Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tawi Atayr: Well of the Birds

The sinkhole of Tawi Atayr is located in the Qara Mountains in Dhofar Region. Tawi Atayr is Arabic for "Well of the Birds" which is a very fitting description since many birds are nestling in the crevices, cracks, holes and ledges along the sheer vertical walls.

View Larger Map

In early times, local people believed that the giant hole in Qara Mountains was caused by a meteorite. But in reality the gap was formed by groundwater through the karsts processes.

Tawi Atayr is a very impressive limestone formation at the surface level which is 680 meter above sea level; it is 140 meter across from NE - SW direction and 100 meter from NW - SE direction. In the lower half portion, it narrows down to 60 meter across. The depth of the sinkhole is 211 meter which is similar to a 60-floor high building. The volume was estimated to be somewhere 975,000 cubic meters.
Tawi Atayr might have been formed by the collapse of the roof of the cave hall and just as well by the gradual widening of fractures in the rock.

The vertical edges of the sinkhole

The upper ledge

An egress located at the upper ledge

A surfaced path leads to a viewing area on the edge but because of the undergrowth and its location you cannot really get a good impression of its depth and size. The walls are sheer vertical drop at most sides. A relatively easy way halfway in is by following a clear path down a gully from its western side. It leads to a first horizontal narrow ledge from which one starts to appreciate the dimensions of the sinkhole.

A steeper descend takes you to halfway in the sinkhole. There is a metal framework, anchored in concrete, hanging over the vertical face of the circular part of the hole. There are plenty of swifts, doves and few birds of prey circling higher up.

The metal framework that served as an observation platform

Swifts and doves nestled in the crevices and cracks

At the bottom of the sinkhole, there is a continuation cave passage in the north-eastern direction. The passage is located at ground level which is almost half-filled with water. Passage under the level of water has not been fully explored.

Crosssection of the sinkhole

In 1980, a new species of fish was discovered in the lake of the sinkhole. The fish was named after its discoverer; Andy Dunsire. The fish named Garra Dunsirei, lives only in the pond and no similar freshwater fishes were found within the 600 kilometer radius. The fish has small eyes and seemed to have weak vision. In the total darkness of the sinkhole, the fish uses its tentacles for sensing. It is pale yellow in color and measures 3 - 6 centimeter long. The existence of this fish is relict from the times when climate in the area was different and permanent streams and lakes exist.

Garra Dunsirei - the fish species found in the sinkhole lake 

Tawi Atayr sinkhole is now a popular tourist destination with car parking lot and visitor centre. Birds add special feel to this unusual place because such amount of singing birds is not usual in Oman. Unfortunately the impressive view of the void is blocked by dense growth of shrubs along the upper rims of the sinkhole.

View of Tawi Atayr's lush greenery

Photo Credits: Wikimedia, Google Maps

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