Falaj Feb 25, 2010
One of the most fascinating discoveries about Oman was their use of the falaj (which is singular; aflaj is plural) to deliver water. These truly ancient irrigation systems (it is believed falaj technology was brought to Oman from the Persians around 1000 BC) are still actively used in the mountain regions where we spent most of our time and current estimates are 11,000 in operation today, of which 4,000 are constantly flowing.
In a nutshell, a falaj consists of a deep mother well (typically 65 to 200 feet deep) tunneled down into an aquifer with a substantial cistern excavated adjacent to gather the gushing output. As you might imagine, this is a precarious venture and in ancient Persia a falaj was commonly known as the “murderer”. From here the system simply relies upon gravity to channel the water downhill through underground tunnels and above ground conduits originally constructed of brick and mud (though today they are mainly concrete).
The water winds through fields and villages with numerous vents to deliver specific quantities of water to subscribers along the way. The amount of water you receive is determined by the size of your side channel, often plugged with rocks (we even noticed rags a few times) to trim the offshoot to the proper amount. The specific quantity of water you are entitled to is commonly an inherited right, but there are also auctions to purchase the flow you require.
I found it redeeming that so much confidence in one’s neighbors underlies the entire arrangement. It would be quite easy to unplug your channel for a bit to up your intake and if we attempted such an honor system in the US it would quickly become unworkable! However, this is more evidence of how deeply rooted the notion of common good is rooted in Omani culture.
We came across these irrigation systems everywhere and I was amused that the water was usually quite warm (and this in February). The falaj often run underground and in fact, this was a key to survival in many Omani forts – they would have an underground pipe supplying water which wouldn’t be interrupted during a siege. The ability to supply water to locales in such an arid climate usually guaranteed abundant plant life nearby and part of the delight of stumbling upon a falaj would be the rife greenery surrounding it!
Part of the Oman? Oh, Man! travel blog
1 / 1 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!