Guided Tour of the Dhofar Region – Part 2

Continued from yesterday”¦ The next stop was the highest mountain in the area, at 2,000 meters, and unfortunately, we didn’t catch its name. The peak holds a communication tower and the rest of the area is pristine. From the edge, it is a sheer drop down to the desert at sea level directly below, and the ocean in the distance. We were up so high that the clouds were floating by next to us and below us. This spot has got to be a hang glider’s dream.

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From there we headed to Wadi Darbat. On the way, we saw a herd of camels grazing along the side of the road. We had passed several herds already, as well as herds of goats and cows, but these were the first guys we had seen that weren’t moving. They were eating lunch. We got out of the car and walked right up to them and took photos as they happily ripped off branches of desert bushes and chomped away. Saleem even encouraged us to pet one of the ladies on her belly. She made loud grunting sounds when we touched her, which alarmed us, but are apparently normal. The hair is course. Interestingly, the feet are soft on the bottom, more like paws than hooves. Peter got a great shot of her smiling for the camera.

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We piled back into the car and quickly arrived at Wadi Dharbat, the water source that fed the ancient city of Khor Rori. We went to the edge of a small river with a pretty view. In the wet season there is a waterfall, but it is dry now. Hidden discreetly behind a cliff overhang was some Bedouin housing. This small group lives here in the dry season, moving to other places in the wet season. We got back in the car and went just a few kilometers back down the road to some springs that flow into the river, which are also quite beautiful. Here is a picture of Saleem and the springs.

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We headed back down the mountain to the coast, to the ancient city of Khor Rori, also called Sumharam, located 35 miles east of Salalah. The city was the most important trading port in Southern Oman from the end of the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD. They traded with India, the Mediterranean, and other parts of Arabia. Metal products and frankincense were also produced there. Excavations began on the site in the 1950’s.

In a lot of ways, Sumharam is very similar to Al-Baleed, except with many, many more buildings in various stages of resurrection. In fact, it looks like the city had very narrow streets with the buildings set very close together. There are signs indicating temples, residences, and storage facilities, with drawings of what the buildings probably looked like once upon a time. None are quite as put back together as well as the big mosque in Al-Baleed, but there are many that are put together enough that you get a definite sense of what they must have looked like. Sumharam also has a fresh water canal flowing along the outer edge of the city walls and beautiful ocean views. Despite it being dry and dusty, you can definitely imagine all the area surrounding the city as fertile and lush farmland irrigated by the canal, much the same as Al-Baleed. The first shot is one of the more put together buildings, and the second shot gives you a peek of the river and a nice view of the ocean behind the city.

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We were starved and ready for lunch. Saleem took us back to Salalah to a Lebanese restaurant called Baalbeck. But, along the way, he stopped at a store and got all of us a glass of camel’s milk. It tastes like really creamy whole cow’s milk, but Saleem says there is very little fat in camel’s milk, so it is much tastier and healthier. It was also a little on the salty side. Saleem said that our milk came from camels that live farther out in the desert and that camels that live closer to shore have a sweet tasting milk, not salty. The flavor of the milk depends on the plants they are eating.

At the restaurant, we ordered an Arabian salad and some other dishes. In seconds, there was a plate of vegetables on our table. There were leafs of lettuce, sliced carrots, a whole bell pepper, tomato, lemon and green onion, as well as some herbs used in salads here. They also plunked down a small bowl of pickles. Hmmm”¦. Arabian salad must mean chop your own vegetables into a salad. We dug in and started chopping away, making ourselves a nice little salad. We only used lemon, salt and pepper as a dressing, and it was actually quite good. The pickles are different than anything we have had before. Eric liked them, Christi didn’t. We had eaten quite a bit of our salad when the Arabian salad we ordered came out. It was the kind of salad we were expecting, all chopped up for us. It turns out the tray of greens and the pickles are complimentary appetizers. It is definitely healthier than bread that is for sure!

We had ordered Baba Ghanou, expecting it to taste just like the eggplant dish of a similar name that we order at Alladin at home. Much to our surprise, it was very different. The waiter told us it is a puree of mixed vegetables, and it is topped with pomegranate seeds. It was quite good with a little salt.

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We ordered an appetizer tray that had pastries with assorted savory fillings, and a grilled meat dish in a tomato sauce that we forgot to write down the name of. All the food was really good.

After the meal, we were served a small glass of complimentary tea, and then when we finished it, we were served a small glass of complimentary coffee. Like at the village in Timor, the coffee had zero bitterness to it at all and was quite good. Here is a shot of a typical Omani coffee set, with the old fashioned looking pot and the cute little glasses.

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Once we were finished eating, we went to our last stop of the day, which is a wadi (which means valley or river bed) just east of Port Salalah where the frankincense trees grow wild. Apparently, they are not allowed to propagate the trees, they are only allowed to cultivate the trees that God naturally provides. To get the sap, they cut some of the bark away from the tree. Sap beads form on the cut area overnight. The next day they come back and collect the pieces of sap. The sap is sticky and smells kind of similar to pine. The frankincense we bought at the souq was dry, so they must dry it somehow before sending it off to the market. The sap is oily, so you simply put the dried pieces of sap into a burner and light the sap on fire. It makes a pleasant smelling smoke, and a lot of smoke. It really burns well, and if you put more than a couple pieces of sap in the burner, you get a raging fire.

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