Iconic mountain? Check.
Remote location? Check.
Abandoned village? Check.
Terraced gardens? Check.
If you’ve seen photos of Peru’s Macchu Picchu taken in 1912 after a major clearing operation and compare it with photos of the ancient settlement of Wajma located in Rustaq today, for sure you’d say that the resemblance is uncanny.
The fact is, we were quite surprised that nobody pointed a lot of what makes these two remote locations the same nor has anyone entertained the idea that Wajma is in fact, Oman’s Macchu Picchu.
Of course, there are plenty of differences too primary of which is that after its rediscovery in the early 1900s, Macchu Picchu has gone through major renovations and the efforts had paid off as thousands of tourists visit this gem of South America every year. Macchu Picchu has become so popular it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in an internet poll conducted in 2007.
Wajma, just like Macchu Picchu, is perched on top of the mountains elevated at about 2,000 metres above sea level. The road to the top is circuitous, unpaved and rocky that a driving mistake can prove to be catastrophic.
But the drive is scenic and at proper elevation provides a good view of the villages down below.
A few metres from the village, one will be welcomed by a quite familiar site. If you are an avid traveller, you would know right away what makes Macchu Picchu remarkable and one of those is the iconic mountains that serve as a backdrop to this 15th century Inca settlement, The same can be said with Wajma — the mountains looked so similar you only need a llama to have that Peruvian feel.
Like Macchu Picchu, Wajma has its beautiful story. For generations, the farmers here carved the sides of the mountains to create terraced gardens which provided the residents with their daily sustenance. They planted many things, from dates to wheat, the farmers also experimented with different root crops over the years. They also built houses on cliffs using available resources around them. Some of them are made of stones, and others are made of mud, but the construction has been ingenious many of the houses still stand today.
But just like its South American counterpart, Wajma also suffered the same fate. Its inhabitants abandoned that on most days, venturing into this hidden village is like walking through a ghost town. The last of the residents moved away barely a month ago. The Al Abris of Wajma had raised their children in these mountains, but when modern conveniences were made available, they moved out leaving the difficult life and the mountain behind. Today, only expats contracted to work on the farms live here with some of the original inhabitants visiting only when the kids don’t have school, or they missed their old way of life.
A beautiful escape from the city
If you are a tourist, there is plenty to see in Wajma. These attractions offer clues as to how the residents lived and thrived.
At the far corner of the village, beyond the cistern where the water is collected, pots are still hanging by the rocks collecting the trickle of water coming from the mountain wall. It is cold and crystal-clear and whatever overflows go to the falaj which also ends up watering the farms.
There are also different hiking trails offering an even better view of the canyon in this side of the Al Hajjar Mountain range, and yes, the view is just as impressive.
The stone and mud houses are all empty now with most doors open or destroyed. At its peak, it was home to more than 300 people. Houses were built on cliffs that from below, you wonder how it would have felt living perched in what seemed to be a precarious condition.
Walking through the village and climbing one of the rooftops, you would come to understand why a town flourished here despite its remoteness. The ancient settlement’s location is perfect as the mountains protect the village from strong winds while the other side offers a fantastic view of their farms and the adjacent mountains. Sunsets and sunrises here are incomparable, and for people who love being with nature, it is a perfect place to find peace and quiet as well as exceptional outdoor adventures.
Personally, Macchu Picchu has always been on my bucket list. But it is halfway around the world and costs too much.
Our discovery of Wajma has offered an amazing alternative. With the proper renovation and further development, perhaps, a coffee shop and a restaurant that offers traditional Omani food even a bed and breakfast with a traditional Omani feel, Wajma will definitely become one of Rustaq’s major attractions. We just have to begin having a conversation about Oman’s Macchu Picchu and inculcate in people’s mind that when we say it like that, we meant the ancient settlement of Wajma.Time to pack your bags and check it out this weekend.