The Green Mile


A picturesque view of Salalah coast. Photo - Venecio Datan/Times of Oman

As we write this piece Dhofar is just beginning to see a trickle of tourists but the country's southern region will be at its peak at the end of July till the beginning of September. But since Ramadan is on, tourists are likely to converge on this picturesque region only after Eid Al Fitr. Adding charm to the Khareef, the government organises the Salalah Tourism Festival which has evolved to become the largest consumer festival in the region.

Speaking to Thursday, Abdulla Ali Muqaddam,  director of Salalah Tourism Festival,  said, 'The Salalah Tourism Festival will be kicked off on second day of Eid until September 6 and will be open for festivities from 4pm until 1am (midnight). Considering the Eid holidays we are certain that the number of visitors will surpass that of last year. The theme for this year's festival is, 'Oman – Generosity and Loyalty'.

Last Khareef the region saw a total of 351,195 visitors, out of which 211,042 were from Oman while the next big chunk came from the neighbouring United Arab Emirates - 70,766. 13,843 people from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Dhofar during the Khareef, which literally means, 'the time of ample rain'.  Asian countries also added 38,898 visitors to Dhofar last Khareef. 

It may be recalled that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos had recently issued Royal Orders to allocate OMR15 million to raise efficiency and improve services at tourist sites in the Governorate of Dhofar, serving primarily visitors to the Governorate of Dhofar during the Khareef season and to be executed in a schedule that begins in 2013. And thus one can expect better facilities and amenities for the 2013 season. 

Sight-seeing
The Dhofar region with Salalah as its capital, once a major source of ancient world's most-priced commodities — frankincense, turns into a Swiss-like landscape to the delight of thousands of tourists from the Gulf who throng the pace to relish the scenery and the weather while at home it is a baking 45° C.

The idyllic Mugsayl beach, about 35km from Salalah, contoured by sculpted cliffs with blowholes (natural sprays from the earth) formed in the limestone rock, where plumes of seawater gush upwards like a fountain and which can reach a height of 30 metres or more is a very popular sight. 

Very near to Mugsayl beach is a slight diversion where you can find some frankincense trees. The whiff of frankincense has been permeating Oman since time immemorial. Locally known as 'luban' the scent of its smoke is everywhere, rich but not cloying, honeyed yet slightly astringent. You can buy good frankincense in Salalah.

If you are adventure-inclined, you may drive beyond Mugasyl towards the Yemen border – the drive is punctuated by amazing scenery.

Another most visited spot is Prophet Ayub (Job) tomb. Nestling on one of the many verdant summits of the Jebel Qara mountains the Prophet Ayub mausoleum draws a  steady stream of visitors. Walking around the environs of the site gives an overwhelming experience and visitors consume the solitude that perhaps drew Prophet Ayub  to these parts many centuries ago. You can also enjoy the view down below from this summit. The place is teeming with visitors resting on the natural green carpets on roadsides on the way up to the mountains where the  shrine is located. 

Yet another tomb is tomb of Prophet Omran located right in the heart of Salalah city. Amidst the bountiful settings of a leafy canopy on the outskirts of Salalah thrives an abundance of coconut palms, banana, papaya, sugarcane, custard apple, sapota trees. But what tourists relish is the tender coconut (locally called mishli)  which is available in abundance unlike other parts of Oman. 

A visit to Salalah's Dahariz area which abounds in fruit orchards is highly recommended. A favourite place to unwind is the Wadi Darbat which is wrapped in soft-cotton-wool mist and enveloped with a canvas of green. Wadi Darbat is in the eastern sector of Jebel Al Qara in the Dhofar Highlands, feeding into Khawr Rawri, east of Taqa. The area is surrounded by beautiful green patches against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes, brooks and waterfalls. One needs to descend from a mountain into the wadi, and unfolding before you is a sea of green all around peppered with brooks and chutes.  

Notwithstanding the fact that Dhofar is primarily visited for scenic greenscapes and a lovely weather, but there are historical sites which should not be missed. 

The governorate is home to archaeological treasures which have received world attention. Samharan is one of the oldest and most important archaeological sites in Oman. Another walled city of yore which is on Unesco World Heritage list is Al Balid.  Part of Al Balid Archaeological Park which also includes the Land of Frankincense Museum, Al Balid ruins are located at Al Haffa area in Salalah City. Al Balid was once a prosperous centre for the weaving of cloths and a major trading partner in frankincense, Arabian horses and fish oil with cities in Africa, India and Egypt. 

Dhofar region also holds a great attraction for caves. The main characteristic of the Dhofar region is the flat coastal plain which is bounded on all sides by a steep mountain plateau, called Jabal Samhan. Suhur Cave, Ayn Hamran Cave, Wadi Darbat Cave, Manreef Cave (at Mugsayl)  and Tawi Atyr sinkhole are some of the prominent caves in Dhofar. Among the most popular is the Tawi Atyr (meaning 'well of the birds') which is a collapsed sinkhole. 

Mirbat and Taqah 
Within an hour's reach from Salalah are two picturesque fishing towns. On the way after a thirty-minute drive from Salalah brings you to Gravity Point, where your vehicle will ascend a slope for about 200 metres even if you switch off its engine. At Mirbat tourists can savour the magnificent scenery of the coast and can soak into history with a visit to a castle overlooking the picture-postcard bay.  Near Taqa is Khor Rori (Samhuran), an  ancient site.  

Bird watching
From coastal khawrs (lagoons), beaches and cliffs, to irrigated farmlands to thickly wooded wadis birds are all prevalent providing a great spectacle. The monsoon here is unique to Arabia and Oman is ornithologically unique in that it lies where three worldwide bird regions meet and overlap with many of the winged beauties  in Dhofar having African origins.

Most of the others seen are Palaearctic birds or Eurasian birds that are either resident or on their spring or autumn migrations while some birds even spend the entire winter here.

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