“Send me guts, please, and a dash of daring attitude,” reads my text to my family as I’m set to experience the world’s longest zipline, which hangs 1,680m above the Arabian Gulf. My decision to go on a thrilling adventure comes after 15 years, the last one being a rollercoaster ride in Orlando’s Disneyland when I was only 10. While my parents share words of encouragement, my sister hurls lines of mockery at me–classic sibling behaviour! Nevertheless, I gather up every ounce of courage in my tiny body and head to Jais Flight, located atop the cloud-piercing Jebel Jais, the highest mountain peak (1,934 m) in Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost Emirate in the UAE.
As we drive along the curvy roads of the Hajar mountain range and get closer to our destination, a part of the 2.83 km long rope, extending from one mountain to another, starts to appear. That’s when the nerves kick in! But I’ve not had a change of mind. The fact that over 70,000 people have attempted the flight and there have been zero accidents gives me a sense of solace. At the Jais Adventure Park, we slip into our suits, helmets and harness. One final car ride carries us to the launch platform, and now, I can assess the height at which I’ll be taking the flight and how far the landing point is away from me–that’s when fear floods me. But there’s no turning back; I was eager to conquer my fear.
Multiple harnesses were fastened (I was safe and secure), a GoPro camera was fixed on my helmet, and I was lifted from a push-up position on the ground to a Superman position in the air, with hooks tightened on the rope. In that position, the only direction you can look is down (let me remind you, I’m 1,680 m above sea level), and all I could see were the rugged mountains. “Ready?” I hear a voice from behind me. At this point, I remember the popular dialogue from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, ‘Seize the day, my friend!’ And I assure him with a big confident yes. Off I go at a cascading speed of about 140-160 km/hr. As I’m flying down that rope, I can’t help but grin all the way. For nearly two mins, I felt like a free bird flying in the air.
As I zoomed to the landing point, I was greeted with a round of applause for completing the world’s longest zipline. And after that, I went on the shortest–where I had to sit and zip across the other end so that my feet finally touched the ground. Filled with an adrenaline rush, I went back to Jais Adventure Centre, which is also home to the highest restaurant in the UAE–1484 by Puro. We treated ourselves to a delectable menu and refreshing cocktails on an expansive terrace with breathtaking views of the Hajar mountains.
Soon, it was time for another adventure–Jais Sledder, the region’s longest toboggan ride where you can hurtle down the Hajar mountains, swerving through glorious panoramas with spectacular views of the coastline. The speed is amplified tenfold as you are sitting so close to the ground. While the speed is in your control, I went full throttle and enjoyed the thrilling eight-min ride that covered 1,840 exhilarating metres of sharp curves and undulating waves.
This was how I spent my first day in Ras Al Khaimah, and the adventure had only begun. Blessed with all three aspects of nature–mountains, sea and desert–there’s lots to explore in this Emirate’s untapped destination. The best part? It’s a 1-hour-13-min drive from Dubai Airport, which makes it a great weekend getaway for Dubai residents and tourists alike.
The Precious Sea
‘We head back to the luxurious Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Beach Resort, where my room overlooks the pristine blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, palm trees and one of the six swimming pools on the property. The splendid beach view calls out to me, and I can’t help but head out for a peaceful stroll on the beach and watch the gorgeous sunset. The following morning, it’s the sight of the pool that lures me in. The swim helped build up my appetite, preparing it for the indulgent buffet spread at The Kitchen. The resort is home to more dining options, such as Al Maeda for Lebanese cuisine, Piaceri Da Gustare for Italian food, Vida Churascaria & Arriba Bar for a Latin and Caribbean spread, and the beach facing Cider Bay, among others.
After filling our bellies, we set out on the other seaside adventure that awaits us. Ras Al Khaimah is home to the UAE’s first cultured Arabian pearl farm, Suwaidi Pearls, located in the small fishing village of Al Rams. The UAE and Ras Al Khaimah, in particular, have an extraordinary pearl fishing history that dates back over seven millennia. Celebrating the history, Abdulla Al Suwaidi opened Suwaidi Pearl Farm in honour of his late grandfather, Mohammed, the first Arabian pearl farmer.
A short ride in a traditional pearl diver’s boat gets us to the demo centre. There, we meet our guide Obaid, who takes us through three kinds of oysters found in the Arabian Gulf, the oyster life cycles and the process of pearl seeding. We learn about the traditional pearl diving methods where divers would dive for exotic pearls with just turtle shell nose clips and wax plugged in their ears–in just a single breath. Obaid also pulls up a pearl basket where we see how the oysters grow alongside corals and sea cucumbers. Only 60 per cent of the farmed oysters produce pearls, and as a visitor, you get to open an oyster and discover whether you’ve hit the jackpot; One of our friends in the group was lucky to find her very own Arabian pearl! Our tour ended with a spread of local delicacies against the backdrop of the blue waters of the Gulf and Hajar mountains.
Is a trip to the UAE even complete without venturing into the desert? The last stint of our journey begins with a visit to the sprawling Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. Our arrival was marked with traditional Arabic coffee, and post devouring Middle Eastern flavours at the hotel’s Kaheela restaurant, we boarded a Jeep that took us on a Nature Drive in the Al Wadi Desert. We spot gazelles and oryx and enjoy the speedy drive on the sand dunes.
Next, we dropped by the Bassata Desert Village for yet another adventure–the very popular dune bashing. Taking a break from the adrenaline-filled ride, we stopped by to take snaps of the breathtaking arid landscape and photos for the ‘gram against the backdrop of the setting sun. The desert safari had worn us out, and we chose to rest our legs and relish the traditional fare of roasted meat and vegetables back at the camp. But if you’ve still got some energy within you, feel free to opt for a camel ride or embark on a quad bike or sandboarding adventure. As the sun sets, the camp offers a host of entertaining acts as a peek into Middle Eastern culture. There’s belly dancing and the endless circular swirling motion of the traditional Tanoura dance before the night ends with a dazzling dragon fire show under a starlit sky!
Wait, There’s More!
Take a tour of the Dhayah Fort, the only hill fort remaining in the UAE, dating back to the Late Bronze Age (1,600 – 1,300 BC), when locals used it for settlement and fortification. Or visit the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, which celebrates the emirates’ history with an impressive collection of archaeological and ethnological artefacts. Check out the world’s first Bear Grylls branded accommodation in Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest campsite Camp 1770, or a hot-air balloon experience that offers a bird’s eye view of the emirate’s landscapes. Visit the gold souk or pick up some Arabic spices from local markets. I brought back not only Zaatar as a souvenir but also courage, peace, knowledge and lots of fond memories.
Find ELLE’s latest issue on stands or download your digital copy here.