The Frankincense Trail, Oman March 2014

My latest travels have taken me to the south of Oman, just a stone’s throw from the Yemen border. Close enough you say! Yes it’s a fine line to tread – this side of the border is boundless Omani warmth and hospitality. One hundred kilometres to the other is tribal warfare and certain kidnapping and sale to Al- Qaeda terrorist network within the week I’m assured!

The purpose for my journey to this region is to walk the Frankincense Trail. The heady, aromatic resin from the Frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra) is used as incense, perfume and medicine and its trade flourished in this region for over 3000 years. The most prized Frankincense came from the trees of the Dhofar region of southern Oman.  The straggly trees take root on sheer rock, its bark ragged and peeling, its branches twisted and serpentine. When the trunk is ‘striped’ with a knife the precious milky sap dribbles out drying over a week or more to the brown, yellow or prized green crystals and nuggets.

The Queen of Sheba’s great fortune was said to have been built on the trade of Frankincense which she also bore as a gift to the court of King Solomon. The incense was burned in the royal temples of Egypt by Cleopatra and favoured for dispelling evil and as a divine offering in Christian Churches still to this day.  Great cities and ports thrived for centuries in the Arabian peninsula as the commodity was shipped from Arabia to Egypt and Ethiopia (Abysinnia) to the west, north to the Holy Lands and onwards to the Mediterranean, and east on sailing boats to India and China.

It has been fascinating to see these living treasures where they take root in Dhofar and the history that enveloped them – the fabled Golden City of Ubar (now mere rubble in the desert sands of Oman) and the great trading port of Samarham (Khor Rouri). The Romans were said to have remarked that the natural resources of Southern Arabia have made them the richest people on Earth. Of course the Romans were referring to Frankincense!

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