Travel


Explore the other side of Dhofar


Pic by AFTAB H. KOLA

They say if there is a photographer in you, this is the place to be a shutter bug. Yes, the reference is to Oman's beautiful landscape and scenery. Wedged between the sea and the mountains, the Sultanate is an old-fashioned slice of Arabia.

Dubbed as Gulf's favourite getaway, Oman delights with its blend of modern elegance and historic charm of a sea-faring nation. Oman beckons with spectacular landscape, impressive forts, archaeological wealth, sea adventure and lots of activity.

But there is one place where, from June to September, a swirl of mist rolls around the mountains with a drizzle almost every day. And the entire region turns into a green canvas. The captivating panoramic scene makes you linger.

Yes, it is the Khareef season which makes Dhofar the envy of all. Tourists from across the world, and especially from the Gulf region, swarm the place to savour every moment of the Khareef festival which is held during the time. The Salalah Tourism Festival (formerly Khareef Festival) offers a slew of cultural events held under the aegis of Dhofar municipality.

Gliding through the Dhofar region relishing the drizzle amidst the greenery is a bliss. Much has been written about Dhofar and its amazing sights. Here we will focus our lenses on less popular yet amazing sights.

Driving through Taqah town, you will be amazed to see elegant houses of merchants all over the place. You must have heard of the Taqah stone used as a façade for new buildings. Yes, the stone comes from Taqah and so does the name. Khwars (creeks), which abound the entire coast around this region, are home to a variety of avian species.

From Taqah on the way to Mirbat, you reach the Gravity Point where your vehicle will be pulled uphill even if you switch off its engine. Switch off your car engine, release the breaks and your car starts to move uphill for about 200 metres, seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

Close to Taqah is Mirbat where one can savour the countryside. At the entrance of Mirbat town, the Mirbat fort sits all by itself on the edge of a small bay, overseeing the endless horizon of its waters. In its hey days, it served as a sentinel to the town. Go further to the other side of the bay and you will find fishing boats either drifting in the waters or anchored at the cemented shore.

You can soak in the surreal ambience!
Outside the town on a hillock is the shrine of Mohammed bin Ali who is described as a man of piety. He established a madrasa (religious seminary) in Mirbat, and died in the year 1161. Considering the tremendous tourism potential of Mirbat, a mega 'Mirbat Beach' project is coming up in this part of Dhofar.

You will amazed to see a different world that exists west of Salalah city towards a mountainous swathe of Dhofar. This pocket comprises the wilayats of Rakhyut and Dhalkhout where nature finds abundant expression. About eight kilometres out of Mugsayl, the beach known for blowholes, the road ascends vertiginously up the walls of a gorge, punctuated by a slew of steep curves. This is the Salalah-Sarfait highway -" an engineering marvel -" with the road cutting into the steep edge of a mountain.

Tourists can relish the dramatic views of the rocky coastline with the turquoise waters of Arabian Sea just beyond. Another ten kilometres after Rakhyut, the road veers towards wilayat of Dhalkout and the border town of Sarfait beyond. Here you can soak into Dhofar's luxuriant countryside. On the slope of the mountains, which receives a full blast of rains, grow lush forests. Ensconced in these beautiful environs are a number of picturesque sleepy villages.

A splendid collection of frankincense trees grow in Wadi Qahshan deep in the jebels beyond Mugsayl. The wadi runs through and traverses the famous Mughsayl-Sarfait road linking Salalah with the Yemen border. A turn-off mid-way up the mountain brings you to a number of frankincense trees growing amid large rocks. Because of their remote location, they are away from grazing goats and camels, allowing them to grow healthily.

BIRD-WATCHING IN DHOFAR: A group of birds flapping their wings and gliding before disappearing is a common sight in this southern region of verdant Dhofar. The familiar landscapes over which they fly, have evolved over thousands of years.

For a bird enthusiast, Oman's picturesque Dhofar is rewarding since it boasts within a relatively small area a mix of African, Oriental and Palaearctic birds, including a large number of sea birds. From coastal khawrs (lagoons), beaches and cliffs, to irrigated farmlands to thickly wooded wadis, these feathered beauties 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 birds 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.

Places like Taqah, Mugsayl and Salalah are prime locations where one can watch the winged beauties. Among the birds found in the mountain forests are African paradise flycatcher, Shining Sunbird, African Rock Bunting, Hume's Tawny Oel, Yellow-bellied Green Pigeon, African Scops and Verraux Eagle breed.

During the winter season the place presents a beautiful spectacle with birds like Tawny Eagle, Long-tailed Shrike and Lesser Spotted eagle. Of Arabian endemics, Yemen Serin, Golden-winged Grosbeak and Arabian Red-legged Patridge are common.

The coastal khawrs are home to water birds and migratory birds like Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Lesser flamingo, African Spoonbill, Long-toed Stint, Herons, Pintail Snipes, Baillon's Crakes and Pale Rock Sparrows. It is said that over 70,000 water-birds (herons, waders, gulls, terns) use Oman's beaches and sea for food and for roosting.

Near Taqah you can watch an incredible number of birds crouched on the vegetation unmindful of the inquisitive gaze of the tourists. So, next time you are in Dhofar do not forget to explore the amazing conglomeration of birds. There are tourism agencies which organise birdwatching trips.Thus, with the Khareef season on, it is time to explore the other side of Dhofar.


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