilled air in it using the compressor and asked them to run back to the town some 25 kms away to get that fixed as we still had a few more days on the rough track. We would follow them and would meet up at the gas station. Two cars left along with the compressor just in case, but this only happened after a stomach full of good breakfast.
We wrapped up the stuff picked up all the garbage and drove back to one village where we had a break yesterday and there was a pump pulling water from the falaj. All the boys took nice and healthy shower here, the water was not cold and this bath was very energizing. Then we made a bathroom shelter out of tarp for the women to have shower. After an hour or so everyone in the group was nice and clean. We reached the town in the next 30-40 minutes and joined the rest.
We bought some more supplies from the super market and headed towards Wadi Bani Awf as that was the target today. We crossed Rustaq and on the Rustaq loop road and joined the track to wadi Bani Awf after 14 kms. We were heading towards a village named as Bald Sayt, passing through some other small villages. The first 10-15 kms were not hard and were on the plain dirt track and then it climbed into the mountains with endless loops and turns. We met a couple on VW toureg who stopped as they got scarred of the dangerous road and were turned back from here as they were not comfortable driving on such a track. Today we passed some other tourist vehicles also, most of them western travelers. The scenery kept changing from pretty ordinary to amazing to spectacular. We enjoyed every bit of it. I stopped where I wanted to and gave children a thrilling experience for the day.
On the way to the village we stopped at the Snake Canyons and despite opposition I decided to take all the kids for a well-deserved hike into the canyons. It started to payoff right away when we found the first little pool right at the mouth of the track. Once we started everyone followed us reluctantly initially and then had loads of fun and appreciated the decision. This was outstanding scenery and the track was between two walls of rock and going like a snake hence names as Snake Canyons. We passed through huge pools and we had to climb on the sidewalls to pass them. The track was really not a track rather was a hike through boulders and rocks and had to make our own way. The hike pumped up everyone’s energies and adrenaline rushed through everyone’s spine. By the time we were back, everyone was extremely happy with this break.
The drive continued through some rough terrain and rocky surface. I forgot to mention the pick of the day was dust, dust and just dust everywhere, in our nostrils, in the boot, on the vehicles, in our ears and I mean every where. But the journey goes on.
There are two ways to reach Bald Sayt, one is to drive into the village and the other is to keep driving on the track and park cars in a valley like canyon and then walk for 20 minutes to reach the village through a canyon like the mountains gave way by some earth quake or something. We picked the later. The hike was ordinary mostly with some places to be careful at. We saw a group practicing rock climbing in the gorge.
Once we reached the village we couldn’t resist admiring the beauty of the place. It was a bowl shaped valley with vegetation done in the middle of the valley and the village spread around it. There was one old fort remains in the center on a hill also. What a fairytale village that was. I teamed up with the boys to stay here tonight rather than driving to Jebel Shams which we succeeded to achieve with the show of hands from all the children and 9 kids to be more precise. Therefore the drivers of the vehicle walked back through the canyons to the cars and drove for 4-5kms to come back to the village through some scenic dirt track. Here people work for the army as we found few people sitting and using their 3o3s and firing in the air just for fun, the sound was echoing in the valley for long after each round was fired. I also tried one of their .22 just for fun.
Nabeel bhai’s car had a flat as soon as we reached here and looked like not a repairable one as the rock had cut through the wall of the tire. The tire was changed in no time and we picked up a spot for the camp in the valley. The camps were setup and the food was being cooked. Weather was nice and so far we didn’t meat the extreme cold, which we were warned for, temperatures remained nice and cool but not cold. There was a Masjid near by with two bathrooms also and that helped us picking up a spot to camp. Kids were playing around and enjoying themselves. This was a comfortable place to camp and the village was definitely pretty, the people were nice and humble. After a filling dinner we sat around for some time before majority retiring to beds and we got some time to have a stroll under the stars. My wife and myself had a chat and a walk and finally gave up against our wish to stay awake for longer. The night was full of songs coming from the other side of the village where a wedding was in progress.
We also witnessed the arrival of the boy’s family for the wedding in the morning and they came with music and firing from guns. A party became visible far on the track leading into the village honking their horns to notify their arrival and a group of people walking behind the cars with their guns high in the air firing towards the sky. It was a scene to watch.
We prepared our breakfast and wrapped for our next destination that was Jebel Shams the highest mountain in the region over 3000 ft high. The drive started with a warning on the roadside to engage your low 4x4s and be careful on the very steep track filled with dust and rock. The clouds could be seen on the top of the mountains and slowly we drove towards it and finally almost reached into the clouds. It was a high point and was very chilly; we had a break to enjoy the views mile down into the valleys. This drive was one hell of it and definitely not the easier one. The clouds were just over our heads and we could feel the moisture in our nostrils. The scenery was great and this was the place to spend hours watching far down. But the journey goes on and we had to reach our next stop so we drove off and soon to find that the road from the Al Hamra city has been extended to this side and the road going down to Al Hamra some 20 kms away was all tarmac well carpeted. This was a next break where we had a little hike to the top in the middle, the boys climbed up and the women stayed down for a chat. Clouds were gone and now it was sunny but due to the height it was still no hot.
Driving to Al Hamra was uneventful with driving on the tarmac after three days without any dust flying around and shocking us. We bought some fruits at Al Hamra and continued towards Jebel Shams camp village that was about 40 kms from here. We reached the camping place just to know that they have become so expensive in just over a years time. When we visited them last time they charged us 5 Riyals for the camp and now they asked for 7 Riyals per person and ridiculously high price just to use their bathrooms. We drove to have a look down from the canyons before deciding where to camp as Nabeel and family were driving back this evening so we had to show them around the area first. A day back we were on the other side of Jebel Shams but there is no road that connects these two places so one has to drive around to reach where you could see from the other side just 7 kms of aerial distance. This part is known as the Grand Canyons of Oman and the Gulf. The sheer wall must be a 1000-meter high from the base. Jebel Shams top with an observatory on the top is visible from all around. After a short trip around the area we said goodbye to the leaving party and then drove to a nice location for the camp. It was a nice secluded place with some treed around. It was quite windy in the late afternoon early evening time and seemed to be a cold night ahead. We started the fire to warm up a bit. It was the 13 night of the moon and it was almost a full moon in full glory, but there were clouds trying to cover it again and again just before being pushed by the strong winds from the north, kind of helping us for a peaceful night. Winds were on our side this evening, though we had a very cold evening because of that but no rain at least. Everyone collected more and more wood from around and we were done with the wood we brought the day before. But we collected enough for the night and also for early morning. The sky was looking glorious with the backdrop of dry and rugged mountains. The wind gave up after couples of hours but by that time it had pushed the clouds far away from this path.
Dinner was being cooked on the stove and burgers were made on the grill. Everyone had a fun day with a magnificent end to the day at the base of Jebel Shams. Excellent views, company, surroundings, food, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and every bit of a thing. This was the best night of the travel.
We were sleeping when I heard some noise from outside as if someone was browsing through our stuff. I thought, might be one of us was out but called for who was there when the sound didn’t go away. There was no answer from outside. Called again but the sound only remained there but no answer. I got out of my warm sleeping bag and looked out through the window. It was a bright night due to almost full moon and I saw an animal going through our garbage that we forgot to put on top of the roof, and to my amazement that was Mr. donkey. No idea where this donkey came from, but with a lot of tries by me and Nabeel bhai to scare him away, nothing worked, therefore we both came out after putting on our jumpers. The night was not very cold but was cold enough to wear something. We had to chase him and throw some rocks before it finally ran away. We collected the garbage and stuffed it back into the garbage bag and hung it high on one of the trees. We were expecting more visitors in the shape of goats in the morning. And by the way it was around 1am when this episode took place.
The rest of the night passed without any worth mentioning thing.
We got up very early and it was still dark and the time of dawn. Mountains were looking like shadows but in a pretty manner. This campsite was for sure a scenic pick and the best of the nights. A big fire was put on for the cold morning and we all freshened up in the mean time. Morning was cool and crisp and was very enjoyable. The breakfast was served and everyone got ready to go for the W6 hiking trail that starts not too far from where we were. We parked our cars close to an old village and started the trail. It was a thin trail going at the centre of a vertical wall. We could see people standing at the top of the canyon having the grand canyons view. There were some eagles and vulture flying high in the canyons. This was a very scenic canyon trail; we were walking in different groups and were enjoying the day. After a few hours everyone was back at the campsite and we wrapped up and started our journey back at early afternoon.
First we reached Al Hamra then Ibri and then by sunset we entered into UAE at the Al Ain border. From here we were just two hours away from home which we made comfortably by 7:30 pm to finish our 5 days trip to Hajjar Mountains.