Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Shawwal 6, 1445 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Discovering Oman’s underground wonders

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The Sultanate hosts a unique blend of geological wonders that are turned into a geological museum, starting from mountains, deserts, to canyons and caves. Salmah Plateau is one of the incredible places that adventurers from around the world head to for an eye-opening experience.


The plateau located in the Eastern Hajar Mountains near the village of Fins in Willyat Qurayyat and around 160 kilometers from Muscat, The Capital. The place is an impressively splendid destination to be visited and explored. It is considered a repository of natural life treasures offering great sceneries of large caves, old tombs, and traditional villages. Exploring the plateau involves loads of opportunities for land and sea nature activities including climbing, abseiling, hiking, windsurfing, swimming, fishing, and more. Unmatched views of the shore and the turquoise waters of The Gulf of Oman meet the sprawling rugged mountain chain beyond.


The drive up towards the plateau is a remarkable adventure in itself. The routes are unpaved steady steep slopes and zigzag up the mountainside that some consider thrilling to drive as the adrenaline rush when going uphill. It is accessible only to 4WD so that it grunts the way up the mountain and safely back down as off-road travel requires finesse and caution. At first glance, the landscape there gives the plateau a desolate feel because it is devoid of vegetation and trees; however, visualizing the geological formations of the plateau and stalactites, stalagmites and crystal chambers that have been formed over millions of years is definitely worth a visit.


Salmah Plateau has a fantastical etymology to its name as researched by Authors Anne Dale and Jerry Hadwin in their book Adventure Trekking on Oman:


" Long ago, Selma, a local shepherdess tending her flock on the plateau, needed to go and fetch water. Leaving her flock in a cave, she set off, returning hours later to find a leopard eating one of her goats. Her first thought was to defend her flock so she picked up an axe, advancing towards the leopard. She was attacked but managed to bring the axe down on the leopard’s head, splitting it wide open. Both were mortally wounded. Later they were found lying together, the axe by their side. God was so impressed that he sent down seven stars from the heavens to make the seven khoshilat [cave shelters] as a memorial to Selma’s bravery."



The plateau is home to more than seven underground cave entrances. It hides one of the greatest and most beautiful natural wonders, Majlis Al Jinn, "the gathering place of the genies." It is the second-largest known cave chamber in the world, the base of which measures 58,000 square meters, the size of nearly eleven football fields. What makes it unique is the vertical entrance it has unlike other prevalent caves, with a dome-shaped ceiling that tops the cave at a height of 120 meters.


The cave was discovered by a coincidence by the American couple W. Don Davison, Jr. and Cheryl S. Jones in 1983, while they were carrying out Karst Research Program, missioned to them by the Public Authority for Water Resources at that time.


The cave eventually was known after they completed the mapping survey of the cave in 1985 and gave its name which reflects the mythological belief of locals that the genies live in caves. "It all began with two tiny dots on a photograph!", Don said. The cave has three vertical openings in the ceiling through which abseilers can access only by descending using about 200m specialized rope and gears to guarantee a safe adventure.


The cave has locally and internationally gained popularity and has become a hot spot for caving activities from individuals and companies alike. Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, daredevil, and BASE jumper, have BASE jumped into the cave in 2007. Therefore, the cave has been off-limits, and the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in Oman recently has placed activities restrictions in order to conserve the site, so now It requires permits from the Ministry for any visits to the interior of the cave.


Will it stop here? No, of course. The 7th Hole Cave is another great alternative to explore in Salmah Plateau. It provides multiple access points to the largest caving network in the plateau. Its entrance looks like a large crack created by mother nature through which one can realize the vastness of what lies underneath feeling humble that we are so tiny creatures comparing to this mysterious underworld. The hole is connected to 'Tahery Cave' one of the horizontal exits and probably the only chamber that is walkable in the plateau. The trip starts by abseiling down the hole, traversing and passing by deep-water basins inside, observing the limestone that formed the cave, and finally coming out through Tahery Cave carrying an unforgettable lifetime experience. This kind of adventure entails training sessions offered by tour companies for many skills that are prerequisites for this caving adventure to master some techniques and acquire knowledge in using the equipment.


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