Blood-Letting & Freak Shows: The Dhofar Festival
What kind of Dhofari would I be if I didn’t write an annual piece on our overrated rainy season (Khareef)? Nearly a fortnight ago the first drops of rain graced my car windshield at 7 am as the south of Oman slipped gently into Khareef mode. To most outsiders, Khareef-mode means monsoon rain and emerald green mountains. To Dhofaris it means – among other things – weddings, picnics, mud, Salalah Tourism Festival, insane traffic, monsoon bugs, tourists and yes… rain.
As hundreds of thousands of GCC nationals and locals from the north of Oman flock to Salalah to escape the soaring summer temperatures in July, yours truly gets on the first plane out of this town. To be honest, I had planned to write a piece describing why I can’t bear the festival or being in Salalah during the peak of tourist season. However, in a moment of serenity a couple of days ago while cruising at an altitude of 2,000 feet in a hot air balloon in a faraway land, a voice inside my head told me to stop being a snob.
Despite my short bouts of pessimism, July is actually a really fun time to be in Salalah. First of all, the weather is really great compared to the rest of the Arabian Gulf. Temperatures hover around the mid-twenties during July, August and most of September. To quote last year’s Khareef column ‘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’.
Between June 21 and July 18 this year, all the action will be taking place at the Salalah Tourism Festival. I have not been to the festival for a couple of years, but I keep tabs on the different activities and exhibitions that are held at the festival grounds. Highlights include the usual exhibitions, cultural events, concerts, traditional dancing and music, theme park, camel rides, and plenty of great food. The shopping pavilions hosting cheap products from China are a big hit with the women. If you’d like to acquire a few bargaining skills, I suggest you shadow a Dhofari woman at one of the shopping pavilions for a couple of hours.
Over the years the festival has hosted some incredibly wacky events including cheap freak shows involving half-animal half-human creatures, strange eastern European dance troupes and odd talent shows. This year’s wacky touch includes a traditional medicine kiosk where you can get branded with a hot iron rod (I kid you not). They also offer blood-letting services. Google it.
The festival means a lot to many people in Dhofar. It’s a fun place to take the kids and there are plenty of activities to keep all members of the family entertained. If I were to brave the festival at some point in the next few years, I’d probably head straight for the book exhibition and photography exhibitions. I might also stay for the daily fireworks and stop by the heritage village to see some of the dancing. I have a soft spot for traditional music.
All in all, monsoon is a great time to visit Salalah. The beaches may not be at their finest, but the rest of the atmosphere makes up for it. This year the holy month of fasting – Ramadhan – is expected sometime around July 20 depending on the sighting of the moon. This of course has affected the dates for the festival and will affect tourism in Dhofar. However, as far as I’m concerned the best time to visit Salalah is after Ramadhan. Dhofar will be at its greenest and hopefully the number of tourists will have declined. You might just be able to find a hotel room and a picnic spot!