April 13th, 2010

Smolensk // Looking for Balad Sayt // Recent neighbourhood walks



There had been enough tragedies on the news the last week. Be they from acts of nature, acts of malice, or human errors, lives were lost and much grief in their wake.

I feel sorry for the Poles especially. Two great events, Katyn and Smolensk, 70 years apart and yet intertwined together now, of people who had to go before their time, tore into their collective consciousness of Poland. And reached into the hearts of people all around the world.


More photos in flickr folder 'Looking for Balad Sayt '

Looking for Balad Sayt

We went nowhere the last weekend. I was off to my project way down South on the coast about 700++ km from Muscat and about 6 hours hard drive away. I left early morning on Tuesday and came back late evening on Wednesday. Unlike the days of old where I had so much energy to spare, I decided vegetating at home on Thursday was seriously required. Other than for the ritual of neighbourhood walk with birdie and beasties, and wife of course.

Spring had clearly left us. Morning saw 30++C (86F) temperature rising to 40C (104F) by noon. Perfect for mad dogs and Englishman to go walking about, especially in the mid-day sun. As you all know, there is plenty of mid day sun here in Oman and precious little shade.

So folks, you have seen the last of Riamfada doing free flights for this year. Places I felt ok of for us to do free flights in such as Buwah or even Al Felaj would be too hot to be enjoyable in. You seen Kattie throwing tantrum or getting heat stroke when taken to Al Felaj last year and I do not want to repeat that again written on 17 May last year.
Do not pass go, do not collect $200// cutting entangling line //Katie threw tantrum

Desert camps are closed also because of the heat and will not open until autumn is here. By which time I likely to be no longer here in Oman.

Mountain tops are not the best places to free fly as you will read about later on.

I was still too tired on Friday to contemplate the 3 hours drive up the Jebel Akhdar and so continued to vegetate at home with Riamfada periodically flying to me when she felt like it.

I wrote the weekend before, we were down at Al Felaj and saw the last day of the horse racing on Thursday. I had not the time to finish writing Friday’s event before I had to sleep early Monday night prior to the early Tuesday morning start of that long drive.

After Thursday was Friday. You recalled in ‘Last Footfall in Nepal// Sharon & kitty advice // Riamfada over weekend 18-19 March’

you have seen me reading that yellow Oman Off-Road handbook.

And the plans for Friday 2nd April 2010 was conceived there. The temperature on that day was still a nice 25C (77F)in the morning. Since this was exploratory , only Riamfada came with us.

I had given my wife that book on the morning and asked her to decide where to go as I was driving. That was a big mistake on my part as there seemed to be so many places to go to, she could not decide. I think she is much better at taking photos than deciding where to go, or passing driving tests. She confessed that she passed on the 9th time not counting the 3 times on part 1 with drums maliciously lurching out of their line when she was reversing.

To be fair to her, she had not that much time to read as I was the driver until I picked up ice for our ice box at the nearest petrol station 10 minutes later. Since she finally had her Oman driving license, she had to drive after that. It was difficult for me to read that book when I found it better to sleep in the passenger seat.

And so it was that we drove first to Nizwa, and then beyond that when she woke me up as she did not know where to turn.

I saw brown tourist sign pointing to Jabrin Fort. I recalled reading that was an old fort with lots of secret passage ways and killing zones and should be fun to check out.

Except the fort was opened from 9 am to 11 am on Friday and we reached there at 1130am.

At Jabrin Fort

I am sure Flickr will show you plenty of photos of Jabrin fort from the inside taken by other people who went there on time.

We then read nearby was Bahla fort, listed as a World Heritage site. We went there to find Bahla fort was under renovation.

Bahla fort

I felt it was not a good day for fort visiting. Armchair travellers should do a search of ‘Bahla fort’ on Flickr as more intrepid photographers had uploaded nicer shots there.

We explored a bit of the old town of Bahla


Then we decided to head back to Nizwa on the road that would bring us pass the Hoota Caves.

We saw a tarmac road branching off that road heading up the mountains. A sign there indicated ‘Balad Sayt’. When we were at Wadi Bani Awf a few months ago, I saw a sign in there that said ‘Balad Sayt’ too.
Tinkerbell for sale // Riamfada at Wadi Bani Awf and Nakhal revisited

I flipped through that Oman Off-Road to read Balad Sayt was a beautiful town up in the mountain. So it was clear that if I had continued on at Wadi Bani Awf, we would have eventually crossed the Hajar chain of mountains and onto this road. That road was beautifully tarmac and going up on an awesome mountain .

We had to go on this road. The road climbed and climbed. I kept asking my wife for the altitude reading on her GPS. She obliged and read me 1100 meters, 1300 meters, 1500 meters. She wondered aloud why I was so interested. I told her my recent report on my Annapurna walk made me very conscious. When even driving in a car, it was tiring to me. I was thinking of the height and distance I could walk in those days.

We stop the car halfway up for my wife to pan a video to give you folks an idea.

The highest point was about 2000 meters. But we started at that road branch off at 600 meters. So that long climb was effectively only 1400 meters. That brought home to me how crazy I was to have thought of doing that 1700 meters to cross the Thorong La Pass. Not to talk of the 1000 meters down after that to the rest point.

mountaintop 1 of 4

mountaintop 2 of 4

mountaintop 3 of 4

mountaintop 4 of 4

It was an incredible sight right at the top. So awesome and beautiful that words are so inadequate to try to paint that picture for you. I wished more photos had been taken. We intended to do that. But it was not to be.

When we got out of the car at the top in the tiny parking lot, I was overwhelmed by the sight. I thought a flight of Riam with that back drop of mountains and deep valleys would be wonderful.

Despite my telling you often to be observant of your bird before flying. I was not very observant. I had been driving, and the drive up was tiring which fogged whatever left of the brains I have. I hardly gave Riam a second look. I should have stopped a while, at least 30 minutes or so to take it all in first.

I instead placed her on the perch hold by my wife and walked back 20 meters, and gave recall. She flew away from me at first. That was normal and I expected her to arc back. She instead kept going on and on.

Look at the sequential shots of her flying away at top of the mountain

watch and be frightened. Very frightened at what can go wrong.


That frightened me enough to thumb back on the reel as fast as I could. That line brought her to a halt and she landed on the ledge below me. Below that ledge, would be that huge drop. I made my way down to call her. She flew away, but I was already reeling in the line and she dropped to the ground again. I walked nearer to her and called. She flew to my shoulder this time.


I was so glad for the harness and line. That saved Riamfada from my innate stupidity for not paying attention to her regardless of the excuses I gave earlier.

We got back to the car. We forgot about taking photos of the incredible sights from that point. Then what we saw was beautiful and frightening. There were 3 big raptors wheeling above us.


Perhaps Riamfada saw them far away. She was in spook mode and I was more intent on the view and not on her.

Mistakes do happened. My mistake was not fatal. Unlike the mistake made with the landing at Smolensk. I am not sure if I could blame the pilot either. He might be under tremendous pressure to land those VIPs to be in time for that Katyn memorial ceremony. But as I said, the harness and line that I used prevented greater harm from happening to Riamfada.

We drove on to Balad Sayt. Almost immediately I saw this sign.

See that wonderful sign on the right side of the road.

Then shortly after, the tarmac road became a track road. I known how steep those track could be. Those track is often just a single lane. If another vehicle came up when you were trying to get down, either you or him might have to reverse back a long way, on a narrow winding gravel track.

I decided to go turn around and go back without going on to Balad Sayt. I figured if I wanted to see how Balad Sayt looked like, I would check Flickr for photos taken by other more intrepid travellers.

I am a self declared wimp.

More photos in flickr folder 'Looking for Balad Sayt '


Recent neighbourhood walks

Katleen got to know Helen when she was in Nepal a few months ago. Helen was visiting Oman for a few days. Helen could not believed how the kitties joined us for neighbourhood walks. So Katleen brought her over to join us on neighbourhood walks.

They came to see it was what Katleen had been describing to Helen.

With Katleen taking Riamfada on the perch, my wife could position herself near me to take photos of Riamfada flying to me instead of her normal photos of Riamfada flying away from her towards me.


More photos in flickr folder 'Helen and Kathleen on a neighbourhood walk '

I mentioned of the garden and the abandoned house, or rather the house without a tenant near our villa. Since it had sidr fruit trees and quava fruit trees in the garden, and no magpies, we took to coming to this garden during our neighbourhood walks. Especially as we noticed recently the garden gate was not locked.

More photos in flickr folder 'Recent neighbourhood walks'

That villa was across the road. We had to cross the road with the kitties.
When there were no cars on the road, we would cross that road. Problem was the kitties were not very clever. Dom and Katie were not exactly waiting and crossing the road with us. They seemed to love to wait until cars were coming before they decide to cross the road. Or they would cross, decided to sniff at something on the road when the road was absolutely clear, and continued to cross when cars were approaching.

Screaming at them to cross immediately was often not heeded by the kitties. But the cars there had known of 2 crazy people with Riamfada on shoulder and 2 even crazier kitties crossing that road for over a year now.

The cars took care to avoid the kitties, waving to all of us when they passed by.

Cars even stop to let the kitties go. It did not get better over the year. It got more and more embarrasing. There were times I gritted my teeth (ok ! dentures) and did not wish to look. Moaning away to my wife and Riamfada why the heck I allowed the kitties on the neighbourhood walk.

That only the good die young applied to kitties as well as to humans. That the kitties did not become pancakes clearly indicated that they must be wicked and evil creatures and not truly wonderful sincere loving kitties.

The main door of this villa was not locked either. Sometimes it opened up to show the dark interior. Sometimes the door closed, and opened. Without any wind at all.

I thought walking about in the garden should be harmless enough even if I did not care to step into the villa itself. With or without my Milorfor.

I forage in the garden for sidr fruits for Riamfada. She would get about 4-5 sidrs until the season is over.

More photos in flickr folder 'Recent neighbourhood walks'

Riamfada munching on a green sidr fruit in that garden. The bush directly behind Riamfada is the sidr bush on the way to becoming a sidr tree

Riamfada with sidr fruit still on the bush


Sidr fruit became red when ripe and is sweet. Riamfada loved the sidr be they green or red.

In addition to sidr fruits, there are guavas from guava tree. She loved the very ripe guava. Especially those fermenting and with a strong alcohol smell.


I let her eat as much of the guava as she wanted. To my surprise, she would easily finish about half the guava.


In between chomping on fruits, we would do some recalls. A few days ago, it looked like a very routine flight to me. She was took off from my wife and weaving her way to my shoulder. Then a couple of yellow vented bubuls about the size of sparrows flew and landed on top of the sidr tree just as Riamfada was about 5 feet from me. She immediately flew up while I reeled in the line as fast as I could. The line was still slack when she landed on top of the sidr and the bubuls flew off.




She looked around, and did not seem ready to come at recall cue. I still gave her a token call to be ignored as I thought. The line was on her and even if not, she did not seem like flying off to distant horizon.

I decided to let her be and was prepared to wait until she decided to fly down to me.
I lit a ciggie and moved slowly back to my wife to give Riamfada a better angle to fly down to me when she wanted to fly back to me.

She then decided she had enough of the view from up there and flew down back to me on her own accord.

More photos in flickr folder 'Recent neighbourhood walks'


Important old letters on harness
Harness for flighted parrots – To Nick and folks

August, 2005.

‘ cargo cult'

'Ramadan & Kitties on beach// Chess -1st Saturday IM Tournament // Tinkerbell Harness for Piper '


If you like the photos here, they are all taken by my wife and uploaded on my behalf by her.

She has her own sets of photos in her Flickr account here



If what I wrote help you and you like to help, give a thought
for the wildlife sharing our planet.
Do write that cheque to Gerald Durrell wildlife trust

I am a life member of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Do join us to do
whatever we can for the wildlife that shared our planet.

or to any wildlife conservation body of your choice


For those that through no fault of their own, or otherwise, and had to part painfully and unwillingly from their beastie or birdies, whether in the past, or the present, or in the future, I dedicate the saga of Riamfada that I had wrote , and continue to write to that final handover , to you all.


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