Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | Muharram 17, 1444 H
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Abu Fashighah: The sand-covered village in Jalan Bani Buali’s Wadi Al Murr

Throughout the day, the wind blew hard. It carried with it dust and sand that cover everything in its path. At one point, it was a thriving village with nearly a dozen concrete houses. The inhabitants owned camels and goats that roamed freely across several kilometres of dry land where grass and shrubs grow sporadically but transform into a green wilderness during rainy seasons.

The village eventually died as the sand piled up. According to some villagers, a sandstorm which happened 30 years ago totally buried the whole village and rather than reviving the village, they decided to leave instead.

From July to September, the cold wind that made khareef possible in Dhofar is also the same strong wind that tortures this tiny town. Over time, the sand grew higher and higher coming into the houses, entering tiny holes and filling up nooks and crannies. In a fight between man and nature, nature always wins. This is the best place that exemplified that. The challenges posed by constant flooding and desertification would eventually drive the townspeople away.

Finding this old village nearly 30 minutes off the town centre of Jalan Bani Buali is a challenge. From the main road, it was almost a 15-minute drive deeper into rough tracks that disappear when it floods.

Some called this the buried village of Wadi al Murr. An international news story made it sound that the whole village was buried under the sand, referring to it as “swallowed by the desert.” AFP further claimed that they interviewed a local making it sounds that the “moving dunes had re-exposed some of the dwellings” and that it has created nostalgia, and thus the interest of the inhabitants to revisit their old homes.

Our visit showed that the last dwellings are holding on, trying their best to remain intact despite the onslaught of the elements.

We made some inquiries in nearby towns for people who might have an idea about the village. Information was hard to get as some of the villagers had moved far from their former homes. Some referred to it as the Village of Abu Fashighah and while they seem to know its location, has totally lost track of its stories.

After passing through a series of wadis and private farms dotted by thick-leaved trees, we droved through sandy rough tracks. The recent rains had encouraged pockets of greens to emerge so the usually dreary brown desert scene usually we saw on social media was replaced by a somewhat refreshing landscape.

It’s hard to imagine what life was like in this village. There are no electric poles which meant that electricity would not have made it to this part. The nearby towns also relied on water delivery trucks which meant the local source of potable water was hard to come by.

Just like other villages, the mosque is one of the still distinguishable features of the village. Some of the houses remain intact but filled with sands inside. For the rest of the houses, you can still trace the foundations.

Getting inside the houses is eerie. Typical of traditional Omani homes, the ceilings are carved with ornate art. The windows are small, enough for the light to enter. The doors to the houses are mostly open with sand spilling out. You can still tell which one is the kitchen, which one is the room and which one is the majlis. They were simple dwellings and had the people found a way to keep the sand away, they would have stayed. It was a nice scenic environment with mountains of sands competing with solid rocks but the challenges were too much even for people who’ve lived their lives contending with the desert.

In the late afternoon, it was hard to sit on top of the dunes in the middle of the village. The strong winds move the sand so fast that in five minutes, no part in your body is not covered in sand.

The village of Abu Fashighah, as some of the locals we asked pointed out, is becoming a tourist attraction. On our visit alone, there were a few groups of travellers just wanting to see what the town looks like.

It has an appeal to it, nostalgia as some people describe. But visiting the village, one is also reminded of the stark reality that the sand is moving in. Whether one believes in climate change or not and its off-shot of desertification, humans are losing fast.

Instagram: @yru_here

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