The first time I saw Fanja was through the chaotic beauty of raindrops on the car window while my friend was slowly trying to figure out where the road was. That was four years ago. We were headed to Rustaq to visit Ain Thowarah but a beautiful, refreshing rain decided to welcome us as we exited Muscat. Seeing the lush green canopies of the date farms from afar, my husband suggested we go check out what that ‘luscious beauty’ was all about.
The rain didn’t last long as it usually does in September. But it was enough to drench the plants on the field and as they sway with the cool breeze, I thought they were happy to have that moment of respite from the heat.
Passing through the snaking road that led towards the farms, I was barely listening as the two men in front erupted into a verbal fight over which road to take. Not paying them any mind and from where I was seated in the back, I took my time enjoying how the old and new mix together in that village that to this day remained nameless to me.
Even then, under my breath, I whispered it looked ‘beautiful.’ It was a charming scene, one that I usually just see in postcards — the brown, dominating presence of the village ruins peeking from the sea of green.
We stopped by an old mud tower, the same tower that overlooks the newer bridge a few hundred kilometres away. My two companions dashed off to climb it and seeing how rotten it looked, I rebuked the idea but eventually changed my mind when I saw them on the top shouting the beauty they see down below. It was safe, they said.
The tower was on someone’s farm although the owner might be home faraway enjoying late lunch with his family. When I slowly climbed the muddy stairs, I realised that it was sturdier than I first thought. While some portions of it were damaged and the stairs were missing some good steps, I was able to get to the top without a problem.
There were small windows facing nearly all directions. Seeing that my two excited companions were both hunched on the one facing the mountains, I inched forward to the one facing the wadi.
“This is not a place for an Omani woman’’, I said to myself. Knowing what I know now, different towers in Oman served different purposes. This one in particular is a watchtower allowing the villagers to see who is coming. From where I was peering through, I can see the falaj down below barely a metre away from a cliff that drops towards the wadi.
In my next visits, I would discover that the farms are divided into different owners. The water flows continuously but is divided among the farms.
I was only at the top of the tower for 10 minutes but it felt like a long time. There were so many things to process, so many scenes to appreciate, and so much history to contemplate. I wondered where that ancient Fanja village was, the one where they used to have dance celebrations on special occasions. They said that a spring runs eternally under that ancient settlement and that very spring has been providing the villages with the water they need for their farms.
I remembered enjoying trailing the falaj and the awe I felt to see the tower from the point of view of the wadi. It was a powerful tower and rising above the tall grasses, I could have sworn I saw a photo of it a long time ago, somewhere not Oman and somewhere in the wet, landscape of Ireland or Britain.
That first visit to Fanja would only get enhanced with every visit. On our next visits, we discovered many more amazing things — the roads that cut through the heart of Fanja actually is a shortcut to the roads of Rustaq, that the pots that are sold in the souq are delivered from the potters of far off wilayats including Bahla. I’ve tried my first dried shark from the Fanja souq and I’ve also bought my first Oman mementoes from a forgotten store at the far end of the old market.
We recently explored Fanja again but this time traversing the long expanse of the wadi. The wadi bed is still dry but the plants on the farms are still as lush as ever. We saw that first tower we climbed four years back and from where we were parked in the wadi, it was as powerful as I remembered it — a little bit older but still possessing so much character it covers the sun from some angle.
The grasses still waved, the wind still cool although there was no rain. This is what I love about Oman. It’s the little discovery that you can’t have anywhere else. As I followed the falaj trail passing by the tower, my naughty excited dog Pfiper jumping around, I told myself that time is slow in this part of the world. I’ve grown four years older but the stark, beautiful landscape of Fanja remains almost untouched just like the way I saw it the first time. If I visit it in another four years, there will still be little changes and for some reason, that gave a little comfort. Some of us escape big cities to appreciate the beauty of life. And I definitely am taking my time.