Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A silent walk through history

I was in Oman a few months back for an Outdoor Training Program with High Places. In spite of having done some research (Wikipedia, what else) about the country, I still expected it to be all a sandy desert. So much for being an aware tourist! I had no time to settle and before I knew, I was out of immigration, into a Land rover and was speeding off towards our destination, Jebel al Akhdar. Having got accustomed to Indian roads and the art of driving on the same, I looked wide eyed at the 8-lane road like a child would in a toy shop. With temperatures soaring above 40 C, the windows shut and the silent engine, it was difficult to believe that we were constantly cruising at 100 kmph or more. (That we were going at 'more' could be realized only when the speed control radar started beeping, unless your eyes were fixed on the speedometer.) Soon we reached Barkat-al-Mouz, where the road departs from the main highway and starts climbing steeply towards Jebel Akhdar. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed to go past the check post here. Why this should be so becomes clear within a km. when the gradient rises sharply from the plains to the jagged wind swept mountains. Jebel Akhdar means 'Green Mountain'. I must confess that at first sight, I couldn't spot even a dot of green colour for miles around. Spectacular mountains the kind of which I had seen before, but certainly not green by any stretch of imagination. Jebel Akhdar witnessed a battle (1957-59) between the forces of the Imam and Sultan (who was backed by the British Army and Royal Air Force) and its signs can be seen everywhere. There was a sprawling flat plateau right opposite our hotel. If you take even a casual 5 minute walk there, you are sure to find spent bullet shells, fragments of machine gun belts, flares and so on. Not far away from there we saw the mangled remains of some large war machine. These ostensibly belong to a helicopter that was shot down, although I found the story rather doubtful.
During one of our short excursions, we visited the ancient little village of Wadi bin Habib. In spite of lot of efforts, I couldn't find out exactly how old this settlement is. The village nestles on the slopes of a narrow valley. One look at this valley tells you why Jebel Akhdar is called so. These valleys (wadis in the local dialect) invariably have a stream and are quite densely wooded. Green mountains, finally !
As we walked down the path into the valley, we crossed plantations of pomegranate (in full bloom). This area has an ancient irrigation system called 'falaj', which is a lesson in groundwater harvesting. As I walked down the wooded path, a chill went up my spine when I looked up at the approaching village. It was all so silent.... The inhabitants of Wadi bin Habib have left and settled elsewhere long ago. The pomegranate and fig plantations are still attended to, of course.

Stepping gingerly into a lane in the village, I peeped into a dilapidated home. I almost expected an Omani version of Rip van Winkle to step out from around the corner. I would have loved to sit down and talk to him about the days when Wadi bin Habib was alive with human activity. What exactly happened to this place? I ventured cautiously into a dark corridor (my friend had warned me that the floor was a little shaky!) and found a probable answer. An empty ammunition box hiding many an untold tale lay silently in the dark corridor. As I peeped into a door opening out of corridor, I could see countless footprints on the mud floor. How many of these were ancient? How many belonged to modern tourists like me? I walked aimlessly up and down the haunting by lanes of this village. I was reminded of Kharsoli, a tiny hamlet high up in Garhwal Himalay. The residents of this village migrate to lower reaches every winter. The feeling of 'someone is following me constantly' was unmistakable when walking through the empty lanes of Kharsoli, way back in 1990. Many later years, the feeling came to grip me again. The urge to look back over the shoulder was overwhelming. What human drama unfolded in Wadi bin Habib? What happened to all the people who were part of that drama? Before I could be consumed by the delusions of being Sherlock Holmes, my friend called out to me. It was already time to leave.

If you are going to walk around this area, keep a lookout for fossils. Actually you don't need to really look out because they are ALL OVER THE PLACE. literally. The rock formations here are eye-catching, to say the least. But don't make the mistake of taking the rock surfaces lightly. A simple slip will leave you quite badly bruised, thanks to the extremely sharp edges. This close up photograph should be enough to prove my point.

Happy Exploring !!!

1 comment:

Pratz said...

ok like am jealous of ppl who travel ;) this is wow ya!!!!

How does one (eg: me!) become a part of this? haha

good post! the place is awesome