A spelunking haven

SWATI BASU DAS – axisswati@gmail.com – Considered to be the most exhilarating and extreme adventure, caving has gained popularity among locals, residents as well as the inbound tourists visiting the Sultanate. Offering the most spectacular and one of the largest cave chambers in the world, caves around the Sultanate have attracted not only speleologists but spelunkers as well.

Formed from limestone rocks, these caves are led through holes, forming dry river beds, and reserved lakes that get water through occasional rainfalls, nearby wade streams, and even include draperies, columns and stalactites.
An underground wonder to behold, they unfold the tales of geological evolution of the land. The landmass offers a hyper local experience when it comes to caving. With a diverse topography and versatile cave system and underground landform, caves in Oman offer the most exhilarating experience.
As caving gains popularity in the country, so do the diversities of it, depending on their grades. From hidden to the unexplored, they come in different grades for a caver – from easy to the most difficult.
From grade one to a maximum of grade five, caves are well divided to cater to the ability of nature lovers. Caves with no pitches or small pitches are considered safe for any amateur spelunker as they belong to the no-risk zone.
Heavily geared and an experienced guidance is highly recommended for those with an inclination to conquer grades three and above, with descends, climbs, potholes, large underground pitches and large underground wet pitches.
The inclination to spelunk allures both amateurs as well as the adventurous, marking discoveries on their journey deep down the earth’s surface.
As adventure tourism gains popularity, experts believe modern tourists have a twist in their travel itinerary. Rather than a relaxing holiday along the tropical shores, hiking, mountain climbing, abseiling and extreme adventures top their list.
“Oman’s unique attraction is its landscapes, beaches, mountains, wadis – a perfect destination for adventure activity and all within a drive of two and a half hours. As an adventure destination, caving in Oman not only showcases natural wonders but also tells a tale of a million-year history of the planet,” says Nataly Fedchenko of Twenty3 Extreme, involved with caving and other adventure activities in Oman.
From simple easy walks to abseiling a few hundred metres deep down to the cave chamber have caught the attention of tourists and adventurous public in recent times.
Majlis Al Jinn and the Seventh Hole caves in Salmah Plateau, the famous natural Al Hoota cave, Al Misfah cave offer the best adrenaline experience to spelunkers.
A well-harnessed expert backup with technical training sessions is a must to get well-versed with the climbs, descends, few crawls and sometimes a swim in the underground lakes and occasional rivers.
“Oman has limitless resources and a lot of undiscovered gems in terms of new activities, new chambers and new routes. It takes passion and dedication to explore. The cave system located beneath the Salmah Plateau in the Easter Hajjar range has numerous passages yet to be explored and showcases marvels of the underground path. Though considered massive, the size remains unknown as there are many passages that are yet to be explored,” opines Nataly.
The Seventh Hole cave, located near the Majlish Al Jinn cave, has a spectacular sight to behold. The stunning cave entrance throws in the light on the chamber below, lighting it up and displaying a majestic view. A series of descends, climbs and short-tunnel trips taking one into the other side of the chamber is an experience a spelunker plunges into.
The series adds thrill to another 180-metre abseil, reaching down to an old river bed followed by a traverse through the cave for the next 12 hours and exiting from the other side.
“These are the two most exciting routes. Of course, there are many more ways to enter and exit the cave. It’s thrilling and requires an expert team to guide through the expedition. Also good week-long training programmes are conducted in Muscat for such expeditions,” Nataly added.
Then, there is the other side of Al Hoota Cave that offers much excitement when compared to the joy of train ride and safe steps entering through the main entrance.
The caver’s entry from the other side of the main entrance — which is the upper chamber of the cave system — not so popular among the common public, puts one to the test of their technical knowledge. An occasional abseil, climbs, wet, slippery and muddy ground, narrow space but good ventilation as a result of air passages from both entrances, will lead you to the reserved underground lake famous for its blind fishes.
“I have been to this cave as well as Al Misfah and it’s really blood-tingling to see how wonderful the cave systems are. Most caves in Oman offer what cavers look forward to — the dust, the mud, dampness, darkness, well-lit and ventilated chambers, climbs and descends, swims – all catering to moderate and extreme levels,” says Abdul Humid, who loves to be on caving expeditions.
Thrill-seekers mark all possible entrances, exploring a series of three or more abseils, an expedition stretching from three to 12 hours, wet slippery floors, a swim in dark lakes, dusty and smelly atmosphere with cave inhabitants, as bats and other cave mammals welcome the spelunkers.
So when are you visiting one?

Safety First!

Spelunking, just like other outdoor activities, can also be risky which is why it is important to know what you’re getting into. Caves can be dangerous environments. There is no substitute for proper guidance from an expert caver. Whenever you venture out, remember the following safety tips:

1. Don’t cave alone.
2. Bring all the proper gears.
3. Study the cave. Be aware of your surrounding.
4. Make sure you notify someone of where you are going.
5. Have rescue or help lines on speed dial.