Friday, September 5, 2008

salalah - the last town

Salalah - Omans border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Salalah is the second largest town in Oman but is a far off place close to the border with Yemen. It is said to be given to Oman in dowry when a lady from Yemen royal family got married to Oman's king. The town is a coastal town surrounded by a U shaped mountain range that becomes tourist attraction in August and September each year when monsoon rains fall on this area. The mountains remain covered with fog and a lot of rain falls in the area. It makes the area lush green but the driving becomes treacherous in the mountains due to low visibility. Salalah is about 1200 kilometers from Dubai and about the same from Muscat (Oman's capital). The drive is very boring and tiresome due to a stretch of 700Kms or more of single road not very well maintained having only two petrol stations on the way. The terrain is absolutely terrible as there is not even a single plant on the way and its flat rugged surface with some small dunes on the way. Oman is sparsely populated and most of the population is along the borders with UAE and on the Arabian Gulf, a couple of cities in the mid country and then Salalah on the far end.

Travel Month:

August 2008


Sultanate of Oman

Total Days:

5 Days


Foggy Mountains, Some Off-road Driving, Ocean, Coast, Geysers, Shrines

Total Distance Covered:

3000 Kilometers


Since our arrival in the UAE, I had been hearing bout Salalah as a summer hill station but none of our acquaintances had visited this place. This was our first full summer here in UAE and it was as hot as it could be, touching 50 degrees roughly with very high humidity. I called up my two brothers and told them that we are going to Salalah and asked to accompany us. Everyone had their own reservations for such a long drive having heard the rough conditions on the way. Anyhow we got two entries in the shape of my eldest brother Sohail n fmly and our friend Nabeel n fmly. It was summer vacations for kids and they had no plan other than our forthcoming trip to the US and Canada. So the plan was finalized and before we left there were three more entries but all three of them didnt want to go to Salalah rather wanted to join us for one or two nights to Muscat that was not in our route. One was my brother Nabeel n fmly, the other were Saqib n fmly and Tariq n fmly. They usually don't go out for long drives so we felt obligated to go with them. We planned in such a way that we would stay with them for the first night at Muscat and then leave early morning for Salalah and let them continue for another day there.

We gather at the Hatta border check post and got the visa stamped without any hiccups. When you enter into Oman you drive along the coast to reach Muscat some 400 odd kms away. The drive was nice and the scenery totally changed as soon as we entered Oman as it becomes rocky but road sides are very green. While in UAE the terrain is sand dunes. We stopped at a couple of places for the convoy to reassemble.

The hotel booking was already done. We had booked three two bedroom apartments in a nice area. It was not difficult to find the hotel and we moved our stuff in the rooms soon after reaching there. It was afternoon so lunch was served from the one dish, each family was asked to bring. Lunch was sumptuous and left us licking our fingers, cause we couldn't fill ourselves more. After the lunch we started our city tour and visited the historic places as well as the scenic coast around Muscat. We went to a couple of famous beaches close to Muscat but those were extremely over-crowded so instead of taking a dip we rented two boats and went out in the ocean for a nice boat ride.

It was very hot in Dubai when we left in the morning but the weather changed to very acceptable in Muscat with nice ocean breeze. We came back to the city and visited some government buildings, very nicely but simply decorated. There were still signs of 2007 storm/sonamy that brought a lot of destruction in this area. I felt the sea was still quite rough out there. Back in the city we visited the main Souq, souq is the word used for market or bazaar in the Arabian world. It has its own magical attractions with shops of traditional crafts, herbs, Arabian perfumes, local clothing etc. Most of the prices were for the European customers which we saw none in our visit at least. The rates were highly negotiable and we ended up buying only a couple of souvenirs.

Night was approaching so we had a quick bite in the shape of Shawarma (traditional BBQ chicken rolled in Arabian bread with lots of vegetables, olive oil, herbs etc.). We had to call it a day because we had to start our drive at 430 hrs next morning. We drove back to the hotel to have some sleep but with so many kids around in vacation mood one could only dream of sleeping. It was late at night when we put the kids to beds by force.


As per the plan everybody was up at 345hrs and we hit the road at the target time of 430hrs. We had some tea and filled up our coolers with ice at the petrol pump for our long drive. The target was to reach Salalah before the sun sets. Out of three cars two missed the exit towards Salalah and we had to wait for them loosing 15 minutes of time. After they caught up the drive was nice and went through some awesome mountains. The road was excellent and the morning was fantastic. The sun rose gracefully and brought some high temperatures with it. Soon it was 35 degrees early morning. We drove for 3-4 hours like this and then the road changed into a single lane with very fast moving vehicles dodging each other head on. The scenery was flat rugged surface on either sides of the road without having a sign of any living thing in the area. No plants, no villages, absolutely nothing on this long stretch of road. We filled up our fuel tanks at each gas station that came on the way, the maximum distance between two petrol pumps was about 360 kms. We drove fast and covered some good distance before noon. Lunch break was taken at one small restaurant close to a petrol pump. This was good food given the circumstances. The road was still straight, long, thin and and the driving was boring and tiring.

Finally we saw some shadows far away and thought some clouds are approaching to cool of the day. The temperature gauge was showing 49 degrees and the trucks were screaming with front and rear air-conditioners running at full. Salute to the wonderful technology of autos as these vehicles hardly got tired in this hot and muggy weather.

After a long and laborious drive we entered into the mountains and the temperature dipped below 25 degrees in just a few kilometers. The landscape changed from brown to green in no time and the hectic drive changed into a pleasant feeling suddenly. We were stopped by a check post who checked our passports and we were on the move again.

It got very foggy as we drove another kilometer further. The visibility was dropped to only a few feet and the drive became very tricky and perilous. I was leading the group of three vehicles and was negotiating the steep turns with caution. A few kilometers distance took us a long time to cover. But a very enjoyable weather with a drizzle and fog. The wipers were on and the lights were shining. Hills were lush green due to the fog and rain which remains there for these two months of Khareef Festival taking place at Salalah. The fog does not go away for these sixty days. It becomes fun for the visitors but non-livable conditions for the residents as they move to the plains around Salalah, some even camping with their big Arabian tents erected. Amazingly the Government provides them with electricity and water even at the campsites, a revelation for us.

Salalah is a tourist town and the life is on the move during the summer season and becomes normal and dull in the remaining part of the year. It is popular for its weather in summer, if it rains they provide life to some ponds and streams in the region. There are some water falls those become alive when it rains. Salalah provides some historic and ancient places for archeology loving people. There are two tombs of two Prophets, one in the Salalah city and the other one in the mountains. There is a beautiful setting of geysers not far from here made by the waves hitting caves at the coast. There are certain holes on the surface that make the water come out and jump several feet with each wave hitting the caves under the holes. This was an amazing site. Then there are some very good offroad tracks leading into the mountains.

We arrived at Salalah before the sunset as per the original plan. The booking was done again through the same contact who did it in Muscat but we found out the person who was in charge at Salalah booking ditched us as he gave our rooms at slightly higher rents to someone else. We were stranded with tired and hungry kids. The search for a hotel was on but in the next two hours we made not progress due to tourist season and every place being booked in advance. We were going to all the places we could find but to no avail, finally reached Youth Hostel Hotel converted into a nice hotel. The manager listened to us and was sympathetic but offered no room. We stood our ground and reached the level of pleading (or at least we posed like that). He finally showed mercy and offered us two suites with a promise that we will vacate them the next morning. That was good enough for us to set us up for that night and the next day we would decide the course of action. The rooms were nice big size suits with one bedroom, big sitting room, small kitchenette and a bathroom. We split up into different parts and corners of the suites. My father decided to put his sleeping mat in the small kitchen to avoid the little devils.

After we were all fresh and ready again we hoped into the trucks and asked the manager for a good restaurant specializing in traditional local cuisine, which he guided us happily. We found the place after a little search, it was a traditional Omani restaurant with several rooms each could be used by one party visiting them. We ordered their specialties and ate it. It was OK food, I did not really liked it much because we usually like spicy food which this was certainly not. My wife started having tooth pain just then but as it was too late we could not find any dentist to get herself checked. She spent the night in pain and got the tooth removed next day to get some peace.

The night was good with temperatures half the mark as compared to during the day. Surroundings were absolutely astounding with mountains in the view. This hotel was at the outskirts of the city towards the mountains offering nice views and in proximity of the vistas. We really enjoyed staying here.


The next morning we visited the manager and as we requested him earlier to help us finding a place for the next two nights, we requested him again. We wanted to fix this problem before heading out for sightseeing. After we made sure that he understood that we were the victims of one of his countrymen, we asked for his help to find accommodation. He really considered that and offered us one of his suites in another block. We were seven adults and sever children, though it did not sound a very good idea but the circumstances were already tested by visiting several hotel last night. Therefore we accepted the offer and we moved our luggage to that suite. One bedroom, one living room and 14 individuals. The night would be exciting with all the kids running around.

We drove to find a place where due to gravity, if you put your vehicle in neutral it travels uphill. An incredible thing to discover.

Details will be posted soon...

Details will be posted soon...


Details will be posted soon...

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