Oman: Baby Goes to Salalah
By Andrea Bailey
Imagine a place bursting with lush greenery and aromatic frankincense, a sky carrying the promise of cool gentle showers and creamy soft clouds for company.
Welcome to Salalah in the district of Dhofar, Oman, and the setting for my first ever holiday. A state-sponsored Khareef Festival during these wet months ensures regular tourist turnover.
Since I would be six months old around the time of the Khareef festival in July, this was as good a time for me to travel as any.
With more greenery than you can shake a stick at, Salalah and its cool clime offers much needed respite from the scorching Middle Eastern summer heat especially during the months from July to September.
Armed with three days worth of baby supplies, we boarded the Oman Air flight to Salalah from Dubai. A baby bassinette onboard provided cosy comfort and less than two hours later we touched down in the land of flourishing foliage and verdant valleys.
Monsoon winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean turn the otherwise arid sand dunes of this countryside into a luxuriant tapestry of meadows and grasslands. We were welcomed into the coolness of the evening by our travel agent to be escorted to our hotel for dinner.
As the sun arose on my first Omani morning, I was all set for my introductory history lesson. Holding the key to the past with several ancient ruins and tombs dating back to Biblical times, Salalah was a lot more than just a green spot on the Omani map.
After a hearty breakfast, I was dressed in warm clothes and settled into my baby car seat in our hired car. A car is an absolute necessity if one is to catch up on all that Salalah has to offer.
As our initial point of interest, we headed out to Ayn Garziz, a picture of tranquility with its winding streams and milky waterfalls. This was the very first time I set my eyes on thriving flora and vegetation of this magnitude.
If you have spent a while in the dry desert dunes of the Middle East, cooled only by air conditioning, you will be only too happy to see greenery on this scale. We spent some time gazing into the misty distance and taking in the moist morning air.
Nabi Ayoub or Job’s tomb (from the Old Testament) set in the Jebel Qara was next on the list. The drive up into the hills toward the tomb was a careful one as visibility was only a few meters at the most.
Sheets of light rain poured down our car windows and seemed to paint the surroundings in hues of jade, emerald and olive green. Approaching Job’s tomb out of the enveloping clouds almost felt like awakening from a dream. Encased within a concrete structure, this shrine to Job is visited by many.
Shoes have to come off at this point and women visitors are required cover their heads to enter the mausoleum. We were allowed to take photos of the burial place of this most ancient of ancestors.
Back on the highway a tantalizing aroma seemed to fill the air. Make-shift tents housing hot coals upon which lamb kebabs were cooking proved too irresistible for us. Following the tempting scent of grilled lamb, we selected a tent that seemed not to have weathered many storms.
At a veritable meat eater’s paradise, locals and tourists alike feasted on delicacies served at these tented restaurants along the highways.
As we settled down on the mat salivating and wanting to indulge our taste buds and sample local luxuries, hot rice and lamb kebabs were brought to us on a platter. We’re happy to report that our patience had been rewarded. The meal was as delicious as it was flavourful.
After the stopover and several cups of tea to douse out the drowsiness, we drove into the mountains to Ayn Razat, a picnic spot with springs to splash about in and numerous rolling hills to gaze at. Containing a play area and garden, these fresh water springs are well signposted from the main Taqah road.
Our second Salalah daybreak saw us packing up for our day trip to Mirbat. Located roughly 70 km (43 mi) from Salalah and famous for housing Bin Ali’s tomb, (Bin Ali was a well-known saint of antiquity) this seaside town is a half-day excursion out of Salalah.
The 1970s were witness to the Dhofar Rebellion by the communist guerillas from Yemen. The Battle of Mirbat was fought between the guerillas and British Special Air Service backed Omani government.
Serenity rules Mirbat now. Fishing boats lined the village wharf and the air was filled with the piercing cries of sea-gulls. The picturesque seaside on the approach to Mirbat was breathtaking.
White surf broke endlessly over the sounds of waves crashing onto deserted shores. Swimming in these seas is very dangerous as the strong currents along the coastlines can be deadly.
On our return from Mirbat we caught sight of a green hillside signposted as Ayn Hamran. Another leafy feast for the eyes awaited us at this spot and seemed very popular among day trippers and picnickers. Fishing out our picnic basket we enjoyed our lunch in the sublime shade of the groves.
A Magical Ride
An innocent enough sign reading ‘Tawi Attar’ stood alongside a dirt road on the Taqah route as we made our way back from Mirbat towards Salalah. This sloping dirt path defies gravity as we soon found out.
Tyres crunched gravel as we shifted our car gear to ‘neutral’ and watched it slide upwards instead of moving in the opposite direction. This inexplicable phenomenon was as amusing as it was baffling.
At Taqah we followed a sign that was more of a misnomer. Held within the center of this pleasant fishing village was a fort, its signboard claiming it to be a ‘Castle’.
The 19th century fort was converted into a museum and opened to the public in 1994. Once restoration work was completed on this ancient edifice, the museum was inaugurated, displaying old artifacts and handicrafts.
On the final leg of the journey back, a perfect photo opportunity presented itself in the form of a lovely bunch of coconuts. I was placed atop one such coconut mound before bemused looking fruit vendors.
Dining out in Salalah was fairly easy as plenty of restaurants catered to varied tastes. Most family restaurants provided baby dining seats making for a comfortable dining experience.
Our final day dawned and Mughsayl Bay beach to the South of Salalah was our destination. Strong gusty winds and light showers greeted us at Mughsayl. As water from the sea was forced into the porous rock, geysers arose high above ground level. At other times an eerie sound emanated from the rocks causing a few shivers.
While there are many who enjoy the long drive along the open road from Dubai to Salalah, most families with babies and toddlers prefer the convenience of the short 1½ hour flight from Dubai.
A green speck on the map in a country of dusky orange sand, Salalah is sure to please all the senses. Plenty of rain and cloudy skies did nothing to dampen our spirits as this was the very reason we were there.
Travelling with babies should not be about endless diaper changes and disrupted feed schedules. From the mouth of this infant comes the wise adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained, even as stunning images of waterfalls and streams amid emerald hills stayed with us long after our plane left behind grey Omani skies.
How to get there:
Drive from Dubai: Approx 17 hours
Drive from Muscat: Approx 12 hours
Oman Air flies from Dubai to Salalah: 11/2 hours
Where to stay:
Budget and Mid-range hotels:
Haffah House– Situated within the city center, the location is great as it is a convenient drive to and from the airport as well as to the various points of interest. The hotel provides all basic amenities as well as a gym, swimming pool and tennis courts. Banking and rent a car services are available within the same building.
Hamilton Plaza – This hotel provides clean basic rooms as well as internet facilities, swimming pools and tennis courts. The building houses a Travel agency and a supermarket.
Hilton Salalah resort: Popular with visitors seeking privacy, the resort is located approximately 12kms outside the city.
Crowne Plaza: With luxurious rooms to tempt tourists, this hotel is strategically located near the city center.
Salalah Maps are freely available at the airport, travel agencies and most hotels. The colorful map indicates main tourist points of interest and is easy to follow.
Car Hire: Booking in advance helps avoid problems of non-availability later. Roads tend to be slippery due to the rains so SUVs are probably the best cars to hire. Baby car seats are provided on request and should be utilized if travelling with babies or toddlers.
Driving around: Visibility during the monsoon season is low. Driving slowly and within speed limits is strongly advised as it is quite possible for camels, goats or even pedestrians to cross your path in the mist.
Swimming at beaches: Dangerous especially for toddlers and children as the shores along Salalah coastline experience extremely strong ocean currents.
Baby supplies: Most supermarkets and pharmacies stock Baby food and other baby supplies. Warm clothing and rainwear are recommended if visiting during the months from July to September as the weather is cold and extremely wet. Diaper changing facilities are available at most malls with the city. The same cannot be said about the tourist spots. It would be wise to come prepared to rough it out a little.
Local customs: Oman is an Islamic country and visitors should respect local sensibilities by wearing appropriately modest clothing.
Andrea Bailey is a freelance travel writer based in Dubai.
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