Monsoon in Oman

Flashback

Monsoon in Oman

As I catch the first glimpse of the sand dunes from my flight, the years peel away and my heart races. The last time I was in Kuwait was in 1989, when I was a just a child and called it home.

I’ve never returned. But a visit to Oman brought me close to my birthplace, in every sense. As I touched down on Oman’s capital, Muscat, it was like travelling back in time. Unlike most of the Gulf countries, Oman hasn’t given way to high-rises, cramped living quarters, larger-than-life malls etc. There is still the vastness of space, open lots filled with sand, and the charm of days long gone.

Rainy retreat

Muscat has many attractions — the Grand Mosque, one of the most beautiful pieces of Islamic architecture; the Bait al Baranda Museum, which traces the history of Oman; and more. But Muscat was only my port of entry when I visited last July to witness the monsoon or khareef season in Dhofar, a short flight from Muscat. As a child of Mumbaikars, in Kuwait, I craved rain. One year, climate change brought a miracle — a drizzle that lasted a day.

The Omani region of Dhofar experiences this miracle every year. Legend has it that Omani sailors lost at sea prayed hard to find their way back home. Their prayers were answered as khareef was born and the winds turned their dhows to Dhofar. Little wonder that khareef translates to  ‘winds of plenty’. Khareef is nothing like the violent monsoons in Mumbai. It’s soothing and surreal. There’s the smell of wet sand, palms glowing a deeper shade of green, while a hazy mist fills the air.

I catch my first showers in Wadi Darbat. A 20-km drive from my hotel, my guide Rashid takes the coastal road where the topography changes in minutes. We start out looking at intimidating dunes and end up in a lush valley. As we go deeper, the trees get taller until they block out the sun and creepers wrap themselves around barks, making the forest appear enchanted. Suddenly, I hear the sound of roaring falls, and then I see them criss-cross like braids and cascade down several feet. It’s hard to believe how a few inches of rain can change the landscape entirely. The peculiar weather patterns have also made this wadi or valley a great spot for bird-watchers, as many winged creatures migrate here.

A rich history

Just above the Wadi was the once bustling port city of Khor al Rouri. Today, ruins stand in its place. If these dusty ruins could speak, they would tale many a tale. Over 2,000 years ago, Oman was at the centre of the frankincense trade, a gift of nature that was revered by gods and mortals alike. With its abundance of the perfumed trees, exporting frankincense across the border emerged a major trade. Khor al Rouri became an important port.

The ravishing Queen of Sheba is rumoured to have loved her frankincense and considered it a fount of youth. Her passion led her to deal in the resin. In order to further her business, she built a palace here. Some scholars believe that it was here that she met with King Solomon and together they reached a trade agreement.

As we drive down the highways, we spot a few tents, a pop-up restaurant of sorts where local delicacies are served up hot. A pit is dug in the ground and is used as an earthen oven. It is filled with coals to cook meat. From tender camel meat to chicken, it comes delicately spiced, with khubz (bread), and a side of khaiyar (pickled green chilli, gherkins and carrots). As I savour the delicacies, a local strikes up a conversation.

The disdasha-clad, keffiyah-sporting Omani learns of my Indian origins and expounds on the tale on Vishnu and his turtle form koorma. I then learn that Ras al Jinz is a corner of Oman where the endangered green turtles come to nest. And the Ras al Jinz Museum shares these and other religious/cultural stories associated with turtles, breaking the stereotype of an ‘undemocratic’ Middle East.

More clichés of an arid Arab world are broken at Mughsayl Beach in Salalah, the capital of Dhofar. The beach comes with blowholes: on the shores of the beach were limestone rocks. The limestone was essentially deposited from the ocean when the waters once flooded the Arabian Peninsula several million years ago. The deposits extended all the way to the Empty Quarter, where they still sit under multiple layers of sand. In Mughsayl, the limestone formations grew upwards forming caves and giving rise to a shore with a vertical slant. Small hollows at the top of the caves served as blowholes. As the waves get stronger, water gushes in full force, through these natural vents. One could sit here for hours just watching the water shoot up several metres into the air. This serves as my parting image of Oman.

Oman allowed me to recapture my childhood with the added bits I’d always hoped for — rain, greenery, an abundance of nature and a dash of history. Even if you were never a Gulfie, Dhofar during khareef will cast a spell on you.


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