SOMETHING IN THE AIR
Travel+Leisure India|November 2021
Aromatic frankincense turned Salalah, Oman, into one of the ancient world’s most important trading ports. Writer-photographer MARTA TUCCI explores the history of this fragrant resin—and fi nds its storied appeal very much alive.
MARTA TUCCI

THE PEOPLE OF OMAN have an old proverb that warns: God will prevent anyone who steals as much as a pearl of frankincense from setting sail from the country’s shores. Standing among the ruins of Sumhuram, a fi rst-century CE trading port on the Arabian Sea, I imagined what it would have looked like in its heyday—merchants bargaining with shoppers; Hindustani, Arabic, and Latin ballads echoing through the alleyways; dozens of frankincenseladen ships heading off into the distance. Minus, presumably, any would-be thieves.

The tale of frankincense—the precious resin once considered more valuable than gold—begins high in the desert plateau of Dhofar, Oman’s southernmost province, where beds of limestone offer just the right amount of water for scraggly Boswellia sacra trees to thrive. Once a year, in the hottest months of April and May, a handful of Bedouin men make a trip to the groves and cut into the tree’s papery bark, allowing it to ooze a fragrant sap that is then left out in the sun to crystallise into frankincense.

I had travelled to Salalah, the capital of Dhofar, after reading travelogues of Marco Polo and T E Lawrence, whose accounts spoke of the region and its incense . While desert traditions and camel caravans still characterise parts of Dhofar, Salalah is almost tropical, with palm-fringed beaches and verdant mountains.

Not the worst place to be left ashore, I thought as I settled into my room at the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara (doubles from 29,508; anantara.com). Situated within unesco Heritage grounds, the beachfront hotel incorporates arched doorways and other design elements that pay tribute to the ancient trading post of Zafar, the ruins of which can be seen in the archaeological park next door.

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