x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Cable car to bridge the mountains and the sea

Planned cable car and new roads would open up RAK's near-inaccessible mountainous region to tourism.

A water tanker travels along the Jebel Jais mountain path known as the 'Road to Nowhere' in the Hajjar Mountains near Ras al Khaimah.
A water tanker travels along the Jebel Jais mountain path known as the 'Road to Nowhere' in the Hajjar Mountains near Ras al Khaimah.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A journey from sea to sky that once took a day by donkey will soon take all of 10 minutes. Cable cars to the top of Jebel Jais are part of an ambitious government project to open the RAK mountains for tourism.

The journey will begin from near Al Jir port, by the Oman border, and rise to the 1,950m summit of Jebel Jais, a mountain previously inaccessible to all but the most hardened goat herds. Luxury hotels and apartments will overlook the sheer drop down the Hajjar mountains and the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The first phase of the Jebel Jais project is a 39km road from Wadi al Baih that will be completed in 2012; part of a greater scheme to improve access to rural areas and boost tourism.

"Within 15 months I hope the road will be finished," said Abdullah Yousef, the director of Department of Public Works. "After the road is finished there will be many chances for investors. It will be a tourist attraction where people can sit and watch the sea from the top of a mountain."

The department has spent Dh225 million since 2005 to asphalt 14.5km from the Wadi al Baih entrance that currently extends to an altitude of 830 metres. The road is graded up to the 24km mark and asphalting for this section will begin in the coming weeks.

Construction of the remaining few kilometres will take months as a series of access roads must be built before construction can begin on the final leg of the main road, a route of steep drops and hairpin turns.

Finalised plans for the cable cars and resorts are closely held.

A second mountain road is now under construction at Jebel Jinat, towards the south of RAK city. The 21.5km mountain road will offer visitors a different geology than the Jebel Jais road, with its plateaux that reaches an altitude of 1,300m and overlooks the city of RAK and the acacia plains to the south. Three kilometres are paved and 11.5km are graded since the project began six months ago with a projected cost of Dh150m.

In the rural south, a third road from Showka to a road called Asima is scheduled to start in the coming weeks. Further plans include an expansion of the Siji-Showka road, which cuts through the mountains in the south of the emirate towards the border with Oman.

Government officials expect mountain tourism to be a particular draw in the summer, when temperatures up there are several degrees cooler.

Jebel Jais has attracted attention as the only area in the UAE to experience natural snowfall, in December 2004 and in January 2009.

Though it can claim to be the birthplace of the UAE's first snowman, Mr Yousef laid to rest any rumours of plans to build an outdoor ski hill and golf course at the mountain's summit.

The Government announced proposals in 2008 but they were quickly shelved in the months following the global recession.

"Anything you hear is only talk," said Mr Yousef. "There are no plans and there is no area to make a ski hill."

azacharias@thenational.ae