Memoirs of an old Omani paraglider
I don't know if my wife and I were the first paragliders in Oman, but when we arrived in 1988, the local authorities had never heard of this sport.
Because of my position I was unable to "fly" without a permit (I was managing director of the subsidiary of a large international oil company - nobody's perfect...), and I had to prepare a documented file to submit an official request for authorisation, explaining to a highly militarized country just how inoffensive this sport is (when one is surrounded by neighbours like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, one can understand!)
Thanks to the Petroleum Minister I managed to get this authorization in just one month, and my wife and I set out with our ITV 720 and 820 (gliding ratios of respectively 2.5 and 2.8!) to explore the possibilities of the country.
Given the gliding ratios of our machines, we had to stick to high ground; obviously with such canopies as there are today, the sites in Oman are more numerous, including plenty of them for those who dislike carrying their equipment (moreover the network of trails is more extensive now).
But in those days, one flew, mostly soaring, from the mountain buttresses facing the sea (Bawshar and Bandar Jissah), where the beauty of the sites largely compensated for the technical interest of the flight. Climbing them on foot at 3 o'clock in the afternoon nonetheless remained something of an achievement.
The finest flight however is that from Jabal Shams, the highest mountain in Oman (3005m) near Wadi Sahtan, 2000m lower.
To get up there, you have 2 solutions:
- for the hardy souls, start from Madruj, in Wadi Sahtan, and climb the 2000m by an clever Bedouin's route (take a guide with you from Madruj or see the topo in the book by Dale & Hadwin "Adventure trekking in Oman") taking 4 to 5 hours.
- For the less hardy souls, you can ride there in a 4x4 on the south western side (Nizwa-AlHamra-Ghul). The track goes up to the top if you have a friend in the Army who can get you a permit; otherwise, you have to stop at 2000m and finish the remaining 1000m on foot, taking 2 to 3 hours.
The flight is wonderful. You are committed from the take off : a cliff with a wind that is often irregular (I remember a friend of mine preferring to go down again on foot, carrying his paraglider after having seen me taking off and being spun around like a weather cock for the first hundred meters).
One last detail which is relevant indeed: the medical care in Oman is excellent! In two years of climbing and paragliding we tried it out on several occasions…
Fair gliding to all in this tiny corner of paradise on earth.