Imagine a situation wherein you are in the Middle East with shades of very weakly saturated reddish yellow colour dominating the landscape and suddenly after crossing a mountain pass, all you see is green. Well if you encounter this situation, then you have reached nowhere else, but Salalah.
Salalah, the birthplace of the current sultan, Qaboos bin Said and is the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman, and the largest city in the Dhofar Province. It’s a subtropical city with the Indian Ocean to its South and the Dhofar mountain ranges to its North (which helps capturing the monsoon clouds) and transforms into a green paradise in the otherwise arid landscape of the Arabian Peninsula during the khareef season (monsoon, July to September). Thanks to the climate and the rains, Salalah is blessed with a number of farms that grow coconuts, banana and a variety of many other fruits and vegetables. Here, the palm trees are replaced by coconut trees and the place had a very close resemblance to my home state, back in India, Kerala, having Arabian Sea on one side and Western Ghats on the other.
Salalah has been in the trade map of the world as early as the 11th Century, thanks to the incence trade. The place was known as the “Land of Frankincense” and was at its peak of prosperity in the 13th Century. Until 1970, it was the capital of Oman under the rule of Said bin Taimur. However after his son, the present sultan, became the ruler, the capital was shifted to Muscat.
On a tourists point of view, Salalah has lots on offer and the list of attractions include beaches, wadis, waterfalls, sink hole, mountain drives and historical sites. Four of us (myself, Amar, Vineeth and Jestin) started our Salalah trip on the night of 15th July 2015 (during Ramzan holidays) from Muscat for a 4 day trip to Salalah.
Muscat – Nizwa – Adam – Haima (530 kms)
We started from Muscat at around 7 PM and by and our target was to reach Haima and take rest. By around 12 AM, we reached Haima, filled up the petrol, parked our car next to the pump and slept inside the car.
Haima – Tumrait – Salalah (500 kms)
By around 4:30 AM, Amar was ready to start driving and we took the Route 33 to head towards Salalah. The road splits after Haima (Route 39 – goes to Marmul and then to Salalah), and the other one leads straight to Salalah (saves 30 kms). The road from there is two-lane (one lane for one direction) and you can see nothing by vast empty spaces on your right/left. Of course we could see many cars driving towards Salalah, as it was the holidays and the khareef season was about to start in Salalah.
Lost city of Wubar/Ubar
Location : Wubar Archaeological Site
10:00 AM to 10:30 AM
After about 300 kms from Haima, we took a right turn towards a place named Wubar/Ubar, 68kms from the main road. The place was supposed to have the ruins of the “Lost City of Ubar”. The road towards Ubar is not paved for the entire stretch and after driving for almost 1.5 hours we reached the spot. To be honest, we were thoroughly disappointed after reaching there as there was nothing much to explore. We visited one of the ruins which looked like an outpost / quarters. Of course the place is of archaeological importance, however, it wasn’t worth the pain of reaching there, rising our tyres through the long stretch of unpaved road. After a quick visit, by around 10:30 AM, we started back to Salalah.
Wadi Dawkah (Natural Park of Frankincense trees)
Location : Wadi Dawkah
11:30 AM to 11:50 AM
Wadi Dawkah is located about 30 kms from Tumrait and 127kms from Wubar and is on the way towards Salalah. The wadi is part of the Land of Frankincense sites listed in UNESCO’s World Cultural and Heritage list and offers a perfect habitat for the frankincense trees. It was bright and sunny there and there was a viewing gallery constructed, which offered some shade. Its a nice place to get up close with the trees and to get some information about it.
Barely after a 15 minute drive from Wadi Dawkah, we were crossing the Dhofar mountain pass and was asked to stop at a checkpoint for a routine check up. The air was misty and we started moving slowly from there. A few more metres and all of a sudden it was green everywhere. Well its quite hard for anyone to resist the temptation, not to stop the car and venture into the green pasture, especially after driving about 1000 kms through arid landscapes. We could see a number of cows grazing and for anyone it would take some time to digest the fact that you are still in the same continent as the rest of Arabia. We got some good pics from the spot and started to move towards the city.
Reaching our accommodation
Our accommodation was arranged at the house of Vineeth’s uncle, Dileep (Dileepettan), who was staying close to the Salalah Port. We reached there by around 2 PM , had lunch and planned to get ready by 5 PM.
Al Haffa Beach
5:45 PM to 6:15 PM
Al Haffa beach stretches to about 3 kms parallel to Al Bahri Street and is one of the most happening place within the city limits of Salalah. The beach is fairly wide and one can park the vehicle on the road side and get into the beach. The water was rough, the air was misty and the coconut trees were dancing to the tunes of the sea breeze. We then ventured into the road which ran parallel to the beach road and could see a series of roadside hut-shops besides banana and coconut plantations, selling coconuts and fruits. We stopped in front of one and with no surprise, the shop owner was from my state, Kerala (Malayali). Conversing in Malayalam, having a sip of coconut, facing the sea, beside a coconut farm, in front of a banana plantation, for a moment we were back in Kerala. We then went to the local market and bought Omani halwa.
Footprints of The Prophet Saleh Camel
8:00 PM – 8:10 PM
This is a small shrine located inside the city where the footprints of Prophet Saleh’s Camel can be found on a rock. According to the legends, the camel was said to have appeared from nearby mountains as a miracle. However, people who refused to recognize Prophet Saleh killed the camel three days later, resulting in a a massive earthquake.
Nabi Umran Tomb
Location : Nabi Imran/Umran Tomb
8:20 PM – 8:30 PM
The tomb of Nabi Umran is loacted inside the city limits and is just about 1km from the shrine of “Footprints of The Prophet Saleh Camel”. Prophet Umran/Imran is supposedly the grandfather of Eisa (Jesus) and the father of Mariam (Mary). The tomb is quite long and its hard to believe whether people were that long, in those times. There was no information written in English, so couldn’t learn from the place. Its a calm and quiet place with a mosque to pray.
Salalah Gardens Mall
9:00 PM – 9:30 PM
My classmate Kiran, was in Salalah and we decided to meet at Salalah Gardens Mall. The mall was the first of its kind in Salalah and looks decent enough.
Yemen Border (Sarfayt)
Location : Yemen Border, 150 Kms from Salalah
Route : Salalah – Mughsayl – Sarfayt – Yemen Border post
As we were in the South of Oman, we wanted to explore the South West Corner of the Sultanate and this is where Oman shares its border with Yemen. At the time of our visit, Yemen was caught in the Civil war and we weren’t sure how far we could go. However, we decide to explore the South-West roadway (Route no 47), running almost parallel to the coastline and started around 6:30 AM from our accommodation. The roads were empty and slowly turned foggy and misty with rain in the form of soft spray falling all around the road. The roads were built cutting the mountains and shades of greenery greeted us all along the way. There are quite a bit of spots to use your camera and we never hesitated to stop our car, seeing one. Some of the spots were quite amazing where the sea, mountain and the clouds had rendezvoused to offer us stunning scenery.
Mist and fog were switching on and off in between and at some point the visibility was down to may be 5-10 metres. It was not the vehicles that we were worried about, but our four legged friends, camels and cows, having no reflectors or fog lamps to warn us. We met quite a few of them on the road and were mutually happy to share the road and take some pics. Greenery turned into a next level of awesomeness, as we came close to our destination. With tiny droplets sprayed all over the leaves, the shrubs and trees have laid a green carpet all around the geography.
By around 10:20 AM, we reached almost 1km from the Yemen border. There was a police checkpost, where we had to stop and produce our documents. The police officers were quite jovial and were jokingly mentioning that bombs could fall on us, if we enter Yemen. One of them spoke in Hindi as well and after a bit of fun talks they allowed us to cross the checkpost. As we moved forward, we could see a guarded gate and border office, which was as far as we could go. Photography was not allowed here and we didn’t stay there longer either. We then started towards our next destination, Dhalkut.
Location : Dhalkut Sea View
Dhalkut is a fishing town located 30 kms before the Yemen border. The points of attractions here include the Dhalkut beach (which has the remains of a crashed military helicopter) and the sea view point. We first reached the sea view point, which is located on high grounds. A picnic area has been constructed there, however we were the only guests. We walked a bit further from where we could park our car and we could hear the sound of the ocean waves hitting the rocks hard below us. Khareef season brings to Salalah a series of swell waves, coming in line one by one, hitting the coast as hard it can. My mission to Oman as a Coastal Engineer being designing a few fishing harbours in Oman, I had a feel of what exactly I had to account for, while designing them. I could now realise what my Manager (Mr. Moosa ) was warning me about, dealing with waves in Dhofar region. The view was spectacular and even in the midst of the thundering sound of the waves, there was a feel of nature’s tranquility.
We then went to the beach, however we couldn’t see anything, thanks to the fog and by 12:15 PM we started towards our next stop, Rakhyut.
Location : Rakhyut Beach
Rakhyut is another coastal town located 55 kms from Dhalkut. The main attraction is the Rakhyut beach as well as the Rakhyut wadi. However the main reason for going there was because it is one of the places for which I was designing a fishing harbour. Back in Muscat, I have only seen the pictures of the place and coming so near to the location, I thought I must pay a visit there. We reached there by around 1:15 PM and similar to Dalkhut, the sea was rough and the visibility was quite low. The beach was quite wide and white, and we enjoyed a bit of beach volley there (without a court/net).
Mughsail Beach, Merneef Cave and Blowholes
Location : Mughsail Beach, 45 kms from Salalah, 60 kms from Rakhyut
Mughsail beach, located in between Rakhyute and Salalah is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Salalah. The beach, the blow holes and the Merneef cave makes it a crowd puller. We reached there by around 3:15 PM and could see quite a crowd there (which was absent at rest of the places we visited that day). Khareef may not the be the perfect time to enjoy the beaches and the otherwise blue water sea was a bit rough. The geography is pretty amazing with mountains on both ends of the beach and a long stretch of white sand.
Marneef cave is located at walkable distance from the Mughsail beach. Though the place is known as a cave, its not actually a cave as you have read in textbooks (something with an opening). Marneef cave is a geological formation which looks as if a mass was carved out from the mountain. One can walk along the cave through the steps and walkways and is located at a distance above the sea.
Al Mughsail Blowholes is located towards the end of the walkway that goes through the Marneef caves. The rough sea might have stopped you from entering the beach, but on the other hand these blowholes become active this time. The blowholes is an amazing piece of geological formation wherein the sea water gushes upwards through the narrow vertical shafts, resulting in a natural fountain of sea water. There were three such blowholes, covered with a metal mesh on top, offering showers from below to those standing on top of it. Its really a one of a kind experience and shouldn’t be missed, especially during Khareef.
Prophet Ayub’s (Job) Tomb
Location : Prophet Ayub’s Tomb , 65 kms from Mughsail Beach
The tomb of Prophet Ayub is located in Beit Zarbij, on the beautiful Hills of Ittin, about 30 kms from Salalah. Like the rest of Salalah drive, this was also pretty amazing with fog and drizzle. We reached there by 6PM and it was getting dark. The final resting place of the prophet is a simple and modest structure. Beside the tomb, there is the praying place and a stone with prophet’s footprints embedded in it.
Location : Wadi Darbat, 50 kms from Salalah
8:15 AM to 8:45 AM
“Wadi Darbat” has its origins somewhere up the Dhofar mountains, however looks most attractive when it reaches near Taqah. The Wadi becomes a lake here and transforms the area into a green paradise, atrracting tourists all around the year. Wadi Darbat picninc spot (location shared above) is a busy place and offers ideal grounds for family day out which can include BBQ, boating and is one of the most visited valley in Dhofar. There were quite a few small shops there as well as toilets were available.
Upstream of Wadi Darbat
Location : Upstream of Wadi Darbat
Since our schedule was not really tight, we decided to take a drive upstream of Wadi Darbat, to enjoy the drizzle and greenery. We started driving to the hills and like what we have expereinced the other day, the roads were covered with fog and it was drizzling. We drove for around 40kms and reached the upstream of Wadi Darbat, whcih was yet to be filled with water, as the rainy season has just began. However it was green everywhere. After taking quite a few pics, we decide to come back to sea level and go to the next attraction. We were close to Teyq Cave and should have visited there as well, somehow we missed it, only to realise at a later stage and climb up the hill again.
Location : Ayn Tubrook,40kms from Salalah, close to Taqah
11:00 to 11:15 AM
This is a water spring which comes out through the rocks and the area has been made suitablr for picnic. Downstream of this spring, is a small waterfall and I must say, compared to the rest of Salalah attractions, this wasn’t so exciting, but you can tick off from your list, without much harm.
Ayn Athum (waterfall)
Location: Ayn Athum, 5kms from Ayn Tubrook
11:45 AM to 12:15 PM
Ayn Athum, if visited at the right season is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Salalah. The waterfall must be around 15m tall and looks majestic. However, at the time of our visit there wasn’t even a single drop of water, whcih allowed us to climb on top of the waterfall (accesible by car). I have ssen some spectacular pics of this waterfall and if you are there in the mid of Khareef, you should be able to witness this beauty.
Tawi Atair/Atheer Sink Hole
Location : Sink Hole, 45kms from Ayn Athum
1:30 PM to 3:00 PM
There are two sink holes in Oman, one near Sur which is filled with water and is quite beautiful and the other one is near Salalah which is famous for its sheer size. Though the area is not well maintained, there are no shortage of tourists here. There is a viewing gallery from where you can see part of the sink hole and most people stays just there. However if you wish to see the depth of the sink hole, then you need to do a bit of trekking through a narrow and slippery trail (not advisable for kids/ family with kids). Though we were not well equipped for a trek (in terms of shoes), we decided to climb down. It was a difficult trek and somehow we managed to reach to a point from where you could see the bottom of the sink hole and its quite deep. There was no water in it and all we could see was some vegetation there.
Location: Teyq Cave and Sinkhole
3:30 PM to 4:00 PM
This is yet another geological formation which might look like a valley, but is actually a sinkhole. If we take a look at Google Earth images, we can see that two streams meet at the opposite ends of this sink hole and then disappear underground. There is also a depression on the side of the sink hole and is known as the Teyq/Teeq cave. However we were unable to see anything other than fog from the view point and I guess you need to visit during summer to see what actually lies beneath.
Location : Anti-Gravity point
Anti-Gravity point in Salalah is located 25kms from the Teeq Cave and 15kms from Mirbat. After visiting one in Leh, India, this was the second experience for me. Just put your car in neutral and you can see it move uphill.
4:45 PM to 6:30 PM
Mirbat, a coastal town in Dhofar region is located 75 kilometers East of Salalah. Mirbat had a history of horse breeding and to commemorate the same, two large horse statues are positioned on either side of the road at the town entrance. The beach was not really crowded and similar to other beaches in the region, this season, it was rough. Mirbat Castle is located close to the beach and was a relatively smaller fort that I had seen in Oman. Another place of interest there is the tomb of Mohammed Bin Ali, a respected religious leader who died in 556H (1161 AD).
Sumhuram Archaeological Park
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Sumhuram Archaeological Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site at Khor Rori, located on the coastline between Taqah and Mirbat, in the Salalah region. On the pages of history, this old city finds a prominent space as it was the epicenter of international frankincense trade network in late BCs and early ADs. The city sits on a highland overlooking the creek opening connecting the Arabian Sea to Wadi Darbat. The site offers overlooks the river mouth filled with the sand deposits, where you can find camels taking causal walk, one of the rarest of scenes one can witness. The park has the remains of the city gate and the residential areas of the old city and can keep you occupied for about 2 hours, exploring the area.
Taqah castle, located about 10 kms from the Sumhuram Park, is a small and relatively new castle in Oman. The castle houses various artifacts that are part of the Omani way of life.
Location: Ayn Humran
1:30 PM to 1:45 PM
After visiting the castle, we took a 20km drive to another water spring, Ayn Humran. Its a small pool of water located on the foothills of the Dhofar mountains. The place is much secluded from the crowds and I mist say it isn’t a crowd puller either. However for a bird watcher this place have much more to offer as you can see a number of bird nests and can spot birds like Kingfisher, Jacobin Cuckoo, Bruce Green Pigeon etc.
Location: Ayn Razat
2:15 PM to 2:45 PM
Ayn Razat, located 20 kms from city centre and 10 kms from Ayn Humran, is one of the most popular tourist spots in Salalah. The place offers multiple attractions including fresh water pools, caves, gardens and is a perfect picnic spot in Salalah.
Location: Ayn Sahalnoot
3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Our search for the perfect spring in Salalah to take a swim came to an end at Ayn Sahalnoot. The spring is located in line with Ayn Razat, on the foothills of the Dhofar mountains and is at 12 kms from Ayn Razat and 16 kms from city centre. This is again a tourists’ favourite with some amazing rock formations and a big, deep pool.
Museum of the Frankincense land
6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
The museum is located at Al Baleed is within the city limits on the shores of the Arabian sea. Owing to its historic and archaeological importance, this museum is recognised as a UNESCO heritage site. The museum complex exhibits the cultural as well as maritime history of Oman. There is ample space inside for a walk which leads to an archaeological site worth visiting. I felt it as an ideal place for an evening visit.
Tomb of Cheraman Perumal
Location : Tomb
8:30 PM to 8:45 PM
The name Cheraman Perumal may not be familiar for many except Keralites. He was a King in Kerala who traveled to Mecca, met Prophet Mohammed and accepted Islam. However, on the way back, he died in Salalah. The area where the tomb is located resembles Kerala with the area covered in coconut trees and banana plantations.
That concluded our 4 day Salalah trip and on Day 4 night, we returned to Muscat, covering a total distance of 3300 kms.