The thrill of spelunking

Hassan always looks forward to the weekend. His room which is filled with adventure gears like ropes, safety helmets, life jackets and hiking boots usually needed tidying up but because of his busy schedule balancing school, housework and outdoor adventures, it’s seldom that he accomplishes anything inside his man cave. He’s part of an adventure group that organises hikes and abseiling activities. Although they slowed down a little bit in the summer, the last winter season was the best yet. “Abseiling in Majlis al Jinn was one of the highlights we had last year,” he shared.
“From the bottom of the cave, the light peeks through the hole aboveground illuminating the darkness below. It was a different experience and far from the regular abseiling activity, the fact that we were inside a cave added more adrenaline rush to the whole adventure,” he said.
“On this kind of adventure, we usually keep the number low. Everyone is aware of the danger,” he noted, “but we are looking forward to going back.”
Oman is home to numerous caves. Oman Tourism has noted about ten of them and they vary in size and depth. Among those that are known are Abu Habban Cave, Al Hoota Cave, Al Kittan Cave, Jernan Cave, Majlis Al Jinn Cave (Salma Plateau), Muqal Cave, Al Marnif Cave, Grotte di Al Marnif, Teeq Cave and Tawi Ateer Sinkhole.
Of those identified, Majlis al Jinn, AL Hoota, Teeq Cave and Jernan are the most popular.
Like Hassan who’s home-based in Nizwa, many adventure lovers in the country are discovering spelunking or exploration of cave systems as another adrenaline-pumping adventure.
“There are different kinds of caves all throughout the country. They vary from governorate to governorate,” shared Dr. Mohammed al Kindi, an Omani geologist.
“A lot of them are concentrated in the Dhofar Governorate. In fact, some of the best cave tunnels with big chambers and interesting sinkholes can be found there,” he shared.
“Sinkholes, not many knows, are caves before but their ceilings collapsed and thus becoming the sinkholes we know today,” he added.
“Of course there are also cave systems in other governorates like in Al Dakhiliya and South Sharqiya. In Al Sharqiya, you have the Jabal al Abiyad that contains Majlis al Jinn,” he explained.
The history of caves is really interesting. When people discover their stories, they become more attractive to visit,” he said.
“Some caves were formed because of copper mining in the past. Some were naturally formed with water and the elements helping together to form cavities in the earth,” he said.
The Speleological Team of Oman or in layman’s term the “cave exploration team of Oman” is the most active team that goes after discovering and documenting caves.
Dr. Al Kindi shared that there are still many caves that are not fully documented and there are those that are yet to be discovered.
“We believe that many new caves are on their way of being discovered,” he said.
The geologist believes that caves in Oman have huge potential not only as tourist’s attractions but for different purposes as well.
“They can be developed for adventure sports or like what has been done to Al Hoota cave, modernised and made family friendly so families can go and enjoy nature’s gift to mankind,” he said.
“Cave hiking, let’s admit it, offers a different adventure. It causes that certain thrill. So for sure, people would explore them for leisure and entertainment purposes,” he said.
For him as a geologist, however, caves serve an even deeper purpose.
“Caves are important for me to understand the past. It gives me idea about climatic change, rainfall and water movement, temperature changes and even wildlife, mineral deposit, fossils etc,” he shared.
“It is an exciting adventure but it is very risky. Caving is definitely not for everyone. People do die while climbing and caving Omani caves,” he warned.
But “they also need to be conserved and protected. Before any new cave is opened to the public, they must be properly documented and ways and means of how to preserve them should be planned out,” he said.

YERU EBUEN & OMAIMA AL KINDI