On our drive back to Muscat from Dhofar at the end of the Eid Al Adha holiday, we stopped in at the Frankincense Park. It is one of four UNESCO sites in Oman.
When we first pulled up, we didn’t think that it was much at all. In a valley – or wadi – there were rows of small frankincense trees. Several sets of stairs descended into the wadi – and there was a small building that housed the lavatories. Letting the dog out of the car to get some exercise, we went down to take a look. A young man in workman’s coveralls approached us – we weren’t sure if he would ask us to get the dog out of there or what. We were pleasantly surprised. He is a Pakistani Christian who welcomed our company. It turns out that he tends the whole area all alone, planting new trees, both by cuttings and seeds, and keeping them watered. He hasn’t been in the country very long, I think, as he wasn’t very fluent in Arabic – counting out the numbers to get the right one…. but between English and Arabic, we learned quite a lot.
An eight year old tree is about 4 feet tall. That means that the few I’ve seen here in Muscat must be quite old as they are probably 15 feet tall with thick trunks. There were a few flowers showing on some of the trees, and also dead, black seeds that smell of incense when crushed. The new leaves grow right at the tip of the old wood.
“Come with me”, Tariq said, and led us through the trees toward a tall chain link fence. Inside the locked gate, there were taller trees. ” These”, he said, “are the old ones.” He took us to one of the bigger ones, and showed us where the bark had been scraped away, leaving a cut about the size of your palm where the sap of the tree was oozing out. He said that every two days, he had to go around and collect the beads of frankincense. There are 4000 trees altogether, young and old. I’m not sure just how many of them they are harvesting from right now. The beads of sap were very white – the best frankincense of all.
For more information about frankincense and its history, here is a really good site.