Published July 5, 2011 - Muscat Daily (Photo from September 2010 - Darbat Valley)
Khareef is here at last. As the rest of Oman and the GCC melt in the soaring summer heat, the Dhofar region experiences something quite different.The first grey cloud appeared over Salalah in mid-June and as expected the heavy drizzle began on June 21, marking the beginning of the monsoon (khareef) season in Dhofar.
The heavy mist, gushing springs and emerald green mountains may look like tropical East Asia or even Scotland until you spot the first herd of camels grazing happily in a valley of wild flowers and butterflies. Sometimes it’s too good to be true, and it’s unbelievable to think that just a few hundred kilometres away lie the rolling sand dunes of the Empty Quarter.To others around the world the monsoon may seem like a mere change of seasons, but to the people of Dhofar it can mean a variety of things. For us locals khareef is the time of year…
- When an overwhelming number of tourists from other parts of Oman and the GCC take over our town and our roads, causing some of the worst traffic jams Salalah has ever seen.
- When our cars are permanently dirty, our floor-mats are permanently muddy and most windshield wipers need to be replaced.
- When we make tonnes of money renting out RO200 a month apartments to desperate tourists for RO150 a day because all hotels are fully booked.
- When every third car on the road boasts a UAE licence plate.
- When most local families rent land on the 'Garbeeb', (the flat plain at the base of the mountains) to set up monsoon camps complete with huge tents, flat-screen television screens, volleyball nets and portable toilets.
- When the number of car accidents increases because many foolish drivers have yet to realise that rain and speeding are mutually exclusive.
- When the price of coconuts and bananas quadruples.
- When it is wise to put away sandals in favour of plastic monsoon-friendly Crocs.
- When most locals either take annual leave or find any excuse to leave work early in order to go out and enjoy the weather. Example: 'I have to go. My wife needs tomatoes or she can't cook lunch'.
- When weddings are held on every day of the week.
- When every tailor, dress rental, hair salon, makeup and henna artist in town is fully booked in order to accommodate all the brides, their sisters, and several hundred cousins.
- When yours truly flees Oman in order to avoid the overwhelming number of weddings.
- When your normal five-minute drive to work takes half an hour.
- When every cow, camel and goat in Dhofar is happy because there is enough grass to feed an army.
- When supermarkets run out of basic commodities like milk and bread on a regular basis.
- When we take pleasure in watching naïve tourists set up their picnics in lush picture-perfect valleys only to frantically pack up and leave a few minutes later because they have been attacked by monsoon bugs.
- When barbecue equipment is available 24/7 in the trunk of every local's car.
- When locals won't risk leaving Salalah because there's a good chance they may not find a plane ticket back home until the monsoon is over. (I kid you not)
- When too many children OD on cotton candy.
- When flying kites is cool, even for adults.
- When we complain endlessly about the tourism festival but then end up going at least twice a week anyway.
On a more serious note, the tourism festival – normally a two-month event - was cut short this year because of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Since Ramadan will fall during the monsoon for the next seven or eight years, I'm sure the tourism industry will be affected.I wonder if Oman would consider developing Salalah into a place where Muslims from around the world might come to enjoy Ramadan. In my humble opinion, I think Salalah would be the perfect place for a spiritual retreat.The Ministry of Awqaf & Religious Affairs could collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism to organise and promote a series of lectures, workshops and other Islam-themed events that would draw Muslims from around the world to our town.The cool temperatures and shorter days would certainly make fasting easier. Food for thought….