From Halban to Fanja

September 2007
(English only)

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A new road now connects wadi Taww with wadi Samail, which makes it a lot easier to get from Halban (or Nakhl) via Bowah (Buwah) to Fanja.


A small tour of about 120 km (taking the roundabout at Seeb airport as startring point) as shown on Google Map below. A nice outing from Muscat on a weekend day.

How to get there: Take the Motorway from Muscat to Sohar, passing along Seeb. Some 7 km before Barka is the turnoff to Halban at a roundabout that we nicknamed the 'hut' as it features a large monumental hut in the middle (WGS 84 UTM E 604943.1- N 2619837.8). Turn 3/4 (to left- south), and almost immediately thereafter to the right, on the parallel road of the Motorway. The turnoff left, to Halban is some 830m along the parallel road from the roundabout, signposted Halban and Bowah. This takes you on a scenic route through large agricultural estates, nicely walled-off. 10.8 km from the turnoff is a T-junction (E 604963.1 - N 2608798.9), with Halban signposted to the left (which is worthwhile a visit for its beehive tombs). Turn to the right, signposted Bowah 15 km. Some 5.5 km further you will see a road to the left. The signpost has disappeared but it should read Bowah (which is still visible if you come from the other side). Watch for the white brick shade at the junction. That's where you have to be (E 600603.4 - N 2605539.3). The next place to watch is 5 km further where you see a great signpost to Ghubrat A'Tow and an hand-painted arabic sign  to the left (E 602243.3 - N 2601219.7), crossing the wadi. Contrary to what you may think you have to turn left here unless you want to explore the end of the road in the small village further (granted it is a very nice road). Almost immediately after crossing the wadi you will see the ruins of an abandoned village and an old falaj system), a great place to explore. The road continues to the village of Bowah (or Buwah). You need to take the new road and turn left before the palm grooves of Bowah 5.1 km further (E 605723.1 - N 2598420.0) near the school. The new road will bypass Bowah and goes high up to cross the southern flank of the Nakhl range, ending in Fanja 10.5 km further. At that point you will get to a T-junction (E 612362.6 - N 2594440.4). I turned right which takes you on a scenic route through the gardens of Fanja ending at a bridge over the wadi. There are many places to stop and explore such as climbing to one of the watchtowers above Fanja.
The northwestern side of this route is part of the heartland of the Bani Jabir. You will cross from wadi Taww that flows to the sea between Seeb and Barka, across the northern spur of Jabal Nakhl,  to wadi Samail at Fanja. The road geologically follows the lower and softer rocks of the Samail ophiolites that can clearly be recognised as the dark patch of rocks on the satellite map above. The limestones of Jabal Nakhl just to the south are much harder and higher.. In between there is an irregular ridge of brownish rocks stretching from near Fanja just south of Bowah to the west-northwest (listwaenite; ophiolite rocks altered by hot fluids). It is much harder than the surrounding rocks and clearly stands-out for example along the motorway to Nizwa near Fanja (a high saddle to cross before crossing wadi Samail). This is a weird, rusty rock that originated when hot fluids circulating through the ophiolite rocks along a fault zone altered the original mantle rocks completely. If you are interested in rocks, you will see mainly the deep mantle rocks of the ophiolites (harzburgites), in the low areas to the nortwest before Bowah and when driving from Bowah to Fanja driving up through dunites, wehrlites and finally ending up in gabbros, crossing the boundary between the earth's mantle and the crust, the Moho (normally at a depth of 6-7 km in oceans). With all of this pushed-up and eroded you can drive across. Just assume that you are getting in the upper mantle when you start driving steep up after the village of Bowah. Villages like to be near the 'Moho' as that is where their water system depend on with their falaj systems tapping into the groundwater "upstream" at the contact between dunites (mantle) and gabbros (lower crust)..   
Just after crossing the upper reaches of wadi Taww is an ancient settlement, with impressive thick walls and even walled gardens against steep rock faces. The nearest inhabited village is Ghubrat A'Tow

View to the north with Bowah in the distance (left upper) from the pass that now connects Bowah with Fanja. Climbing from the mantle up into the harder rocks of the lower crust.

The new road cuts at many places into the hard rocks of the lower crust, still ophiolites, but with many veins, crossing and displacing each other.

Driving down to the mantle again, not surprisingly people have used this 'spring level' with small palm grooves where you unexpectedly get into the lush green with plenty of water. 

Lush green gardens fed from intricate falaj systems on route to Fanja

The road enters Fanja from the northwest, close to the old houses that one normally sees behind the trees from the Nizwa motorway. A good opportunity to leave the car and clim to one of the watchtowers to have a great view of the green valley below. It is a bit of a climb. Resist the temptation to go straight up as there are a number of much easier paths.

View to the north from one of the shooting holes in the tower. More important: it is refreshing cool inside with one of the all-around holes always in a good position to catch a breeze

View to the Nizwa motorway in the distance and the old houses of Fanja right below with in-between wadi Samail and Fanja's abundant green gardens.

Nothing (except the sun) stops you from climbing other vantage points. This one is south of Fanja, overlooking its gardens and the motorway climbing the listwaenite ridge in the distance

Or going down into wadi Samail. Recent rains have brought back flowing water in the wadi. The old falaj system on this picture is not used anymore. Instead people now pump water directly from the wadi.


To know more about ophiolites and the Moho check out the on-line guided tour through the vraious rock types by the university of Montpellier or the short write-up on this website

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@ J. Schreurs September 2007