Khareef mist

Salalah and the Khareef


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Desert and Tropics meet
Lying at approximately 18 degrees north, Salalah, the second town of the Sultanate of Oman and 1,000 km from Muscat, faces the expanse of the Indian Ocean (see satellite image). The image will open in a separate window. The size is 72.5 K and the file takes up to 30 seconds to download fully at 28.8K.

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The mountains of Jibal Dhofar, which rise to 1,000m, encircle the Salalah plain and stretch westwards into Yemen.  Sailors have made landfall on this coast for thousands of years en route from Africa, the Red Sea, India and beyond. jabalqara.jpg (39699 bytes)
The rugged terrain made communications very difficult and the population remains dominated by isolated communities of tribesmen.  Following the resolution of the Dhofar rebellion in the early 1970s, a black-top road was built to the Yemen border.  It is a highly impressive feat of civil engineering with switchbacks descending to a wadi bottom and up the other side of the valley a few kilometres west of Mughsail. switchbacks.jpg (33461 bytes)

A branch of the Royal Family of Oman ruled Zanzibar, an island off the coast of East Africa, until 1964.  The peoples have freely intermingled and African influences are particularly apparent in Dhofar, Oman's southern region, of which Salalah is the chief town.
 
The ruins of a port, Samhuram, known to have been in its hey day over 2,000 years ago lie on a promontory between two khawrs, or sea creeks, some 30 km east of Salalah.  Locally and popularly known as the Queen of Sheba's Palace, Samhuram was important for the trade in frankincense. shebapalace.jpg (44775 bytes)
Frankincense is a resin hardened from the sap of the frankincense tree, a very unprepossessing plant which grows only in southern Oman, parts of Somalia and India.  Omani frankincense has the best quality and value.

Travelling westwards from Salalah, stunted trees are spotted easily by the roadside usually growing in wadis, but these are not usually reckoned as yielding good quality resin.  Two main crops are taken each year.

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Frankincense was used very widely in the ancient world and was prized as highly as gold.  Thus the rulers of Dhofar were accounted very wealthy men.

This Phonecian inscription at Samhuram testifies to a cultured way of life.

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Omanis still use frankincense widely, burning it on glowing charcoal to fumigate rooms and clothing, and blending it in local perfumes.  Burning incense is auspicious.  It is used to greet and say farewell to guests and at weddings and feasts. Go to Salalah souq to sample the different varieties. You can also buy frankincense and myrrh online from AdventureArabia and ArtGabir.
Incense burning at Prophet Ayoub's tomb Incense being burnt in a traditional Dhofari incense burner as a sign of reverence at the tomb of Prophet Ayoub, which overlooks the Salalah plain.
graveyard.jpg (39527 bytes) Another old mosque just outside Taqah at the eastern end of the Salalah Plain has two distinctive onion-shaped domes.

Rosie, George and I are standing at the edge of a graveyard.  Omani graves are marked by shattered fragments of rock, some of which may bear inscriptions.

The coastal fringe of Dhofar and Salalah is touched by the winds of the southwest monsoon between June and September.  The surface winds encourage an upwelling of colder waters in the Indian Ocean which cool the over-lying moisture-laden air. 
As this air is lifted over the Jibal Dhofar, the moisture condenses as thick fogs over the hills which support an annual resurgence of many herbs, grasses and trees in this summer season.  Many of these plants have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties. Hills behind Salalah shrouded in summer mist
Salalah depends for its water supply on annual replenishment by the Khareef fogs.  Groundwater travels fairly rapidly through the fractured limestone and either recharges the alluvial gravels under the plain or emerges in springs in the foothills, such as this one at Ayn Homran. aynrazat.jpg (35941 bytes)
The people of the region have traditionally been nomadic pastoralists.  Flocks of goats and sheep still roam the plain searching for forage.  Cattle are kept at higher levels. flocks.jpg (24223 bytes)
Camels are very common in Dhofar, regularly following the road to get to where they want.  Amazing as it may seem, each camel has an owner even though they may wander over long distances. cameltrek.jpg (21499 bytes)

The fog cools temperatures considerably, such that Salalah is a popular destination for Gulf visitors in the summer as a respite from the relentless heat.  The phenomenon of this rain-bearing fog is known locally as the Khareef.

Green-clad hills and desert wadi No vegetation grows in this wadi on the Salalah Plain, but the moisture-bearing winds of the Khareef green the hills in the distance.
The Whale's Mouth, Mughsail The Whale's Mouth near Mughsail, west of Salalah.  This view towards the sea looks down on the same wadi bed shown in the neighbouring picture.
khareffsea.jpg (36160 bytes) A raging monsoon sea.  Looking towards the Whale's Mouth from the shore at Mughsail.

Many of the visitors camp out on the plain north of Salalah, cooking on improvised barbecues.  The municipality has been organizing a Khareef festival since 1952 to encourage this tourism.

Traditional Omani dance at Khareef festival The Marbat dance troupe performed many traditional dances at the finale of the Khareef festival in 1998.

This picture was taken by a staff photographer of the Oman Observer and was published in 1998.

 
Tourists also visit the blowholes at Mughsail west of Salalah, where jets of water are forced up through narrow vents in the limestone rocks.  Seas are high during the monsoon season, and care should be taken swimming.  

All the same, this is Yours Truly having a very enjoyable time standing over one of these holes getting wet with the guys!

Sue getting drenched at a Mughsail blowhole
On that note, back to Oman for more Off-road pages.

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