September 28, 2011

Jabal Shams: A Palette of Neutrals

"The Poet used to say that we all have a particular topography in which we feel ourselves at home, though not all of us are fortunate enough to find the landscape which makes us so aware of that thing called 'the soul.' It is mountains for some, deserts for other, wide open plains for the most obvious in our midst. But you and I, Aasmaani, he'd tell me, we are creatures of water."

Broken Verses (2005), Kamila Shamsie

Living in Oman, I am truly fortunate to be in presence of incredibly varied terrain: the sea with its beautiful beaches, coves, and bays is just a half hour drive away while I see the sun set behind the incredible Hajar mountain-range every day. Yet, or perhaps, because of the abundance of beaches and mountains in my midst, I always wonder as to what terrain - desert, beaches, mountains - that I instinctively feel myself at home in.

A few days ago, my family and I visited Jabal Shams, the highest point in the Hajar mountain-range; as we navigated the extremely serpentine road leading up to the mountains, the temperatures falling as we left the plains, it really was like entering a whole new world, to employ a terrible cliche.

Stopping to glimpse what is dubbed as Oman's Grand Canyon, we were privy to a varied palette of neutral hues: duns, grays, olives, beiges, browns, and ochres. The shifting layers of clouds did leach the terrain of light, unfortunately, suddenly transforming a stunningly graduated mountainscape into a flat, monochrome space. It made me dwell more than ever upon how crucial the presence of plentiful - and clear - light is for painters and photographers, especially those attempting to make sense of the colors of the surrounding vistas.

In the late afternoon, when the sky had cleared up a bit, we went for a walk in Wadi Ghul, which forms the base of the Grand Canyon; the wadi [dry river beds] was an amazing study in as to how the powerful flow of water had sculpted, shaped, and teased the rocks into fantastical shapes and creations - and how the wind had further contributed towards chiseling and chipping away at the rock in the water's absence. The cracked plates of earth, frozen rock water-falls, and the curved mustard yellow rock over-hangings were evidence to the now invisible water and the audible wind's power.

Wadi Ghul

In midst of this neutral, camouflaged world, here is a bit of color I captured in the window of a wall(incidentally, this curious goat insisted on making its presence felt in every image taken there). I took this picture in a little cluster of houses, too small to be called a village even, on the edge of the mountain; yet, enterprising little children had set up stalls of rocks - I picked up one which resembled a cheesecake square - while there were several gardens around, trees laden with rosy pomegranates and garlic bulbs tied around its branches, the bulbs as big as the pomegranates themselves.

Curious goat stands guard

The shopaholic that I am, ha, I ended up buying iridescently hued key-ring and bracelet woven from goat-hair from a little stall run by a young village girl in front of the Grand Canyon. She told me that she wove her creations here in the stall itself, pulling out threads from a shopping bag jammed with supplies to show me. She cheerfully assisted me in as to which bracelet to buy, suggesting that I coordinate with the indigo blue kurta that I was wearing - but she was perfectly happy to approve the magenta, purple, and silver combination I eventually bought.

The key-ring made a brilliant contrast with the indomitable gray rock:

Instead of using it as a key-ring, I am instead thinking of using it as handbag accessory to enliven my handbags, which ironically enough happen to be in various neutral shades: I prefer to embrace color in my clothing, rather than accessories such as shoes or handbags. Incorporating this key-ring into a handbag will be my concession to color. Plus, inspired by these fashion-designer sisters, I would love to wear the bracelet with silver bracelets, the fabric and metal making a textural contrast with each other.

The day concluded with sunset, the sun playing a blush-hued hide and seek with the clouds before its blood red avatar vanished into the sky - and we were surrounded by darkness. I sensed, rather than saw, darkness after a long time, darkness becoming a palpable, tangible entity with a texture of its own.

Sunset at Jabal Shams

As we descended, I was still unsure whether I would call myself a creature of the mountains - it was decidedly a stark, severe, minimalist world - but there is no denying the fact that the spareness, the absence of - things - can be refreshing too at times. Yet, silently contemplating the sea of gray, ochre, and rust-hued rocks and then, at the ebulliently-colored bracelet around my wrist, I realised that I could not help but wish for less austerity in my surroundings. A little bit of maximalism works for me all the time...


  1. Incredible pictures and places!


  2. Thank you so much, Leia:) Jabal Shams is one of those places that really reflects the essence of Oman: its magnificent natural beauty and culture. Despite having lived here for so long, I still feel I have only seen so little of the country...and there is so much waiting to be explored. Have you ever had a chance to visit the Arabian Gulf region?


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