From the luxurious balcony of Anantara, one can see three villages that during this time of the year, are lush and verdant green. The terraced gardens are hard to identify from such distance but it’s easy to see that the people from these villages have gotten busy over the last few weeks as it was the season of the roses.
And the season of the roses often meant more tourists coming in and for the rose farmers, more things to do in short amount of time.
While social media were inundated with beautiful photos of the flowers in bloom and kids happily plucking them from their thorny bushes, the reality is quite different. Rose season is business time and the income of the farmers depended a lot on the careful handling of their delicate petals.
There is but one month for the farmers to ensure that they have a good harvest. On the last week of April, all the blooming damask roses were already plucked and what remains were few tiny buds waiting for their time to fully bloom. They too will be harvested but the quantity will be lesser. They are, however, welcome addition to what the farmers have stored away.
Despite the rose season ending, the bushes required a whole year round of care. It is on a trekking expedition with Oman Outdoor Adventure over the weekend that we found an elderly gentleman busy watering his now flowerless rose bushes.
“We stored them in my house there,” pointing to a house nearby. His feet and hands were muddied as he has to manually remove some dirt from the falaj that feeds his garden.
“Two weeks ago, we had a bountiful harvest. You should have come back then as you will have appreciated the view of the garden even more,” he explained.
“Now, all is left are a few buds and in a few days, we will be harvesting them, too,” he added.
The elderly gentleman we would fondly call as Mohammed lives in the nearby village which is interconnected so well that it’s hard to identify where the alley begins and the backyard ends.
His village smelled of smoke but the hint of sweet rose petals in the air made it a welcome intrusion to one’s senses.
Located right of the popular Anantara Resort, the village was made for comfort with walls thickened strategically to drown out the noise made by the passers-by or neighbours.
“They are gonna show us where they make the rose water,” shared by one of our trekking companion Almutasim. He hailed from Manah but has friends in Jabal Akhdar who connected us with people they knew so we can watch how rose water are processed even for a few minutes.
We entered a darkened room, small but can fit 10 standing adults comfortably.
Another elderly gentleman was monitoring the pots. There were eight of them lined two at a time. Beneath them, a well-monitored fire brings the water on the pots to a boil.
“Depending on the strength of the fire, you have to adjust how long you distil the roses,” the gentleman said. He was speaking in Arabic and Almutasim has to translate it for us non-Arab speakers.
He was explaining the distillation process — a process that has been handed to them by their ancestors and passes on generation to generation.
“If the fire is strong, we distil the roses for about 2 to 3 hours. If it’s a little weak, then it meant longer hours.”
Most of the houses in this village processing roses have rooms like this. Further inside are two other rooms, one where clay pots and items used for storing materials are placed and the other, for fermentation or storing of some finished products.
“Once the roses are harvested, the other people move right away into processing the roses,” he said.
We’ve come to learn that the harvested roses can keep several of the distillers busy for months. They showed us the seemingly easy yet complex process of using copper bowls and fabrics and harvesting water from condensation and the process being repeated over and over again.
It’s a fascinating scene, one just as entertaining as plucking the roses from the gardens. When the last roses were plucked, the job doesn’t necessarily stop. The last day of the season of the roses just means that the farmers and the distillers just moved along to the next thing they do best.