Every year from June to September, Salalah in southern Oman receives a blessing from nature that no other region in the Arab Gulf is fortunate to experience – the monsoon. Locally known as Kharif, it drapes the desert with a blanket of green and brings temperatures tumbling down. Salalah is also the land of frankincense, and part of an ancient trade route that goes back thousands of years.
The annual monsoon transforms the wadis into a verdant paradise. (All photos: Yahoo India/Oman Tourism)
Salalah is the second largest city situated in the Dhofar governorate in the south of the Sultanate of Oman. It is a ruggedly beautiful region with a rich history rooted in the ancient frankincense trade. For this reason, it is often known as the Perfume Capital of Arabia. It is also the only region in the Arab Gulf, besides Yemen, that is blessed with a Khareef (rainy) season. During this time, when the monsoon winds blow moist and heavy through the region, Salalah dons a green blanket.
In fact, from June to September, the arid desert is unrecognizable, covered as it is with lush greenery. Even as the rest of the Arabian peninsula scorches at over 113 degrees, it rarely gets warmer than 80 degrees in Salalah, with date palms all over from June to September. The lush greenery that one witnesses in Salalah during the Khareef season is comparable to the greenery of southeastern India, giving Salalah the title of “Kerala of the Middle East.”
Fisherfolk haul in a catch in Salalah, southern Oman.
These little-known treasures of Salalah deserve a place on your bucket list:
Frankincense is the aromatic resin of the Boswellia tree, which grows in southern Arabia, northern Africa, and India. From Biblical times, it has been regarded as a precious substance, and various books of the Bible are replete with mentions describing it as such. Frankincense is used in perfumery and medicine.
The Omani researcher and historian, Abdul Qadir bin Salim Al Ghassani, mentions in his book Dhofar, the Land of Frankincense that Alexander the Great had imported huge quantities of incense from Arab lands. Other sources suggest that frankincense was used around the throne of King Solomon as incense. Legend holds that when Emperor Nero’s wife died, the emperor burned the equivalent of the southern Arabian peninsula’s entire yield of frankincense. Now, frankincense is used at the Vatican in Rome.
Wadi Dawkah, with its resident frankincense trees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those who wish to treat themselves to a unique taste of history, don’t forget to buy buy frankincense ice cream and frankincense honey from the souqs of Salalah.
Also part of the Frankincense Trail is the ancient port of Al Baleed. Historical findings indicate that the city dates back to 2000 BC. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Baleed is a combination of an open-air archaeological site and the Museum of the Frankincense Lands.
A view of the coastline in Mirbat, southern Oman.
Mirbat is a charming coastal town in the Dhofar Governorate. Historically, it traded in horses and frankincense. Overlooking the harbor entrance is Mirbat Fort, which in origin is an early 19th-century fortification.
The Tomb of Prophet Job (Nabi Ayoub)
The tomb known within the region as that of Prophet Job (Nabi Ayoub) has a magnificent location set high in the mountains overlooking the sea and coastal plain around Salalah.
Perhaps the most famous attraction of the Governorate of Dhofar are the “blowholes” at Mugsayl to the west of Salalah. Small holes in the rock just above the sea allow a forceful fountain of sea water to explode into the air when the sea is rough.
From a bridge over the wadi, these local boys take turns diving in.
In the Emerald Waters of Oman’s Wadis
The wadi is a curious natural phenomenon. You drive through miles and miles of desiccated, bone-dry desert in the stifling heat and come upon a pool of tranquil, clear water. A breeze is afoot, boys in shorts are diving from bridges into the inviting pool, dragonflies and butterflies flit among the reeds, tiny colorful fish swim in the shallow channels leading away from the stream.
Wadi Darbat in the monsoon season is swathed in a green carpet.
The word wadi is used to describe watercourses in the desert that range from aquifers and seasonal rivers to riverine valleys. Wadi Darbat, which overlooks the archaeological site of Khor Rori, carves its way through the highlands of Salalah and forms picturesque waterfalls. The wadi is secreted in the mountains overlooking the site of Khor Rawri, an ancient port. Within the wadi are several small lakes overlooked by undulating hillsides.