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Table of Contents "On the road to Kabul and other short stories of treks"


Wadi Bani Awf: Little and Big Snake River Gorges near Bilad Sayt, August 2003/Nov 2003

Wadi Bani Awf (centre), view from the access road between Nakhal and Rustaq towards the main mountain range. After Google Earth.

First village, with goats. View North-East.

Snake River Gorge, view down stream, detail.

Snake River Gorge, exit at Zammah.

The narrow part in the Little Snake River Gorge has a 100 meter long pool in a narrow canyon.  Swimming across,  a small grey snake is lying on a rock ledge. On returning, picking up the towel covering a bag, another  snake is hiding underneath, a cool place.

Wadi Bani Awf

The entrance of the Wadi Bani Awf is around 43 km past the oasis of Nakhal, a 1.5 h drive NW from Muscat on a 2-lane tarmac road.

Around Nakhal the road runs  through dark hills of barren brown rocks called ophiolites, oceanic rocks that were thrusted on to the carbonate rocks by the closure of an ocean around 80-70 million years ago. This is a rocky desolate landscape,  the magnesium and chrome-rich rocks preventing most plants to grow except in river beds.

Entering Wadi Bani Awf

The wadi is sign posted on the road 43 km past Nakhal, a few km past Al Awabi. The gravel road is well-maintained but can be rough in places, especially after rain showers, so you need a reliable 4WD.

Satelite Image of the Wadi Bani Awf.

The first 10 km runs through a narrow winding canyon of limestone, a very scenic area. The valley widens at a small village and now rocks consist of soft shales and there is fallaj [1] in the main valley.

Villages in this region keep bees and the dark-brown desert honey is said to be of very high quality.

After another 4 km there is a junction with signs and here we take a left turn towards Zammah (10 km) and Bilad Sayt (15 km).

A barely noticeable cemetery with simple slabs of grey shale rocks indicating the graves  is  past the Little Snake Gorge on the North side of the road, after about 6-7 km.


Little Snake Gorge

This canyon is on the south side of the road, about 3-4 km past the junction and  about 6-7 km before Zammah.  The canyon doesn't have an official name but we named it after the well-known Snake Gorge between Zammah and Bilad Sayt. The narrow canyon entrance on the South side is well-visible, only 100 m from the road.

Little Snake River Gorge, entrance.

A mostly dry stream except for a few murky pools South of the road makes a sharp turn and flows down into the canyon. At the entrance there are a few clean, shallow water pools. This is also a nice picnic area with a few trees for a welcome shade.

The first 500 m the canyon is narrow and depending on the water level you may have to take off the hiking boots. Teva slippers are more convenient but do not protect your feet walking in the very rocky terrain but this is personal preference. The next km the valley is broad and you should try to follow the trail among big boulders but this is poorly visible. In one spot you will have to scramble across a few big boulders but this is not difficult and fun. You will pass a few shallow pools

Small pool with water fall, children for scale.

before reaching the second narrow canyon, our target, which is only 5-10  m wide. The main 100 m pool starts well inside this canyon past shallow pools.o:p>

Narrow canyon with small pools.

and you will need to wim if you want to continue. [1]

Main 100 m pool in the Little Snake River Gorge.o:p>

The pool is deep, more than 5 m, and there are ledges to hold on to if you get cramps. Not unlikely as the 25 ºC water and the warm over 33 ºC outside temperature cools downs your legs rapidly and a few strong leg strokes could do it.

Swimming across,  a small grey snake is lying on a small rock ledge. There must be more, in the water …., where we are, as in the vertical canyon walls this is  the only access. A creepy feeling, as nobody knows if these snakes are poisonous.

At the other side of the pool the valley is broad again. I did a reconnaissance too see how far you could go. After a few hundred meters there is another narrow canyon which can be easily crossed and there is only a single obstructing water pool. Past this canyon, the area is fairly flat and there seems to be a little used 4WD trail, likely going back to the junction near the village. A full crossing seems possible when using  waterproof bags to swim across and a pick up by car at the other end.

The sun is burning hot on the bare skin and we do not stay long and swim back. When picking up a  towel covering a bag, a grey snake is hiding underneath. A nice, soft cool place in the hot, rocky terrain, but it gave a fright to the female owner of the bag.

Would be good to know if these grey snakes are poisonous but it was definitely not a cobra, see overview “Snakes of Oman”. Still, it could have been a viper but this is unlikely as poisonous snakes tend to be extremely cautious being hunted down by the locals.

Snake River Gorge

At the village of Zammah is the start of a 5 km winding, steep mountain road that runs to Bilad Sayt.

Winding mountain road from Bilad Sayt back to Zammah (far distance).

View at the oasis of Zammah (trees, far distance) with exit Snake River Gorge (right).

You have a panoramic view of the Snake River Gorge.

Snake River Gorge, overview.

The  narrow canyon is around 2 km long  and runs E- W, see detail. It is “the” favorite canyoning area in Oman with Wadi Bani Khalib in the Eastern Hagar a good second.

The only canyon access is upstream, where the East extension intersects the road.  The canyon trip takes about three hours and is a mix of swimming, jumping down a few meters from rock ledges into pools and walking in a rough gorge. You cannot go up anywhere to cut it short and once you jump down into the first pool you cannot  turn back either. The exit is at the village of Zammah [1] [2] [3].  Only experienced groups should do this trip. In the late nineties, a sudden heavy rain caused a flash flood, a wall of water rushing through the canyon and killing a party of several people  (Ref.  To be found) as there is nowhere to go up for safety. In narrow canyons in Oman the water level is typically raised by 2 to 5 m. In the Little Snake Gorge I saw mud traces from high water 2 m above the valley floor.

Bilad Sayt

The village of Bilad Sayt is a large oasis at the foot of the 1000 m high mountain cliff of the Jebel Shams. The road continues up along the cliff, by passing the village,  and onto the plateau of the mountain range but is narrow and steep.

It in the far distance,  it is visible creeping up the giant mountain wall of the Jebel Shams Ridge with an elevation of of the plateaus around 2500 m and two highest mountains of 3000 m. The road leads across, to Nizwa. This is a favorite drive for expats, a round trip from Muscat takes around 10 hours. There are also old trails from the village up onto the plateau, a long 1000 m ascent.

From the main road, past the side road to Bilad Sayt close to Hat, a narrow canyon leads to the village.

Gorge from the main road to Billad Sayt. With local Omanis.

Initially you will have to find your way  across a 10 m high cliff but there is trail on the right and in the weekend young Omani men will help you out as this seems to be a local meeting place.

Trail up from the bottom right, poorly visible. With local Omanis.

Halfway there is a choice to go left or right. The left canyon comes out above the village,  into a green vegetable garden area,  and the right canyon at the entrance of the village at the main village road branching of from the main road.

Young Omani men hanging out at the canyon  guided us to the village and offered us fresh dates.

Young Omani offering fresh dates.

The scenery is spectacular, a large village with a few thousand people living in a giant green oasis at  the foot of a 1 km high rock wall.


A trip to Wadi Bani Awf is very scenic but  reserve at least 8 hours for a round trip. Avoid this wadi during rainy periods as some of the roads may be flooded. A reliable 4WD is highly recommended.

The steep mountain road past Zammah to Bilad Sayt and further across the mountains to Nizwa should be avoided during rainy periods as the road becomes slippery.