Over the last few days and the three weeks that will follow, Jabal Akhdhar’s gardens are seeing a massive amount of activity. The days between March and April are considered one of the most beautiful seasons for the Green Mountain with not only the rose coming into full bloom but also because it’s the start of the flowering season of fruit trees like olives walnuts, figs, and pomegranates.
Jabal Akhdar has become an impressive array of colours — the stark caramel landscape with its pockets of greens are now made even more beautiful by the overwhelming appearance of pink and red blossoms. If there is a perfect time to go, it’s this period when the temperature is several degrees lower than the rest of the country, getting chiller in the evening, and there are so many local activities happening in the morning.
As Maher al Riyami, a proud son of Jabal Akdhar and now working nearly six years as a guest experience officer and guide for Anantara, there is no better time to come but when the flowers bloom.
“I’ve shown guests what Jabal Akhdar can offer from a local’s point of view. While I learn a lot through these interactions and gain a better perspective about the places our guests come from, I am also in a unique position to sell Oman as a destination,” he said.
Maher’s job is to become a focal person in the ‘Rose Water of Jabal Akdhar’ tour. It’s a job that he does in tandem with another Jabal Akhdar native. Showing the guests around in air-conditioned vehicles, he ushers them where to go and introduces them to rose farmers, local rose water manufacturers, and other key people in the community that make Jabal Akhdar a truly exciting place to visit.
“Guests are impressed when they see where these roses are planted. When we show them the whole rose water distillation process and they meet hospitable distillers and farm owners like Abdullah Salim, our go-to person for this experience, they come out with better knowledge and a lasting impression of what makes Jabal Akhdar and the rose season different,” Maher said.
From the gardens to the rose water bottle
Hotels in Jabal Akhdhar are making the rose harvest season front and centre of their current package offerings. Because of the night lockdown, the best way to enjoy the rose harvest season is by grabbing these packages but ensuring that the stays have added entertainment and activities.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdhar is one of the prominent hotels that champions tapping into local knowledge to bring a seamless rose village tour experience to guests.
Mountain gurus like Maher takes the guests on a 90-minute guided tour of the famed damask rose farms. From the farms, guests would learn of how the flowers are cared for, the styles and techniques of harvesting and how these are delivered to distilleries. He also introduced them to some of their collaborative partners.
Hamdan al Saqri, also a Jabal Akhdar native collaborates with different institutions to bring a different taste to the mountain experience. An entrepreneur who co-owns Fawah that specialises in aromatics and creating scents and food additives from local ingredients, Hamdan rents some of the best rose farms with a view and adds to the experience by sharing some scientific tidbits from the rose harvest to the distillation process. Having hosted the famed and late travel journalist Anthony Bourdain, Hamdan takes the interaction opportunity to create awareness about rose water, its derivative oils, Luban amongst other things both from an entrepreneurial, scientific perspective.
The experience is completed upon the introduction to distillers like Baba Abdullah Salim who demonstrates the ancestral technique of extracting varieties of pure rose water from the harvested petals. Speaking both from the traditional and an upgraded methodology, Abdullah demonstrates for guests how the rose petals are placed inside traditional mud ovens, known as ‘Al-duhjan’, for distillation. The complex process can take hours and days but in a barely 15-minute interaction, one can gain insight as to how they’ve come to master the process.
Having guests do live interaction with three different segments of the experience result in an even deeper understanding and appreciation for the culture and heritage.
Rose season is only for a month
“The rose season is between March and April. In the next three weeks, the season will be over. After this week, there will still be rose flowers to harvest but they will be not as many as when the season started,” Maher shared.
Out of the nearly 60 villages in Jabal Akhdar, Maher said that nearly half of all the villages have Rose Gardens with some bigger than the others.
“Some of the villages are located very far down or remote that the conditions are not ideal for growing roses. For those farms, they grow date palms instead. The rose harvest season can be considered the best season in Jabal Akhdar because of all the blossoms,” Maher said.
Like Hamdan, locals and hotel operators are also finding a different way to tap the season for different experiences.
“The rose water spray that our company produces can be very refreshing if sprayed on the face during the hot day. The rose oil can also be used to cure headaches,” Hamdan said.
From a luxury experience, Anantara’s signature 90-minute ‘Rose Rescue Ritual’ utilises the soothing, balancing, and hydrating qualities of the luxurious Damask roses for a session that pampers from head to toe. They have rose-themed welcome drinks and even use milk and rose petal foot rituals.
The rose season of Jabal Akhdar has helped spur many economic activities. From being an important food additive, the essence and oil are also now used for spa treatments and massages.
While visits to Jabal Akhdar are permitted, a word of caution needs to be communicated. When you do go for a visit especially during village walks, always make sure to wear masks. This is not only to protect yourself but particularly the vulnerable and ageing villagers.
BY YERU EBUEN