I can’t believe the radical change this city has gone through, as soon as I come out of the airport. The Salalah of my childhood was made up of a small community of Arabs and South-Indians. It was a quaint coastal town with its simple large-hearted folk showcasing the best of the famed Arab hospitality.
I close my eyes and transport myself to that Salalah. The cool climate throughout the year. The lush green Jabal Akhdar(Mount Akhdar). Our favorite picnic spot: Mughsayl Beach. My mother and her friends gathering at each other’s’ house for kitty parties. The Khareef Festival and the Global Village Festival. The Museum of Frankincense. The Indian School Salalah(ISS), Indian in name, with students from all over the world. The Rub Al-Khali(Empty Quarter) miles and miles of golden sand, as far as one could see. The feeling that time has stopped here. That is Salalah. Not this steel and glass jungle, where everyone is in a hurry, and there are almost no Arabs or local Omanis to be seen. A sign outside the airport welcomes me to Salalah, the sea-port hub of Oman. Seaport hub? In the 10 years since I left Salalah for India, my precious town has been turned into a seaport hub? 10 years ago, there was no engineering college in India, prompting my mother to shift to Mumbai so my brother could study engineering. I feel a dreadful weight on my heart, like someone near to me has been killed.
The signs were all there. I was offered a job as a shipment consultant in a firm IN Salalah. I was put up in a 5 star hotel IN Salalah, where the nearest 5 star hotel (JW Marriott) was hours away from the city center. But I didn’t think much of it; I just assumed that little changes were happening. They happen all the time. I hop into the white and orange taxi, the only public transport in Salalah for years. The taxi is the same, but the driver no longer communicates in Arabic, he talks in English now. He tells me that the Salalah Port has formulated a 20-year master plan (2011-30), which envisions the establishment of the Salalah hub that includes a railway connection and distribution center, food reserve and processing centers among warehousing and other logistics facilities, dedicated terminals for cruise tourism and liquid storage along with dedicated facilities. He says that the workers are trying to retain the Salalah-ness of this city, while working on the orders. Various universities have come up, offering engineering, medical, social, and liberal arts studies. Students will no longer have to go to Muscat or India for their higher studies. He points out to the Clock Tower at the center of a roundabout, a landmark I considered to be no less than the Statue of Liberty. Thankfully it still remains. The drive is going to go past my old house, so I gear up to see what they’ve done to the three story building. It’s become a tower. At least the Royal Mosque in front of my house-turned-tower is still as it was. Even the park a kilometer from my house, where my brother and I used to walk every day, still remains a park. The swings and slides have been upgraded and more toys have been installed, but it’s still a park. I see that a lot of malls have come up, filled with people with arms laden with shopping bags. I see lot of hotels, three-star, five-star and seven-star even! The driver tells me that all this is to cater to the expatriate community, which is no longer restricted to only South-Indians, but Americans, Europeans, Australians, even Russians. The hub had noble intentions, what was I thinking, that this city will still remain in the past? That there would be no difference in the city after a gap of 10 years? Why was I still stuck obstinately in the Salalah of yore? Can’t a city grow up, like I have? Of course, it has all that is needed to become a smart city; cool climate, lush greenery(even more than before), parks and schools, landmarks, places to picnic, it all created an amazing blend of ancient and modern. As the taxi drops me to my hotel (brick and glass façade), I truly understand the meaning of the adage ‘The only thing constant in life is change.’
The part about “… the Salalah Port has formulated a 20-year master plan (2011-30), which envisions the establishment of the Salalah hub that includes a railway connection and distribution center, food reserve and processing centers among warehousing and other logistics facilities, dedicated terminals for cruise tourism and liquid storage along with dedicated facilities.” is true. You can check it out on http://timesofoman.com/article/62895/Business/Consultant-to-be-appointed-for-Salalah-port-expansion . Otherwise, everything else is a product of an overactive imagination. This piece is not very polished, but I still published it since it has been long since I updated my page. Thank you.:)