Bahla

31 Oct 2013
POSTED BY Y Magazine

There are few places that evoke times past quite like this town and fort in the shadow of the mountains, finds Jerzy Wierzbicki



As I wandered through old Bahla, the glowering sky with its dark, foreboding clouds gave the mud-brick houses an added tinge of eeriness that sent tingles down my spine.
I am not easily influenced by the idea of haunted places, ghosts or spirits, but there is something about the ancient fort town that takes hold of you as you explore its abandoned streets.
Like all the most impressive archeological sites in Oman, it benefits from the dilapidated condition of its buildings – mercifully, they haven’t been spruced up to make them tourist-friendly but are like petrified ghosts of a lost civilisation.
I say lost, but make no mistake – as you walk among narrow passages peering into empty, crumbling houses, it feels as if the spirit of this place is as strong as ever.
Bahla, more than any location in Oman, is shrouded in legends of occult forces, and it is known as the place to go to find expertise in the casting out of evil spirits.
On this visit, though, I was in no need of such services – all I wanted to do was soak up the unique atmosphere and capture the mood on camera.
I was assisted by the weather, with threatening clouds adding to the sense of something ominous. For photography, the conditions were perfect.
I took one camera with an ultra-wide angle lens, moving slowly between the ruins and the palm trees.
There was almost no sound and the silence was of a special quality, something I always crave after being in the big city.

bahla-garden

bahla-house
Like other towns located beneath the Jebel Akhdar highlands, it is in a very fertile area with many date palm orchards and farms watered by mountain springs and a network of falaj.
With a storm brewing, I was taken back many years to when I was an archeology student travelling with a group to southern Poland, where there are a lot of ruined medieval castles. Invariably we were accompanied by the wind and rain.
When you look closely at the old houses, there are many finely carved wooden details in the doors, beams and window frames, attesting to the great skill of the craftsmen who made them.
Life unfolds slowly and quietly in Bahla. After an hour walking around the ancient part of town, I drove to the bazaar with its very narrow streets, just an inch wider then my car.
There are many very high palm trees in and around the bazaar, hiding old houses in the shade of their branches. In one of the streets, I smelt burning wood. I stopped my car and followed the smoke.
Suddenly, I witnessed a view that immediately reminded me of the black and white photographs I have seen in books about the Oman of old.
I had the sensation that I was back in the past. An Omani man was smoking dried palm leaves and the entire area was covered by the greyish fumes and pungent aroma.
The smoke wafted through the palm trees, creating a magical atmosphere.
Slowly, I changed the lens on my camera to capture the moment. I did not want to disturb the scene, so I stayed in the background.
I was greatly affected by it all and I wanted to savour the feeling for as long as possible. Reluctantly, I headed back to my car.
Inside, I poured some strong, sweet tea into a mug and filled my briar pipe with some good tobacco, lighting up under a colourful Bougainvillea tree.
For the next half hour, I listened to the whispers of this remarkable place and felt myself entranced by the spirit of the moment and location.
In the evening it was too dark to take photographs but, inspired by my experience, I vowed to return soon with a medium format camera and tripod and take some black and white pictures.
Without doubt, Bahla had cast its powerful spell over me.
It is a must visit for anyone who claims to be seriously interested in the history
of Oman.

bahla-detail

bahla-door

bahla-pot

bahla-scene

bahla-section-cover

bahla-smoke

bahla-street

bahla-wood
TRAVEL GUIDE
Bahla is around 200km from Muscat. Head to Nizwa and continue on the same road for 40km to reach it. The UNESCO-listed medieval fort, made of unbaked brick and stone, originally dates back to the pre-Islamic era. The defensive wall is the oldest in Oman. It is huge and impressive, stretching 12 kilometres around the old town. A restoration has preserved the authenticity of the architecture and, after years of being closed to the public, it is now open on some days.

GPS location of the old town:
E57°18’4.41 N22°57’45


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