Thursday 2nd - Friday 3rd October 2003 - Nizwa Trip

After 5 weeks in Muscat, the time finally came to leave the coast and venture inland.

The weather is just starting to cool off now, making trips out of air conditioned environments more bearable. Having said that, temperatures haven't dropped off but humidity must have a bit since 41C feels more bearable unlike before!

I did the trip with Saj, my diving buddy. For this drive, a 4WD wasn't necessary since its good roads where we were going.

Its about 160 km/100 miles from Muscat to Nizwa. That means a journey time as short as 1 hour at Omani speeds. The drive follows the gap between the eastern and western Hajar mountains. Its supposedly a fascinating trip for geologists. It looks like rocks on one side are sedimentary and on the other side are something elseary.

We stopped off on the way at the Ahmed's village of Birkat Al Mawz, which translates as "Pool of Bananas". As you can see, its a pretty green and fertile place in contrast to the surrounding scenery along the drive.

The reason is the traditional Omani system of communal irrigation, called Falaj. A tunnel driven into the mountain to the water table provides a constant stream of water. It is distributed through a network of small channels, fed by gravity, being switched between different plots based on time. It has been a steady source of water for hundreds of years allowing settlements around the mountains to survice and prosper in otherwise uninhabitable areas.

After Birkat Al Mawz, we moved on to Nizwa. Once the capital city of Oman and a no-go area for non-Muslims as recently as 45 years ago (explorer Wilfred Thesiger had to bypass it), Nizwa is now quite safe and a good base for exploring the interior and Western Hajar mountains.

The town is set in an oasis of date palms, watered by the Falaj system, and dominated by the fort (above).

About another 50kms or so inland is Jabrin fort, built in 1671 and supposedly one of the finest restored forts in Oman (apart from the Sultan's palaces, of course). Its pretty much in the middle of nowhere and inside is an amazing labyrinth of rooms with much original decor restored.

Coming back from Jabrin to Nizwa is a village called Tanuf. Like many Omani villages it seems, there's a deserted mud-village and built along side it, new concrete dwellings. Mud buildings are very high maintenance - they look like they've been part washed away and you can see the straw used in the mud as reinforcement.

We found a Falaj system running through the old village and followed it outside the village to find a man-made channel running round the side cliff up to the mountains where it disappeared, presumable into the spring from whence it came.