Travel

Oman: The water of life

The Omani village of Misfat Al Abriyyin, blessed by cool, crisp, mountain water, lives up to its reputation as paradise.
The Omani village of Misfat Al Abriyyin, blessed by cool, crisp, mountain water, lives up to its reputation as paradise. Jim Eagles

"TODAY," said Ali our guide, "I will take you to walk in paradise."

"Is that," I asked flippantly, "the paradise with all the virgins?"

"We will see," smiled Ali, as he slipped our 4WD into gear and headed out of Nizwa, capital of Oman in centuries past, and headed into the mountains.

If this was the route to paradise it seemed we had to pass through hell to get there, because Oman's mountains are spectacularly desolate, with bare, crumbling slopes, bizarre figures sculpted in the soft rock by wind and rain, and frighteningly deep gorges carved by the monsoonal floods.

The roads through this forbidding landscape must have been incredibly difficult to build. The constant floods and landslides clearly make them almost impossible to maintain, and driving on them is always exciting and sometimes scary.

But, eventually, Ali pulled off the road, pointed across the deep valley to a village on the other side and said: "There is paradise. Misfat Al Abriyyin."

Paradise, when we got there, turned out to be an intriguing slice of Omani history.

On the peak above, flying the red and blue national flag, was a ruined watchtower which, Ali told us, "predates the arrival of Islam. It is 1400 years old."

At the entrance to the village was a cluster of stone cottages, dating back several centuries, mostly built on the living rock of the mountains.

Next there were several of the mud houses in which, until relatively recently, most Omanis lived, some of them showing the effects of decades of wind and rain, but most in very good repair.

And finally there were a few modern Omani houses, walled and battlemented like miniature forts, made of weatherproof concrete.

Few people were about as we wandered the narrow alleys. A group of men sitting on a doorstep chatting in the shade, returned our greetings of "Salaam Aleikum" with friendly smiles.

A young girl sat at a window in a room built across the alley - creating a pleasantly cool tunnel - seemingly engrossed in her homework. A woman in a headscarf came up the path down which we were heading carrying a bundle of vegetables and nodded amiably but didn't speak.

Soon we reached the gardens she had obviously been harvesting, the paradise of Ali's description, and were almost lost for words at their verdant beauty.

The path descended into the valley through groves of pomegranate, orange, lime, mango, banana, grape, date and fig trees. Further down were neatly organised terraced gardens shining bright green with lettuces, onions, garlic, chillies, peppers, shallots, mint, carrots, beans and other vegetables I couldn't recognise.

And gurgling beside the path was the source of all this abundance, the village falaj, a centuries-old irrigation system, bringing water from the mountains to make the arid landscape flourish.

"Oman looks very dry," said Ali, "but there is plenty of water. We are not like other countries in the Middle East which are short of water. There are springs everywhere in the mountains that never run dry. It is only necessary to bring the water to the villages."

We had seen falaj systems all over Oman but the one at Misfat was by far the most intricate. There appeared to be several sources of water because we saw a couple of channels running down the mountainside above the village but another originated at a small, spring-fed pool just above the gardens.

Some of the channels ran under the houses, providing water directly for cooking and washing.

Just below the village two branches of the system led to washing areas. The women's was walled off. But we walked right by the men's wash house where a man was showering. Nearby was a large pool, empty, which could be filled for swimming, then emptied and the water re-used for irrigation.

The gardens below were serviced by a labyrinth of channels and we saw how carefully shaped stone plugs wrapped in cloth were used to divert the precious liquid first to one patch, of beans perhaps, then to another, this time maybe of banana trees.

Was there, I asked Ali, someone in charge of the falaj system? "Oh, yes," he said, "there is a man whose job is to send the water where it is needed. It is a very important job."

As we climbed from the gardens to our vehicle the importance was easy to appreciate. On all sides were Oman's hellish, hostile mountains. But thanks to the water Misfat was, well, paradise.

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  oman travel travelling


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Ban devices in the bedroom: the plea to keep kids safe

Primary school age children can be easily targeted by online predators.

Primary school aged girls and boys being asked to send naked pics

Man, child seriously injured in Warrego Hwy crash

A person was taken to hospital via helicopter after a head on crash on the Warrego Hwy.

Multiple patients are being treated for injuries.

What I wish parents knew about cyber safety

Principal of Suncoast Christian College Greg Mattiske talks about internet safety.

Too many parents are blissfully unaware of the threats

Local Partners

Un-American tale makes Lion weakest link in Oscars line-up

PSYCHOLOGY researchers find US films and actors most likely to win accolades at the Oscars.

Can rightful winner Midnight take out golden Gosling in Oscars?

Can Lion pip La La Land at the post in this year's Oscars? Sunny Pawar (pictured) helped bring a powerful film to the big screen.

WILL Aussie film Lion triumph or will popular La La Land prevail?

Living End, Grinspoon stars hit stage for American Idiot

Chris Cheney of The Living End stars in the Australian production of Green Days musical American Idiot at Brisbane's QPAC Theatre.

TAKE a look behind the scenes of Green Day's American Idiot musical

Samuel L Jackson dismisses La La Land ahead of Oscars

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from the movie La La Land.

Hollywood actor and Oscars voter says Denzel should win top gong

Live performance of Sci-fi classic to open Science Festival

Qld Symphony Orchestra perform live to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Festival will host A Live Presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Former Family Matters stare accused of child abuse

Reginald VelJohnson, left, and Darius McCrary arrive at the TV Land Awards on Sunday, April 19, 2009 in Universal City, Calif.

Darius McCrary has been accused of child abuse

The trick homeowners are using to buy more properties

Chantelle Subritzky leaves her home each week for Airbnb guests.

Queenslanders are going down this path to help pay their mortgages

Stunning home blends South Pacific beauty with Orient style

Immaculate residence with two outdoor living areas

$140k damage: landlord says property trashed, contaminated

He had what he calls "the tenants from hell"

Submarine, buses and 3000 tyres removed in $100K clean up

The list of things removed from this property is beyond astonishing

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!