Shaquel al Balushi comes across the ghost town of Birakat Al Mouz, and appreciates a beacon of living from a bygone age.
Unlike most young guys growing up, I wasn’t a fan of spooky films. And the chilling sensation of being in a place that is completely deserted was not lost on my buddy Imran and me when we headed for the “ghost” village of Birkat al Mouz.
Stocked up with our water bottles, cereal bars, chocolate and dates, Imran and I set off at our usual time of 4am, just before sunrise. Our usual banter over what CDs to play on the way was unusually harmonious for this trip.
The journey takes a couple of hours and the village is about 140km from Muscat, heading towards the majestic mountains that surround Nizwa. Birkat al Mouz can be found between Nizwa and Izki at the crossing, about 2km from the base of the mountain at Jebel Akhdar. Coming from Izki, you can’t miss the plantation of date trees on your right.
It’s a “ghost town” all right. It became completely deserted after its denizens left the countryside to seek better lives in the city.
The name Birkat al Mouz literally means “a pool of bananas”. There is now a new town nearby, and the whole area is peppered with a planation of verdant green date trees, while the Jebel Akhdar mountain range presides over the area with an air of authority. The village is nestled at the base of the mountain.
If you’re a regular reader of my Destination page then you’ll know I’ve been lucky enough to have been to some of the most atmospheric places Oman has to offer.
But standing in a place surrounded by derelict buildings is a little sad, actually. This was once probably quite a vibrant little town, with people going about their business, socialising and generally looking out for each other, as most small communities generally do.
The houses are made of mud, and some of them are starting to crumble. It certainly gives me plenty of opportunities to get some nice shots.
A watchtower still presides over this place, and still somehow has the unmistakeable air of authority. Despite the decay you can still appreciate the skill and craftsmanship with which it was originally constructed.
One of the houses still has an active falaj (water channel) running through it while in another, we came across a pair of men’s shoes and noted the chipped painted remnants of traditional Omani décor. In the old mosque, the roof has fallen in and the beams are forlornly strewn on what remains of the floor. The door still bears its brass knob, though.
A few birds can be seen teetering on some of the walls but they are the only living things you will find here, apart from insects.
Given the precarious nature of the buildings, Imran and I have to take care. We stick to walking on the foundations and don’t venture too far into the middle of the old town.
We’re also careful where we leave the Jeep.
But you should really take your time in a place like this, anyway. On this hot day, the shade was pleasant enough for us to sit down on a dishevelled old wall and dip into our rucksack of supplies.
Strictly speaking, this is one of two now-abandoned villages (the other is Birkat Al Mawz, which would have been the home of the neighbouring tribe) at the base of the mountain range.
Imran and I found a twisting path, which was crude but still managed to guide us towards up the mountain.
We wanted the reward of a beautiful view and to appreciate how prominent a place Birkat al Mouz must have been in its heyday.
Coming down wasn’t so hard, either. We found another basic path and easily found an alleyway back to where we had parked the car.
Seeing old villages like this continues to remind us that people lived life before us. And despite the eerie emptiness of this place, they appear to have done it rather well.
Take the road from Muscat to Nizwa. Birkat al Mouz can be found between Nizwa and Izki at the crossing, about 2km from the base of the mountain at Jebel Akhdar.