Amidst the harsh and ferocious deserts of Arabia, and the scorching summer heat, imagine a place of intense natural beauty - of refreshing drizzles, rain-washed greenery, a cool invigorating climate ...

By Mohan Gunderao (CONTRIBUTOR)

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Published: Fri 9 Jul 2004, 3:34 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:46 AM

teeming with flowers and fauna, with streams sluicing down verdant mountains, low-lying mists capping the lush green frankincence and dates trees, small meandering rivers where camels, cows and sheep quench their thirsts, not far away from breathtaking white sandy beaches. Can such a place exist for real?

The answer is affirmative. The city of Salalah in the Dhofar Governorate, a southern province of Oman, is dubbed as 'The Garden of Arabian Peninsula'. Established in the 4th century within the old city of Dhofar, 'Al-Baleed,' Salalah has been famous for genuine Arabian horses, olibanums, frankincence and dates. Salalah is blessed with exceptional monsoon, the khareef that no other part of Oman or Arabian Gulf witnesses. The monsoon renders the whole area green. The khareef season starts in June and lasts till end of September annually.

For the last couple of years, the monsoon has also become a cause celebre, in the form of the Salalah 'Al Khareef Festival', a 45-days colourful jamboree of multicultural shows, entertainments and festive events. Terry Scott, a Brit who has lived in Dubai for over three decades, unexpectedly found himself becoming part of the Salalah Festival. Scott, an ex-professional football player who played in the English premier league in the 60s, has been into sports promotion. He says he went to Salalah for a week, looked at the place and fell in love with it, although as a Britisher he claims he's more inclined to run away from the rain. Scott talked to City Times in this exclusive interview about the upcoming Salalah Festival.

You have spent 30 years in Dubai. How did you come to get involved with the Salalah Festival in Oman?

I happened to meet Ali Salim Al Shanfari, who is a prominent person in Oman, and also the coordinator of the Salalah Festival. We became friends. Some years back, I was involved with the DSF and helped organise different shows for it. So, Al Shanfari asked me if I would get involved with the Festival and I agreed.

What exactly is this Festival?

The Salalah 'Al Khareef' Festival is organised every year, just like the Dubai Shopping Festival. But here, Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and neighbouring countries, come at this time of the year, mainly to get away from the scorching heat of their respective regions, because in Salalah there are now rains, mists, lush greenery, forests and mountains. It's a cool and scenic spot, unlike anything found in the Arabian region. The Festival is held each year from July 15 to August 31.

What's the aim behind the Festival?

The main aim is, of course, to promote tourism to Oman, which has some tourism. But now they want to promote it in a more organised way. Salalah, however, is not like Muscat. It's a small place about 1,000 kms from Muscat, but it's very beautiful because of the weather and difference in temperatures that occur there. This year we are expecting almost 2 million visitors to Salalah during the Festival, more than last year's figure of about 1.8 million tourists.

How did the Salalah Festival come about?

Arab people have always been going to Salalah for the weather. So, they thought of doing something to attract more people. That's how the Festival's idea came about, and it was started about 5 years back as an annual event. The Municipality of Salalah organises the Festival which has now become a great attraction for families. Lots of families drive down to Salalah from different parts of Arabic countries.

What is the Salalah Festival really like?

It's not like the Dubai Shopping Festival. There is just one area. You go through a gate and the whole Festival area is enclosed. There are a few stadiums, including one with seating capacity of 6,000, an exhibition area that can accommodate about 350 exhibitors' stalls from different countries. They have fun-fair rides for children, many food outlets, a Thai restaurant, and very big shows every day for 45 days. Famous Arabic singers from around the Arabic countries are invited to sing in evening shows. Also, lots of traditional things go on there, such as baking of bread, embroidery etc. The mountain people come down for the Festival and perform their traditional Omani dances. It's a mix of traditional and modern multicultural events. The Festival area is near the beach, and many people camp out on the beach, which is huge. It's a carnival type of atmosphere there, and we try to incorporate different, newer items each year, as all Festivals do.

And how exactly are you contributing to the Festival?

I'm helping them to promote the Festival from a European angle. Arab people have always gone to Salalah, but it's virtually unknown for Europeans. So, we are now promoting it to attract Europeans and other nationalities. I accompanied Al Shanfari to Italy, Thailand and other places to see what new items we can add to the Festival. So, this year we are working to bring in new attractions such as Chinese circus, Thai boxing, Sri Lankan dancing shows, dancers from Beirut, England and Australia and other items. Basically we are thinking of novel ideas and concepts to jazz up the Festival.

What is the highlight of the Festival this year?

We have organised a peace march by 500 Omani children to mark the 'Al Naheda' day of Oman on July 23. The aim is promote world peace through the children of Oman under the patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said who has received a peace award from the United Nations. The children will wear T-shirts and caps, and walk for a kilometre carrying the Omanese and AGCC flags to commemorate the day. We are trying to get international TV and radio companies to cover the event, because it's a special day.

What do you think are the special features of Salalah that are likely to attract Europeans and other nationalities?

Salalah is on the Indian Ocean, so it is similar to coastline places like Kerala in India and in Thailand. The rain has started now in Salalah, and the entire area turns into a lush green wonder. Verdant forests, mountains, rivers, streams, a riot of flowers, rain, mists - all the elements of nature's beauty. It's the only area in Arabic countries that is cool and green at this time of the year. Then, there are the white sandy beaches of Salalah, unlike anywhere in the Arabian Gulf. They have just opened a big port there. It's unspoilt and green. I'm sure Europeans will love the place. If they're looking for a beautiful, cool place with colourful events, ideal for snorkelling, fishing, trekking - a sort of tropical paradise - Salalah is the place.

And the best thing is you can drive down there or take an hour's flight from Dubai. There are a couple of big hotels there but mostly visitors prefer to stay in leased apartments. I'd like to suggest that Europeans come along to see the Festival and the area. And I'm confident they will be delighted to make another holiday to an idyllic place that is not far away from Dubai.

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