If you would like to meet a genie of the Aladdin kind, you need a magic lamp. If you’d prefer to encounter a jinn/genie of the evil spirit kind, a good place to go would be the Well of Hell, also called the Well of Barhout, in Al-Mahara, Yemen, which is believed by many to be a prison for genies. Whatever it is, its legends, darkness and horrible smells has kept humans from ever entering it voluntarily for exploration … until now.
"Some say it is where apostates and non-believers are tortured after death," the geologist and owner of the Earth Sciences Consultancy Centre tells The National. "Others believe that their heads would be severed once they’re down there."
Mohammed al-Kindi, a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman, is also a cave explorer, or caver, and he recently led a team of cavers into the Well of Hell … and lived to tell The National about it. While the width and depth of the Well of Hell were known (30 meters/100 feet across and 112 meters/367 feet deep) and members of Al-Mahara's geological survey and mineral resources authority descended to 60 meters before turning back in June, the bottom has never been explored. Mohammed al-Kindi and seven other members of the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET) decided it was time.
"Passion drove us to do this, and we felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history."
Passion drives people to do a lot of dumb things. Was this one of them? Kindi took photos of what the team found -- dead birds, dead and live snakes, water, cave formations, and grey and lime-green cave pearls formed by dripping water. (Photos from inside the Well of Hell here.) In total, he spent six hours in the well, which is not a well but a sinkhole. Despite that, there was enough water to drink, which Kindi and the team amazingly did!
“All we saw was pure freshwater down there. We even drank an entire bottle and nothing happened to us!"
They also breathed the air which, although foul from the snakes and carcasses, registered normal levels of oxygen and no poison. Kindi says they also found no evidence that any humans had been there before … and no genies. That won’t stop locals from believing it’s a prison for jinns and demons, possibly guarding the treasures of an ancient king. Nor will they stop believing they hear screams, possibly from another scientist who descended into the hole, only to return with his bottom half missing.
This news about the Well of Hell may scientifically downgrade it to a sinkhole of stink and snakes, and it may become a tourist attraction if Yemen’s political troubles ever end, but it won’t stop the stories of the prison of genies.