The first time I heard of Salalah was through a friend of mine in Dubai who, like me, is very found of exploring new places. When I saw the pictures of the place I was quite impressed with the greenery. Think of Middle East and images of desert and the date palm trees comes instantly to the mind. Salalah looked different with its virgin beaches, coconut and banana trees, and some stunning views of waterfalls. That was how I made up my mind to go to Salalah.
The wait was finally over when I visited the place with my family early this month!
The city strikes you the moment you land at the airport. The airport itself is small but green. The mountains in the distant background adds to the beauty. The weather even in June was pleasant. UAE by this time is scorching with temperatures in the mid 40s (degree celcius). I took some pictures outside before we went in for the Visa formalities. It was late afternoon.
Unlike UAE, Oman is more grounded in its traditions and the use of Arabic language. It's not easy to communicate in English when you are in Oman. The formalities took a while even when there were passengers from one flight only. The Dubai airport has probably spoiled us when it comes to time efficiency.
After buying some riyals we hired a taxi to take us to 'Haffa House' hotel. It is an old hotel. The pretty impressive Arabic architecture inside tells you that the owners must have quite a vision. Unfortunately the vision will be lost soon if the sub-standard maintenance continues!
After a shower we went out for an evening stroll. There was one place in my mind that I was eager to see ever since the plan to Salalah was conceived - the resting place of the Prophet Umran [PBUH]. Prophet Umran or Imran [PBUH] was the father of Mariyam (biblical Virgin Mary) mother of the Prophet Isa [PBUH] (biblical Jesus). It was my good luck that his tomb was a minute walk from our hotel.
There are no words to describe the feeling when you see something like this. I mean a sinner like me is standing inside the tomb of a Prophet after whom there's a whole chapter in Qur'an (Chapter 3, Surah Aal-E-Imran or 'The Family of Imran'). I was a little overwhelmed by the sight. The grave was nothing like what I was used to - it was thirty metres long! I had seen the picture but seeing something in person is a whole new experience. There was a small mosque and a park surrounding the tomb. The entire place was serene, something entirely different from the atmosphere at Hazrat Nizamuddin and other shrines in India. There was just one person sitting and reciting Qur'an. It could also be because of the time of the year. Normally visitors throng Salalah during the Khareef season when it rains, which was just a month away.
I recited Surah Fatiha (the first chapter of Qur'an) for the blessed soul. My wife could only visit the place on the third and final day of our visit.
There was another landmark nearby, of a different kind though - Lulu (arabic for pearl) Hypermarket. The name may not ring a bell for those not living in the Middle East. It's a chain of super/hyper markets across the Gulf run by this year (India's) Padma Shri awardee UAE-based Yusuf Ali. I think it was the only big retail outlet of the area.
We stopped by a restaurant for a bite. Oman in my opinion offers the best food. You could try any of their dishes (non-veg off course), they all taste good. We had a grilled chicken sandwich and fresh avocado juice. It was all very delicious!
From there we took a cab for the old Haffa market, which is a small traditional market for perfumes. For us it was a welcome change from the big, glamorous, and freezing cold malls of Dubai. There was not much to buy anyway. The Chinese seems to have taken over the local handicraft as well. Even the 'Khanjar' or the Omani dagger sold in the souvenir shop read 'made in China'. We spent some time at the Haffa beach. I was looking for the local tea but the language barrier made sure that we had a cup of regular tea which tasted even worse.
It was a long hectic day. By the time we reached our hotel the two of us were exhausted, but our son was still raring to go. The dinner was a quite affair at the hotel restaurant itself. I can't recall the name of the Omani dish that I ordered, but it was made of minced mutton mixed with vegetables having a half-fried egg on top. It was a local favourite and rightly so! A much needed sleep followed.
Day two started with a nice buffet style breakfast at the hotel before we hired a taxi for the whole day. Since we arrived in Salalah before the start of the Khareef season we could only see the spots which would become waterfalls in the days ahead. The caves in such spots are pretty cool and serve as nice picnic spots. The roads were in complete harmony with the nature. You could see camels roam around freely every now and then, the trees too lined the roads in patches. We could just imagine how green and pretty the place would become when it rains.
Our next stop was the tomb of another Prophet, Ayub [PBUH](biblical Job). In the Muslim world there are two names that come up immediately when the word 'patience' is mentioned, one is Husain Ibne Ali (grandson of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH]) and the other is Prophet Ayub [PBUH](a descendant of the Prophet Ibrahim [PBUH]). He was a very rich man before thieves attacked his big farm, killed many of his servants, and ran away with his cattle. After some time the roof of his house gave in, resulting in the death of many of his family members. A few years later a skin disease caused ulcers on his face and hands. His sores were full of worms. It is said that when any of those worms fell down he used to pick them up and put them back inside. Even his wife under the influence of Iblees (Satan) left him. But he remain patient and never lost his faith in God. He was finally rewarded for it. Allah cured him and restored his old status.
The tomb was located at a small hill with gardens surrounding it. The weather there was quite pleasant with strong, cool winds blowing! We stayed for a while before heading off to Mughsail beach. There was another tomb, of Salem bin Ahmed bin Arabia, which we visited on the way.
Mughsail is a popular beach of the region. It is well known for its blowholes. Blowhole is actually a cavity formed in the ground at the inland end of a sea cave through which water gushes through, reaching several metres in height. It is a spectacular sight, one that has to be seen to be believed. The area had some stunning cave formations. The temperatures dropped below the caves. A small wooden bridge connects you to the blowholes side of the beach. The blowholes were covered by strong mesh like iron frames. The water comes out in the form of a spray from such holes. My wife had a lot of fun but my son got scared with the noise of the waves. We had to leave the place early against our wishes.
Our lunch was a typical Omani affair at a restaurant located at the foot of the staircase leading to the ground. The chicken piece put in as a whole in the biryani was unlike anything that I ate before. It was all very delicious. We offered our prayers at a nearby mosque before heading back to the city centre.
I wanted to see the Al Baleed Archaeological Park but we couldn't go in because of the timings. Al Baleed was mentioned by Ibn Battuta in the 13th century as one of the important Omani harbours trading in Arabian gold, frankincense, horses and other goods to India. Today, it is the only one excavated and turned into an archaeological park.
We stopped for some fresh coconut drink at a local fruit shop. The shops lining around the road had banana and coconut trees in the background. It looked like a scene straight from a village in Kerala, India.
The last spot of the day was Al Baleed beach. As the name suggests it was close to the park. Compared to the adjacent Haffa beach it was cleaner and quieter. The coconut trees provide a nice resting place. The Omani beaches are strikingly very natural with little or no commercial development. The maddening race for development has yet to hit Oman. Perhaps that makes it a very peaceful place to live in. After an hour or so at the beach we left for the hotel. We had to leave Mohammad, the taxi driver, as well. He was a well mannered soft spoken guy who worked at the Airport Police department. Driving the taxi was his part-time job.
Our last dinner in Salalah was at a nice restaurant on the Al-Salam Street.
Day three started a bit early. This was also to be the last day of our visit. We checked out of the hotel after breakfast, and waited for Mohammad. He was a bit late. Since my wife couldn't go to the Prophet Umran's [PBUH] tomb, she did that day. There's another spot close to the tomb, it has a rock containing the footprints of Prophet Saleh's [PBUH] camel before it was killed.
Prophet Saleh or Salih [PBUH] was known for his wisdom, purity and goodness and had been greatly respected by his people before Allah's revelation came to him. Most of them did not believe him and tried to put him off by asking him to perform a miracle if he was a true messenger of God. It was to let a unique she camel issue from the mountains. The almighty granted him this miracle and a huge, unique, she camel appeared from the direction of the mountain. Yet most of them didn't believe in him. They started plotting to kill the camel. Three days after they finally killed it against the Prophet's warning, a severe earthquake destroyed the entire city and its habitants. Those who believed in the message of Saleh (PBUH), were saved because they had left the place. The story finds a mention in the Qur'an as well.
We couldn't visit the Prophet Saleh's [PBUH] and the Prophet Hud's [PBUH] tombs due to lack of time. Both were at a fair distance from Salalah.
From the camel spot Mohammad took us to a nice green spot which had water flowing through it. It was a good 30-40 kms from Salalah city. The spot had a cave as well. There were quite a few teenagers bathing and having fun in the water. We took our lunch at a nice restaurant in the main city on our way to the airport. Muhammad the taxi guy was kind enough to escort us to the main departure area.
We took off from the Salalah airport only to expect the hustle and bustle of a city called Dubai.