Last week, the Oman Supreme Committee announced that, unlike the previous year, Dhofar will actually be opened for visits to residents and citizens who had taken the first dose of the vaccine, Oman Observer reports.
This was welcomed with a sigh of relief by many tour operators, hotels, and restaurants operating in Salalah and the nearby wilayats as they too had suffered tremendously over the last couple of years with businesses gravely affected.
What is khareef
Khareef (Arabic: خَرِيْف, romanized: Kharīf, autumn) is a colloquial Arabic term used in southern Oman, southeastern Yemen, southwestern Saudi Arabia and Sudan for the southeastern monsoon. The monsoon affects Dhofar and Al Mahrah Governorates from about June to early September. Towns such as Salalah depend upon the khareef for water supply. An annual Khareef festival is held in Salalah to celebrate the monsoon and attract tourists.
The Khareef leads to a unique ecological habitat along the coast known as the Arabian Peninsula coastal fog desert.
During the khareef, the Dhofar Mountains around Salalah and Al-Ghaydah are rainsoaked and shrouded in fog.
After the announcement of the Supreme Committee, a lot of people are contemplating whether traveling to Salalah at a time of the pandemic is worth it. Oman Observer compiled a list of tips inspired by their recent visit to Oman’s ‘Garden City’ that will hopefully give you some insight as you make that decision.
Avoid flying when you can
During the peak of khareef season, the number of tourists traveling to Dhofar will definitely rise. The one place you don’t want to be will be at the airport.
In our recent visit, despite it not being peak season of khareef yet, the plane we were on was fully booked. Just imagine what it’s like when a lot of people all go at the same time. Unlike the clear guidelines on the ground for businesses where they have to abide by the 50% capacity rule, such a rule seemed not to apply to airlines. While the rest of the airport consistently observed the social distancing guideline, everything flies out of the window when you proceed to the gate. Can you imagine what if the plane is like fully packed? With a screaming child, three aisles in front of you, and an elderly gentleman coughing at the back, it will be a very stressful ride. One asymptomatic person will definitely ruin not just your travel plan but raise the potential risk of getting infected. If you really want to go, then you have to at least double mask, avoid touching any surface and keep your head down and hope that you’d come out well after the flight.
Consider privately driving on the long and winding roads
Health-wise, driving on your private car is more sound as a decision. But remember that Salalah can be an 8 to 10 hours drive from Muscat, depending on whether you take the coastal road passing through Sur and Al Ashkarah or the Adam-Thamrait Road. If you decide to drive with your family, make sure to stack on food. As you will be crossing a long expanse of desert, always remind everyone to hydrate. You won’t be able to enjoy Salalah if you get dizzy once you arrive. Also, make sure to put on petrol every opportunity you have as the distance from each petrol station can be miles apart. Enjoy the ride but also always check on the timings — you don’t want to be caught driving in the middle of a curfew.
Pre-book your apartments or hotels
Because of the ongoing curfews, making sure that you have a place to crash when in Salalah is just as important as the safety precautions on the road. Unlike in the past that you have all the time to look for a space to rent, such a scenario has been canceled at the time of the pandemic. So before even going to Salalah, make sure that you pre-book your places to stay. To save on costs, some apartments are excellent options. When these apartments allow you to cook your own meal, that is an even better deal. Make sure to have a Plan B and C of where you choose to stay.
Explore the unique food scene in Salalah
If there’s one thing we realized, Dhofar is really a big place and that there’s always something to discover. We assumed that we already tried all of its street food in our recent visit, but we were wrong. Other than the much-loved mishkak grilled on stone (which is some of the best in Oman, btw) and the chicken madhbi (also grilled on stones), we later came across with masarin, which is surprisingly good. We won’t describe it to avoid spoiling the fun. There’s also the desert called fattah, which is a close cousin to Um Ali that is also delicious. Other than the street food, do enjoy the local fruits abundant during the khareef season. And you can’t miss the coconuts. Did you know that there are several varieties of coconuts you can try if you ask the seller?
Take the uncharted path
Salalah during khareef is nature at its finest. We won’t even bother talking about it if it’s not worth visiting. But Salalah is far more than just the usual attractions. If you’ve visited all the ains, waterfalls, peaks, and beaches, remember that you have a vast playground at your disposal, and there is definitely a different corner you haven’t checked out. Have you heard of the unique baobab trees, some of the biggest that has grown in Salalah? It definitely sounds intriguing, right? Our recent visit had taken us to a wrong turn, where we ended up visiting the upper part of the big waterfall in Wadi Darbat. From the top with the sweeping view of the valley below, that was a truly memorable experience.
Keep the mask on and socially distance at all times
Remember, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. We are also faced with an enemy who constantly mutates. As many of us already know, the newer variants tend to get transferred faster, so that’s definitely a risk we can’t take. Keeping our group close and adhering to the Supreme Committee rules as well as maintaining precautions at all times made us enjoy our trip to Salalah the same as the previous years we explored it before corona. We would have to keep reminding, pace, or consequences, though, while it’s all fun and games and before you book that flight or drive that car, check on your family members. Contemplate. Is one of your family members considered high risk? If they are, the choice is always yours to make.
The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, covering c. 25,000 km2, is a world heritage site made famous for the successful re-introduction of Oryx leucoryx. It supports a diverse wildlife community and contains the largest population in the Arabian Peninsula of Arabian gazelle. Also present are Arabian sand gazelle, the Arabian wolf, caracal, honey badger, Ruppell’s sand fox, and the red fox. The Sanctuary’s Huqf escarpment contains one of the main populations in Oman of Nubian ibex.
The Jebel Samhan in Oman’s Dhofar region, which is subject to little human disturbance, is thought to contain Arabia’s largest population of Arabian leopard, possibly its last stronghold in the wild. It is listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened animals as critically endangered (IUCN 2001). The area also contains a unique assemblage of larger mammals, including Blanford’s fox, genet, hedgehog, etc.
The fog-affected escarpments of Dhofar have the highest number of endemic species and some of the most species-rich habitats in Oman. About 900 vascular plants have been recorded from the fog oasis of Oman and Yemen. Many of the plants have important medicinal or economic properties, the most famous of which is the frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra), which in the past brought great wealth to the area.
In Oman, the Jebel Samhan of Dhofar was declared a National Nature Reserve by Royal Decree in June 1997, mainly due to its leopard population. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary provides protection for Oryx leucoryx and other wildlife. However, poaching reduced the re-introduced oryx from over 400 in 1996 to 136 by January 1999. Several nature sanctuaries also exist on the Salalah coast. Through its Directorate of Nature Protectorates, the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment designates protected areas and administers them together with the Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.