As I was lining up a photograph, my focus was solely on the image that I was about to take, so I was taken by surprise when I heard a voice shouting out to me. Looking up, I saw an elderly lady dressed in vivid blue with a headscarf in the distance. Her native tongue was a thick Arabic language and one that I didn’t fully understand, being very different from the Muscat dialect that I’m used to. I was worried that she was shouting at me to stop taking photographs but my friend, who understood her words, said she was simply wishing me good day and asking how I was.
Our journey had only taken us 45 minutes from Amerat, where I live, but this felt like another world, a different Oman and one very rich in traditions, where the past lives on.
Al Hajar, a small village, skirts the edge of the mountains. It must have been here for centuries as I found some ruins (probably houses) up on the hillside, crumbling away into the earth from where they once came from. Running through the heart of the place is a falaj, a source of water and life for the inhabitants here.
I shot some images of the falaj, which looks as though it’s been slightly modified and updated since it was first built. At one point, I found some carpets spread out in perfect symmetry on the road by the side of the falaj. I wasn’t sure if these had been left out to dry after being washed in the cool waters or whether they were placed there for people to chill out in the early evening as the sun slipped behind the mountains. Whatever the reason, I liked the contrast of the fabric and water.
I also managed to shoot a nice image of the falaj with the little village mosque in the background, standing out against the bright blue of the sky. But I wanted more, so decided to get creative.
Squatting over the falaj, similar to moves that I use to exercise at the gym, I managed to hold the camera low down, just above the running water, to take some photographs. The result is to make the falaj look like it’s a huge wadi and its stone walls to become towering sides of a cliff. I was really pleased with the shot and its clever manipulation of perspective.
While doing this, I noticed that a seat of sorts had been fashioned into the side of the falaj, allowing someone to sit with their feet dangling into the cooling water.
I imagine that it must be particularly refreshing in the hot summer months.
Further along, there were also some pipes with running water from the falaj, providing a great place for an outdoor shower or washing clothes (perhaps those carpets that I had seen earlier).
A local man we encountered wandering around the village told us that the source of the water was an underground spring, which had long been covered up by earth. Harnessing this water keeps the village and its inhabitants alive, feeds the crops and the animals.
I was also attracted to the small mosque that stood proudly in the village, with its golden dome and single minaret, from where the call to prayer booms across the rooftops. The mosque was made of different stone to the older houses, a darker brown, although it wasn’t like the brooding hue of the omnipresent rocky outcrops of the mountains that stand guard over the village like guardians.
As it was early morning the day before the Prophet’s Birthday when we visited, there wasn’t much sign of life in Al Hajar when we were there, although the people we did happen to come across were very friendly.
Funnily enough, I realised that I had been to the village before, a long time ago when I was a little boy but I couldn’t remember any of the features, only a sense that I had trod these streets before.
My visit back has piqued my interest and I’ll certainly return again, at different times of the day and seasons, to see what more Al Hajar has to offer.
Take Route 17 from Muscat and continue on for around 45 minutes. The village is signposted.
GPS location of Al Hajar: