Dune-bashing in the desert is one adventure done better in Oman than anywhere else. When the sun is up, what better way is there to enjoy the great outdoors under the Sultanate sun? Swati Basu Das reports, and offers tips on how to do so safely.
The sand dune is an integral part of both the culture and tradition of our country.
The 200km swathe of sand tracks here at Wahiba Sands stretches northwards and paves the way to the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali).
This huge expanse of empty desert land gives rise to some of the highest dunes that attain 300metres and come swirling down along the wind, sweeping your feet.
Constantly moving, the sand tracks are never predictable but offer the treat of entering a golden emptiness. They are brilliantly-yellow during the day, fading into dull honey hues by the sunset, changing their delineation constantly.
This 12,500 sq km dazzling dune is not only home to the local nomads, the Bedouins, but an alluring landscape for visitors, who love exploring the sands and for whom this is an adventure of a lifetime.
As sand rules the land, so does the thrill to explore as it guides every pounding heart that is visiting an empty massiveness.
What entices desert lovers, apart from the mirage landscape ahead, is, driving through these sandy mounds and tearing over the desert sandbanks.
Dune-bashing, as it is commonly known, is one of the most sought-after activities in the desert. As winter rolls in, from November to March, the number of 4×4 track-lines piles up and cuts those ever-changing contours into the sands.
As your buggy pushes up the dune, stoops to the tilt and glides down the sandy slopes, you are sure to sway.
Be it the altering terrain, slopes, slides, climbs and sudden sinks; dune-bashing adds zing to the desert adventure.
But expert drivers believe in following the rules of nature. The best time for such activity, they say, is after 3pm, which helps to follow the tracks and the heat tends to dissipate by that time.
My dear friend and desert guide Yahaya believes in following the tracks of previous cars as markers to ensure the path is safe to venture onto and this means there is less of a chance of sinking in the sand. It really does help to keep him from straying. Experience counts, clearly!
Are your wheels ready to celebrate the dunes?
Arun D’Souza of Adventure Oman says: “Becoming an expert in this field is not a one-day practice, it requires an understanding of the terrain and the science behind a smooth drive. Few techniques and expert know-how can guarantee a fun-filled drive along the gorgeous dunes.”
1) Travel by convoy
Safety comes first while practising this extreme sport. Sinking is common as is drifting away from a well-worn path. Experts suggest maintaining a convoy. The crew’s vehicles serve as head and tail of the convoy and helps riders to stay alert of the dune crest. The convoy will keep you on the right track, quite literally. Carrying a Sat phone is a must.
2) Correct your technique
Adjusting to the dunes and respecting the laws of nature are basic requirements. Imitating a professional could lead to a dangerous landing. A perpendicular crossing of the dune should ensure that all four wheels on the crest are at an optimum speed. Avoid danger by crossing over the dune crest and diving on to the other side of the dune, unless you are sure of what kind of sand lies on the other side. Keeping the tyres of the vehicle deflated will give you a better grip on the sand as any lack of momentum can stuck your vehicle down, even on flat sand. Deflating the tyres to 7PSI up to 14 PSI, depending on the vehicle one is using, is the way to go. Sometimes even the original rims of a tyre can be replaced by a wider rim of 8.5 inches and deflating them to 7 PSI.
3) Avoid health hazards
Though practised mostly during winter, the sand and the sun are the main causes of dehydration among those who practise this sport for long hours. Sweating and poor replacement of lost body fluids can lead to dehydration. It is important to carry a minimum of eight litres of water per person for a whole day session along with a few oranges, dates, snacks and energy drinks.
4) Gear up well
Getting stuck in the sand is common. Staying well geared up means stocking up on and bringing recovery winches, Garmin for navigation, a tire deflator, an air compressor, shackles and a shovel. Wooden planks play an important role during tyre pop out while spare wheels and sufficient levels of fuel will help prevent any mishaps.
5) Dunes to venture
It is important to trail through the right sand texture and known path before fuelling up your car for such an adventure. Existing tyre traces will ensure a safe path for any beginner or inexperienced driver. Follow the rules and regulations of the convoy and avoid areas that are restricted or prohibited. The sand dunes at the Wahiba Sands and the Wadi Al Abiyad Sands at Barka (also termed as Barka Dunes) are places where one can catch glimpses of numerous off-roaders enjoying the climb, falls, and twirls and turns at the dunes.