Salalah: An oasis in the desert of Oman
It was an interesting and exploratory visit to the city of Salalah, the 3rd largest city of the Sultanate of Oman, on the invitation of Dr Syed M. Waris, a well-known physiotherapist from Srinagar who has been there for more than a decade. He has also set up a state of art facility in Srinagar “Waris International Home of Balance”.
Interestingly there are around 15,000 families from Kashmir living in Oman which has a total population of around 51 lacks, out of which around 37% are expatriates. Around 80% of Kashmiris there are involved in handicrafts trade.
Remaining are in professional jobs, corporate sector etc. These also include around 100 Pundit, families mostly employed professionally. Although Arabic is the main language there, Urdu, Hindi and Malayalam is well understood there. My visit was aimed at reviewing the health status of a family of Sheikhs living in Salalah.
Oman is a country on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. Formerly a maritime empire, Oman is the oldest continuously independent state in the Arab world. Located in an area bordering the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the country shares land borders with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. It also shares maritime borders with Iran and Pakistan. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast, and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. Salalah is also an important port city of the Sultanate. Muscat, which is well known, is the capital of the Sultanate of Oman and I have visited it a few times to train cardiologists in angioplasty related procedures. The oil reserves of this country have been exploited for a long time by Portuguese and British empires and is facing a long-term slowdown in oil production, with limited future growth in reserves.
We flew into Salalah via Doha (Qatar). Salalah is the second largest city of the Sultanate and is the capital city of the Sultanate’s Dhofar province and is known for its banana and coconut plantations. Salalah was the traditional capital of Dhofar, which reached the peak of prosperity in the 13th century thanks to the incense trade. Later it decayed, and in the 19th century it was absorbed by the Sultanate of Muscat. There are four reputed tombs of semitic prophets: Nabi Imran, possibly the Virgin Mary’s father but more likely a local prophet; Nabi Ayoob, the biblical Job; Nabi Houd; and Nabi Salih.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said was the architect of the tremendous development of the country. He was born in Salalah only but later migrated to Muscat, the capital. He ruled from 1970 to 2020 when he passed away and his cousin, the current Sultan Haitham bin Tariq is the present ruler.
Salalah is a desert with the city having a hot climate, although summers are cooler than in more northern or inland parts of Oman. Salalah is very cloudy and foggy during the monsoon months from July till September, even though with relatively little rainfall. This, the locals term as “Khareef” meaning autumn in Arabic but it refers to monsoon when describing the region around Salalah. During this time, the brown landscape of Salalah and its surroundings are completely transformed to a beautiful and lush greenery. It becomes a tourist place during these months and people from all over the country and neighbouring Saudi Arabia are attracted to come there.
Salalah’s Wadi Dokah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a forest of over five thousand frankincense trees (Boswellia sacra), some of which are estimated to be over 200 years old. Tourists can see young trees, recently planted in the rough terrain of the Wadi. Rest of the area is strictly cordoned off to preserve the natural heritage, where the older trees are scattered in its natural habitat. Once the tree is 8-10 years old, small incisions are made on the tree trunk (tapping) with a specially designed knife. This causes the trees to secret a milky substance/ resin, which coagulates when in contact with air. This teardrop shaped resin is the famed Frankincense. Dhofari resin (silver to light green) is considered to be the best in the world due to its medicinal benefits and an amazing aroma.
The native population are Sunni Muslims but there a large population of expatriates who are multi ethnic and of all the religions, including Hindus, Christians Buddhists and Sikhs. On the health grounds, the locals have a very high prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases and strokes. This is possibly related to life style consisting of lot of red meat consumption, lack of exercise and poor intake of fruits and vegetables. Genetics also plays an important role, as most middle Eastern countries their neighbours, have these problems in large numbers.
Salalah is a unique city of the Sultanate of Oman, of great historic importance. Although a desert but for at least four months becomes a very cool and green tourist resort. It has a very rich history and despite reduced oil reserves has tremendously looked after its economy and is a very progressive city of the great country.
Prof Upendra Kaul Founder Director, Gauri Kaul Foundation recipient of Padma shri and Dr B C Roy award
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.