We don’t expect any mercy as we stand in the middle of the ruins. It almost feels criminal to think of luxuries, even the small ones, as we stand in the rubble that was a lively village, once upon a time. So we just let the sun beat down on us, as we inspect house after house (or whatever little remain of them) trying to imagine what life would have been here before the rubble.
May be a child played here in front of the remains of this house where we are standing, may be a mother nursed her baby right in this room, may be a father was waved goodbye here – the possibilities seem endless.
Maybe it is the silence and the solitude, maybe it is just that our imagination is working overtime today. Either way, this ghost village seems to take on a life of its own as we spend more and more time examining the ruins almost enabling us to visualise what life would have been.
Probably the task is made easier by the live falaj that still runs through the village. Reconstruct the houses and put the people in and it’s a village like any other since it has the most precious commodity – water. But that would be another story. For now we examine shards of pottery strewn around the ruins, a palm tree that has fallen right inside a house that was, its leaves burnt by the unforgiving summer sun years ago, its trunk now frozen in time, almost blending with the sepia around it.
The ruined village in Tanuf nestled in the foothills of Jebel Akhdar is not exactly tourist material, especially if you are looking for pleasant experiences only. But then if you don’t mind a cathartic experience and don’t mind delving a little deeper into yourself, turn right soon after the board which says Bahla. Take the next right turn and the village rises in sepia rubble to your left, beneath the Western Hajar range that once watched over it protectively.
Oman has no dearth of abandoned villages, many of which are in ruins and offer fantastic photo opportunities. But the Tanuf ruins are different and if you like a little unpredictability, let your imagination take over as we did today.
An hour later we are looking down at the rest of Oman from the fairytale village of Misfat al Abriyeen, glad to be in the midst of so much of noise and action. It’s just after the Friday prayers, so the community of what some calls the oldest lived-in village in Oman is out in full strength.
Children in dishdashas run past us at breakneck speed calling out to each other jubilantly, men stroll around with their walking sticks. Almost everyone, young and old, seem to be carrying walking sticks. We can even see some of the women folk on the terraces, laying out dates for drying.
Enchanted is the word that easily comes to mind as we watch the village chiselled into the mountainside. With many of its houses made of rocks and pebbles and precariously perched on boulders, this is a village like no other.
For an instant we almost foolishly worry that they may fall apart as a strong breeze wafts past us. But then reason returns and we stand gazing, content in the knowledge that these dwellings have been around for hundreds of years and probably will outlast all of us by many more years.
Just as we stand wondering whether it’s possible to drive down the village – the path seems a little narrow for comfort – a Pajero zooms past us from the village, clearing any doubts on that count. We are soon inside the village, sans the car, and happier for the experience.
With its winding pathways and houses almost piled on top of each other, there is no level ground here but that is what makes the walk even more interesting. It is just a short hike through the alleys between the stone houses, past the mosque, to the plantations and the falaj system that runs through them, irrigating the crops.
As we drive back home, we can’t but feel that sometimes the best journeys are the ones that are not planned. This was a trip that was not meant to be. It was supposed to be a relaxed Friday to put our feet up after a hectic workweek but the kids had a different idea.
My husband is not exactly the type who is thrilled by surprises of this kind. But then, daughters have this inimitable way of twisting fathers around their little fingers and he is not immune to such charms. That’s how we found ourselves on the road on this Friday morning and no particular place to go.
The simplest and most logical destination had seemed Nizwa, the touristy old capital of the sultanate but we were in no mood to tackle the crowd a Friday would definitely bring. That’s how we headed to Misfat al Abriyeen and Tanuf.
Located within a few kilometres of each other, they offer entirely different perspectives and experiences – almost as contrasting as day and night or life and death, if you prefer more drama. And that is precisely the reason why it makes sense to make a quick trip there if you have nothing to do next Friday.
Published on 5/9/09