Wakan needs tourism push
Wakan village in the Wilayat of Nakhal has become popular than ever before with tourists. Yet, more efforts are needed to handle the growing tourist numbers. Nearly a thousand people visited the village, an ideal eco-tourism destination about 160 km from Muscat, during the Eid al Fitr holidays. “It took me almost an hour to reach home because of the rush. Manoeuvring the road requires some knack,” said a visitor. While one area has been earmarked for the public, the parking space at the top is meant for residents, which they have to share with visitors.
This makes one wonder if there is a need for a shuttle service from the base of the mountain, where the parking is located. A board from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs says, ‘Welcome to Al Jabal Al Akhdar Scenic Reserve’. Another board requests visitors to follow guidelines such as respect to local codes of behaviour and traditions of clothing — men and women should cover knees and shoulders, respect Oman’s peace and tranquillity by keeping noise to a minimum and ask permission before photographing people or entering private property. “We welcome everyone to Wakan, but we request visitors to abide by our requests and be sensitive to the sentiments and traditions of Wakan,” said Abdullah al Raffati, a resident of the village.
Speaking to the Observer at a majlis under the trees, Al Raffati added, “Sometimes, we find crops destroyed and we do not blame the visitors because they do not realise they are private farms. There is no clear marking. There is a board that says, ‘No Entry’, but most people miss it.” He said may be “we need guides because the general visitors cannot tell if it is a private farm or a natural growth”. Farms in Wakan boast of grapes, while pomegranates are getting ready to be picked. The Ministry of Tourism built 700 steps a few years ago. The path takes visitors to the top of the mountain, where the water from various springs flows through the falaj system that waters the farms. While children play in the pools, tourists get the best scenic views from the top.
Most people in Wakan practise agriculture. A variety of fruits such as grapes, peaches, pomegranates and other fruits locally called Zam (jamun or black plum) are grown here. In summer, clouds begin to form by midday followed by rains in the evenings on some days. It is the breeze that makes summer days soothing. Most of the houses have verandas or patios to sit out, and enjoy the valley and the breeze. Enjoying the late afternoon breeze at the patio of his house and the shade of canopy covered with grapevine heavy with green grapes, Khusaif al Riyami, a teacher, reflected on the days of the past. “Proper roads came only by 1977. In olden days, fruits were taken to the market in Muttrah on camels and donkeys. It used to take three days to reach Muscat. The climb back with the aid of animals would take 12 hours,” he said.
The current market for the crops is the Nakhal Souq. The population in Nakhal has grown so much that the farmers do not see the need to take their produce to Muttrah anymore. Many residents of Wakan live in Nakhal now. It is the last two years that have seen a tourist surge in Wakan. People have begun to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the weather. Located 2,000 metres above sea level, winters can be very cold here, according to residents. What the village needs is a stronger infrastructure to handle tourist flow, more restaurants, professional guides and clear markings for trekking. “We do realise there are opportunities to be tapped. We have ideas to enhance the experience of Wakan as well as protect the nature’s bounty that Wakan is endowed with,” said a young resident.
Dr Mehdi Jaffer, an expert on sustainability, said: “There are opportunities to head into the area of eco-tourism, which will benefit everyone. The community will benefit out of the ‘green job opportunities’ that are offered. Oman has been rated as a high-ranking destination for people who love wilderness. They don’t look for six-star accommodations. These tourists come to enjoy and cherish nature.” This is probably where the demand for heritage and homestays come in, because they also mean direct income to the community, which will all see residents stay back in their village, in their traditional homes.
Credit: Oman Observer