From the editor's desk: Monsoon rains and Omani people
June 26, 2019 | 9:46 PM
by Charles Lavery

Mist-covered mountains, shaped over eons, reach for the sky. Blanketed in green and shrouded in both rain and tourists, they are the stars of the Salalah show. It’s a picture postcard scene you would expect to see in any of the Central European countries on any given day.

But this is Oman, where the temperatures in most parts of the country at this time of the year can reach 50 degrees and it is known globally for its deserts. Khareef means monsoon, and when it arrives in the Dhofar region, it brings with it people, money and that feel-good factor.

The rainy season in the south is slowly but surely gaining global attention, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the government tourism bodies to promote this wonderful retreat to a worldwide audience. A new, world-class airport has been added, resort hotels from luxury beach fronts to mid-range have popped up, and people from both inside Oman, the GCC and the world are starting to pay attention.

Why fly to Europe when you can fly for one hour and arrive in a climate that mirrors the best that Europe has to offer? You could even drive there, from Muscat, as it’s a little over 1000km and the roads have been vastly improved to accommodate the increased traffic.

As a European expat, I am no stranger to exploring the mountain ranges around the continent, beginning my hillwalking journey while still at school, having joined the geography teacher Mr Geraghty’s hill walking club (he once managed to strand us in a blizzard, but we forgave him) and that passion for reaching the peaks and drinking in the view has never really subsided.

What I didn’t expect, and what struck me as quintessentially Omani, was when I was up in the lush, verdant hills above Salalah, surrounded by camels!

It is quite the sight to a westerner’s eye, and one that I felt privileged to be among. One note of guidance: on the roads, camels have right of way...

I visited Dhofar with a senior government minister some time back, and being in his company gave me a rare insight into the Dhofar people and how welcoming they are.

At the airport, he was instantly recognised, and fathers brought their children to him, stood chatting with him. He gave everyone time, and was at ease chatting away with random travellers who stopped to say hello. It wasn’t for PR - no cameras were clicking. I took a trip up into the hills with this minister, and we were in a convoy of four SUVs. As we climbed steadily higher, we reached a beautiful spot at the crest of a hill, with traditional roundhouses and ancient trees.

A family had parked there and a large rug had been placed under the overhanging branches of the tree. Children were playing around the tree as the adults poured coffee and chatted.

Suddenly, our convoy came to an abrupt halt. The minister wanted to say hello...

And so, we found ourselves under the tree, joining the Omani family.

They didn’t blink twice. The entire family gathered up some cups and dates and whatever else they had and happily offered their picnic to our group.

Again, no cameras were whirring or photographers snapping. As you would expect, the minister was at ease talking to the family but, more importantly, the people were at ease talking to him.

Here, I think, is where Oman holds an ace card: its people.

I once blew out two tyres on a sharp kerbstone in Muscat after some evasive driving to avoid hitting another vehicle straying into my lane. Standing by the side of the road, with only one spare tyre and two shredded tyres, in 30 degrees plus heat, I was lost.

I stepped from the car and looked at my phone, frantically thinking of whom to call for help. I heard a car pull up and turned around to see a group of young Omanis emerge from within. Within 20 minutes they had my car picked up, transported to the nearest garage and even drove me there, before helping to bargain with the owner over the cost of two new tyres, all the while smiling and chatting and telling me it was their responsibility as I was a guest in their country. They also looked wounded when I offered to pay for the fuel and phone calls they had made on my behalf.

In Salalah, the people are just as nice. They don’t just give directions, they take you where you want to go. This is true across Oman.

When I first arrived, I hopped into the passenger seat of a striped car with a hailing light on its roof and asked the driver to take me to a nearby hotel.

He started the engine, and pulled out. As we drove the mile or so to the venue, he asked if I had just arrived. I confirmed this, then asked him how he knew?

Laughing so hard his eyes watered, he explained that he was a driving instructor, not a taxi driver. But he still took me, and refused any money for his kindness. And that’s just a couple of examples of many. Dhofar has Khareef, and long may the monsoon rains drench its mountains, and Oman has Omanis. A trip to Oman for Khareef will leave you with long-lasting memories, but the people you meet will stay in your heart forever. [email protected]

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