DANCING IN THE RAIN

Oman 2016 | TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY

For several months a year, the southern, coastal fringe of Dhofar province is blanketed in lush greenery as a result of unique climatic conditions.

If one were to wake up along the coast of Dhofar province between June and September, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were far from the shores of the Arabian Peninsula. Yet, you'd be wrong, for every summer the arid, desert landscape is replaced by sweeping green vistas thanks to the dependably drenching monsoon, colloquially known as the Khareef season (the irony being that khareef means “autumm” in Arabic).

In what makes a fine meteorology case study, the monsoon is the result of surface wind, which leads to an upwelling in the Indian Ocean and a cooling of the coast of Dhofar due to the resultant moist air and rainwater. The heavy rains utterly change the landscape across the region, in a unique meteorological event for the Middle East. And with the rains and greenery come tourists, often branded eco-tourists. The most popular hub for all things lush during the cool and agreeable Khareef season is Salalah, a city of 200,000 people on the southern coast of Oman, near the Yemeni border.

The city even hosts a festival to mark Khareef from July 15th to August 31st, when not just nature but heritage, cuisine, music, and more is celebrated. Outside the city itself, however, and visitors are treated to more than just flora. The mountainous region is home to dozens of varieties of mammal, including the Arabian leopard, hyena, gazelle, and more. In fact the mountains of Dhofar are home to no fewer than 56 species of native mammal. And for those with a penchant for all things aviary, birds including flamingos, storks, stilts, sandpipers, herons, egrets, sunbirds, green pigeons, eagles, and kites all fill the skies above Dhofar. Guests can also pay a visit to the Al Balid archaeological park and the Frankincense Museum, on the location of the ancient city of Al Balid, which used to be a thriving frankincense trading hub and was once visited by Marco Polo. Towns of the region, including Salalah, depend on the annual Khareef for their water supply.

Despite being little known in the West, Salalah roundly represents Oman's niche tourism strategy going forward. In many ways, the region of Dhofar is a metaphor for much of what Oman holds dear. It is devoted to conservation and a prime example of a clean and thriving environment. It is a happy blend of cultures and peoples. And it is blessed with spectacular natural beauty—which is only enhanced by the Khareef itself. A sheer wonder for any who make the trip during Khareef season, Salalah and its beautiful mountain range are not to be missed.