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Cave-ing in to pressure?

David Light (Staff Reporter) / 29 March 2008

We go behind the scenes to find out the real reason why the picturesque Majlis Al-Jinn cave in Oman had to be shut down

DESCRIBED BY National Geographic as one of the top adventures in the world, caving, has become extremely popular with tourists and expats alike. And one of the hottest destinations for cavers in this part of the world is right here in Oman.

Measuring 320 metres in length, 228 in width and 120 metres in height, the Majlis Al-Jinn is the second largest cave chamber on earth. Discovered in 1983 by American geologist Don Davison, this area of exquisite natural beauty really has to be seen to be believed.

It is said that the cave is so vast it could almost hold the Great pyramid of Giza. Yet it is so accommodating that one needn't be Sir Ranulph Fiennes to get to the bottom of the chamber.

The amazing sights it offers and the cave's huge dimensions have led to tour operators offering trips to this prime location for the sport. It was not, however, these legitimate outdoor enthusiasts that the Omani government wished to prevent from enjoying the cave when they made the decision to close the geological marvel recently.

The cave was apparently shut down because of repeated attempts of illegal base-jumping at the site. The decision of the Omani authorities is to be applauded as the site was reportedly becoming dishevelled and such activities would be highly irresponsible in such an area.

Over the past year, Red Bull and a well-known motor company have been known to have staged promotional events at the cave. These have both included professional base jumpers plunging into the chamber in order to maximise publicity. It is alleged that these activities have led to the cave's closure.

Illegal jumps

According to John Falchetto of Mountain Extreme, an upset tour company, "One year ago, Red Bull staged an illegal base jump into the cave and this sent the Omani authorities into a fury. Red Bull savagely bolted the area around the cave and left masses of Red Bull cans and litter at the bottom of this awesome cave. In our last trip to the cave, we lifted out some five large rubbish bags of Red bull cans and the litter of other inconsiderate visitors who have been fortunate enough to have explored the cave."

He added, "Later in 2007, a car company decided it was a great marketing idea to have someone jump into the cave and again staged the whole jump without any permits or approvals from the Omani government. Considering how dangerous and irresponsible base-jumping is, these companies knew there was no way the Omani authorities would ever give them a permit. This is a great example of large multinationals destroying the natural heritage of a beautiful country and abusing the lack of enforcement in the wilderness. Nobody sees these company trying stunts like these in Europe or North America!"

The cave is now monitored by rangers and there is a total ban on visitors. A ban of this type has meant that companies such as Mountain Extreme can no longer offer their eco-friendly tours of the area.

"Until the Ministry establishes a system to allow people access to the area, the cave is off limits. It's a shame that professionals and the general public have to suffer the consequences of irresponsible multinationals," Mountain Extreme claims.

John Wisse, an experienced caver who has been inside the chamber of the Majlis three times, also wished to express his outrage.

When City Times contacted Red Bull about these accusations the communications manager, Dalal Harb, issued a statement saying, "Felix Baumgartner is an international base jumper, renowned for his athletic achievements and championships globally. He has conducted a base jump at Majlis Al Jinn, in Oman last year (February 2007), where it was aired and featured in international, regional and Omani media, as it was announced through a Press conference conducted in Muscat. This project took place with the support of a specialised and professional team, ensuring total respect to the conditions of the cave and the area as a whole. Any claims of damages or litter are incorrect and false."  

So who is responsible for the cave's closure?

The Ministry of Tourism in Oman declined to comment despite several attempts by City Times to contact them.

The fact of the matter is that the Majlis Al Jinn is now closed and explorers and tour operators are missing out.

The closure of the site is a shame, yet the government is right to act in this way. Such wonders are beautiful to see and visit and they should stay that way.

Safety is paramount in these situations so new regulations will be welcome and hopefully people will be able to get back to exploring this phenomenal site soon.

 
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