Saturday, 3 August 2013

Roooned I tells ya, roooned....

No I'm not talking about English Football, rather the ruins that scatter Oman.

One of the things about work is that around the halls and offices there are pictures of things and places in Oman. One of the pictures I paid heed to this week was of a ruined castle/fort/keep. Where's that I asked - Oh that's in Bowshar I was told! Bowshar, that's a suburb in Muscat, no problems an easy day out for sure.

So when I got home from work I said to Katrina, "Did you know there's a fort in Bowshar?"
"No, but I got lost in Bowshar not long ago and found some really narrow streets with deserted traditional houses in them." She replied.
If I put the keystone back, will that save the fort?
After a bit of online research - not much found - two pictures that reasonably matched the office picture I'd seen, but taken in 2004/5, so reasonably recent, but with useless directions because so much has changed. Looking good the fort looked in reasonable shape and the photographers talked about being able to go up stairs inside it.  Promising!

Bowshar Fort Circa Nov 2005 - Photo courtesy of Panoramia and taken by Siddiq Balushi

Google maps weren't much help, so today we set off to have a look see. If we couldn't find the castle/fort/keep then we could just get lost in Bowshar and see the old houses. There was a plan to go further afield too, but that went west after two hours of poking around Bowshar. And given that it's still Ramadan, so no eating or drinking outdoors - at all - being seen risks a fine or worse!

So down the highway, turn at the Muscat Grand Mall, on past the Bowshar dune and towards the hills. On into parts of Bowshar that I did not know existed. Pretty soon we started to see the green of date palm tree-tops - a sure sign of the Falaj (ancient water distribution system) at work. Where there's date farms clustered around an old Falaj there's sure to be a stronghold of some type nearby! After all the Ministry of Heritage consistently quote that there are more than 500 Castles or Forts in Oman! (This all dates back to the recent past of a tribal based society, where you may not be safe from reasonably near neighbors.)

Following our noses - well driving towards the biggest green cluster, we started to explore side streets. Not encouraging all new "Mc Mansions" lining the streets. Keep going - hang on what was that, back up and sure enough in the near distance the remnants of a tower top plain to see. After about five more minutes we discovered that had we ignored the side turn and driven straight for another 50 metres the Bowshar fort and its entrance road were immediately visible to the left. Sigh!
Tower remnants

To say that the fort had deteriorated somewhat in less than ten years would be an understatement! We drove up to the fort and parked. The basic structure of the fort is still there, a square construct, around 30 meters a side, with round towers at diagonal corners. We poked around taking pictures and were rather stunned at how rapid the deterioration has been. Given how much has happened since 2005, it seems likely that it must have been in use through the seventies and possibly later.
Bowshar Fort in its "glory"
Omani fortifications (and traditional houses) are often/typically made of packed earth (mud - aggregate mix), with some stone mixed in and stony foundations. Means they're relatively easy to make and maintain, but when left to fend for themselves they rapidly deteriorate.  Sadly it seems this one is not on the list of forts to be restored as left alone it will soon be no more than a pile of mud and stone, sitting atop a small hill.

Still we had fun poking around the ruins, but being good boys and girls nothing came away with us.

Bait Al-Maqham
After the fort we headed off deeper into "old" Bowshar and found Bait Al-Maqham (House of the Maqham's) after Bowshar Fort we had no great hopes, but were pleasantly surprised. These two forts are no more than 3 kilometers apart and what a contrast. Sadly Bait Al-Maqham was not open and from the lack of signage it would seem to remain in private hands. Everything looks to be well maintained and the date palms in the grounds appear well kept.

Ruins ahoy!
From there we explored crumbling houses. Interestingly rooms appear to be much smaller than current buildings and the houses packed much closer together. Sharing walls in many cases, this is something we noted in Adam, Jebel Akhdar and other places with traditional homes. Once again the houses are the mud mix. Floorboards are made from split palm trunks laid side by wide, with palm fronds to provide the flooring. But sadly these houses too are in advanced states of disrepair and to enter many of the rooms would be to invite trouble.

Partly fallen/intact flooring
Home shelving traditional style.
So off we went, with a side-trip to the Bowshar dune, try as I might the sand was just too soft for me to get to the top. And I wasn't interested in letting the tyres down to sand pressures, so after traumatizing Katrina for a while I gave up and we headed off to refuel the bodies. Thank-you Radisson for keeping the bar and grill open. No sooner had we sat than I realized that television on the wall was playing the Brumbies, against some NZ team. Turned out to be the final - Ah well better luck next year Canberra.

After a few weeks of working every day it was nice to have time out!

This week is only three days and then Ramadan ends, followed by the Eid celebrations. So the office shuts down on Wednesday and the return to work is either Sunday or Tuesday, depending on when the astrological observation is made by the duly appointed observers...

So on Thursday we will be off to Masirah Island, where there's the prospect of camping, kayaking, ship wrecks, turtle hatching and goodness knows what else.  So after considerable time of not much............  

Weird televised sport 2 for the day - drag racing, up sand dunes!

More ruins, showing how close things were built.

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