This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 19 Jul 1996|
Nahr Ibrahim-Exploring a Hidden Natural Treasure of Lebanon
by Fareed Abou-haidar
Most tourists and residents of Lebanon zip up and down the freeway between Beirut and Tripoli on their way to famous sites such as the castle at Jubail, The Cedars, and other places mentioned in many guidebooks and depicted on dozens of postcards. On their way, they cross the mouth of Nahr Ibrahim (Adonis River), an ugly industrial area with little to offer other than an old Roman bridge stuck next to the highway and some greenhouses. There is little hint of what lies inland.
A very narrow road travels away from the coast, going past a ruined Roman aqueduct. The gorge becomes deeper and narrower as it cuts farther into the mountains. After passing a rock quarry (see below), you enter a pristine world (by Lebanese standards anyway) of steep, verdant mountainsides rising from a river lined with cool, aromatic sycamore trees. These trees turn to brilliant yellows and browns in autumn. An old arched stone bridge from the days of the Ottomans, partly hidden by the sycamores, crosses the river. At one place, a small turquoise lake lies at the base of sheer cliffs behind a little dam in a scene reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord. The gorge is so narrow in places that the road goes through a few tunnels. Past the village of Yahshoush, the road reaches a dead-end where water rushes through a hydroelectric plant built inside the mountain.
Here, my cousin and I got out and hiked up the river where, away from roads, solitude prevailed in a world of lush greenery, statue-like rocks, and cold water. After about a kilometer of hopping over round river rocks, we came to a small, deep-blue natural lake with vertical rock cliffs on both sides and a spring pouring in from the side. Unprepared for getting wet, we had to turn back after enjoying the scene.
Higher up in the village of Yahshoush, another narrow road heads east on the slopes of Jabal Moussa, winding through drainages and the tiny village of Chouene before taking a scary plunge to the bottom of the gorge at a point a few kilometers upriver from where I did the hike. Here, a bridge leading to another hydroelectric facility affords a bird's eye view of the river and its trees. Looking upriver, you can see that the gorge becomes so steep and narrow that it is impossible to see what's beyond. I did not have a chance to hike that part, but doing so must be a unique experience in Lebanon. I intend to do that next time I am in Lebanon.
Even farther upriver, I had a chance to hike another segment with the Friends of Nature from the village of Lassa down a steep old road to Janneh (Paradise, aptly named). From there, we hiked up the river past groves of ancient sycamores with twisted trunks and through small agricultural fields below Qartaba, accessible only by foot or donkey. Although the bottom of the gorge is wider in this area, impressive walls of gray rock sprinkled with hardy trees rise straight up. We made it all the way to the confluence where two tributaries, including the one flowing out of the famous Afqua Cave, meet to form Nahr Ibrahim. We hiked partway up that tributary before leaving it to return to camp.
I encourage Lebanese and visitors to explore this forgotten natural wonder of Lebanon right in the middle of the country, the home of the legend of Adonis and his spilled blood. Tourist guidebooks mention it very briefly, if at all. If you see anything you don't like, such as a rock quarry or tree cutting (which has been a problem in some areas such as Jabal Moussa), contact the authorities; inform them of the problem if you think it is something they do not know about; express your displeasure if you think they do. If enough people do so, the government will have to react. This is an area worthy of being designated as a National Park, something I believe may have been discussed in the recent past.
My experiences date back to 1983 and '84. Therefore, I do not guarantee that everything is still there as described. Any new information would be welcome.
ENVIRONMENTAL ATROCITY #4-ROCK QUARRIES IN NAHR IBRAHIM
Nahr Ibrahim Gorge has largely escaped the builidng boom that has ruined so many other areas of Lebanon; this can be attributed to the lack of the traditional views that Lebanese like: a panorama of the sea and/or a lot of mountains. Here, it is almost claustrophobic. BUT: A short distance inland through the gorge is a huge rock quarry that has torn out an entire mountainside and covered the surrounding area with dust. Near it are some polluting factories defiling the banks of the river. An industrial area in one of the most beautiful area of Lebanon! In the 1980's, the rock quarry was the site of sit-ins by the Friends of Nature and residents of surrounding villages. The Friends of Nature were able to convince the government to withdraw licences that had been granted for FOUR MORE SIMILAR ROCK QUARRIES IN NAHR IBRAHIM, before it was too late! For more details about the various impacts of the factories and the quarry (including damage to the hydroelectric plants due to dynamiting), see the June 6, 1983, issue of Al-Nahar. The AUB has it on microfilm, as do many institutions abroad.
Unfortunately, during a hike last summer above the village of Qehmez (on the other side of the mountain north of Hrajel), I looked into Nahr Ibrahim Gorge and saw an ugly new road bulldozed into the steep mountains leading down to a large, new rock quarry near the bottom of the gorge in one of the most remote and (formerly) pristine sections (dowriver from Janneh). A geologist who was present on the hike told me that the quality of gravel being extracted was not even suitable for construction!
WHAT TO DO:
As I said earlier, contact the authorities (such as the Ministry of the Environment) and express your disgust, especially you folks living in Lebanon. Write letters to the editors of the newspapers. Al-Nahar seems to be especially in favor of saving Lebanon's environment, as they have published my Letters to the Editor and even photographs I have sent them. (That includes one of the hill near Bshamoun, discussed in the previous issue of LebEnv.) I am sure many other newspapers share an equally sympathetic view. I have written many letters to the newspapers concerning environmental issues, both when I was living in Lebanon and, more recently, during visits. Also, get in touch with the many environmental organizations in Lebanon, especially if you see something new that they might not know about. I gave information about some of them in a previous issue of LebEnv; I will repeat the info every now and then in future issues.