Oases are clearly visible from afar, announced by large palm groves. In the middle of desert-like areas, they herald the abundance of water. It comes from either mountain / underground springs or Wadis and turns the otherwise dry areas into lush gardens. Inside this maze of trees and under their leafy umbrella, all you hear is water gurgling, gushing & rushing. A sophisticated system of channels, called Alfaj, distributes the water among all families and their gardens. And this is meant literally: Falaj, the singular form, means in Arabic “to distribute justly”.
Nothing parallels the village of Misfah, a Garden of Eden perched high up on a hill overlooking the larger oasis of Al Hamra. The narrow alleys allow only pedestrians inside. Like in all Omani towns and villages, you hardly see people outside, the gushing water is all you hear. We climbed the stairs down to the terraced gardens full of bananas, papayas, oranges, limes, dates and pomogrades. Large palm trees were sheltering all kinds of other produce. Heidi explored an area that was for women only and chatted with a lady who sat outside her houses looking after her children. The kids were really excited to meet a foreigner and used the occasion to be allowed in the lukewarm water of the irrigation channel. The splashing and screaming was obviously louder than usual. There was a visitor to be impressed! Luckily, the lady spoke fairly good English and we could exchange some basic information and pleasantries.
The village of Tanuf is another adorable oasis, although its fame stems more from its tragic history. The remnants of the old village remind of the bombing raids by the British Air Force in the 1950s. One of two warring sultans had called them for support. The people never rebuilt their old mud-brick homes, but started a new village right next to the ruins. Tanuf today houses Oman largest bottling plant for mineral water, fed by its very own mountain spring.
The old part of Al Hamra we did not find. The town is a conglomerate of newly built, impressive dwellings, set in the sand and rubble of the vast valley floor.
In the evening we headed for the oasis of Birkat Al Mawz, which was extremely hard to find: no road signs, nothing. But luckily we did not give up. To our big surprise we spotted a large area of old, abandoned buildings clinging to a hill, right at the foot of a falaj. With the sun setting on the light brown stones and the oasis at our feet, there was no better place to be!