Reminders of the past come alive in Bausher, speaking to a shared history that we’d do well to preserve, as Swati Basu Das finds out.
A desire to behold the charms of a panoramic vista comprised of some of the oldest villages in Oman is one that will never be in vain.
In fact, while exploring the villages of our country one can see bruised and battered homes that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
The abandoned dwellings of Wadi Bani Habib in Jebal Akhdar, Misfah Al Abryeen near Bahla or Sab Bani Khalid in Jebel Shams have always been a major draw for tourists and residents alike.
But aren’t you eager to sneak into the remnants of residences from days gone by amidst the cityscape?
If so, head right into the heart of the city, where contemporary homes and modernity predominates, and you will find little nuggets of a bygone era.
In the Wilayat of Baushar, crumbled ruins bear witness to developments and are still humming their tales of yesteryear, to date. Cradled by the recent modern constructions around them, devoted villagers meticulously preserve their nostalgia with utter care and pride.
Khalil Al Baloushi, an official at Baushar Wali office, says: “These ruined houses belong to the villagers, who are now residing in modern homes nearby.
“These houses are more than 300 years old and we want to preserve their originality so as to retain the villages’ pastoral flavour. The villagers here shifted to their new homes in the 70s, and the homes have been untouched since then.”
Located 20 minutes off Muscat Expressway are the old-world emerald hamlets. Here the breeze blows with the fresh smell of mud, the rustling of date palms, the tweeting of birds and the burbling of falaj water.
Having moved a few metres away from their ruined mud houses around 50 years ago, people here are contented, and their cheery hospitality is palpable.
Much underrated, the name of these villages are seldom explored or Googled. Holding a rustic appeal, the villages of Al Hammam, Al Misfah, Al Maqqham, Al Aqhbiah are no less of a tourist spot.
Old houses back then were made of mud or clay and rocks from the nearby mountain, supported by wooden planks. Most homes were single-level and the number of rooms varied from two to five depending on the size of families.
Mohammed Hamood Al Jabri, a 90-year-old Al Hammam villager may be getting on a bit but his memory is still razor-sharp.
“I was born in those mud houses and the smell of the soil is still fresh. Our home had three rooms and an open porch,” he says.
As the senior citizen’s eyes glint over with thoughts of his childhood, he recalls: “We used to climb up the hills and eat fruits from farms, and bathe in the falaj water running by. The towers at the top of the hill were used to keep an eye on trespassers in times of turmoil.”
The Al Hammam village is famous for its geo-thermal hot spring. Used for irrigation and even for bathing, the warm water of this hot spring is a major source of the falaj system that has served the farmlands in this part of Baushar. Hammam meaning ‘to bath’ is therefore aptly-named. Travelling from deep down the Earth’s crust, the hot spring is celebrated for its therapeutic properties.
Since time immemorial, villagers have benefitted from this hot water, not least in the treatment of skin and joint problems.
Another villager, Nasra Saif Hamood Al Jabr, says: “It has a soothing effect on the skin and general health. The water is not only used for irrigation but also for bathing and drinking as well.
“As children, we used to bathe in the falaj water and even play. Now there are closed bath areas for ladies and gents separately. We even store this warm water in clay pots and drink it when it cools down. It is refreshing.”
A few kilometres from Al Hammam village, sits Al Misfah, an impressive relic amidst the Ghala industrial area. Cornered by heavy expansion, this petite village just radiates a certain enigma, even when in the lap of modern evolution. This small oasis has been a fertile boon from the hot spring of Al Hammam. The heritage homes and ruins of Al Maqqham village should also never be missed out on any trip.
The common factor amongst all these antique houses and their tales told by the villagers is the willingness to exist in the face of adversity, and then later, development.
So how long can the memories of Nasra and Mohammed be sustained? Will they remain as old relics or fade with time?
Khalil says: “It depends on the owners of these houses, whether they want to sell them for personal gain or retain their legacy. There is currently no immediate pressure from the government on the villagers to commercialise the land. Meantime, visitors and tourists can enjoy their visit that recalls a bygone era.” ν