Whether you are going in the winter or the summer, if you travel to Salalah more than once, it will never seem the same as it was last time. From mid-June to mid-September, the capital of Dhofar, whose population reaches some 150,000, suffers from the Indian monsoon rains which sometimes have good effects: the surrounding green mountains and the rivers which run down the slopes and occasionally turn into cascades when the ground is suitable. During the monsoon rains, you can hardly see any sun through the haze of the low clouds, but this providential humidity is no less celebrated during a festival which lasts up to six weeks from mid-July to late August. This is the Khareef, during which many events take place related to religious traditions (including dance, crafts, and cuisine).
In contrast, in the winter, Salalah and its surrounding areas reveal desert landscapes, but the drier air has the advantage of bringing out the contrasts between the sand, the rocks and the crystal clear blue waters of the sea. This is the best time to visit the valleys; they're so impressive at this time of year with their frankincense trees (which stand on dry soil and are the only trees that can withstand the climate).
It is due to these very trees that Dhofar has historically gained its entire fortune. Extracted from the resin of boswellias, frankincense was sold at the price of antique gold until the Europeans took control of the route to India. Harvested here, it was shipped by water (along the Red Sea) and then by trailer to the major trading centres of that time: Alexandria to the south, Rome to the west and Damascus to the east. At the time, frankincense was extensively used in religious ceremonies, perfume preparations, medicines, and even in cooking, to add flavour.
You must see the ?road of frankincense.' This route consists of four sites: wadi Dawkha, where trees of frankincense grow; Al-Balid, an archaeological site located in Salalah; Samahram, 25 miles east of Salalah and one of the oldest cities to be based along the coast of Oman; and Ubar, the legendary city located at the edge of the Rub Al-Khali in the driest desert on the planet.
The site of the prophet Job's tomb is located 18 miles north of Salalah. The shrine of the prophet is a holy place of Islam; you must take off your shoes and women must cover their hair with a green scarf (loaned to you when you get there) to be able to enter the mausoleum. The geyser of Mughsail, known as the ?blower' gushes out sea water up to 13 ft high (30 miles west of Salalah).
To see the 'green' Dhofar, come in September, at the end of the monsoon season. The rains transform the landscape at that time. For a while, you think you have landed in Ecuador with all the waterfalls, meadows and leafy trees...
Avoid taking photographs of women, even veiled, without asking their permission and if you're going on a trip, don't forget to fill up your fuel tank in Salalah (petrol stations are rare outside of Salalah).
Try a traditional meal from Oman. People generally eat it with their hands (right hand to serve) and it is often taken in a small private room, seated on mats and leaning against cushions. On the menu, you will find dishes of rice with fish or meat, which are based on Indian curries but without the hot spices. To finish the meal, coffee (flavoured with cardamom) is served in mini-porcelain cups (containing barely a mouthful of coffee).
There are so many things that you could bring back; incense, floral waters, powders of fragrant wood, silver jewellery, traditional coffee services, khanjars (daggers with a curved blade) and various fabrics. Spread over several areas, the souk of Salalah offers a wide variety of goods, so make sure that you go in the morning or late afternoon to get the best things.
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