Wadi Bani Auf < OMAN EXPLORER

Wadi Bani Auf

Wadi Bani Auf is one of five spectacular wadis in Al Rostaq wilayat. Picturebook oasis villages, nurtured by copious springs and aflaj, are a striking feature ofthis wadi

Date palm gardens tucked away deep in the wadi — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi

 

Nothing prepares the first-time visitor to this otherwise cheerless countryside for what's in store just behind the forbidding facade of the Al Jabal al Akhdar mountains.

Deep within the recesses of these mountains strung along the Rostaq-Nakhl route is Wadi Bani Auf, an ancient wadi offering breathtaking vistas along its 26-kilometre trail.

 

Snake Gorge, with its sheer rock faces,
cool springs and gurgling streams

Wadi Bani Auf is about 10 minutes' drive from the ancient quarter of Al Rostaq, which is encircled by the dramatic profiles of the Al Jabal al Akhdar.

A little gap in the mountains, barely discernible from the main road, reveals the entrance to the wadi, which cuts a swathe deep into the mountainous terrain for about 26 kilometres.

Atop its craggy summit, a crumbling watchtower, picturesque in ruin, marks the entrance to the wadi. A short distance ahead, a splash of vivid green brings you to a delightful oasis village called Al Far'a.

Nourished by an underground falaj, date palms and an assortment of other trees, grow rich and thick. It makes an enchanting sight amid the barrenness of the wadi.

Vegetation is verdant for several kilometres along one side of the wadi, following the course of a perennially flowing falaj.Tucked away in the cool confines of this growth are the houses of local residents, shielded from the glare of the sun.

 

The rains, and the inevitable floods, are in fact vital to replenish the aquifers that feed aflaj and underground spring in the wadi. Yet, at times, they can also be the bane of these villages.

Sometimes, the flooding is so severe that date trees and crops get destroyed. After a heavy downpour, the wadi is in spate for at least 10-12 hours.

The roaring wadi then turns into a gentle stream, with cool, crystal-clear water, which flows for about 10 days thereafter. As a precaution, local villagers now grow their crops and date trees terraced-fashion along the higher elevations of the wadi.

 

Sweet lime, banana and fodder are also grown here. Because of its location at the bottom of a gorge, sunrise is almost three hours late over the wadi.

Likewise, dusk sets in early as the towering wadi walls cast a shadow over it.During winter, few other wadis can boast the kind of climate that residents of Wadi bani Auf enjoy.

The wadi turns pleasant, even chilly, especially after a spell of rains. Four-wheel driving is perhaps the ideal way of ensuring that all the natural delights offered by the wadi are yours to savour.

Ruined stone houses in Wadi Bani Auf

 

Parts of the wadi bed are gravelly, and often the bumpy track gets even bumpier in the aftermath of a flood. A four-wheeler drive is therefore a must.

A stream fed by overflowing aflaj and underground springs gurgles along the gravelly course of the wadi. Every now and then, visitors will come upon these springs, which feed aflaj that channel water for several kilometres into homes and plantations.

At Al Balidah, the stream suddenly disappears, and follows a subterranean course for a kilometre or two. It reappears overground thereafter, and meanders along the course of the wadi.

A fork in the wadi puts you in the direction of Al Jaf'r where the springs are more bountiful. Pools of crystal water in the wadi make for an inviting dip. Gnarled sidr trees — giant by Oman's arid standards — grow in the wadi.

 

Crystal pools of Wadi Bani Auf

The springs here are believed to have therapeutic properties. In fact, the local folk come here to invoke the 'spirits' of the spring to cure skin problems.

As part of the ritual, a goat or sheep is slaughtered on the occasion, a portion offered to the 'spirits' and the rest is feasted upon.The route to the springs is barely motorable even by four-wheel drive, hence the trail beyond will have to be covered on foot.

Most visitors to the wadi leave their vehicles behind at this point, and trek it out on foot. Snake Canyon lies not far ahead, with its sheer rock faces, cool springs and gurgling streams.

 

The gorge is considerably narrower along this stretch, with the canyon walls towering on both sides. It is here that you get an insight into nature's raw power where, over millions of years, it has cut a deep swathe through rocky terrain to vent its fury eventually into the sea.

The massive boulders and rocks strewn along the wadi bed hold evidence of furious floodwater action over the ages.At Al Qsmitien, the gorge widens a little.

On higher elevations along the wadi here, are the remains of stone houses, cobbled together with stones found on the wadi bed. These structures are a common feature wherever there are pockets of habitation in the wadis of Rostaq wilayat .

Before the advent of modern brick-and-cement housing, wadi residents lived in these structures. The ancient dwellings afforded tolerable shelter even in the heat of summer.

In fact, some dwellers still preserve these stone structures to use as a majlis during winter, side-by-side with their modern houses. The only peril, perhaps, is when scorpions or snakes take refuge in the crevices of these structures. In the event, the structure will have to be taken apart stone-by-stone until the unwelcome intruder is located and dealt with.

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