Deep in Oman’s Dhofar region lies the ancient capital of Arabia’s perfume trade route. We go on the frankincense trail and trace back thousands of years of history…
by Sarah Lee | A preview of WildJunket Magazine February/March 2012
My eyes grew heavy and my head swirled as I tried to reconcile my senses. My nose tingled, tantalized by a series of fragrances while my brain tried to decipher their delicate code. A zesty citrus perfume danced around before being drowned out by strong tones of musky sandalwood.
“Try this,” the shopkeeper said as he thrust a jar of coffee beans under my nose to freshen my palate. It worked surprisingly well, but there was still a smoky background note of the mysterious fragrance. Like many of Salalah’s perfumeries, this shop burned frankincense at the door – an intoxicating trademark of the region.
Salalah, Oman’s second largest city, was founded on frankincense – the coveted incense gifted to newborn Jesus by one of the three kings. And I was to discover that Salalah and the surrounding Dhofar region had history of biblical proportions.
I’d been lured to the southern Omani state by tales of centuries old lost cities and the ancient frankincense trail – now that I was here, I was drawn deeper into its mystery.
I’d been lured to the southern Omani state by tales of centuries old lost cities and the ancient frankincense trail…
Trail of Lost Cities
My journey along Oman’s frankincense trail began at the desert town of Ubar, one of the area’s treasures. Referred to by Lawrence of Arabia as the Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar is thought to have been home to descendants of Noah who depended on the fruits of the
frankincense trail for their livelihood. However as the name suggests, Ubar was lost to the desert sands for centuries, appearing only in local legend, until NASA satellites found the site in the 1990s. The sands of the desert may have hidden Ubar from view, and hindered travel and navigation, but they had the power to create a thriving global trade.
On our 4×4, we headed off into the desert and it wasn’t long before we spotted a different kind of desert transport. Winding single-file along the tarmac, a small caravan of camels moved with surefooted persistence. I watched curiously as the camels languidly moved through the scrubby plains.
Sensing my interest in the selfled caravan of dromedaries, Mahad enthused: “Camel is very delicious. Except when they’re young. But if the camel lives in a warm place, the meat is very soft.”
Luckily for Dhofar’s tens of thousands of camels, the greater majority of which are owned by locals, this isn’t their real fate – they are kept instead for farming, trade, and racing, as a sign of wealth. But beware when driving in and around Salalah – camels are the number one cause of accidents in the region.
The following day, we left our hotel in search of the Queen of Sheban, a legendary character who’s said to have lived here. The Dhofar region is steeped in legends and tales of people featured in the bible. Meandering through rugged plains and deserted towns, we found the ruins of Sumhuram – thought to be the Queen’s summer palace. Dating back to 3,000BC, Sumhuram was also the ancient capital of the frankincense trade, from where incense was shipped to Egypt and beyond…
This is just a preview of the 8-page feature article.
Sarah Lee is a journalist with eternal wanderlust who has edited travel magazines and provided features for luxury, cruise, business and online titles. She is editor of travel and lifestyle website LiveShareTravel, offering up inspirational features from professional writers exploring each corner of the globe.
If you enjoyed this preview, read the full article in WildJunket Magazine Feb/Mar 2012.
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