When people talk about going to the desert, the first thing that comes to mind is visiting the Rimal Al Sharqiya where the best desert camps are located. The dunes of Khabbat Al Ja’adan are often ignored by many travellers and tourists and the Omanis who frequent the area are thankful for this as this means, they can have it to themselves.
Here, as soon as the temperature drops, dozens of four-wheel drives and buggies come flocking, mainly driven by some of Oman’s most prolific dune bashers.
Khabbat Al Ja’adan comes in different names depending on who you ask. Some people simply refer to it as the dunes of Barka given its proximity to the area while the officials from Oman Tourism refer to it as Ramlat Tawq, the sand dunes that extend for 10 kilometres and are located between the Wilayat of Barka and Nakhal in Al Batinah Governorate. Others call it by the name of the wadi where it is located.
At some of its best seasons, the number of adventurers coming here for dune bashing can go as high as 500, an incredible number but is to be expected because this is, after all, the closest sand dunes from the capital reachable within a two-hour drive.
With the cold season almost here, we listed a few things that people do when they go to this extreme-sport enthusiast haven.
Scaling the heights
Think of a wall. Angle the wall a certain way that you can actually run a car up and down on it. Now pour in tonnes of sand and imagine the exhilarating feeling of driving off the wall as the sand shift below the wheels providing a challenge that only the best drivers can get out of.
This is dune bashing at its finest and nothing has gotten more attention as a desert activity than this. Although we haven’t heard of a fully organised dune bashing competition happening at Khabbat Al Ja’adan, it surely will become the next big thing for this area as dune bashing, after all, is one experience you can never truly forget.
Picnic on a hill
Ask any Omani what their families love doing on a weekend, and one of the top choices is definitely a picnic. During the Khareef season, when the temperature is at its best, the green hills and mountains of Dhofar were filled with mats and picnic baskets. Even in the summer, beaches in the capital are always filled with families just whiling away their time.
The dunes in Barka this winter is definitely one of the scenic views you can venture out into for a picnic. Most Omanis bring along with them their own grills, in fact, a few have been reported to bringing along tents with them and barbecuing goats and different meats. But if you’re the type who doesn’t want to do complicated, precooked food, a good bottle of drink, chips and a mat would definitely do — a moment of peace while you’re enjoying the festivities of the dune bashers. If you want a no-fuzz trip, reach out to companies that these organise trips and they will have a picnic place set up for you in no time.
Glamping like a king
Khabbat Al Ja’adan is home to one of Oman’s luxurious resorts — the Dunes by Al Nahda. Amidst the acres of sand, here rise luxury tents that give a new meaning to camping. In fact, it wouldn’t be a far-out thing to call your stay here as “glamping”. Equipped with an infinity pool overlooking golden sand mountains and made even more beautiful by a beautiful sunset with the dune bashing area but a stone’s throw away, a spa and a high-end restaurant tie the experience together and make it one for the record. While glamping is yet to truly pick up in Oman, tourists all over Europe are the first ones to have a true feel on how it is done in Oman.
Go for camel rides
What is a desert without camels, right?
We’ve met the locals who serve as guides for the camel rides here. If you haven’t seen camel races and want your local guide to do stunts for you — they will be very happy to oblige. They can do different professional manoeuvres, one of the impressive ones we saw is the rider standing on the back of the camel with just one hand on the ropes. While this is fun to watch, you must experience it for yourself as well. While it may look easy, trying it yourself will open your eyes to the reality. Get your position wrong and you could end up hurting your back real bad. Without the proper cushioning, the moment the camel runs, you’d know right away how uneasy it can get. But don’t let this stop you because the experience of riding a camel along the expanse of the desert at their surprisingly fast speed is something that one must definitely try!
Meditate, breath and let kids have fun
If you are the health conscious kind, why not use the sand of the desert to heal your aching muscles. Studies have shown that heated by the sun, the warm sands have certain health benefits with numerous research showing that burying tired muscles under the sand can fix arthritis and other muscle problems.
Want to improve your cardio and body resistance, try a 150-minute run in the desert sand and you’d find the challenge you need. Or simply bring a mat and do yoga and look into the wide expanse of golden sands before you. The activities that you can do depend on how ripe your imagination is.
Even children are finding their own adventure now. Sand boarding is one of their favourite activities. Nothing elicits the best laugh than riding a piece of wood and letting it run the course of the dunes.
YERU EBUEN & TITASH CHAKRABORTY