a haven for dune riders



A little-known sandy, desert patch in South Al Batinah Governorate is emerging as a new hotspot for outdoor recreational activities and its pulling into its spectacular terrain all buggy-riding, sand-surfing, sand-boarding, and dune-riding enthusiasts.
Khabbat Al Ja’adan in Al Abiyadh village is not your typical destination. Blessed with long stretch of desert sand soaring different heights, some rising as high as an 8-level building, this little village barely an hour drive from Muscat has seen an increase in traffic not only from Omanis but expatriates as well eager to show off their daredevil driving skills.
While the enthusiasts are busy riding the sand with their 4×4 cars and all-terrain vehicles, scores of people are sitting by the sideline enjoying the spectacle — comprised mainly of youngsters from local neighbourhoods, drawn not only by the adrenaline-filled activities, but also by the delightful natural settings, coupled with the pleasant outdoor ambience.
Adding to the village’s growing popularity is the ease of access offered by the new Muscat Expressway, which enables visitors from downtown Muscat to reach this once obscure hotspot in a matter of minutes.
Taking the centrestage prominently over the last few months is the sport of dune-bashing — a recreational pursuit that has spawned a community of die-hard enthusiasts. Passionate dune-bashers congregate every weekend at the foothills of Khabbat Al Ja’adan to indulge their craze for this sport.
Abdullah al Maamary is a dune-bashing veteran who says the sport is embedded in the DNA of his local neighbourhood.
“Dune-bashing has been my favourite pastime since the 1990s,” he shared.
“Although I’m 47 now, I’ve no plans to give up on a sport that I’m incredibly passionate about. Khabbat Al Ja’adan affords us the opportunity to indulge our passion for dune-bashing far away from bustling city life, congested roads and cranky neighbours,” he added.
But dune-riding is more than just a recreational activity for Abdullah and fellow buffs.
Abdullah said, “We take part in local competitions and boost our individual rankings on the local Honours List.”
“I’ve participated with my Jeep and FJ in contests held as part of various events, such as the Bidiyah Festival, Muscat Festival, and Mahdah Festival, as well as in competitions held in the United Arab Emirates. I was honoured with the second place position in the Muscat Festival event held in the Wilayat of Bausher. In Mahdah Festival, I won the first and second places, and a runners-up position in an event held in the UAE. The rewards have been most satisfying,” he said.
As an extreme sport in its own right, dune-bashing is not without its risks, Abdullah cautioned.
Accidents do happen, he warned. But given the soft, sandy settings in which the sport is played, serious injuries are rare. The principal life-saver, he said, is the seat-belt.
“We ensure we are buckled in at all times, thereby keeping us safe if there are mishaps. I have been personally involved in a number of accidents, but thankfully, I manage to avoid any serious consequences,” he said.
Still, given the obvious risk-filled nature of the sport, Abdullah would like to see attention given to, among other things, the structural integrity of the vehicle, the presence of functional fire extinguishers on board, drinking water, and other safety gear.
Suitable training is also a pre-requisite, he emphasised.
“This is an extremely challenging and arduous pursuit. It’s important for beginners to practice a great deal in sandy settings like Khabbat Al Ja’adan to learn the ropes. There are no shortcuts to being a professional dune-rider!”
Although the veteran dune-rider professes his affinity for Khabbat Al Ja’adan, he does acknowledge that there are other equally exciting places for dune-bashing. Sand-dunes in the wilayats of Suwaiq, Barka, Mahdah, Bidiyah and Bausher are just as welcoming. The ultimate testing ground is Jedailah in The Empty Quarter, where the dunes soar to dizzying heights of 455 metres. But access to this location is still tricky, Abdullah shared.
Although a quiet village, Khabbat Al Ja’adan —locally also known as ‘Abu Maher’ — bursts into life on Fridays thanks primarily to ‘Jeep Oman’, a volunteer team that organises many dune-bashing competitions at this location. So far this year, two major events had been staged amid these magnificent dune settings. The turnout has been mind-boggling. As many as 9,000 people of different ages, including expats from diverse nationalities, converged on Abu Maher.
“During Eid festivities, families camp around Khabbat Al Ja’adan with their barbeque kits and make the most of the pleasant outdoor settings. Children cavort around in the soft sands of the dunes, while older folks enjoy relaxing strolls around the area,” a frequent attendee noted.
Khabbat al Ja’adan also pulls in other types of hobby enthusiasts, including nature photographers who come with their tripods and other gear to capture the area’s amazing natural beauty.
Fitness buffs too come in significant numbers for jogs, strolls or simply to breathe in the freshness of this tranquil natural setting. Indeed, Khabbat Al Ja’adan has all of the trappings of a tourist hotspot, added Abdullah.