Yeru Ebuen -
He stood at the edge of the canyon taking the scenery before him. He has always been out in the wilderness but yet, never tires of conquering the peaks.
Today was no different.
While the rest of the world gushes about the United States Grand Canyon, the Middle East also prides its own. Ahmed al Jaabri is stared at this very canyon on a Thursday morning, content and proud that he lives in a country blessed with many natural wonders.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder and the view from one of the many peaks of Jabal Shams, the Mountain of the Sun, is without a doubt no less magical that its famed counterpart in the US.
For Ahmed, Jabal Sham’s is the country’s version of Switzerland and more.
“If you want to experience a weather like Switzerland, Jabal Shams is the place to visit. It is a popular destination not only among locals,” he said.
“Clean air, good breeze, a stunning view… what more can you ask for,” he said.
Located about 240km from Muscat, Jabal Shams enjoys a temperature of around 20 °C (68 °F) in the summer. In the winter, it can drop to temperatures below zero degrees.
But it is not just all it boasts. Aside from the cooler weather at a stunning height of about 10000 ft. above sea level (tallest peak in the sultanate), the mountains have a many other secrets and two of which Ahmed planned to see for himself.
Abandoned homes still stand
Ahmed and a group of his friends departed from Muscat on a Wednesday. They travelled for more than two hours along the well-lit roads of Muscat that slowly transitioned into the barely-paved roads in the more interior parts of the country. They reached Jabal Shams at around 10pm.
“Exploring Jabal Shams requires a lot of stamina. If you want to discover its secrets, you must prepare for the long hike,” he said.
They woke up at five in the morning hoping to make it to their destination before the sun rise.
their first destination, required them to cover about 4km om foot.
“I had been to the abandoned village of Sab Bani Khamis once. My second time going there didn’t make it less exciting,” he said.
As the leader of the group, Ahmed briefed his team about the distance they would be covering and what they should expect along the way.
From the village of Al Khitaym — a high level balcony — they walked through rocky paths. Although some of the hiking paths are well-maintained, nature cannot truly be tamed so access to some areas remained fairly challenging.
“Going here is not child’s play. It needs patience, endurance and strong determination.”
Popularly called As Sab, Sab Bani Khamis was formerly a home to 15 families who all moved away, leaving behind the challenging terrains of Jabal Shams. The main advantage and primary reason behind these families initially moving to this part of the country was the rugged terrains offered cover and protection from their enemies. Despite it being tucked away and hidden in an unforgiving location, it had a good supply of water and still does to this day.
When Ahmed’s team reach their destination, everyone was amazed at how the houses were still standing.
“they are in decrepit conditions yet they still stand”, he said. Although after seeing them this time, Ahmed noted that they seemed more worn down since the last time he had visited claiming that that is to be expected. The houses in the area were built primarily of stone but there were houses made of woods like juniper, acacia and olive, etc. that are native to the area.
Jabal Shams produces a variety of crops in its terraces. Even in As Sab, traces of these farming styles can still be found. Farmers who used to lived here were known to produce watermelons, onions, chili peppers, wheat even pomegranates. It was also common practice in the area for families to raise goats, sheep and donkeys.
“Nobody is sure of when the families left these houses. Of where they went, it is common knowledge that some moved to Wadi Ghul and some to Al Hamra.”
Seeing the houses and experiencing them is like being transported to another era — an ancient past, Ahmed felt. It is for this sense of nostalgia that he thinks why many tourists and others residing in the country should visit this part of Jebel Shams.
“It really feels good to be lost in the right direction. This place is that,” Ahmed shared on his social media account.
Not far from As Sab is a hidden lake that not many know about. With the water shining turquoise and freezing cold, it is the perfect place to rest while waiting for the hot sun to fizzle down.
“It’s very near to the village. If you can spare a few more minutes of hiking, you’d definitely notice it,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed shared that he assumes that the lake gets its water from nearby Wadi al Sab waterfall located at one of the peaks in Jabal Shams.
“It’s an aesthetically pleasing lake. It reminds me of a painting,” he said.
“Grass and water plants thrive around the lake and positioning yourself at the small cave located on the other side of the lake gives you a great view worthy of your time and pains,” he added.
“The original purpose of the trip was to get to know more about this remote mountain village located in a hidden corner of Mount Shams. But now, I just want more people to experience it for themselves,” he said.
“Seeing the village of Saab Bani Khamis for the second time was extraordinary. Its challenging hiking paths taught me patience and endurance. It truly was a great adventure for all members of the team,” he said.