From Wadi Hawasinah to the chain walk, wadi Fida, the bronze age ruins near Bat and Al Ayn, via Sint to Jabal Shams

October 2006 (English only)

Back to Oman page,
terug naar Oman page

Exploring Oman's Dhakhiliya area; the eastern flank of the Al Hajar Mountains. 

Wadi Hawasina, Chain Walk (wadi Ad Dil), Wadi Fidda (Fida), Bat, Al Ayn, Sint, Wadi Ghul, Jabal Shams Cliff Walk

Three days traveling, two nights camping.

From Muscat via the coastal motorway to Al Khabourah, wadi Hawasinah, to Fidda (Fida) -yellow track-, Bat, Al Ayn to Sint, wadi Ghul up to Jabal Shams -light blue track- and back home via Nizwa - white track-. Detailed maps of the Chain walk and Jabal Shams area indicated by white outlines. Total distance driven 798 km.



Wadi Hawasina

The fastest way to get to wadi Hawasinah is to drive northwards along the coastal motorway to Sohar and turn left at the Khabourah roundabout (at 23 58 14.78 E - 57 5 25.56 N WGS 84, some 136 km from the Seeb airport roundabout).

Wadi Hawasinah has taken its name from the Hawasinah tribe and the wadi in turn has given its name to the Hawasinah Group of deep sea sediments that were pushed on top of the eastern edge of the Arabian plate together with the Samail Ophiolites some 90 million years ago.

The road is almost fully tarmac up till the junction with wadi Ad Dil. It is almost straight heading for the village of Al Ghayzayn (21 km from the Al Khabourah roundabout) at the foothills of the Oman Mountains. From there the road starts winding. Some 21.5 km further is the junction to Wadi Ad Dil (turn right at 23 40 52.73 N - 56 55 21.75 E WGS 84). Make sure you don't miss the junction as you drive through the wadi bed. The new roads too easily leads you on, but in that case you end-up ultimately in Rustaq (which makes a nice alternative to get there). Wadi Ad Dil runs to the south-west and the road is winding with it. The map below helps to show the detail. 13 km from the junction with wadi Hawasinah is the turn-off to the right to the start of the Chain walk (westwards, at 23 38 58.11 N - 56 51 38.72 E WGS84) near a small group of trees.

Al Ghayzayn, left undisturbed by the new tarmac road at the other side of the wadi

A wet and beautiful wadi

Detail satellite image (Map 1 of overview map) of the narrow winding Wadi Ad Dil (Dhillah), with junction west to the narrow gorge of "En Naq" homing the "chain walk".

The track to the chainwalk passes a house and ends after 3 km from the junction near a palm-groove. Walk along the falaj upstream through the narrow gorge and you will find a lot of water, deep cool pools and finally a steep cliff with a chain to climb it. You can climb up and continue the walk, but we were more interested in a dive into the deep pool of cool water at the foot of the waterfall.

The narrow gorge "En Naq" as described by Eccles in 1925 (see below). Plenty of water, with pools deep enough for a cold swim. A quick connection between waid Ad Dil (Dhillah) and Najd al Khabbain.


Climbing chain labelled with a metal plate inscribed "A.P. Plompen 3.11.1983 PDO". This chain probably replaced the one observed by Eccles in 1925 (see below) while travelling with Geologists Lees and Grey. This story is probably the reason why this walk is also known as "Lees' chain".

 
 

 

Captain Eccles on wadi Hawasinah and the Chain Walk, 1925

Mr G. M. Lees, Mr K. W. Grey (in braces) both Geologists. Mr A F Williamson (al-Hag Abdullah) standing with cane and 'Skinny Liz', the dog. From Muscat and Oman, Capt. G. J. Eccles 1925 and 1927 From The Royal Society for Asian Affairs Archive (Captain G J Eccles, 'The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman', archive reference RSAA/L/6)

 

 

THE C0UNTRY OF THE TRIBES AL-HAWASINAH AND BANI ‘UMR

Khaburah lies at the mouth of the Wadi Hawasinah, which takes its name from the tribe which inhabits it, and up which we proposed to climb to reach and cross the watershed. Here we were joined by Shaikh Saif bin Muhammad of the Hawasinah, a Hinawi tribe, and Shaikh Ghussun bin Salim of the Bani ‘Umr, a Ghafari tribe. The two tribes are generally at feud with one another, and the two Shaikhs are quite dissimilar in character and disposition. The former proved himself a miserly, weak, shifty obstructionist; the latter a tactful, firm, and helpful disciplinarian. Our path led us over the Batinah plain toward the mountains. Leaving on our right the deserted village of Qasaf, where the bare stumps of the palm trees bore mute testimony to the repeated failure of the rains during the past ten years, we reached Ghaidhain (555 feet), wrongly placed in Hunter’s map of 1908. A description of the village will suffice to portray all the villages of this area, which are alike in essential details. It is well built of stone and local cement and stands on a terrace on the left bank of the Wadi about half a mile inside the foothills. Extensive date groves and gardens lie in a reentrant behind the village and are watered by a falaj or water channel which begins from a spring underneath the surface shingle of the Wadi, a mile above the village, and continues underground for some distance before emerging into an open cemented channel. Those who are familiar with the Persian Qanat, or Kariz, will recognize the same type. In this case the open channel is divided into two streams just before it reaches the gardens, each stream watering a half of the date groves. Hence the name Ghaidhain, “The two groves.” Pursuing a leisurely course up the Wadi we passed through Suddan, described by Wellsted, whose route we now joined, Bida’ah, and Falaj al Hadith. Here we came upon running water, and the valley bed was sprinkled with oleander and ziziphus shrubs, many of which reached a height of 10 feet. As we approached the junction of the Wadi Hawasinah and Wadi Dhillah the valley opened out and we passed a large tower built for the protection of the caravan route and occupied by three men of the Hawasinah. Two of them came down to meet us and to receive the customary douceur, which we gave them and passed on. But the third man, either not realizing that we had paid, or thinking it not enough, ran to a point directly overlooking the Wadi, fired over our heads, arid started screaming in the sharp, high-pitched feminine tone used by men in this country to warn their friends of the approach of hostile or strange parties. His own companions ran to him from the fort, and our following started loud explanations from below. Williamson and I went steadily forward and left them to settle it. During our passage up the Wadi Hawasinah we had suffered much trouble and obstruction from Shaikh Saif, and so we were relieved to turn into the Wadi Dhillah, which belongs to the Bani ‘Umr. From a high hill Lees gained a good view of the Wadi Hawasinah above its junction with the Wadi Dhillah. The hills appeared to recede some what from the river bed and to allow of small plots of cultivation on the terraces. A number of villages could be seen, including Hajajah, ‘Abailah, Tawi, Suwairiq, Wasbah, and Harm ‘Ali. The Wadi Dhillah is narrow with vertical cliffs rising sheer from the valley bed. It is uninhabited except for some Bedouin squatters. As we proceeded the valley became steeper and more narrow and the going became very bad, until we reached a zigzag path known as Najd al-Khabbain (2,970). Here we were forced to dismount and lead our camels to the top of the pass over the range which divides the Dhahirah and the Batinah. We found a pleasant camping site on the further slope and determined to stay here a few days, as I had been having attacks of malaria, and the transport required some reorganization. From Jabal al-Qala’ah (4,900) Lees gained a magnificent view of the Dhahirah up to the edge of the great desert. To the south-east the great scarp of Jabal Akhdhar was plainly visible. The Wadis, draining west and south-west run out into extensive plains broken here and there by groups of small hills. The villages of Qanat, Dariz, and ‘Ibri could be seen, but Miskin was hidden by a range of low hills. Two miles along the scarp west of the camp we were shown a wonderful gorge, called en-Naqs, 10 to 20 feet only in breadth, with vertical walls rising to a height of 400 feet. From half a mile away it is quite invisible. Breaking through the knife-edge ridge of Jabal Ra’is it joins the Wadi Dhillah and provides for good mountaineers, such as all the local tribesmen are, an alternative track to the Najd al Khabbain. In the narrowest part the torrent bed drops a sheer 40 feet, and over the precipice thus formed a chain has been hung. Well forged with long, narrow links it is firmly secured between two rocks, but as it is not long enough to reach the bottom a rope has been attached to the further end. The face of the cliff is concave, so that no foothold is obtainable. The tribesmen said that up to twenty years ago there had been only a rope and many had lost their lives by its breaking. They could not name the public-spirited Shaikh who had substituted the chain. On November 20 we packed up reluctantly and set out for the Wadi Bani ‘Umr, by which we had decided to return to the Batinah. During the loading up Williamson tried to make one of the tribesmen take on his camel some hens which had been bought for our messing. But the prejudice against the carrying of any kind of fowl by a man proved so strong that insistence would certainly have resulted in a general strike.

From: D’Arcy Exploration Company’s Geological Survey of 1925. By Captain JG Eccles. The party consisted of GM Lees, KW Gray (geologists), J Fernandez (Bombay Natural History Society) AF Williamson (transport and messing) and JG Eccles (social and political) .

 

Fida (Fidda)

From wadi Ad Dil we continued south in the direction of Dariz, a long drive of some 45 km, turning off to the west near the village of Hayyal (turn left at junction 23 24 15.29 N - 56 43 57.03 E WGS 84) towards Khadil, joining the main road to Ibri after 12 km more (turn right at junction 23 27 24.64 N - 56 39 8.33 E). After some 11 km turn left to Fidda at junction 23 32 17.87 N - 56 36 24.61 E. Fidda is some 14 km further  into the gorge.

We had planned to camp near what was described to be the wettest wadi in Oman (according to Diana Darke, 2000). The wadi is lovely and rather narrow near the village of Fida (Fidda), but it was not wet. Judging from the large number of palm grooves that have either been burned or that are in the process of dying it appears that this wadi has not seen water in many years now. The remaining grooves are kept alive by pumping water from below the wadi bed into the aflaj systems. We saw a relatively new falaj, built in 1996, upstream of the water pump everything dead and downstream a green lush. The water level in the wadi must have fallen considerably, probably by a combination of no-rain and perhaps too much pumping downstream (Dank). Anyhow this is not the wettest wadi in Oman anymore and for us a bit of a disappointment as we would have loved a jump in a cool pond of water somewhere.

We camped on a high area overlooking the wadi, thinking it would be quiet up there, but it turned out we were almost on top of a footpath connecting two villages. We saw quite some local people walking, also in the middle of the night and they must have been surprised seeing a bunch of cars and tents right on their path.

To Bat

From Fidda back south to Dariz, a distance of some 40 km.
From Dariz the road eastwards (at junction 23 19 13.28 N - 56 36 55.10 E WGS 84) in direction of Bat and turn left after 15 km to archeological site.

The UNESCO Heritage Site at Bat

The archeological site near Bat (23 15 56.29 N, 56 44 43.43 E.  WGS 84) consists of a vast necropolis with many beehive tombs and a number of enigmatic "Tower" structures close to what has been interpreted as a settlement area. The site has been excavated by a Danish archeological team led by Karen Frifelt in the 1970's. Because of its antiquity (2000-3000 BC) and excellent preservation it has been included on the list of UNESCO heritage sites (no 434) in 1988. The site is just northeast of the village of Bat, but undoubtedly part of it may be hidden in the palm grooves close to the wadi. Part of the area is fenced-off, but a large part is completely open. Except for some signs by the Omani government nothing prevents a visitor from roaming the site. In the heat it may be tempting to drive across, but obviously it is important for its preservation that tracks and damage by cars should be prevented and one should stick to the tracks across the site.

The tower marked as 1145, Qasr Al Rojoom, on the map below was fully excavated by the Danish team in the 1970's. Its function remains unclear. Five of such towers are known in the area, four of which have been excavated; Qasr Al Rojoom, Qasr Al Khafaij, Matariya and Burj Al Khutum. The most recent excavation are let by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture supported by the University of Pennsylvania as reported in the Oman Observer (February 20, 2010).

Most visitors will roam the vast grave-field with many beehive tombs that can bee seen in various degrees of preservation.

One just has to image that they are as old as the oldest pyramids in Egypt and be impressed with the quality of the dry-stone masonry. The technical capabilities of the culture that constructed these structures must have been considerable. One tomb is partly reconstructed, including its white limestone cladding and it is nice to see how these white limestone wedge-shaped blocks were fitted on the exterior of the round tombs. They must have made an impressive view.

Archeological studies in this part of the Middle East connect this culture with the Umm al Nar period in the Bronze age, 2700-2000 BC, or some four-five thousand years ago. The Umm An Nar Culture is the most important period in neighbouring UAE, notably Bahrain. Evidence suggest that trade in copper with Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley gave rise to the wealthy land of Dilmun, obtaining copper from the Land of Magan, now largely identified with the ancient copper mining areas in Oman and adjoining UAE (See also the description of the Beehive tombs at Halban and the beehive tombs/towers at Shir in the Eastern Hajar.


Beehive tomb with two internal chambers. The outer rim of flat dry-stones has been 'decorated' by chipping.

Tower ICOMOS site 1145 marked on map, approx. coordinates 23 15 56.29 N, 56 44 43.43 E WGS 84.

"Tower" at Bat, site 1145. Notice the quality of the masonry. The purpose of this tower is unclear, but we have to realise we only see part of its foundations. North of this tower is an area with square foundation outlines, interpreted as houses. At the level of the substructures, the plan of the tower, which is 20m in diameter, features a series of exterior surface projections and two rows of parallel rooms on either side of a large median platform in masonry with a well in the centre (see plan to left).
Partly reconstructed Beehive tomb with two chambers separated by a supporting massive wall. Notice the 'corebelled' nature of the drystone walls, each layer stepping inwards, creating a vault-shaped roof.

Wedge shaped white timestone blocks that were used for the external cladding of a number of beehive tombs in the area

Reconstructed cladding of white limestone blocks

Background information of the Unesco Heritage site at Bat.

Despite its obvious importance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site there is disappointing little information available outside difficult accessible specialist research publications. The most complete information is available on the UNESCO World Heritage Website: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/434.

Below is the1988 ICOMOS evaluation converted with two simplified maps.

International Council on Monuments and sites (ICOMOS)

World Heritage list No.  434
The archaeological site of Bat and annexed zones.

The protohistoric site extending north of the village and palm grove of Bat, where excavations began in 1972, includes a settlement and a necropolis from the third millenium B.C. In the settlement zone, north of the confluent of a small waterway and the Wadi al Hijr, the first features one notices are five stone “towers”. These structures are very representative of the first Bronze Age in the Oman peninsula. One of these towers has been entirely excavated by the Danish team led by Karen Frifelt. Through archaeometry, it has been determined that it was built between 2595 and 2465 B.C., dates confirmed by the examination of typical ceramic materials. At the level of the substructures, the plan of the tower, which is 20m in diameter, features a series of exterior surface projections and two rows of parallel rooms on either side of a large median platform in masonry with a well in the centre.

7From the tower, which serves as the site’s reference point, can be distinguished immediately to the east on the slope a series of rectangular houses with central courts and, to the north, a vast necropolis which can be divided into two distinct groups. The first group is located at the top of the rocky slope. Its dry-stone tombs -among which are ones from the 4th millennium, although in some cases they may have subsequently been modified- are scattered along the path from Bat to Al Wahrah.
The much more densely concentrated second group extends over a river terrace southeast of the wadi and includes more than a hundred dry-stone “beehive” tombs, which tend to be organized according to an overall plan. The most ancient ones are to the north. They have only one entry and one funerary chamber and were a collective burial place for a small number of dead. Towards the south, the sepulchres become more monumental. They have two entries which open onto two and sometimes four funerary chambers and were intended for a greater number of dead.

Although the group constituted by the settlement and necropolis zones of Bat forms a coherent and representative whole, it would be unfortunate not to add to it two contemporary archaeological sites that are nearby

  • the tower of al-Khutm, 2 km west of Bat,
  • the group of beehive tombs of Qubur Juhhal at al-Ayn, 22 km east-southeast of Bat.
    The 21 tombs from the 3rd millenium, aligned on a rocky crest that stands out in a superb mountainous landscape of Jebel Misht to the north, are in a remarkable state of preservation. They have not been excavated and constitute an obviously interesting archaeological reserve.

ICOMOS recommends the inclusion of the archaeological zone of Bat and the additional sites of al-Khutm and al-Ayn on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria III and IV.

Criterion III
The zone encompassing the settlement and necropolises of Bat is the most complete and best known site of the 3rd millennium B.C. It is far more noteworthy than similar sites at Hill, Firq and the valley of Wadi Bahla in the Oman peninsula. Historical sources tell us that the country of Magan (or Makkan) was at that time the principal extraction centre of copper, which was exported even to faraway Mesopotamia as early as about 3000 B.C. The appearance of a more strictly hierarchical social organization (as attested to both in the settlements, where circular defensive structures contrast with rectangular houses and in the necropolises, where the arrangement of funerary space is more complex) goes hand in hand with higher living standards and social changes linked to a trade economy.

Criterion IV
In a restricted, coherent space, the necropolis of Bat bears characteristic and unique witness to the evolution of funeral practices during the first Bronze Age in the peninsula of Oman.

Observations of ICOMOS
The archaeological site of Bat ought to be protected in its entirety, including tower 1148 mentioned in the excavation report by Karen Frifelt which is situated some distance away, on the southern border of the palm grove. In the absence of any surveillance of the site, which is protected according to Article 42 of the royal decree 6/80, two major risks must be fought the devastation of stone tombs by villagers looking for construction materials, and the appearance of enclosure walls or buildings on the sites which is in a non-aedificandi zone. The same observations hold true for the site of al-Ayn, whose only protection until now was its isolated location.

ICOMOS, May 1988


Map of Bat archeological site, superposed on Landsat image and "best" fitted with ICOMOS 1988 map


From Bat driving southeast with the magnificent Jabal Khawr continuously in frontal view.

Leaving Jabal Khawr to the right and turning north in the direction of Jabal Misht and the village of Al Ayn, also part of the UNESCO heritage site
Drive East from Bat towards Jabal Khwar and after some 22 km turn left (north) near the village of Ablah
(junction at  23 10 25.16 E - 56 55 4.87 N WGS 84) towards Al Ayn, which is 5.6 km further. Turn left at junction towards the beehive tombs (right in front). The road to the right will lead you into the village; a dead end, but nice to visit.
The magnificent beehive tombs near the village of Al Ayn, 21 in total, well preserved at what used to be a remote location, but now within easy reach from Ibri and Nizwa along excellent tarmac roads. Their setting with Jabal Misht as backdrop is simply great (23 13 0.34 N - 56 57 42.06 E WGS 84)
From the village of Al Ayn continue on the tarmac road for about 10 km to the roundabout at Matbat As Safi (23 13 26.80 N - 57 2 15.22 E WGS84). Turn right (south) towards the village of Sint. Be careful as the road ahead is signposted to Wadi Gheil, which is NOT whadi Ghul as we found after trying (the track marked Dead end on map 2 below is scenic, but does not get you through).

The gravel track to Sint (but a new road is being built) climbs gradually from 700 m to 950m altitude over a distance of 11.6 km. Turn right (north at 23 8 33.61 N - 57 5 8.38 E WGS 84) towards the houses, following the gravel track for about 2.5 km in the direction of the scarp at the back. You will notice a new road winding-up (junction at 23 9 42.22 N - 57 5 23.55 E WGS84). This track will tack you across a scenic pass high up @ 1280m  and down again to wadi Ghul; a distance of about 10 km, where you will join the new tarmac road up to Jabal Shams ( 23 10 24.98 N - 57 8 58.49 E WGS84). The road is 90% complete and only the last couple of km are still gravel (see also Jabal Shams trip 2002).


Map 2 (on overview map), showing connection between Al Ayn via Sint to Wadi Ghul

To the Jabal Shams Plateau

The tarmac road is self directing, just follow it up. It becomes gravel a bit beyond the junction to Darlawi Manda, just before the junction to Al Ghubeira. Follow the main gravel track, disregarding the various junctions to nearby little villages, until you see a red sign pointing to "Start Tracking Path W4", turning right (23 14 22.19 N - 57 11 52.24 E WGS84).

We camped close to the start of the W4 tracking path (that leads up to Jabal Shams), nearby a lovely garden, fed by water coming from a deep revine. Many of the little caves in the ravine were once inhabited and there were even some rock paintings. Not enough water for a swim, just enough for the sheep and some insects.

You could also opt to stay at the Jabal Shams Travellng & Camping Centre (Fares Al Khatari GSM 99382639 or 95868564, tel 24635222, PO box 132 PC 617 or e-mail alla_20002001@yahoo.com), which offers rooms, tents as well as protected camp sites.

Abandoned cave dwelling near our campsite

Rock painting showing a man on horseback (or donkey).

Strange smelly stuff, with a shiny dry surface, draping the rocks near caves and along fault-planes in the rocks. We took some samples and will try to investigate what it is. Maybe dried-up algal mats contaminated with goat-pee (at least that is how it smelled)

Sunset over Jabal Khawr in the distance as seen from our campsite

Map 3 (overview map) of the Jabal Shams area showing the track to the various viewpoints along  Nakhr gorge (mini grand canyon).

We drove to the village of Al Khatum were the 'cliff walk (W6) starts to the abondoned village of Sap Bani Khamis. We even saw our Omani carpet salesman that we met in 2002 at one of the viewpoints. He had not changed a bit!!!


Viewpoint looking down in the Nhakr gorge

Pointing to the village of Sap Bani Khamis, just above the gigantic rock arch. Somwhere along this cliff is the path. Do you see it?

Walking to the abandoned village. A great setting

Getting closer and on the path, but still difficult to see where it runs, but it is easy once you are on

Cliff walk to Sap Bani Khamis

Signposted W 6 from the Jabal Shams Plateau at the village of Al Khatim; an exiting easy walk along the steep canyon walls to the abandoned village of Sap Bani Khamis. Bringing you back in time hundreds of years. Walking time: 1 hr 15 min one way, Altitude: 1900 meter to 1800m, Length: about 4 km.

 

A lovely setting, poised delicately between two steep cliffs above and below, with its terraced garden supported by a natural rock arch. This village once homed some 15 families, well protected against enemies. A spring at the base of the covering limestone cliff provided a reliable water supply flowing into a small falaj system to the gardens just below. The houses were built from stone and local wood under the overhanging rock with the back against the cliff. The terraced gardens provided watermelons, onions, chili-peppers, tomatoes, wheat, pomegranates, lemons and basil. In addition to farming the families kept goats, sheep and donkeys. 
Left: Map of the village of Sap Bani Khamis as redrawn from the explanatory board opposite the village
We revisited the Jabal Shams plateau again in April 2007 and redid the splendid walk to Sap Bani Khamis and now also found the pool above this village. We had an excellent time at the Jabal Shams Traveling and camping centre (details listed above) renting two small chalets, with en-suite bathroom. Basic but functional and excellent for the lazy traveler. The centre is expanding with a new restaurant and additional accommodation.

Enjoying a cool breeze after a long walk, relaxing and waiting for dinner.

Luxury on the Jabal Shams Plateau. Notice the pink artificial flowers next to the bed.

The pool right above the village, called Bir Dakhliya. Water is steadily dripping down from the overhanging limestone creating a curtain of travertine at the back of the overhang.

The green pool is the home of many frogs and dragonflies. To get to the pool you need to walk to the right side of the village (to the right of the cave housing on the map above) and follow the steps that are marked by piles of stones, climbing on top of the thick limestone layer that forms the roof of the cave dwellings up to the back of the next overhanging limestone layer.


Cave dwelling just above the terraced gardens


Stone grinder (indicated on map), still in place and ready to use (albeit  locked with a wire to the rock to prevent theft)

Back at the village of Al Khatim. Of course buying the very things that the Jabal Shams plateau is famous for: rugs and nice hand-made key-hangers. Prices have not changed much since 2002 (our last visit). Five weeks of work on the bigger rugs!!! Do not negotiate too much.

Back home again, via Nizwa, about 250 km to the Seeb airport roundabout; 3 hours of solid driving. Who cares after such a lovely trip.

Thanks to the families Rovira and de Leeuw / Brandenburg that were such lovely company and not complaining about the dust....

References

Back to home page

Terug naar home page


@ J. Schreurs October 2006, updated April 2007