Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Frankincense Trail

Note: This trip took place last December during my winter break. I promised dad that I would write about it as soon as possible, but ah… procrastination ruins us once in a while. (Wait… or maybe, always?) I had actually started on this piece as soon as we came back home, but soon forgot all about it. Well, five months later, trying to battle out exam blues and motivating myself to look forward to the golden promise of my summer vacation, I decided to take a break from books and complete this article. Clichéd as it might be, better late than never!

The Queen of Sheba must have been a happy woman. Oh yes, she had wealth, wit, wisdom and winsomeness to her credit, but she also happened to reign over one of the most beautiful places on the face of planet earth- Salalah. Sandwiched between the azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and the craggy Dhofar Mountains on the other, this picturesque city is nestled at the southernmost tip of the Sultanate of Oman. And so when dad, mom and I wanted a dash of adventure to brighten our otherwise mundane (but nevertheless enjoyable) winter break, we decided to drive the 1500km stretch from our home in Sharjah all the way to the city of the Queen of Sheba.

In anticipation of The Drive, I did a little bit of research on Salalah and learnt that the city is famed for its wadis, waterfalls, white sand beaches, castles and a lush landscape which bursts green with life during the khareef season. Technically, we were visiting Salalah at the worst possible time in December, but the streak of adventure in us wasn’t successful in dissuading us and sure… the trip never left us disappointed!

The first leg of our journey was from Sharjah to Muscat. Dad had already driven this 450km distance quite a number of times, so the perils of driving on unexplored territory did not exist. Starting from home at around 1 PM, we entered Omani soil through the Hatta border and drove on towards the town of Sohar in northern Oman. Having taken a short break for coffee at Sohar, we reached the capital city of Muscat at around 7.40 PM. We were tempted to break the journey at my cousin Adarsh’s house in Muscat, but a sense of urgency to reach Salalah egged us (or more precisely, dad) to drive further. One and a half hours later, we reached the city of Nizwah. Our original plan was to have dinner at Nizwah and spend the night there, proceeding to Salalah at the crack of dawn the next day. But it wasn’t to be… After dinner, we tried to book a room at Nizwah but thanks to the post Christmas-pre New Year bashes, all rooms were booked and we had no other way out. That’s when we decided to drive the 900km stretch to Salalah that very night!

Salalah, many historians believe, is also the place of origin of the Magi or the Three Wise Men from the East who brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This belief is perhaps strengthened by the fact that the town is famed all over Arabia for the rare frankincense trees found in the surrounding regions. And so the route from Salalah northwards to Bethlehem is known as the Frankincense Trail.

Travelling on the Frankincense Trail was quite an experience. Once we crossed the town of Adam, 55km away from Nizwah, the roads were pitch dark thanks to the absence of road lights and it almost seemed as if we were back in the time and age of the Magi themselves. We sped on, a little prayer fluttering around the corner of our lips. Halfway through The Drive we ran into a bit of trouble at a tiny town called Hayma. We wanted to fill up on petrol and were just turning towards the Shell petrol bump when the car swerved over and got stuck in a patch of sand. Luckily, there was a truck that had also stopped for the very same purpose and God sent us help through the Ubiquitous Malayalee. The truck driver from Kerala used a sturdy rope to pull out the car stuck deep in the sand. Once we were safely back on the desert road, dad saw this episode as a cue for rest and pulled over to catch on a little nap. An hour later, we continued our expedition on the Trail. It was around 5 in the morning and we could already see the horizon lightening. At around 6 we could see bands of pinkish orange light spread its warmth across the vast stretches of the Rub al Khali. And so, we witnessed the beautiful break of dawn in the Empty Quarter. As the day wore on, the heat became torturous and we once again were stunned at how perfectly this entire cosmos has been created. The very same Rub al Khali which was freezing cold just the night before had become blazingly hot the next day!

We reached the city of Salalah at around 11 in the morning. The very same day we set out, wanting to explore the numerous places the city is renowned for. We visited the Anti Gravity Spot, which along with a similar spot in the Himalayas, is the only known place on the planet where the laws of gravity are defied. It was an awesome experience… I still remember how the car gently rolled uphill when dad put it on the neutral gear! Next we went to the Mughsayl White Sand beach- with its vast expanses of white sands and the mighty blue waters of the Indian Ocean it was indeed an exhilarating sight. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s castle. Also, since we had gone during the winter, there weren't any wadis or waterfalls. All the more reason for us to go again this July during the khareef!

The next day we visited the tomb of the Prophet Job. According to the Hebrew Bible, God tested Job by removing all protection given to him, thereby allowing Satan to take away his health, wealth, family and every other entity cherished by him. Despite his difficulties, never did Job curse God. And so Job became the embodiment of patience. Legend has it that God, pleased with Job’s patience, cured him of all his ailments by asking him to bathe in a stream. We had the good fortune of going to that very stream last winter. And that was the end of our stay in Salalah. We drove back to Muscat and stayed in my cousin Adarsh’s house where we welcomed in the New Year.

As I reminisce the moments of this beautiful journey, I realize that times are indeed difficult. I was just about to crib again when I reminded myself of this journey- with the patience of Job anything can be achieved! May we all learn from the story of Job!

5 comments:

  1. Personally, i feel that apart from being patient, we should also try to do something to change the situation because after all, we are the ones who write our destiny! Which just goes to say that we'd better start studying soon. :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha ha that's true too! But I find myself so restless these days- hence just trying to remind myself to be calm and patient :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice travelogue :) Sheeba->yaar sir andhe figure ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your writing brought back vivid memories of our adventurous drive and how we enjoyed every bit of it. Pa actually wants to do it again, maybe this time a four wheel drive. Hope, Insha allaha, we could make it happen during this khareef season!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yayyy! Am all set for it amma!! We can get to buy those Mangalorean buns from the Udipi Hotel again! Yummy!! ha ha! :)

    ReplyDelete

Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Frankincense Trail

Note: This trip took place last December during my winter break. I promised dad that I would write about it as soon as possible, but ah… procrastination ruins us once in a while. (Wait… or maybe, always?) I had actually started on this piece as soon as we came back home, but soon forgot all about it. Well, five months later, trying to battle out exam blues and motivating myself to look forward to the golden promise of my summer vacation, I decided to take a break from books and complete this article. Clichéd as it might be, better late than never!

The Queen of Sheba must have been a happy woman. Oh yes, she had wealth, wit, wisdom and winsomeness to her credit, but she also happened to reign over one of the most beautiful places on the face of planet earth- Salalah. Sandwiched between the azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and the craggy Dhofar Mountains on the other, this picturesque city is nestled at the southernmost tip of the Sultanate of Oman. And so when dad, mom and I wanted a dash of adventure to brighten our otherwise mundane (but nevertheless enjoyable) winter break, we decided to drive the 1500km stretch from our home in Sharjah all the way to the city of the Queen of Sheba.

In anticipation of The Drive, I did a little bit of research on Salalah and learnt that the city is famed for its wadis, waterfalls, white sand beaches, castles and a lush landscape which bursts green with life during the khareef season. Technically, we were visiting Salalah at the worst possible time in December, but the streak of adventure in us wasn’t successful in dissuading us and sure… the trip never left us disappointed!

The first leg of our journey was from Sharjah to Muscat. Dad had already driven this 450km distance quite a number of times, so the perils of driving on unexplored territory did not exist. Starting from home at around 1 PM, we entered Omani soil through the Hatta border and drove on towards the town of Sohar in northern Oman. Having taken a short break for coffee at Sohar, we reached the capital city of Muscat at around 7.40 PM. We were tempted to break the journey at my cousin Adarsh’s house in Muscat, but a sense of urgency to reach Salalah egged us (or more precisely, dad) to drive further. One and a half hours later, we reached the city of Nizwah. Our original plan was to have dinner at Nizwah and spend the night there, proceeding to Salalah at the crack of dawn the next day. But it wasn’t to be… After dinner, we tried to book a room at Nizwah but thanks to the post Christmas-pre New Year bashes, all rooms were booked and we had no other way out. That’s when we decided to drive the 900km stretch to Salalah that very night!

Salalah, many historians believe, is also the place of origin of the Magi or the Three Wise Men from the East who brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This belief is perhaps strengthened by the fact that the town is famed all over Arabia for the rare frankincense trees found in the surrounding regions. And so the route from Salalah northwards to Bethlehem is known as the Frankincense Trail.

Travelling on the Frankincense Trail was quite an experience. Once we crossed the town of Adam, 55km away from Nizwah, the roads were pitch dark thanks to the absence of road lights and it almost seemed as if we were back in the time and age of the Magi themselves. We sped on, a little prayer fluttering around the corner of our lips. Halfway through The Drive we ran into a bit of trouble at a tiny town called Hayma. We wanted to fill up on petrol and were just turning towards the Shell petrol bump when the car swerved over and got stuck in a patch of sand. Luckily, there was a truck that had also stopped for the very same purpose and God sent us help through the Ubiquitous Malayalee. The truck driver from Kerala used a sturdy rope to pull out the car stuck deep in the sand. Once we were safely back on the desert road, dad saw this episode as a cue for rest and pulled over to catch on a little nap. An hour later, we continued our expedition on the Trail. It was around 5 in the morning and we could already see the horizon lightening. At around 6 we could see bands of pinkish orange light spread its warmth across the vast stretches of the Rub al Khali. And so, we witnessed the beautiful break of dawn in the Empty Quarter. As the day wore on, the heat became torturous and we once again were stunned at how perfectly this entire cosmos has been created. The very same Rub al Khali which was freezing cold just the night before had become blazingly hot the next day!

We reached the city of Salalah at around 11 in the morning. The very same day we set out, wanting to explore the numerous places the city is renowned for. We visited the Anti Gravity Spot, which along with a similar spot in the Himalayas, is the only known place on the planet where the laws of gravity are defied. It was an awesome experience… I still remember how the car gently rolled uphill when dad put it on the neutral gear! Next we went to the Mughsayl White Sand beach- with its vast expanses of white sands and the mighty blue waters of the Indian Ocean it was indeed an exhilarating sight. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s castle. Also, since we had gone during the winter, there weren't any wadis or waterfalls. All the more reason for us to go again this July during the khareef!

The next day we visited the tomb of the Prophet Job. According to the Hebrew Bible, God tested Job by removing all protection given to him, thereby allowing Satan to take away his health, wealth, family and every other entity cherished by him. Despite his difficulties, never did Job curse God. And so Job became the embodiment of patience. Legend has it that God, pleased with Job’s patience, cured him of all his ailments by asking him to bathe in a stream. We had the good fortune of going to that very stream last winter. And that was the end of our stay in Salalah. We drove back to Muscat and stayed in my cousin Adarsh’s house where we welcomed in the New Year.

As I reminisce the moments of this beautiful journey, I realize that times are indeed difficult. I was just about to crib again when I reminded myself of this journey- with the patience of Job anything can be achieved! May we all learn from the story of Job!

5 comments:

  1. Personally, i feel that apart from being patient, we should also try to do something to change the situation because after all, we are the ones who write our destiny! Which just goes to say that we'd better start studying soon. :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha ha that's true too! But I find myself so restless these days- hence just trying to remind myself to be calm and patient :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice travelogue :) Sheeba->yaar sir andhe figure ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your writing brought back vivid memories of our adventurous drive and how we enjoyed every bit of it. Pa actually wants to do it again, maybe this time a four wheel drive. Hope, Insha allaha, we could make it happen during this khareef season!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yayyy! Am all set for it amma!! We can get to buy those Mangalorean buns from the Udipi Hotel again! Yummy!! ha ha! :)

    ReplyDelete