East of Ibri, Highway 21 roars purposefully east towards Bahla, just under 100km distance. The area is home to two of Oman’s most celebrated prehistoric sites: the beehive tombs at Bat and Al Ayn. The former is more likely to appeal to dedicated archeologists or students of ancient history than casual visitors, though the latter, with a string of beehive tombs lined up dramatically atop a rocky ridge, is well worth the detour from the main highway.
Some 37km further east from Bat, the small village of AL AYN is home to another superb collection of Bronze Age necropolises. The appeal of the tombs here is their spectacular setting, strung out along a narrow ridgetop and dramatically backdropped by the craggy outline of Jebel Misht (literally “Comb Mountain”, named on account of its distinctively serrated ridgetop), one of the largest of the various geological “exotics” which dot this part of Oman. There are 21 tombs in total, most of them well preserved, and late afternoon is a particularly magical time to see them.
To reach Al Ayn from Bat, follow the directions outlined above. Follow the road to Al Ayn until you reach a T-junction just before the village. Turn left here and you’ll see the tombs up on your left on top of the ridge as you drive into the village, around 500m past the T-junction. It’s a straightforward ten-minute walk from the road up to the tombs, although there’s no obvious path. Cross the wadi bed and scramble up a track roughly opposite the big mosque at the entrance to the village.
Al Ayn is also accessible via two side-roads from the Ibri–Nizwa highway. Approaching from Ibri, take the turn-off at the village of Kubarah signed to Amla. Approaching from Nizwa, take the turning about 13km further down the road by the Al Maha petrol station, also signed to Amla.
Around 30km east of Ibri, the small village of BAT is home to a remarkable array of Bronze Age tombs, towers and other remains, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 (along with those at nearby Al Ayn). The site dates back to between 2000 and 3000 BC, forming, according to UNESCO, “the most complete collection of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BC in the world”. To the untrained eye, it’s difficult to make much sense of the remains you see on the ground, although the sheer scale of the ruins is impressive and the whole place is particularly beautiful towards dusk, when the light turns the surrounding hills a rich russet, their ridges dotted with the enigmatic remains of one of Oman’s most ancient civilizations. If you want to have a look at the tombs before visiting, there are a couple of nice 360-degree panophotographs of the site (and also of nearby Al Ayn) at whttp://www.world-heritage-tour.org/middle-east/oman/bat/map.html.
The archeological site
Getting there is the first challenge. From Ibri, follow the road to Yanqul for about 15km then take the signed turn-off on the right to Bat and follow the road as it loops through a small village, past a mosque, straight on across a small roundabout and then turn right along the unsigned road in front of Al Dreez Modern Market. From Yanqul, take the signed turn-off on your left to Bat then the left turn signed to Al Wahrah, which brings you to the road in front of Al Dreez Modern Market. Follow the road past Al Dreez Modern Market for about 13km to reach a turning on the left signed to Al Banah and Al Hajar – this is the road on to Al Ayn.
Ignore this turning for the moment and continue straight ahead for a further 2km to reach a blue sign on the left saying Wadi al Ain 23km and pointing down a dirt track. Follow this track for about 1km (you’ll see the remains of a prominent white tower up on the hillside to your left) until you reach a ruined tower in a fenced enclosure next to the track on your right; park hereabouts. You’re now pretty much at the centre of the archeological site, stretching for a couple of kilometres in every direction, although there are no signs or marked trails to guide you. There are some four hundred tombs scattered around the surrounding hills, although virtually all have collapsed and now look essentially like large mounds of rubble.
From here, it’s a 5–10 minutes’ walk up to the remains of the circular white tower you probably saw on the drive in, halfway up the hill overlooking the wadi. This is one of a number of such structures dotted around the site, now standing about 1m high after restoration (although they may originally have been up to 10m tall), with a distinctive triangular door, walls formed from beautifully carved and carefully fitted pieces of stone and an interior divided into two “rooms” by a single wall down the middle. The exact function of this and other similar towers around Bat – or, indeed, what they originally looked like – remains unknown.
Two further towers stand next to one another in the wadi below; one has been restored using white stones, and the other using ochre, which makes for a nice photo, although the underlying archeological reasoning behind two-tone restoration remains unclear. Continue walking up the wadi for another ten minutes to reach an enclosure protected by a green wire-mesh fence (padlocked at the time of writing). Inside are three neatly restored beehive tombs (very similar to the towers, though a little smaller), one constructed out of white stones, the other two out of ochre, along with half-a-dozen other tombs in various stages of collapse. The remains of further partially intact beehive tombs can be seen along the ridgetop beyond.