Modern Oman is home to the Port of Salalah; its location makes it a major entry point to India, the Middle East and Africa. Salalah is the capital and seat of the governor or Wali of the southern Omani province of Dhofar. It is the second largest town in the Sultanate of Oman and a traditional stronghold and birthplace of the Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The Sultan traditionally lives in Salalah rather than in Muscat, the capital and largest city of Oman. Salalah despite being in the Arabian desert, enjoys a temperate climate through most of the year. Its Spring here at the moment and today is 39C with a warm breeze, it’s a dry heat and very comfortable although I wouldn’t want to be working outside. In Summer the temperature can get as high as 45C and in Winter, it can get down to 20-25C and people resort to wearing coats to keep warm. I must mention that Salalah is only 150 kilometres east of Yemen. A country with it’s own history.
Salalah is subjected to the southeast monsoons between late June and early September. Visitors from across the Persian Gulf flock to Salalah to enjoy the monsoons and avoid the harsh heat faced by the region during the same period. Also during this period, the town’s population nearly doubles. The town has a large expatriate community, mainly from India, as well as a private Indian school, known as Indian School Salalah. It’s not unusual to see miles and miles of tents erected along the roadside during this time. The city of Salalah is known as the perfume capital of Arabia. One of the most natural attractions is the abundant stands of frankincense trees lining mountain stream courses. Around the city and into the mountains the countryside is lush and green with the vegetation supporting herds of cattle. While we were on our tour we learnt that hundreds of thousands of cattle are imported into Salalah from India. These cattle are brought in on ships and kept 21 days in quarantine then trucked to Muscat. Cattle ranching is very popular in Salalah and you see cattle on every field. Camels are also very prevalent as they walk the road ways into the mountains. Camels are like cats in that they can wander miles from home but always know their way home.
We take a tour to visit Job’s tomb in the mountains in Jabal Al Qar. It draws pilgrims from all over the world and is the regions most important site. The plot contains a mosque and a mausoleum, both of which are dedicated to the prophet. While other places also claim to be Job’s burial site, there is a pervasive sense of reverence for the prophet who lived only a short time. Our trip up the 750 metre mountain is very steep and today the setting is lovely and the weather is warm but dry. The views of Salalah are amazing.
As the site is a mosque the ladies have to cover our heads, arms and legs, and all visitors must remove shoes at the entrance. I found it disappointing, although I don’t know what I expected. What I didn’t expect to find was a small room with a structure in the floor covered in a green satin cloth with gold stripes. Outside the tomb was a concrete foot image said to be that of Job. He must have had very large feet as my first thought was “Sasquatch feet”.
Our next stop was to the visit some Frankincense trees and to find out how the frankincense is produced. Very interesting – the bark is scratched and in minutes the milk coloured liquid is found coming from the scratch mark. Within hours this substance dries and is “picked” off the tree. It is then sold to markets who trade frankincense all over the world. I got a chance to rub the tree and smell the wonderful fragrance. We had a chance to purchase some frankincense in Dubai and are looking forward to lighting it at home in the newly purchased traditional burner.
Our next stop was the old Salalah market which is a wonderful area filled with the smell of Frankincense and Spices along with the most colourful fabric. Fabric is traditionally sold in 3 to 4 metre length. It’s very seldom one can purchase just a metre. In the old Souk I manage to purchase 2 white tops with long sleeves that I can use in Jordon and Israel (these are a lovely light cotton and won’t be too warm, and will keep the sun off my skin). One of the tops was manufactured in Italy while the other is from India.
Our guide informs us that this market place is being expropriated by the government and the land used for foreign investment – hotels (luxury hotels). The market backs onto the most amazing beach I’ve ever seen. Miles and miles of white sandy beach and the water is a wonderful aqua colour and warm on the toes. The plan is that approximately 7 or 8 luxury hotels will be built on the land here. The existing market owners are understandably upset at the prospect of having to move away, the government is providing them with new digs and a large sum of money to move. Some of the owners are digging in their heels and asking for more. I don’t believe money is an object for the government so I think their demands will be met. The country has in the last 7 years opened their doors to foreigners and right now oil and gas export is leading the money with tourism following up by a very close 20-24%.
The area is lovely, many of the old buildings can still be seen today but as the modernization continues the country may become another Dubai – all flash. The people are warm and friendly and right now a lot of old ways are still being followed. It was wonderful to see a lot of Bedouins living in this part of the country. They are considered “travellers” and hold a lot of clout with the government. These folks set up camp where they please, although usually in the desert. They set up camp using material or tarp like fabric and poles to create a dwelling (I’ve now found out that it’s actually goat skins that are stretched and sewn together. This provides heat in the winter and when left open, breeze in the Summer). Fires are lit using wood gathered from the area and cooking is done in the open with pots (usually one or two). Water is carried from site to site with the skins being filled where fresh water is available. Their camels are “parked” near the camp; these creatures can be really mean. They will spit at you if you come too close and if they decide to kick then it’s “goodnight” forever.
Camel races are held in Bedouin areas – they were being held in Salalah but Bedouins complained that it was history for the races to be held in the desert and the government complied with their demands.
It’s a wonderful country and we would love to come back in 3-4 years and see the many changes that we’re sure will occur.
A great place to visit!!