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Don't write Salalah off

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    Don't write Salalah off

    I have never seen a cruise review that gave a port visit to Salalah anything but the thumbs down. So it was with some trepidation that my wife and I decided to give the place a go during our recent 21 night cruise on Oceania's Nautica.

    The city of Salalah is known as the "perfume capital of Arabia" and though it is claimed to be a popular destination for tourism, due to the natural attractions, the nearby mountains and the abundance of frankincense trees lining mountain wadi courses, little is ever written of cruise ship visit experiences.

    Shuttle buses are provided to the port gate where passengers are then confronted with a rather unsavoury haggling contest with local taxi drivers. It was made clear to us on the ship that shuttle buses were not allowed to proceed to the town centre, which is some 25 minutes drive from the port gate.

    Despite a very prominent sign at the port gate referring to taxi fares the drivers would not budge below $40 US despite the exchange rate indicating a fare of $26.00

    Reluctantly agreeing to a four passenger share we next encountered an amazing sand storm within minutes of setting off for salaleh City...


    ...to be dropped off at the Al-Husn Souq...

    Sometimes called the Frankincense Souq, due to frankincense being one of the main things sold there along with other types of incense and perfume, while another sections sell traditional Omani clothes and textiles. There are also large numbers of tailors' shops here as well as a few simple restaurants.
    As Souks go the Al-Husn Souk was a big disappointment and is obviously falls into the taxi drivers commission cycle.

    Armed with a local tourist map obtained on board our ship we set off to find the first of our target sites in Salaleh.
    First on our list of places to visit was the Burj A'Nahdah, better known in English as the Clocktower. It is the most prominent of the monuments which decorate the roundabouts around Salalah.

    The Burj A'Nahdah also proved a valuable reference point in finding our way to our next target, the tomb of Nabi Umran. Also known as Nabi Imran, he was said to be the father of the Virgin Mary...

    The tomb of Nabi Umran is 41 feet long. The grand father of Nabi Umran is said to be the father of Mariam (Mary) and grand father of Eisa (Jesus).

    The stone sarcophagus inside the tomb is 33 m long, which has given rise to speculation that he may also have been a giant. It certainly appears to be the longest grave in the world. Little guidance on protocol was available and I therefore was wary of photography internally: particularly as on our visit there were people present who were at prayer. So I rely on this Youtube clip to share what I saw inside the tomb...

    Longest grave in the world! - YouTube

    The site is a pleasant place, it has a small mosque next to the building housing the tomb, at the back of which there is a small garden with peacocks, guinea fowl and other birds. There was no charge for admission.
    Around a 30 minute walk later we reached the next of our destinations, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque which was inaugurated in 2009. It has become a symbolic and landmark structure in Salalah and featured heavily on the ship's excursion schedule.. The 40,419 sq.m. mosque has four entrances and can accommodate 3000 worshippers at a time. The mosque features a dome with a diameter of 15m. and height of 36m.

    Salaleh has a long history and considerable effort is being made to develop this part of its history and archaeological heritage. The city reached its peak between the 12th and 14the Centuries when it traded with Africa, India and China. Its major export, of course, was frankincense, but it also traded Arabian horses and gold.
    Archaeological excavation of the site has mainly taken place since the 1970s. The site covers an area of 64 hectares and there is a broad pathway, measuring 2.2km, which enables visitors to walk past all of the major structures, including the City Wall, Citadel and Grand Mosque. These are atmospherically floodlit at night.

    Al-Baleed Archaeological Park is one of the most interesting places to visit in the Salalah area. It is the site of the ancient port city of Zafar. The earliest settlement here dates back to around 2,000 BC, in the Bronze Age. It grew throughout the Iron Age, and you can still see the remains of a house from this period.

    ...and a view across to the Frankincense Museum, again a popular destination on ship's excursions...

    The taxi fare back to the ship proved more reasonable and in line with the notice at the port gate. i.e. $25.00 and that included the diversion from the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to the Al-Baleed Archaeological park and the driver's wait time.

    I can well understand cruise passengers disappointment with Salaleh. Without an interest in the history and culture of this pretty desolate Arab state there is very little to occupy the casual visitor.

    The Frankincense Tree...

    and possibly the oldest Mosque in Oman...


      Lovely photos Richard, and I can recognise many of the shots. We went to Salalah over three year ago and went on the Frankincense trail. I have to say it was not the best tour we took as the camels had eaten and stripped the frankincense trees bear! So not a lot to see of the famous trees. However saw a lot of beautiful coastline, villages, towns, and buildings. Plus lots of camels! We went to Jobs Tomb and it was a bit of a let down. However, the Oman is a very special place and what a secret it is to most tourists. I just love the Oman. This year we were further up the coast in Muscat. Salalah la la la ( think Tony Christie in Amarillo) land been in the South of the country. It is an exquisite country to visit ad I would recommend it as an exceptional place to visit. The sights and the history & architecture, the atmosphere is so exciting. Muscat and the old souk was just amazing and we got some real bargains. People on the world cruise needing extra suitcases to take home all their purchases were able to haggle for a large suitcase for $12 . By the time we reached Athens they were 6 times that price. I will go again.
      Jobs Tomb.

      Salalah land.


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