With six months of extreme heat in this middle-eastern city of Dubai, come winter, and we start scouting for a new location within UAE for weekend day trips or a family outing. An emirate out of seven forming the UAE, Dubai is well known for its fashion avenues, lofty skyscrapers, grand hotels and glitzy shopping malls. Sadly, the nature around here in UAE stretches to vast expanses of flat sandy desert and sand dunes. In order to be close to nature , one needs to drive far away from the glam and the glitz of this Uber-metro of a city, into the harsh and vegetation-less mountain ranges towards the borders of Oman. UAE, being a small country , the list of travel destinations does not run long. During our period of stay here we have mostly covered them in family trips and during kids vacations. Still at times some new leads for someplace new do come our way. This time the lead came through a friend of mine : Jebel Jais – A Day trip from Dubai.
Jebel Jais happens to be the highest mountain peak within UAE, and is situated in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, and is a part of the Hajar Mountains . It stands at a height of about 1900 mts ( 5800 ft) above sea level and is about 30 kms from Ras Al Khaimah city area. The distance from Dubai to Jebel Jais is about 180 kms and from Abu Dhabi 260 Kms.
As you pass the Lantern round-about near the RAK Hospital you need to keep driving towards the mountains which looms in the horizon, and a small board points you to the direction of Jebel Jais. The mountains appear on your left side, till you reach the flat smooth tarmac which leads you to the top of the range. From there it is about 25 kilometers to the top. Google Map does a decent job of leading you to the spot.
We were a few families, raring to go out for a day trip inside UAE. We wanted to make this a family day out. We had children and older people in our team and thus needed to find a place which will be accommodating to all as well as a fun day trip. Jebel Jais came as our new lead and we zeroed on it as our next location. One fine weekend in March, when the temperature was still fine for a day’s outing in the sun, we packed our complete rations of food, water, snacks and all necessary accessories and supplies into our cars. Our intention was also to have a grand barbecue there at Jebel Jais..
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The drive from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah was smooth and we took the Mohammad Bin Jayed Road E 311 ( Old Emirates Road). Once we reached Ras Al Khaimah we picked up the signs to Jebel Jais direction. Parts of this length of around 10 kilometers are on stretches of broken, dusty and slightly rocky unmarked roads. Mind you, the signs are very limited, but as you reach the starting point for the mountainous drive , from then on it is a wonderful scenic drive mostly on smooth tarmac surface.
Ras Al Khaimah tourism is now actively investing to promote Jebel Jais as a weekend getaway destination in UAE. It is also pegged as a great drive-in adventure for a local outing or a day trip. The Emirate has started building a modernistic Hotel and a para-gliding range in this location.
We were grouped into three cars, including a Toyota Corolla, a Nissan Altima and a Mitsubishi Pajero. Though you may read to be otherwise , it is pretty well possible to use a sedan car in order to reach Jebel Jais. But do not wander off roads, keep to the beaten path if you are driving a non-SUV.
The view in this stretch of 25 kilometers to the top ( or almost to the top) is simply breath-taking. Rugged hilltops rise on three sides of you the more you drive into the lap of the mountains, sweeping views of rocky valleys stretch on one side, gorges can be viewed at different directions, and we tackled around eight hair-pin bends till we reached the top. It takes about 45 minutes from RAK city area to reach here. We have driven to most locales in UAE and this scenic drive of forty odd minutes, beats the others hands-down. It is fantastically exhilarating and lifts your spirits.
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As you reach the summit, you will find that the final 5 kms or so has been blocked off (as off March 2015), as the tarmac roads were still being built. It was mostly stretches of rocks and rubble, from the last checkpoint on the route upwards. All along the higher sections of the route, at different turns, there are parking locations and toilets erected for the needy. Again, the condition of these toilets then were not much to be happy about, but it is still an option. The parking spots have been built at vantage points along the route, where it feels great to park awhile and absorb the beauty, tranquility and serenity of the mountains around you.
The temperature continuously fell as we drove up to the summit, and the drop is by almost 10 degree Celsius if compared to the city down below, and that was a very welcome change. The Jebel Jais summit has been reported to receive quite a few inches of snowfall in 2004 and then in 2009. This is surely the coldest point in UAE.
A special nook at Jebel Jais.
Once we reached the end of the black tarmac road where the last checkpoint stops you from venturing further, we turned back drove down for about a couple of bends till we saw this hilly side road. The hilly road brought us to a ridge on the side of the mountains which gave us a great view point along with a little privacy. Over the ridge we could see the sea near the “ghailah” area of UAE at the end of the horizon downwards over the mountains on the other side.
We parked our cars and unpacked our supplies and prepared for our grand barbecue. Mind you, there are no shops or cafes in this route, (as of March 2015). Every drop of water and every morsel of food needed, needs to be brought along here. The children loved the little hikes and slips over the boulders and embankments around this rocky spot. Quickly we got our supplies unpacked, and arranged to light up the charcoal grill. There were some waste collection pits around here too. Mats were put on the ground , and the women in our team also got down to work, preparing the ingredients for the grill. In about 20 minutes we had a lovely barcue fire ready for the grill. Children loved the nippy air, and got busy in their fun activities. The sun warmed our backs amidst the little nip in the air.
The food tasted awesome, charcoal grilling always has this special aroma and brings that exquisite softness in the chicken or mutton that you grill. We had also brought in plentiful supplies of water and soft drinks to quench the thirst for all, and also had snacks to bite on till the grilled food was ready. Then we all pooled around and had a hearty meal, complete with some hummus and garlic paste along with the Lebanese wheat rolls that we brought. The atmosphere was one of joy, light banter, jokes and some mindless fun all along. We enjoyed the great views all around, quiet serene rocky mountains , a rocky valley and gorge in front of us, and great views to the blue Ocean below. The weather was fantastic and it was a time to chill out and unwind from our stressful city lives.
As evening approached, we boiled a hot pot of water to make us some instant coffee. Adults also shrugged out of their lazy bones and had their few moments of extreme wishful fun, tackling extreme rocks and boulders for a better scenic view. The sun set was softly approaching us, causing wonderful myriad of colours on the mountain tops. and the chill in the wind increased with the setting of the sun.
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With the approach of darkness we could slowly see the lights in the towns below us come to life. The main motorways looked like bright ribbons in the evening horizon while little trinkets of lights came up marking the residential and commercial districts. As darkness fell, we packed our stuff back in the car. Mind you street lights are very few and the parking zones have the lights burning till it was around seven, after which they switched off.
Navigating back down the steep roads and hair-pin bends back into civilizations was guided by the moon. Slightly risky, but with some careful driving we reached back safe.
All in all, Jebel Jais is probably the best drive and mountain spot in UAE. It needs more infrastructure at the moment, but it has already become a magnetic attractions to travel lovers in the UAE. Visitors or residents alike, if you have a car, do not miss this UAE destination. You would love it !!!