Friday, April 2, 2010

A Road Trip of Firsts...

Six full days after landing in Muscat, and feeling for the most part well rested, we rented an older model, manual, 4WD Prado and embarked upon our first of many road trips.

Our inaugural adventure led us approximately 100km west of Muscat, past the town of Barka (famous for its' halwa, a painfully sweet,  lumpy, sticky, glutinous candy made from sugar, dates, saffron, cardamom, almonds, nutmeg and rosewater) into the Hajar mountains.  Our airfreight (read GPS) had not yet arrived so we left the relative familiarity of Muscat armed with a less than scaled map of the area, bottled water and our cameras.

Not far out of the city, we were blessed with our first camel sighting!  The kids were almost as excited as I was to see this incredible creature grazing in the trees beside the highway.  Now I could honestly say, we had arrived in Oman!

After only a couple of wrong turns, several herds of goats and more camels, we were on our way through Nizwa (another interesting visit deserving its own post), and on towards the natural hot springs at Ain A'Thawarah.

As we wound our way towards the springs, we had the opportunity to see our first traditional, Omani falaj irrigation system.  The falaj channels can be found cut into mountainsides, running across miniature aqueducts and flowing through wadis to provide village wells with drinking water, mosques with washing areas and lastly, village farms with water for irrigation and livestock. 

Omani's have been using extensive falaj systems to supply water for both domestic and agricultural purposes since ancient times and some of the more than 4000 channels still in use today in Oman, are thought to be upwards of 1500 years.

Traditionally a "falaj clock", similar to a sun dial was used to mete out water to each farm, nowadays falaj outputs are controlled by automatic pumps. 

As we arrived at Ain A'Thawwarah, we unpacked our water bottles and began the short hike to the hot springs past the many families swimming and picnicking along the sides of the stream. 

Trying to make our way discreetly past fellow Omani sightseers, it was hard not to watch groups of men enjoying the sickly sweet tobacco of their communal shisha pipes and abaya clad women visiting while throngs of children played in the water.

As the late morning temperature climbed, a dip in the stream began to look more and more appealing.  Finally, Nicholas, Robin and Ryan were in the water along with the local children and their goats.

Unfortunately, the expected refreshing dip in a chilled mountain stream turned out to feel more like a hot bath.  Not such a treat when trying to cool off in 40+ degree weather.

Before resuming our road trip, we stopped off at the toilets only to be greeted by another first.  I'll let the picture speak for itself.  (Mom, you would have been horrified!)

Thankful for working AC, we were on the road headed to our final stop for the day, Nakhal Fort.

Common to all Omani forts, the fort at Nakhal was constructed on a natural rock foundation, as well, this fort was built on the remaining foundation of a pre-Islamic structure due to its' strategic location.  It is thought to have been constructed in 1834 by the then reigning Imam (Muslim religious leader) Said bin Sultan. 

The fort was a true force to be reckoned with during battles including gaps where boiling cauldrons of honey would have been hinged over doorways to inhibit intruders, beautiful, spiked doors built to repel battering rams, round towers raised to deflect cannon balls, internal well and falaj systems in case the outside feeder falaj systems were poisoned during a siege, just for starters.

A huge hit with the Robin and Ryan was the "Tiger door" (similar to the cat door in our home in Muscat) only large enough to accommodate the fort's pet Tiger. 

Walking around the fort it was easy to imagine what life must have been like in the 1800's, tending to flocks of goats and harvesting the incredibly rich fields.

We are blessed to be here and enjoying almost every minute! 

A demain...

No comments:

Post a Comment