The Identity Issue Travel

A love letter to Oman’s mountains

"I could never decide whether they looked their most beautiful during dawn or sunrise."

By Priyanka Sacheti

Oman’s mountains. Photo courtesy of Priyanka Sacheti.

This story is brought to you by Dr. Rocco’s Specialized Dental Center in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

There is a childhood picture of myself sitting at the foot of a white-veined grey mountain. The picture was taken in Nakhal, a town in Northern Oman famous for its hot springs. I last visited Nakhal during my annual trip to Oman a little over year ago. As it was the National Day holiday, families crowded the springs, the children frolicking in the warm water and shrieking as schools of tiny, stone-colored fish nibbled on their feet. But I was more interested in revisiting the mountain slab that I had encountered all those years ago, and I was glad to see that it had remained the same.

The photograph was taken on a day-long family picnic to the town too. While we must have also ritually dipped our feet in the warm waters, what particularly leaps out to me from both the photograph and my library of memories is my sheer happiness at being in the company of a mountain. It was as if I had come close to a celebrity, otherwise so majestic, grand and remote  – and now I was actually sitting on it.

I grew up and lived in Oman for many years, calling home a university campus where my parents taught and still live.  The campus itself was built upon a hilly wadi (valley) bed, and when I awakened in the morning, the first thing I glimpsed were the apricot-tinted mauve Hajar Mountains. They changed color and texture all throughout the day and I could never decide whether they looked their most beautiful during dawn or sunrise.

As a child, when I began exploring the hills dotting the campus, I started to encounter so many interesting and diverse-looking rocks that it only seemed natural to bring them back home. There were only so many that I could take with me in one go though, which happily meant that there were always more waiting for me to find whenever I returned, making my rock-hunting expeditions a regular affair.

Priyanka Sacheti at the bottom of a white-veined grey mountain in Oman. Photo courtesy of Priyanka Sacheti.

My family and I went on many road trips into the heart of Oman’s interior, where we would glimpse the mountains in closer and more intimate proximity. I recall their shapes, colors and textures rapidly  transforming with each kilometer, showcasing the dazzling diversity of the landscape’s geology. We would drive on roads constructed by slicing up mountains, demonstrating the power and magnificence of modern technology. Sometimes, when we stopped to glimpse an almost perpendicular rock face overlooking a pebbly wadi bed, we would just gawk at the vast richness of the rocks around us. We were alone – and yet not. Ancient watch-towers topped hill summits while goats would be everywhere, walking upon the usually dry wadis, or climbing hills towards a lone twisting acacia tree. When the sun set, the mountains would dissolve into a series of water-colored layers, each a similar shade and yet each utterly distinct from the other. I can still see them, these paintings of mountains on a winter dusk, this landscape that spells out home.

“What particularly leaps out to me from both the photograph and my library of memories is my sheer happiness at being in the company of a mountain. It was as if I had come close to a celebrity, otherwise so majestic, grand and remote.”

I now live in Bangalore, which is situated approximately 950 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest cities in India. So, I am essentially living on a mountain. Yet, when I read the word ‘mountain’, it is Oman’s mountains that I see in front of my eyes. During my annual visits to Oman, the moment I become aware that we are approaching Oman, I peer down from the airplane window to see massive ripples rising from the flat desert. I remember leafing through atlases as a child and seeing how higher topography would be a more vivid color than the plains. I was seeing my maps come alive.

Yet, there is some sadness in every trip I make to Oman; I see the mountains that protectively circle Muscat being cut down, in an attempt to accommodate the capital’s growing demands and needs. The gashes upon the mountain are no less than a wound, each vanishing mountain slab or hill irrevocably altering the appearance of the place I call home. Yet, home it will forever be, no matter how many mountains disappear, living only in the maps of my memory and imagination.

“When I read the word ‘mountain’, it is Oman’s mountains that I see in front of my eyes.”

A few years ago, while driving through the Southwest Region of the United States, I woke up from a nap and thought that I was somehow miraculously in Oman again. The bare blue sky, the miniature chocolate-hued hills, the ponds of mirages shimmering in the distance and the minimal vegetation; it was all I could do to imagine that home was but mere kilometers away. I had not been back to Oman for over a year and this was the first time I had been so homesick since I had temporarily moved to the States sometime ago. Was it my homesickness that had evoked the illusion or the other way around?

I was contemplating this idea when a garish McDonald’s billboard sprung into sight, smashing the illusion into smithereens. However, when I shut my eyes again, and felt the heat seep through the windshield and rest upon my skin, I found myself nestling in my illusion again. The car seat leather felt like a warm stone against my cheek. The sensation was a lullaby, nudging me back to sleep, where I dreamed of home.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees, and affiliates.

Priyanka Sacheti is an independent writer based in Bangalore, India. She grew up in the Sultanate of Oman and was educated at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford, United Kingdom. She has widely published across various publications about gender, heritage, culture, and environment. She’s currently an editor at Mashallah News. Her literary work has appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies. She’s currently working on a poetry collection.