Thursday, 6 June 2013

Tomb raiders.

We did that without Lara Croft along for the ride!

Inside a tomb, looking up
Last weekend the Chevy got loaded up and we took off for two days in the Hajar Mountains. We'd booked into a 4wd tour, run by "The Guide Oman", cost 40Rial each ($100 a head) BYO 4wd, tent etc, food, drink (soft) and guidance supplied. We were rather surprised on arrival at the set-off point to discover that 40 odd other cars were also booked to go along, plus the guide team. So just us and about a hundred of of our nearest (read never met any of them before) friends.

Apparently there was at least one other Australian there, but we never caught up. Instead we fell in with some Brits, Dutch.... A real mixed bag, including more South Africans than I have seen in the one spot.

Hajar Mountains
Heading off-road into the hills was a foretaste of what was to come.  Slow, slow, slow apparently some of the drivers had never driven on dirt roads before. Average pace dropped to about 20k and even Katrina was complaining that it was too slow. Still that let her sit in the passenger seat and take pictures of cars, rocks, winding roads, goats, rocks, cars and dust.

Cars, rocks, windy road and dust.....
So where are the tombs? Well we're getting there...

After about 40 minutes we stopped at a cleared space on a ledge overlooking the coast on one side and the mountains on the other. Spectacular views all-round!  After a while the locals appeared and a more than adequate buffet magically appeared. Around an hour later we waddled off to our cars for the second leg which took us to the Salma Plain and the entrance to Majlis Al Jinns (Meeting place of the Genies) cave.

I won't bore you with details of the drive.  The cave entrance a was impressive, unfortunately no entrance - and no way to get safely in. From where we stood looking down into a black abyss it was 120++ meters to the bottom.  Yep that's right 120, with no safety fencing - just a reliance on common sense.  At its deepest the cave goes to 180 meters.  Apparently there are plans to make a glass gondola that can be lowered into the cave so that us mere mortals can look around, what must be a fabulous sight.
The entrance to Majlis A Jinns
That black abyss is 120m straight down!
There are three entrances and sunlight streams in lighting what is one of the largest single caves in the world - think Hall of the Mountain King from Lord of the Rings/Hobbit size. Big enough to stack all the jumbo jets owned by a few airlines.

Sadly all we could do was look and then drive away to camp for the night. Little clusters of 4wd's gathered at likely spots, tents appeared, beds were made and then magically Eskies (Cool boxes, Chilly bins - you know what I mean) appeared. Hot and tired as we were the new task was set to with a vigor across the camp ground.
Camp Hunt
Watered (?), fed, talked out and tired bed quickly became the preferred option. It helped that being so high up the temperature was a good 15 or so degrees cooler than in Muscat. Made for a very nice night of sleep.

Morning beckoned fresh and  for a change well below thirty. Breakfast came and went, as we were all entertained by the antics of local donkeys and camels.  Once the camels worked out that a) there was food and b) people soft enough to share, they were all through the camp. Thrusting their heads at anyone who looked like they might feed them and with those big baby eyes...... Fickle friends they turned out to be, what no more food, I'm off looks like that person has something vaguely food like..... And then one of them found the breakfast buffet table. Luckily there were enough people at hand to stare said camel down and send her packing.

Entertainment over and camels gone we packed cars and headed off further into the mountains, once again at 20kph........... Up hill down dale, round that hairpin, through that village and on.

Finally we rounded a bend and there were the beehive tombs on both sides of the road, just begging to be explored.  So explore we did with enthusiasm and camera. I have no clear idea of how many tombs there were, but it was well into the tens.  Two rose proudly up in their full glory, showing off to the world. Around them lay half intact or fully fallen tombs making piles of rock on that desolate hilltop.  I strongly suspect that the two intact tombs had been rebuilt, they were just too pristine for what surrounded them.

So what are they - well apparently they are up to 5000 years old, built as tombs. Beautiful they were - let the pictures speak.
Katrina leads the way out
By the time Katrina and I had finished looking we were almost alone at the tombs - when we went in there were a good 15 to 20 cars there, minuted later when we came out - three guys in a dodge and the sweep car were all that were left.  So for the final thirty or so kilometres to the lunch break wadi I got to drive at a much more reasonable pace - yay!

And then after a swim - or two - in the pools we had another buffet at Wadi Tayeen and then back to Muscat by the inland route. We had driven into the mountains at the coast near wadi Tiwi and finally found civilisation again at Ibra - on the inland side of the Hajar mountains.

Because we'd seen the beehive tombs in the mountains we did a bit of research and found there were others, much closer to hand. So this morning (Thursday - being the first day of a long weekend) we headed off with 10 year old instructions. We knew these would be problematic as road building goes ahead apace. Sure enough after a lot of mucking around we found the village of Halban and even more mucking around in Halban (new houses abound) we found them. Another twenty or so beehive tombs, once again in various states of disrepair. None of them rebuilt.
Tombs at Halban

So once again tombs raided we set off for home - all of about 30k's this time - and tomorrow for the rest of the weekend we are off to Jebel Shams - the highest mountain in the country which abuts Oman's Grand Canyon.

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