Al Shir-Ma [excerpt from the Lonely Planet Guide]

Buried in the dunes of Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the town of Al Shir-Ma (‘the magic water’) is far off the beaten track for most visitors to this mysterious and forbidding region. It was once a centre for traders on the routes through what is now Saudi Arabia.

Highlights for visitors include the ruins of the Sultan’s palace, the qasr buildings of the merchant district, and the Al Shir-Ma Souk, which although small, boasts a good (and cheap) range of typical local crafts. Visitors to the town can hardly avoid the town square with its beautiful, though dry, fountain, which marks the site of the well upon which the town was originally founded.

The town is rich with legends about why the fountain stopped flowing, including colourful accounts a punishment from Allah for the townsfolk’s wicked ways, and even tales of a tribe of Djinn sabotaging the fountain as punishment for their mistreatment by the locals. The most popular myth is that the water was linked to magical powers of the land, and when these dwindled, the water stopped flowing.

Guided tours depart from Buryadh bus station at 6am, running down the Wadi Al Shir-Ma and finish at the town at noon. Beware of pickpockets, and consider bringing small toys to get a measure of peace from the children who can be found begging in the Souk all year round.