When I land at the Salalah, Oman international airport I am greeted with cloudless blue skies, coconut palms, fruit plantations, emerald seas, and a welcoming layer of humidity that sticks to my skin. My pace immediately relaxes and slows down, in step with the locals that coolly go about their day. I amble around dusty ruins and archeological sites that signpost ancient cities and trading ports, and I imagine them filled with noisy camel caravans and merchants restocking their supplies as they continue along the Frankincense Trail. At dusk, when the temperature subsides, women and children emerge from their homes and walk along the soft, sandy coastline. In the evening I visit gold and frankincense souks. I am helped by men wearing dishdashas – simple, ankle-length collarless gowns with long sleeves—and I wonder how, in the heat and dust, they remain so strikingly white. The next morning I set out early, before dawn, energized with the anticipation of my day, the reason I am here.
Traveling west from Salalah the already dry landscape gives way to vast rocky desert that is only punctuated with the occasional frankincense tree or camel. For much of the way, the road hugs the coastline, and the shimmering ocean on my left provides an interesting contrast to the barren desert that stretches endlessly on my right. After several hours of wrapping my way up and down mountain ranges the barren, dry landscape unexpectedly gives way to shrubbery. Soon, as I approach the coast, this shrubbery gives way to small trees and greenery. I arrive at a small fishing village, and as I drive through the town my car is surrounded by school boys enjoying their lunch break. Their white dishdashas are bright against the earthy tones of the buildings, and they are excited to see my camera. Beyond the school, Dalkut is beguilingly quiet. An old rusted helicopter provides a unique landmark on the beach, and I watch as a man slits the throat of a goat in his backyard. I continue on to the small boat harbor where I find locals sitting in the shade, resting from the noon heat. The seas are flat and calm, and I negotiate for a fisherman to take me the rest of the way.
As we glide over the glassy water dark schools of sardines pass beneath us. The sea is full of life. The coastline is rocky and mountainous until we round the final bend. A khor, or “inlet” appears, bookended by mountains on both sides, leaving a shining ribbon of white sand before me. What I am seeing is the end of a larger wadi, or “valley” that clearly stretches inland through the mountains. It is now clear to me why, even today, this area remains unpopulated, pristine, and so hard to reach. There is no road access and walking up the valley, which begins ~20 miles inland in the barren desert, is not a tempting option. I have arrived at a lush, green valley, full of trees and vegetation, surrounding a large freshwater lagoon that is fed by natural springs. Cardinally, I am now almost exactly east from altars discovered in Yemen that bear the ancient place name ‘NHM’ – Nahom, now thought to be the actual place where Ismael was buried.
The fishing boat slows down to approach the shore, and I jump out onto the sand. The cool water is refreshing on my feet. To my left, up on a plateau, at the base of a prominent mountain, I will find ancient stone ruins in the shape of buildings. These have never been excavated. In front of me I see groups of date palms, heavy with fruit. To my right, in the distance, I can see a large stone structure, overgrown with weeds. What was it? A lookout? A building? An altar? Behind it, lies a large, shaded cave wall that contains ancient drawings of camels, boats, and an undeciphered language.
Is this it? Is this where Nephi and his family lived? Where they built a ship and launched it into the ocean?
There is everything to recommend this site as Nephi’s bountiful, although no-one knows for sure.