Map of the hike, meandering up-and-down trail in light blue. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
The capital area of Muscat, Oman, stretches lengthwise along the sea for several tens of kilometers in either direction but only extends into the interior of the country a kilometer at the deepest. This is mostly because a range of bare, jagged mountains looms between the narrow coastal plain and the wetter (mountain watered) interior regions that surround Nizwa, Rustaq, etc. A corollaries to this close-at-hand range of mountains is the presence, very near the urbanized areas, of great hiking and astonishingly isolated wilderness.
One instance of this hiking is Trail C38, which begins in the village of Riyam at the backside of the Incense Burner Park (on the corniche between Mutrah and Old Muscat) and delivers a hiker, after some fairly difficult climbing, into the alleys behind the old souq in Mutrah.
When we think of hiking in the US, images of lush green forests, maybe a few meandering hills, perhaps even the Appalachian Trail come to mind. But this, on the other hand, especially if attempted anytime between April and November, is a different sort of hike altogether: hot, dusty, with rocks sharp enough to accidentally cut a palm or forearm placed by the hiker for stability on the ledges or cliffs. Hikers should be wary to bring water, sunscreen, and a realistic estimate of how far they will make it along the trail during the heat of the day.
This description, though, doesn’t do the hike complete justice. Admittedly it is not as satisfying as a hike up one of Oman’s wadis where a clear pool or even a waterfall might serve as a reward, but the views from the summit of the trail and the delivery, at the end, into the secret lanes behind the souq is certainly worthwhile. Where else, for instance, can someone look over Mutrah Harbor with such calm? Where else can someone see both sides of Oman with such clarity: the new/urban and the ancient/traditional? That these two elements coexist so well in Oman is truly a significant feature of the country, one that should be noted as Quite Right and compared to other places, like Dubai, where the new overshadows everything and the heart of the country is no longer its own; or, like Riyadh, where the tension and resistance against modernity is a much more palpable current.
Mutrah Harbor, as seen from Trail C38.
Here, in this photo, one can see quite a lot of Oman: starting in the background, above the mountainous horizon, a glimpse of the Gulf of Oman, which connects the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean; cut into that far hillside, a new project expanding the port facilities leaves a scar of ashen land; below it the white-washed stucco buildings, some of them centuries old, gild the corniche boulevard along Mutrah Harbor; there, behind a layer or two of security and with guard boats around it, Sultan Qaboos’ yacht is often moored (the small cruise-ship on the right-hand side of the bay); even closer, two traditional Omani Dhows, transport and fishing vessels, recall the heydey of Oman’s Indian Ocean trading Empire, which included parts of the African and Iranian and Afghan coasts as well as strong links to India; then, on the hill in the foreground of the harbor, below the level of the camera, a 16th Century relic of Portugeuse occupation nests above the corniche, medieval and lordly, although again testifying to Oman’s former glory as the Omanis were one of very few examples of successful indigenous resistance to colonialism; then, in the very foreground, the jagged cliffs themselves, empty, barren, dusty and forelorn except where a view like this breaks upon the intrepid hiker!