Y Magazine

Here’s why you should visit this secret Falaj in Al Amerat

The idyllic village of Al Amerat is home to plenty of wadis, war-torn forts, and farms. But, the hidden gems – the aflaj – are often overlooked by tourists. Shaquel al Balushi takes a trip back to his hometown to discover the crystal-clear waters that run through the veins of the town.

There are several places in Oman that invoke a sense of pride in me. These are areas that bear much significance to the past of this wonderful nation – and it includes forts, wadis, ancient cities, mausoleums, and so on. But more often than not, we, the people of Oman, gloss over something – an all-Omani creation – that put this country on the world map centuries ago: the aflaj system.

Those reading this would probably know that the irrigation system came into being as early as AD500 and it was soon adopted across countries in the Middle East. The traces of the ancient water system can, to date, be seen in countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, here in Oman we can still boast some of the world’s most well-known aflaj, like the Falaj Al-Khatmeen,  Falaj Al-Malki, Falaj Daris,  Falaj Al-Mayassar, and Falaj Al-Jeela – all of which have been designated UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’.

My first experience with one, however, wasn’t with one of the more acclaimed aflaj, but with a rather humbler one: the Falaj al Amerat.

Today, the city of Al Amerat is lush with water pipelines that feed water 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but turn back the sands of time and you’ll realise that an entire community of Omanis depended on this very falaj for their sustenance.

So, there’s no denying that it’s a feature – maybe even a landmark – that is of great importance to the nation.

Walking into the falaj brought back a lot of memories; the most potent of which was my first-and-only trip to the locale as an eight-year-old boy.

I vividly remember my father taking me – a pesky, little hyperactive kid – on an adventure into the falaj in the hope of letting me swim.

As I entered the falaj, I couldn’t help but be taken back 30-odd years – to a time when life was much simpler. The sound of my father telling me to stay safe rang in my head once again.

Shedding those thoughts, I delved deeper into the heart of the falaj. Not much has changed since then in Al Amerat, though. Sure, the landscape has been transformed: there are now modern homes, shops, and cars flocking the city.

But entering the whereabouts of the falaj through the alleyways is still like making your way through a maze of green date palm trees and shrubs. It’s almost like walking through a set from the Aladdin cartoon that we grew up watching.

Once there, I realised that the structures had been completely reworked. The water now flows through a canal built of concrete, as opposed to cement or stones (which were used to divert the water in the old days). The falaj snakes deep into agricultural grounds, feeding fresh water across several kilometres of land.

Without haste, I began clicking pictures of the falaj and the surrounding remains of old sand and stone homes. The latter remains beaten down, as the winds continue to etch their way into the fragile structure, taking out one large chunk of sand at a time.

In another 100 years, these structures will completely disappear off the face of earth.

But just as I began clicking photos of the structures, I heard laughter from the corner of the falaj.

Intrigued, and frankly quite surprised by the presence of life in the falaj at 6am, I headed towards it. But it was only a father and son taking a dip in the fresh and crystal-clear falaj waters.

I cannot deny: this brought a tear to my eye.

It was like watching my father take me to the falaj for a swim. I realised it was destiny that had brought me there at the time when they were out for a swim. Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of telling me to cherish the good times I had with my father.

A few more snaps of the falaj later, I quickly checked myself with a vital question: why do a flaj continue to exist in Oman?

The answer to that was more profound than I’d imagined. Maybe the falaj system isn’t just about dispensing water to the needy farmers and homes today. It’s about the several lives that were once created around it for centuries, and that itself is good reason for its continued existence today.