"The Green Desert"
Dates of Suwaiq < DATE PALM <
OMAN AGRICULTURE

 
  Al Suwaiq’s fine date palm heritage

Date palm trees in Al Suwaiq, with the fort in the
background. — Picture by Khamis al Moharbi

A tour of Al Suwaiq, just a short drive from the capital area, makes for a fine introduction to the green landscapes of the Batinah region. This coastal wilayat, with its vast heritage of date palm groves and fruit orchards, and palm-fringed beaches dotted with atmospheric fishing villages, promises a memorable holiday in sylvan surroundings. Al Suwaiq is just 136km from Muscat, as you drive along the Batinah highway towards Sohar. Turn right at Al Suwaiq roundabout to reach the centre of the wilayat, just 3km away. Much of the wilayat's verdancy lies in a wide swathe along its 42km-long coastline. Away from the coast, this lush stretch gives way to sparse shrub land that sweeps all the way to mountainous countryside west of the wilayat.

These mountains spawn a host of wadis, including Wadi al Haylayn and Wadi al Hoqain, which meander through the Batinah plain and eventually meet the Gulf of Oman coast. En route they replenish scores of underground aquifers whose bounty is siphoned out by numerous wells that nourish Al Suwaiq's date palm and fruit garden heritage. Run-off into the Gulf of Oman is minimal as the wadis in this area are very broad, allowing for much of the water to percolate down to aquifers below. Water wells are especially copious at Batha Hilal, Batha Dhiyan and Batha al Ghalil where the wadis meet the Gulf of Oman coast.

The multitude of gardens that cover the coastal plains here are watered by wells alone, the traditional falaj being something of a rarity in these parts. However, some aflaj can be found in tiny mountain villages like Al Haylayn, Al Mabrah and Badt located deep in the wilayat's rugged heart. A tour of the wilayat begins at Al Suwaiq's famous fort, which overlooks the blue expanse of the Gulf of Oman waters. A grand maritime pageant, organised as part of the recent Eid-al-Adha celebrations graced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, was held in the vicinity of this striking edifice. It was a spectacular show that sought to highlight the wilayat's rich seafaring traditions and glorious maritime heritage.

Before modern ports became a feature of Oman's northern coast, it was routine for large seagoing ships to anchor off Al Suwaiq, allowing for passengers to embark or disembark. Small boats ferried passengers to and from these ships as the villagefolk laid out an elaborate reception or farewell depending whether they were arriving or leaving. This tradition is today recounted in Al Suwaiq's fine heritage of folk dances notably the Al Shobany, Al Medaima and Al Liwa.

In fact the wilayat's rich lore includes a total of 22 folk dances such as the Al Razha, Al Medan, Al Mekwarah, Al Khabar Yozain and Al Ay'yalah. Bull-fighting, sans the glamour and gore that surrounds the Spanish version of this sport, is another traditional pursuit in Al Suwaiq. Prize bulls from around the wilayat and other parts of the Batinah region are brought here by pickup to take part in weekly fights staged close to the seafront in places like Al Bawarah, Al Tharmad, Khadra, Al Ghalil, Dhiyan and Al Hajrah in the wilayat. People gather around in a ring to watch the snorting contenders lock horns and butt each into submission.

There are no trophies for the winning bull, but the owner walks away with his personal prestige considerably enhanced and a higher price tag on his bull.Much of Al Suwaiq's charm lies in its splendid heritage of date palm gardens, where the Al Manuma and Al Sellani varieties of the fruit grow in abundance. Strolling through this lush canopy can be invigorating, but there are motorable trails as well that lead to little hamlets nestled amid these rustic surroundings.

In this idyllic setting you can see rural life unfolding all around you — of farmers busy in their gardens harvesting dates, of brightly clad womenfolk tending goats, or of young men rushing to the souq with baskets of fresh vegetables. Along the seafront are peaceful fishing villages, with boats lined up in neat rows on the shore. Between villages you can find sandy stretches that offer solitude and the opportunity of a refreshing dip in the waters of the Gulf of Oman.

© Adapted from Oman Observer.