Stir your spirit with a trip to the site of a famous battle, says Jerzy Wierzbicki
To my mind, there are few places scattered around the world that have a truly compelling atmosphere.
On first impression, it’s hard to say what draws you in. These places are not spectacularly pretty or outwardly memorable. But most of them have a unique spirit and we feel some strange pull to go back there.
Here in Oman, there is one particular place where I feel something special. It’s a small town called Mirbat, located just 70 kilometres from Salalah on the Indian Ocean shoreline.
This year, I have been there three times, each one a magical experience.
The first time was at the beginning of July during the Khareef or monsoon season. A veil of fog was placed over the whole town and the temperature was much lower than usual.
As I arrived late afternoon, there was just time for a quick walk between the old town and the fishing port. Next day, I was lucky. The weather hadn’t changed, so it was still cold enough to spend lots of time outside with my camera.
Strolling around the old town, I was struck again by some indefinable quality that captured my imagination. Undoubtedly the fog and moody weather added to the ambience. I could hear the whispers of the waves and, carried in the air, the call of the seagulls circling above me. At that point in time, I wanted nothing more.
After half an hour, I took a break and sat on a small stone near the beach. On the horizon, I saw a few dhow boats rocking lazily on the waves. The ocean seemed to be very thick and looked like a giant puddle of mercury.
I had installed my camera on a small tripod and moved between the small, old houses in the town. Some of the dilapidated Yemeni-style mud brick structures, decaying from time and neglect, are fascinating.
Historically, the little town has made its mark too. The Battle of Mirbat took place on July 19, 1972 during the Dhofar Rebellion, in which British troops and Omanis held off 400 insurgents. The 25-pounder gun (now known as the ‘Mirbat gun’) used during the siege is now housed in a museum of the Royal Artillery in London.
Perhaps this history engraved in Mirbat’s past is part of the appeal for me.
During my first visit, I captured the scene around the port, with abandoned boats and old fishermen’s nets.
I vowed to return soon and did so a few months later. Another chance came in October during Eid. Dhofar was still lush and green from the rains but Mirbat was my main destination during the trip.
The weather was quite different from before. It was sunnier, with only a few clouds in the sky and a strong wind. Because the light was stronger, I could focus on the details of the old town buildings.
The colourful doors along with many handcrafted wooden decorations completed my photographic journey of Mirbat, which had begun three months before.
As early afternoon settled, I pulled over my car next to the sea and made a strong, sweet black tea. The wind was blowing a bit stronger as I sat on the beach near to Mirbat Castle, site of the battle, and watched the boats on the ocean.
Before I left, I wanted to check out some rocks behind the town, where I had noticed lots of birds. I quickly put a long lens on my camera and headed to the rocky shoreline.
I parked my car just a 100 metres from the beach and slowly moved closer to the birds. It was late afternoon and the sun was dipping low in the sky, close to sunset.
Warm light was my ally for getting some good photos. I sat between two big black stones and observed the birds around me. Suddenly one of them landed just 15 metres from me to dry its wings. I was ready with the camera.
Mirbat will always hold a special place in my affections. Go see for yourself and experience the ‘genius loci’ of the town.
Total distance from Muscat is 1099 km. Take Route 31 to Salalah and from here, keep going to Mirbat. The old town is in the central part very close to the main tourist attraction, Mirbat Castle. You do not need a 4×4.
GPS Location of the old town and Mirbat Castle: E54°41’29.75” N16°59’33.51”