Friday, August 27, 2010

Salalah Once More!

The Far Away Town
Salalah is the capital of Dhofar region in Oman. This is in closer proximity to Yemen and once said to be part of Yemen and given to Oman’s Amir as Dowry a long time back. 

Here is what Wiki says about it.
“Salalah is the capital city of Oman's southern Zufar and Dhofar region. It is often considered to be the "second city" of the Sultanate, although some of this designation is probably due to its distinction as Sultan Qaboos' birthplace.
The region is famous for its khareef (monsoon), and the Khareef Festival is an annual event here. Many locals will in fact be quite surprised to see non-Arab visitors at other times of year. “

“Salalah and Dhofar are historically famous for the frankincense trade. The region has tended to be rather independent over history, although this has changed since Qaboos' ascention to the throne. The Jibbali (Arabic: those of the mountains) tribes maintain a slightly distrustful stance to the government in Muscat, although this is more a stance of custom than anything else. Interestingly, the tribes speak a different language to the Arabic spoken throughout the Peninsula, although visitors are unlikely to encounter it.”

Travel Month:

July 2010



Total Days:

6 days


Mountains, Gyzers, Fog, Ocean

Total Distance Covered:

3200 Kilometers



This trip was planned and executed in a rush as this summer there have been no fixed plans for visiting any particular areas or countries.  We all, the three brothers just happened to talk about going somewhere and in no time a plan was made to visit Salalah yet another time.

This place is a far away town as per the UAE standards and the road leading there is not that great either. One could imagine the single lane two-way road for about 800kms having just 2-3 patrol stations. The road has been under tremendous reconstruction and there is small single-lane detours built along the main road at a number of places, which also remains single lane even after the rebuild. Salalah is about 1250 kms away from our place but we booked our hotel at Marriot Salalah Resort, which was another 80 kms south of Salalah making our drive from home to hotel 1350 appr.

Owing to the remoteness of our destination and the quality of roads to be driven at, we left at 3 am to finish our drive in the day-light. We were three 4x4s with all three families including our parents and us three brothers. The drive to the border was quick and we found out at the border that the Al Ain border has also started to charge for exit visa stamping. That is AED 35 per passport, one would hardly experience border posts charging while you exit from a country. Though Omani side of the border were nice to take only AED 60 to stamp visas for our family. I did not bother to ask what was the calculation for that neither did the guy told us about any break up. We kept refilling our patrol tanks as soon as those were at the half level and we found any gas station.

The first turn off from the main highway was at the city named Ibri and after that we did not find any city until we reached Salalah some 1000 kms away from Ibri. There are a few small sized villages on the way though. The heat was intense and the temperature kept soaring up to 49 degrees Celsius despite being so lucky to have overcast skies half of the day. The sun broke out after 3 pm and that made it really easier for us to continue at high speed until that time. The breakfast brake was taken at 11ish to bundle it up with lunch to save time. The brunch was good and filling with a cup of tea to end with.

The next couple of hundred kilometers were interesting as I started to get an indication of ‘A/T over heating’ and I had no clue about it. We immediately stopped and inspected our land cruiser, which are made for such rough conditions. I found out some oil spilled but could not make out what kind it was. Next gas station was about a 100 kms away so we thought to rest the truck for some time and then drive it to the closest gas station. The gauges became normal after some time and we drove to a shady area 100 kms away. I read the service manual of LC in the mean time to find out that it was the Auto Transmission Oil that was over heating, probably due to the continuous high speed that we maintained for a couple of hours. The oil spill was found out to be the same but not from any seal rather from where the top was. I was certain about it and decided to continue driving but at a lower speed this time. I maintained less than 140kms/hour from there onwards and everything worked like a charm.

We entered the Salalah Mountains after this treacherous drive, towards the evening and found not much fog as compared to our last visit. But it was still good weather. Cool breeze brushed our faces and it really felt good after a tiring drive of 1250 kms through a very rough terrain.

We were stopped at an army check post as soon as we entered the green mountains to produce our driving license. Everybody entering Salalah has to go through this process of recording his or her name. After we were done there, we drove off and took a break in the mountains. Everybody loved the weather and children got the well-deserved break to run around and stretch them.  This was a very nicely built rest area but we discovered that it was an abandoned one and extremely filthy but had priceless views.
The next stop was in Salalah for the early dinner. We found a Mandi place as per majority’s choice and settled in the small family room. All these Arab restaurants have small rooms/cabins for the families in which you sit on the floor. The spread plastic sheets in the middle on which you eat. They wrap up the plastic and throw it away after everyone is done. Everyone was full and happy. Now we had to find a medical store/pharmacy to buy some medicine for me as my throat had really gone from bad to worst during the journey. It took us more then half an hour to find one and now we were heading towards our hotel after buying the medicines.
It was already dark and we were going south of the city and our destination was about 80kms away in a small town of Mirbat at the Marriott Salalah Resort that we had already booked via Internet. Once we reached our hotel we were served with a welcome drink and then were told that one room was not yet ready. It was quite surprising for a five star hotel to provide a room by 10 pm without even an apology from the front desk. The service we experienced at our arrival was not the best and had indicated how we would be treated in the next four nights in our stay. However the hotel property was grand and the poolside was really good with the views of the sea. They claim that their pool is the largest in the whole of Oman. The rooms were also spacious. We settled down first and then as kids insisted going to the pool we headed down and were welcomed by high winds. First we thought not to jump in the water but then had to dip in. It was quite chilly and once we were done we came in freezing due to the cold wind coming from the sea. The temperature remained between 17 and 25 degree Celsius during our whole stay, which was a great welcome for us as we came from 50 degrees.
The night was very comfortable after all. Everyone got up fresh the next morning. We got ready as we were getting impatient to see the mountains and the fog. After getting ready and heavy breakfast we drove towards the Wadi Darbat. This was not far from our place and this wadi snakes through some low altitude moutains. It was lush green with a number of trees showing strange formations. We had a break here and kids climbed the trees, as this has become a trademark activity for them in each trip. Then we headed further up in the mountains but our disappointment was not to find enough fog although it remains overcast. The place was not yet totally green as the rains started late this time around.
We faced a strange event here when we took a short break to discuss where to go next. A police car came and asked us to hand them over our driving license, which we did. We were then asked to follow them to the Police station that was not far from that place. At the PS we were asked if we could speak Arabic for which the answer was obvious as negative. The major at duty was not amused with our answer and told us if “No Arabic then Mukhalifa(ticket)”. This was really an upsetting moment for us that we had not faced in Oman before. There was nobody who could listen to us or tell us why the ticket was given. They asked us to get the car registration for further action. I came out for that but instead of getting the registration I ran to the road to find someone who could act as a translator for us. To my luck the first car I stopped knew English and they agreed to help us out. The reason we found out was strange as we were told that we were blocking a dirt road and that was a traffic violation. However only the major himself was of this opinion and the rest of the staff that tried to convince him also were not in this favor. But he was the boss and they didn’t have much choice there. With our translator’s help we were able to convince the major that this is not the way to treat your guests who are frequent travelers to Oman. He finally took our signature on a warning note that we will not do any traffic violation again and let us go after wasting one hour.

This left bad taste in everyone mouth in the first day of our outing. Everyone was in a bad mood and we had to make an effort to lift the mood and morale finally. The next stop was going to be the Anti Gravity Point. Kids were especially excited about it. I started to stop in each uphill where I thought the Anti Gravity Point should have been and the struggle paid off and we found the right spot that is not far from the sea. The car goes uphill with any accelerator when you put that into Neutral. We did it time and again to make sure that we were at the correct spot and yes that was the point that was stored into our GPS for future usage.

Once we were done here we drove down to the beach side and the other two cars took the kids to the mountains just rising up not too far from there. They wanted to do some hiking and Iman and Hassan wanted to go to the pool as they couldn’t go last night. So we headed back to the hotel for the others to join us later. We changed and had a nice swim in the water. The wind was still cold and intense so the best way was to remain in the water that we did until we remain at the pool. It was really refreshing and we all really enjoyed it.

For the dinner we planned to buy fresh fish from the dock and then cook it at a seaside café owned by a Bengali. We had already spoken to him about it. He had a very clean little restaurant with great views of the Arabian Sea. The fish was bought as fresh as it could be and then the Bengali was told to make Shorba out of one, fry the other one and make BBQ from the third type. It was a big dinner planned and all the arrangements were accordingly. Night fell and the restaurant looked like a fairytale place with long tables in the veranda and our whole family siting around it. The dinner was served and without any doubt this was one of the best meals we had. All types of fish were excellent and made to perfection. We sat there for long and finished with tea at the end. We drove back to the hotel and the kids had a session of hide and seek before going to sleep.

We had a relaxed start for the day. Sohail and myself had a long walk on the beach and we explored the area before everyone was up and ready. We had arranged breakfast at the Café and surely that was awesome. After the sumptuous breakfast we left for Salalah as we had planned to visit the Tombs of Prophet Omran and Prophet Ayub, drove through the foggy mountains, visit Mughsail and the blow whole on the Arabian Sea. First we visited the Tomb of Prophet Omran that is some 20 kms from Salalah into the mountains. The mountains were extremely foggy and the visibility was not more then a few meters hence the drive was very slow. This was a very enjoyable ride up in the mountains and everyone enjoyed every bit of it. I being the lead driver had hard time finding my way in the dense fog. The weather remained extremely pleasant and this was a wonderful change for Dubai people. This tomb has so many trees around it; many were with hanging fruits and with so many birds chirping around. The birds were of various colors and we spent quite some time here to enjoy the nice foggy weather and the beautiful nature. 

It was time to go down to the plains and to drive towards Mughsail. Though on the way down from the mountains we took another stop and had a walk through the fog and slushy place. The next stop was the blowholes at Mughsail. There are a number holes on the hanging caves over the sea through which the water is pushed through the waves and they create a fountain environment. They go high as few meters and created amazing scenes. We stayed there for over an hour before returning back to the city for a well-deserved KFC.

After the late lunch everyone was again ready for more fun, therefore we drove to the fruit market surrounded by orchards of coconut and banana trees to have fresh coconut juice. After seeing the sugarcane we couldn't stop ourselves from getting some for the way. It was already evening when we left Salalah and reached back our hotel well into the dark. The day was still not over as the kids wanted to go to the pool for a dip in a very windy conditions. After the pool and long session of chit chat the day was called off.

This was our last day at the hotel and we were to check-out the next early morning. We decided to have a relaxed day by staying the area after the breakfast, enjoy the pool, drive on the beach and fly kites. It turned out to be the right decision as everyone loved the relaxed day and we got to explore the local area as well. We drove on the beach to see the area and the ruins there, ran after the seagulls, clicked a lot of pictures. The scenery was awesome and most of it was untouched as we didn’t see too many tourists there as it was away from the city. We relaxed and swam for hours in the beautifully situated pool.

Then we took out the kites and the colorful kites were flying in the sky in no time. The wind was perfect for this activity. All the kids participated in this fun. When our kites flew, a few other people joined us with their kites, on the beach. This was fun and a quite relaxing time. In a short time we had kites of different designs in the sky.

At night we went to the harbor to buy fresh fish. This fish was the freshest catch and ended up in our tummies after being cooked there and then at the café overlooking the ocean. It was a very delicious meal indeed. The environment was amazing, the sea was rough and noisy and so were our kids. Fresh roti (bread) was prepared by our Bangali friend and we chose to cook the fish ourselves this night. The food was served close to 9pm when everyone was really hungry. We ate the delicious delicacies with extreme interest and that was really finger licking. A round of tea followed the dinner and then we drove back to the hotel.
Once we were back and took some rest, we loaded up our trucks for the early morning drive back home. It was going to be again a long drive of 1400 kms in a stretch.


We started our drive a little late as compared to what we used to do, just to have a relaxed start. A couple of years back when we drove back from Salalah we started at 4am and that turned out to be a bad idea. It was because we were all sleepy on the way and driving became a nightmare. We drove back home with great difficulty finally. This time we chose to have a good night sleep before the drive and that exactly what we did and that helped us drive back comfortably. Once we passed the Salalah Mountains the rugged endless road started and this became a very tiring drive. For some time the drive remained uneventful but after a couple of hundred kilometers I experienced a tire burst. This was the back tire on the passenger side. For a second it seemed that the car is just going to go out of control but eventually I was able to take control. We were lucky to avoid any accident cause this road a single lane two-way traffic road with a small shoulder. On top of that the road is bit elevated and if you come down on the dirt from the road on a high speed there was a big chance of playing rolly polly. Anyhow all was well for us as we safely stopped on the little shoulder. Upon inspection we found out that the new tire just give in and was totally ripped.

It was changed with the spare tire that had never been used before and although it was a new tire but I had my reservation about it. For the same reason we drove at a lower speeds all the way to home adding a few extra hours to our drive, but better safe than sorry.

We took a few breaks on the way for refueling the cars as well as ourselves. The highlight was the Mandi diner at Ibri. We reached the Al Ain border once it was dark. We made it home safe and sound after midnight to finish yet another amazing journey.