The hot and dry Gulf state of Oman has an otherworldly subtropical paradise hidden on its southern tip
There is a city where endless grassy fields roll for as far as the eye can see; where coconut-fringed beaches are the norm and where ghostly mists shroud the wildlife-rich landscape surrounding Oman’s subtropical paradise. This is Salalah. When the annual monsoon rains arrive, they change the familiar into the unfamiliar. Typical orange sandy desert plains grow into thick woodland, arid mountain ranges are swallowed up by vines and foliage and mud-baked river basins begin to flow with water rapids. When the rains leave, the deserts retake their lands.
During the monsoons, the Ittin mountain range, which encircles this coastal city, takes on a mysterious grey glow as thick fog drops from the heaven. When you look at the city from the mountains, the towering minarets and domes of Salalah’s mosques appear to blend into the horizon like ghostly shadows whose outlines become distorted in the bouncing rains. And deep inside the thick forests that rise up when the rains come, there is a waterfall that spreads life to this ordinary part of the world. The Ayn Jarziz falls don’t just distribute much needed water through the hidden caves and riverbeds of this temporary forest in the desert, they also create rapids that take adventurous travellers on a journey into the wilderness of Salalah.
When the rains come, the Ayn Jarziz Spring quickly fills with pure water and powerful rapids bubble up to the surface. Visitors to Salalah can take an exhilarating kayak journey through the forests that only last for a few months. They can sit back and hold on tight as the fast-flowing rivers drag and drop the kayak deep into the forests of this subtropical oasis, through deep caves in the mountains where brown and black bats cling from the walls, alongside tranquil fields filled with lizards and birds. Between thick foliage you can try to spot the brown and yellow patches of an elusive Arabian leopard or the glinting of the sharp horns of an oryx protruding through the scrubland.
Deep in the misty forests of Salalah, traditional Omani houses and abandoned palaces are taken hostage by the plant life. Intricately carved Islamic monuments perched atop a cliff covered in trees and single room houses crushed by vines litter the post-monsoon landscape. Only the hardiest of lizards and insects can thrive in this part of Salalah during the rains. During the monsoons the air is filled with a heavenly floral scent and an eerie calm. That’s Salalah. It takes on a unique and exciting life of its own during the monsoon season, where forests emerge from deserts, rivers from ditches and coconut palms from the beaches – but only when the rains come!
By: Joe Worthington