Great Outdoors – A mountain playground

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A mountain playground
By Shikha Mishra, Staff Writer GULF NEWS Published: December 18, 2007, 22:59

The rugged landscape of Ras Al Kaimah draws avid trekkers and sports enthusiasts.

“We perceived the town of Ras el Khyma rising from the water line at the foot of lofty mountains.”
— JS Buckingham, 1825. (From the book A Portrait of Ras Al Khaimah, by Shirley Kay)

Driving down the highway to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) can be a surreal experience as the rush hour traffic jam in Sharjah melts into stark rocky mountains and miles of sand dunes. However, not all the topography of this emirate is desolate and barren. Lush green fields, wadis over-run with fresh water, gurgling waterfalls – RAK has earned its title of outdoor playground as hundreds of adventure lovers flock to it looking for their next adrenalin rush.

“RAK is the only emirate where you can enjoy the mountains to the beach to the sand dunes within a 10-20 minute driving distance from one another,” says Nagarajan J Udupa, General Manager, Khatt Springs Hotel and Spa.

The hotel has tied up with RAK Events and promotes sand dune and mountain driving, desert safaris, sand surfing, camping in the desert, trekking and mountain biking in the emirate. “Overnight camping in the desert is very popular and it is safe as well. For the adventurous ones, RAK is the right place to be as long as all the safety precautions are taken,” says Udupa.

Among the numerous mountain biking trails in RAK, three major tracks start from the Khatt Hotel. “There are a numbers of wadis in the area, the most prominent being Wadi Bih, Wadi Tayeba and Wadi Oraiyah. In the Wadi Oraiyah area there is a spectacular waterfall,” says Udupa.

Mahesh Sarna, a 33-year-old banking professional based in Sharjah has driven his 4×4 through Wadi Aimah, a popular, but extremely tough route through the Hajjar mountains. “Wadi Asimah can be accessed through Ghail, a small village in RAK. The wadi offers mountain driving over all types of terrain and conditions – from deep green foliage to small water bodies to dreary rocks – it has it all,” says Sarna.

John Falchetto of Mountain Extreme, an RAK based eco-adventure company specialising in adventure tourism and sports, organises a hike to Shaikh Saoud’s Mountain Palace in RAK.

“This trek is the most popular right now. It offers a chance to climb to the highest peak in the area, Jebel Jays, and a chance to enjoy a breathtaking view of the valley below, which extends all the way to the Arabian Gulf. This hike is also a great way to reach the top of Jebel Jays also known as the Stairway to Heaven, without having to cross exposed ledges. This is not an easy trek, an effort of five to six hours is required to reach Shaikh Saud mountain palace, but the climb is worth the magnificent scenery at the top,” says Falchetto.

Khalifa Al Khatri of Aryam Tours says that the government is making an effort to promote tourism in RAK. “Wadi Bih is the most popular wadi in RAK. It has beautiful off-road driving options apart from stunning mountain views, and is great to drive through.

The mountains in RAK have a lot of potential — you can do biking, hiking, quad biking, desert safaris, camping, desert sports, walks and horse and camel riding. The costs range between Dh150 to about Dh450 depending on the size of the group. Water sports, fishing, snorkelling, and sea boat trips are also great options to enjoy the variety of sea activities that RAK offers,” he says. And then there is Mountain Day.

In 2003, the UN General Assembly designated December 11 as International Mountain Day. “International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring a positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands,” says Falchetto. On December 14 Mountain Extreme led a hike into the hidden mountain villages of the UAE to celebrate this day and create awareness.

Hikers were able to visit an authentic Shihi mountain village with houses, animal pens, a wheat mill and terrace fields, besides getting to see water springs, artefacts, wooden doors and tools dating back hundreds of years. An option to explore the UAE’s highest peak, Jebel Yibir was also eagerly sought by avid hikers.

Apart from the mountains, the RAK beach is a popular venue for outdoor activities. The Hilton RAK has a diving centre, apart from activities such as fishing, boat trips, beach volleyball and football.

“Our main business comes from tour operators and the leisure market in the UAE. RAK is a great weekend destination and holidays such as Eid, Christmas and New Year apart from the long weekends get busy.

Our high season runs from November to the end of April because of the pleasant weather,” says Fadi Banat, Sales Manager, Hilton, RAK.

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