Salalah: As the harvest season for Salalah’s famed frankincense groves begin, so does the tourist season for the Dhofar region, which sees close to a 1,000 visitors come to the city every March.
The prime areas of attraction for visitors are within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been dubbed the ‘Land of Frankincense,’ and consists of four different areas of interest: the ancient ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed, which shipped the famed resin from the south of Oman to the rest of the ancient world, to places, such as Egypt, China and across Europe, the old trade depot of Shisr, and the frankincense trees of Wadi Dawka.
“The harvest season began about a week ago, and we’re taking people to see the trees, which are in full bloom,” said Ahmed Al Awaid, assistant manager for the UNESCO heritage site, which is overseen by the office of the Special Advisor to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said for Cultural Affairs, under the Diwan of the Royal Court.
“The trees are harvested from March all the way up to the end of May, and then the Khareef season begins, so we don’t work then and that’s the high point of Salalah’s tourist season,” he added. “We are expecting to see about 200 tourists a week during this month.”
“Frankincense put Oman on the map because it was used by many ancient civilisations, as medicine and for their religious ceremonies,” said Khalifa Al Shamsi, manager of the specialist directorate to the office of the
Advisor to His Majesty for Cultural Affairs.
“A lot of people from different parts of the world come to Salalah to see the frankincense trees because they are really interested in this as you don’t find this anywhere else,” he added. “It is still very popular around the world because it is now used as one of the main ingredients in perfumes.”
Although oil is now considered to be the country’s main source of revenue, Omani frankincense was once renowned the world over, for its aromatic and medicinal properties. Even today, it forms a very significant aspect of Oman’s attempts to diversify its economy and boost its tourism portfolio.
“Our spa at the resort has a frankincense treatment therapy, where we use oil from the resin if our customers request it,” revealed Rhoda Nuhu, assistant director for marketing and communications at Rotana Salalah. “It’s fair to say that without frankincense, there would be no Salalah as this is what made the town famous the world over.”
“Many of the tourists who come here request tours to see the frankincense trees and we organise it for them, because there are no other places in Oman where they grow, because of the climate,” she added. “Salalah’s weather is more tropical, compared with the rest of Oman, and it’s also quite humid, which allows the trees to thrive in this weather.”
Omani frankincense was also ranked fifth on a list of 21 of the world’s best-smelling items by the U.K.-based Telegraph newspaper, with the crop forming an intrinsic part of the Sultanate’s culture and history.
“There are four different types of frankincense grown in Oman,” explained Mohammed Al Jahfali, an archaeologist attached to the Land of Frankincense Museum in Salalah. “They are shaabi, shizri, nejdi and the best one is called al-hawjri.
“Al-hawjri is the best kind of frankincense because it is the hardest and the clearest frankincense and grows under humid conditions,” he said. “If it’s whiter and clearer, it is the best one and it burns the longest.”