Salalah Swan Song

Mosque, Mughsail, Mountains, Mist
A Weekend in Tbilisi Part 1

Our last day in Salalah dawned hot and sunny, like every other day of our visit. Normally, sunny days would be a good thing, but we were hoping to experience the “typical” khareef climate of mist, fogs and rain! It’s the khareef that turns the area into a lush tropical paradise, in contrast to the vast majority of the Middle East. The southwest monsoons hit the colder waters in the Indian Ocean bringing moisture-laden air between the coast and the Dhofar mountains. Here’s a map of Oman, by the way, in case you are wondering. (Map courtesy of See Salalah right down the bottom.

Taqah Castle  was built in the 19th century as a private residence for a tribal leader, Sheikh Ali bin Taman Al Ma’shani –  the great-grandfather of  Sultan Qaboos. It became the property of the government in the first half of the 20th century and was used as a the office and residence of the Wali of Taqah (local governor) until 1970. During the 1960s the castle was expanded by adding the outer wall and its four towers. The castle was more recently renovated and reopened as a museum in 1994.

The inside is a museum of local life, with displays of household items, weapons, food storage and more.

Decorative items collected from China, India & Zanzibar decorate the rooms, collected from merchants trading for the sought after Frankincense. We spent extra time in this, the guard’s room, because it was the only one with air conditioning. Keith is standing in front of a portrait of Sultan Qaboos. The Wali’s bedroom.

This old”kerosene”lamp, now with modern LED globe, has obviously been swinging in the wind!

Taqah Castle is not as old as others we saw in the north of Oman, but it is very atmospheric.

From Taqah we headed to Sumharam & Khor Rori. We knew there were some more archaeological ruins there, but thought it was really too hot to go traipsing over an open site in the middle of the day. We figured we would go and take a couple of photos though, so we could say we had been there. When we arrived we found a modern, and thankfully air-conditioned, visitors centre (the only place we have seen one), and spent some time reading the informative and fascinating displays there. It turns out that Sumharam was a major city which flourished between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD as a centre of maritime trade across the Indian Ocean. Greeks and Romans visited for the precious frankincense, and Sumharam became a bridge between East and West. Much older than Al Baleed, and so interesting. The site was excavated in the 1950s and they found fortifications, temples, multistory residences, workshops and other public and private buildings. The temple of the ancient moon god “Sin” guarded the frankincense, and there’s even a connection to the Queen of Sheba. Despite the heat we had to go and have a look at the site (though we were right – it was too hot!).

The view of Sumharam as you approach. It is strategically sited at the top of a high escarpment.

The city walls have been reconstructed in part – they were much higher than this. There were helpful explanatory panels, but a bit of imagination was needed to know quite what we were looking at.

Two inscriptions behind glass panels are the only two remaining of the eight original ones on the main gate of the city. They are written in the old southern Arabian language Himyaritic, and explain the construction of the city, built under the orders of a Sabean king for the express purpose of controlling the frankincense trade and collecting it for export.

The visitors centre – air-conditioning and clean toilets. All they need now is a fridge filled with cold drinks! Note the mist over the mountains in the background.

From the ruins there is a wonderful view of Khor Rori, the estuary that forms the mouth of Wadi Darbat. The sand spit joins the two headlands. It silted over in the 4th century and marked the end of Sumharam as a port city. The water on the creek side is fresh, and would be a great spot for birding.

Hot, tired and a little sunburnt we were ready to call it a day. But just past Khor Rori is a place known as Anti-Gravity Road, where, allegedly, magical forces will make your car roll up hill!! Two friends told me not to miss it, so dutifully (and skeptically) we drove there. The drive itself was pretty, as we rounded a bend everything greened up, and lots of frankincense trees grew in the valleys, surrounded by mist-shrouded mountains.

We got used to camels on the road, but today we had to give way to cows too.

Here we are at Anti-Gravity Road! When we got there, the car did indeed roll in neutral all the way up the hill. Here is proof (no special effects involved, I promise):

Of course, there is no magic. It is in fact an optical illusion, but so effective that it is impossible to tell without special equipment. There are several such hills in the world, I learned. If you are very curious, here is an article I found which explains the phenomenon in detail: Magic is a lot more fun though.

We have noticed a lot of tourists ignoring the clearly displayed “No Swimming” signs at the various rivers and springs we visited. Today we went to Ayn Hamran, where in addition to warnings about swimming, the explanation was also given. Perhaps people think if you just stand or paddle in the water, the bugs won’t find you?

More misty mountains.

A couple of goat farmers obliged me by posing for a photo.

Since we were packed up ready for our late flight back to Doha, an afternoon swim was not on the cards today. Instead we headed to the Crowne Plaza for a late lunch in their comfortable lobby/lounge, and listened on the radio to Australia snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the 3rd Ashes Test (that’s cricket, for those who don’t know/care).


2 thoughts on “Salalah Swan Song

  1. Love all the information and your understated comments, e.g. “since swimming was off the agenda for this afternoon …” It’s been a fascinating journey in Oman. Didn’t expect the green area around Salalah. Love the pool shots listening to the cricket.

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