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Oman’s foggy cool monsoon season and festival draws tourists

  • In this August 2, 2017 file photo, people picnic in the Jabal Ayoub mountains north of Salalah, Oman. The foggy monsoon season draws thousands of visitors seeking relief from high temperatures elsewhere in the Arab world. The season lasts three months, starting this year June 21. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil

  • In this August 4, 2017 file photo, members of a dance troupe, in traditional garb, wait to perform next to a giant sail adorned with a portrait of the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos al-Said, during a festival celebrating the monsoon season, in Salalah, southern Oman. The 60-day festival of dance competitions, concerts, exorcisms performed by Sufis and the moderate temperatures draws tens of thousands of tourists to the region each year. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil

  • In this August 5, 2017, photo, a tree hangs off a cliff of the Jabal Samhan mountain, above clouds, during the summer monsoon near Mirbat, southern Oman. Oman’s foggy monsoon season draws thousands of visitors seeking relief from scorching temperatures elsewhere in the Arab world. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) Sam McNeil

  • In this August 4, 2017 photo, members of a dance troupe, in traditional garb, perform during a festival celebrating the monsoon season, in Salalah, southern Oman. The 60-day festival of dance competitions, concerts, exorcisms performed by Sufis and the moderate temperatures draws tens of thousands of tourists to the region each year. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil

  • In this August 10, 2017 photo, camels march across a verdant valley between fog shrouded mountains, on the Arabian Sea, in Dhofar province, southern Oman. Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the moderate temperatures as summer scorches the rest of the region -- repeating what archaeologists say is an ancient tradition of seasonal migration to more temperate climes. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) Sam McNeil

  • In this Aug. 10, 2017 photo, a man snaps a selfie in front of a blowhole erupting with sea water from the Arabian Sea at al-Mughsayl, in southern Oman. A 60-day festival of dance competitions, concerts, exorcisms performed by Sufis and the moderate temperatures of the monsoon season draws tens of thousands of tourists to the region each year. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) Sam McNeil

  • FILE -- In this July 30, 2017 file photo, an Omani man films waves crashing onto the rocky shore in al-Maghseel, southern Oman. Oman’s foggy monsoon season draws thousands of visitors seeking relief from high temperatures elsewhere in the Arab world. The season lasts three months, starting this year June 21. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil

  • This Aug. 7, 2017 photo, Salem Ashoor, standing left, head of the Ahmad al-Kabir Sufi order leads a rhythmic exorcism of a spirt, from a fellow Sufi during the month-long festival celebrating the monsoon season, in Salalah, southern Oman. The 60-day festival of dance competitions, concerts, exorcisms performed by Sufis and the moderate temperatures draws tens of thousands of tourists to the region each year. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) Sam McNeil

  • FILE -- In this July 31, 2017 file photo, a group of dancers wait to perform a sword-dance during the annual summer monsoon festival in Salalah, Oman. The 60-day festival draws about 50,000 people nightly for dagger-dance competitions, musical performances and Sufi exorcisms performed in celebration of Oman’s cultural diversity of Arab, African, and Asian roots. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil

  • FILE -- In this Aug. 2, 2017 file photo, Mohammad al-Bariki, right, 17, leads his half-brother Sagheer al-Bariki, 17, across a cliff ledge in the Jabal Ayoub mountains north of Salalah, Oman. The foggy monsoon season draws thousands of visitors seeking relief from high temperatures elsewhere in the Arab world. The season lasts three months, starting this year June 21. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File) Sam McNeil



Associated Press
Friday, August 25, 2017

On the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula, a region disappears under sky wide blankets of fog as the desert blooms green.

This is the Omani monsoon: a phenomenon that draws hundreds of thousands with cooler weather and stunning vistas for three months, which began this year on June 21.

A 60-day festival draws about 50,000 people nightly for dagger-dance competitions, musical performances and Sufi exorcisms performed in celebration of Oman’s cultural diversity of Arab, African, and Asian roots intertwined by the summer rain clouds.

So far this year there are twice as many tourists as last year, when more than 650,000 visited the fog-drenched mountains and verdant valleys of the Dhofar region, according to the Omani statistics agency. The port town of Salalah, Oman’s second-largest city at 200,000 people, swells with visitors from across the Arab world.

The monsoon has long attracted seasonal visitors. Ruins show trade between coastal and mountain communities developed over 5,000 years, tying Asia, Europe and Africa together, according to Alexia Pavan, an archaeologist who heads the restoration of an ancient fort designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site called al-Baleed.

“It worked like a bridge between cultures,” Pavan said. “Goods, people, ideas, skills, all of them passed through Oman and spread to different continents.”

The festival

The government of Dhofar established the monsoon festival in 1998. Twenty years later, the festival draws acts from 40 countries, said festival director Talal al-Masahli. He said 60 percent of visitors come from within Oman, the rest from Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar with few visitors from outside the Arab world.

Sprawling festival grounds include faux fort walls, turrets and ornate gates with three stages, life-size models of traditional Omani homes and vendors selling grilled meat, fruit and frankincense.

Each night, a different Omani city takes control of the main stage to show off songs, handicrafts, dances, clothes, and games. The port of Sohar staged a giant maritime-themed show with canons; the next night a group from Bidbid chanted with swords and trumpets.