The boulder-strewn mountains around me are barren and brown, like the rest of the sprawling desert in Ras Al Khaimah. Standing on a platform 1680m high on UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais, I gaze at the world’s longest zipline disappearing into this stark horizon. I am not scared, but exhilarated, at the thought of swishing through the jagged landscape for 2.8km.
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Nicknamed the ‘Nature Emirate’ of the UAE for its dramatically varied vistas—from the soaring Hajar mountains and the desert to seashores and mangrove forests—Ras Al Khaimah, offers thrill-seekers a plethora of adventure sports. The crown jewel among them is undoubtedly the Jais Flight—the world’s longest zipline at 2.8km—with its racy combination of speed and height.
Soon after watching a safety briefing video, I am strapped in. It takes about three minutes to don the armour and my new look, especially the crash helmet, makes me feel like a warrior.
A five-minute drive to the launch site brings me to the take-off platform and a view of the rocky valley sprawled below. I am with a group of five and we gustily cheer a couple ahead of us as they take off and vanish from sight in less than a minute. There are two parallel ziplines so that people can go in pairs.
Then it’s the moment of truth for our group. I volunteer to be the first to fly along the mother of all ziplines. They check our weight—ouch! I didn’t see that coming—and tell us which line to use. “Everything is in place, now go for the push-up position,” says my instructor. Well, that’s not how I started last time, I think, recalling my recent ziplining experience in South Africa. But why should everything be the same?
“Have fun,” are the last words that ring in my ears before I swoosh down the steel wire to descend to a platform far below. I scream—it’s not fear but excitement. The wind whistles past my ears and from the corner of my eye I see my partner zipping ahead of me on the next line. From my face-down position, I am admiring the raw, rugged mountains, the chiseled cliffs and the occasional goat meandering on the slope.
Before I realize I start swerving to the side, which my instructor had warned me was normal due to the wind speed. I want to turn my head to get a better view, but can’t because I’m so securely tied to the wire. I don’t even move my hands as we’ve been given clear instructions to keep them behind us.
After about three minutes I finally land on the platform, and it is here the full sense of this incredible zipline hits home. The instructor tells me that I literally zoomed over what would be the length of over 28 football fields, set high in the mountains, at a speed of 150km per hour. I try to compare that to being in a car at the same speed, but somehow, it never felt that fast.
After a shorter zipline carries me back to base, it is time to move on to other escapades and more ziplines in the Jais Adventure Park. The day has just started and I am ready to take it all in.
I look around and the terrain brings a momentary flashback to a place at home—Ladakh in summer. The mountains, standing tall and proud, always make me feel humble. The tiny specs of green sprouting on these bone-dry, slopes remind me of nature’s resilience. It’s a hot day and very thoughtfully the team has tied a bottle of water with our equipment.
Over the next two hours, I negotiate six ziplines on the Jais Sky Tour, aptly named because one literally tours the sky clinging to one bar. With my feet dangling midair, I go for the first one. “I’m becoming a pro at this,” I think, a trifle overconfidently, as I stand waiting for my turn on the next line.
The second one is not a breeze though. I brush close to a cliff and a pang of fear hits me as I feel I am going to crash into it, but then that’s the thrill of this adventure.There is no going back once you sign up for the ziplines, they are strung in such a way that you have to cross all six before landing home. Varying in length from 337m to more than a kilometre, they span a total distance of about 5km, and each one shows you a different side of the landscape – I even swish over a road. A couple of times I get stuck before I can reach the platform for the next ride, and the instructor hauls me to safe ground.
I get talking to my guide, Hessa Al Ali. “The name Ras Al Khaimah means top of the tent. The former name was Julfa. The history of this place goes back 7000 years,” she tells me.
How the past has morphed into the present, I think, as I relax over lunch at UAE’s highest restaurant1484 by Puro tucked in the mountains. In between the two ziplines we have also explored these incredible slopes on asledge ride, called the Jais Sledder. It doesn’t give the rush that ziplining does, but it is a must-do. Cruising up at a gentle speed, the 1840m ride allows one to take in the sights and admire the scenery. When it reaches the top of the slope, the sledge gathers momentum and comes down at the speed of 40 km per hour twisting and turning down curves. It’s a fun ride that even children as young as three years old can do because the speed can be controlled from a brake on the side of the sledge.
As I head back to the hotel, I think Ras Al Khaimah, which is just an hour’s drive from Dubai, has not just delivered on its promise of being a hotbed of adventure sports, it has also revealed a different side of the UAE, far from the glitz and glamour one associates with emirates like Dubai.
Pallavi Pasricha is an independent journalist.