Salalah, capital of Oman’s southernmost province of Dhofar and the third largest city by population in the country, often tends to be overlooked by visitors to Oman. This is a shame considering all the unique features and sights that this fascinating city and its surroundings has to offer tourists.

In mid-June, we experienced first-hand some of the wonders that Salalah offers adventurous visitors willing to go off the usual tourism trail and visit this remote gem of Oman. We were a group of media personnel and travel agents from Kuwait invited by Jazeera Airways to visit Salalah as part of their inaugural flight from Kuwait to Salalah on 16 June.

The inaugural flight began from Jazeera’s dedicated Terminal 5 at Kuwait International Airport with an inauguration and cake-cutting ceremony. The event was held in the presence of the Ambassador of Oman to Kuwait H.E. Hamid Bin Saad Bin Salim Al Ibrahim, and officials of Jazeera Airways, including VP Sales Bharathan Ravindran, Regional Manager GCC, Sachin Nene, and Sales Manager Kuwait, Alan Pereira, along with other dignitaries.
The flight on board Jazeera’s well-appointed single aisle Airbus A320 aircraft was exceedingly comfortable with excellent services provided by the inflight crew. The 2 hour 40 minute flight, which took off from Kuwait at 11.10am, landed at Salalah International Airport at 1.50pm to a traditional water-cannon reception by the airport’s fire and emergency services. Jazeera Airways plans to operate three weekly flights from Kuwait to Salalah on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays.

Following a reception at the airport attended by officials from Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, along with representatives from the Royal Oman Police and Salalah Airport authorities, the group headed to the Millennium Resort Salalah. The award-winning 5-star resort, a 15-minute car ride from the airport, is located north of Salalah in the area of Al Saada, close to both, the beach to the south and the mountains to the north. The exclusive resort, which caters to leisure and business travelers, is an embodiment of sophisticated luxury, considerate service and an intricate attention to the comfort of individual guests.

Our four-nights stay at the Millennium Resort was an amazing experience spent enjoying their luxurious rooms, the soothing spa and swimming pools, and the relishing array of foods at the outdoor food station at night. The evening of our first day of stay was spent mall-hopping, visiting Salalah Mall, the biggest in the Dhofar province, as well as the Salalah Garden Mall and the Oasis Mall. The rest of the days were spent on visits to some of the wondrous natural sites and landscapes that Salalah offers visitors.

Transportation service throughout our trip to Salalah was provided by Grand Tours, one of the leading tour operators in Oman. The team of qualified and experienced staff at Grand Tours made sure that we visited most of the tourism-centric spots in and around Salalah during our brief four-day visit.

Geographically, the Dhofar province and its capital Salalah lie nestled between Yemen to its west, the rest of Oman to its east, the Jabal Qara mountain range to the north, and the Arabian Sea lapping its coastline in the south. The long coastline provides the province with several superb beaches, many of which are in close proximity to the city. The coastline also leads to the Port of Salalah, one of the deepwater ports in Oman and also eleventh-busiest transshipment port in the world. As the second-busiest port in the Middle East, it is an important transshipment hub for container shipping with its connections to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Its strategic location and its separation from the foreboding Rub’ al Khali desert to the north by the imposing Jabal Qara, endows Salalah with a subtropical climate that allows for a greenery that makes you wonder if you are on the same Arabian Peninsula, characterized by its harsh desert environment and soaring summer temperatures.

Besides its acknowledgement as Oman’s second city or its vaunted prestige as the birthplace of the former ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Salalah’s claim to fame probably lies in its storied maritime history and the important role it played in the ancient spice and incense trade during the 12th and 13th centuries, when the city was said to be at its peak of prosperity.

Remnants of this glorious past are still evident in the many well-preserved archeological sites strewn around the province, and in the many artifacts preserved in the Frankincense Land Museum, which is part of the Al Baleed Archaeological Site in the city. The ruins at Al Baleed site belong to the ancient city of Zafar, an important port for frankincense trade during the medieval period. The ruins and surrounding areas have been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.

However, more than anything else, what draws hordes of visitors each year to this remarkable city is its lush green natural environment, a stark contrast to the barren desert terrain characteristic of most other places on the Arabian Peninsula. Visitors from neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are known to make a beeline for Salalah during the annual monsoon or ‘Khareef’ season when the city is at its verdant best.

The ‘Khareef’, which usually lasts from June to September, drenches the area in rainfall, feeds its many banana and coconut plantations, and transforms the desert landscape into an oasis city. The Jabal Qara mountain range appears to come alive during Khareef, changing their rocky brown profile to one of luxuriant viridescent vegetation. The outcroppings turn to seasonal waterfalls that flow through undulating valleys to form spring pools that provide a picturesque backdrop for picnics and camping. Among the more famous valleys and springs are Wadi Darbat and Ain Rezat, as well as Ain Athum, Ain Khor and Ain Tubrook.

A half-an-hour drive to the east from Salalah we reach Ayn Razat, a perennial fresh water spring that still uses the traditional falaj irrigation system to provide water to nearby farms. Waters of this natural spring, which gushes out from the base of the Jabal Qara mountains to the north, winds its way to Ayn Razat through the Wadi (valley) Razat. The road up from Ayn Razat to the mountain offers stunning views of surrounding valleys and Salalah city in the distance.

Then there is Wadi Darbat, a beautiful green valley with a river that flows through it even when summer temperatures peak in April-May. A particularly spectacular sight at the Wadi Darbat during the Khareef (monsoon) season, are the seasonal waterfalls that are created as water flows over the edge of the wadi and plunges several meters down to form pools.

The salubrious climate also leads to cultivation of large coconut, banana and papaya plantations, as well as a verdant landscape made all the more brilliant with exotic flowers and plants with fruits having flavors that are usually associated with a tropical country or a Caribbean location.

Salalah is certainly not what someone living in the rest of the GCC states conjures up in their minds when looking at the arid desert that surrounds the cities they live and work in. So this summer pay a visit to this hidden gem in the desert, and Jazeera Airways makes the trip all the more easy with its thrice weekly flights.

– By Wilson D’cunha
Advertising & Public Relations Director
The Times Kuwait

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