Cyclone Gonu made its mark on many places in Oman when it struck in 2007. Shaquel al Balushi visits an old childhood haunt and finds it’s still in the process of recovery
Wadi Mayh originates at Al Hajar and flows for 25 kilometres towards Yiti, where it joins the sea. Growing up in Amerat, which is just 15 minutes up the road, we used to explore the area as children, although the last time I visited properly must have been nine years ago now.
We passed through on a BMW driving event during my first week with Y Magazine back in December, which reminded me that I must revisit soon and that’s exactly what I decided to do last week.
Even when we used to visit as kids, the area had a bit of a spooky feel, almost as if it was haunted. I remember there was no electricity and the whole area was very dark; we tried to sleep outside one summer, but it was just too hot and uncomfortable.
Cyclone Gonu, the strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea, devastated many coastal areas in Oman when it hit in 2007 and the area around Mayh was flooded, wreaking havoc on several of the small villages dotted along the winding wadi. Now, that eerie feeling has been multiplied tenfold.
Passing through Al Hajar, the mountains begin to close in on either side of you and the asphalt road abruptly stops, giving way to a dusty dirt track. Water is still visible to the side of the road and while it resembles a small purpose-built falaj, it’s not.
These are areas where the road used to be, but have been damaged by the rush of water through the wadi. You can still see the traces of the old roads and infrastructure that used to be in place; huge chunks of concrete with twisted metal poles sticking out are visible, strewn carelessly around and a frightening reminder of the power of nature.
For me, there is a whole different feel to the area in the post-Gonu era. Before, people used to drive the road, but all I saw on this occasion were trucks and working vehicles. The area was very dusty.
The first real signs of life came about five kilometres after the black-top road gave way to the dirt track, in the form of a small settlement. The buildings of the village had marks and stains on the walls, showing just how high the waters had risen when the cyclone struck eight years ago.
As I was shooting some photos, an Omani family pulled up next to me in a car and offered help, thinking that I had broken down. I thanked them and explained that I was a photographer, but this just shows the generous nature of the local people, who have clearly learned to work together to overcome the hardships they were forced to endure.
I didn’t really spot any signs of rebuilding when I was exploring the wadi; the whole area has a sort of frozen-in-time quality. However, my favourite snap of the day offered a sharp contrast between the old and the new. After the wadi was flooded by the storm, a new road was built, right next to the old one, which is now nothing more than a dusty track. You can tell that the road is still very new due to the sharpness of the colours; the tarmac is a very dark grey, while the white and yellow markings are both incredibly bright. The two roads sit there side by side and that image spoke a thousand words to me.
Although Wadi Mayh has changed significantly since we used to visit, it still retains a desolate beauty. The structure of the mountains is amazing and many of the rocks have been washed smooth over the years. I’d fully recommend paying a visit and just wandering through this semi-ghost town.
How to get there:
From Muscat, take road 17 through Amerat towards Al Hajar. Take the exit for Al Hajar and go left at the first roundabout and straight over the next two. This will bring you directly to the point where the road gives way to a dirt track.
GPS location of the dirt track: N23° 24’ 25” E58° 31’ 19”