Thursday, November 24, 2011

Majlis Al Jinn: Meeting Place of Spirits

In the remote Selma Plateau region in Oman, there was a myth known some time ago about hearing noises coming out of a cave known as Majlis Al Jinn, the Arabic term for "Meeting Place of Spirits."

Majlis Al Jinn is the second largest subterranean cave chamber in the world, next only to Sarawak Chamber in Borneo, Malaysia. The cave chamber is big enough to fit ten jumbo jets into the floor space and tall enough to stack them four stories high.

Artist impression of Majlis Al Jinn crosssection

Situated on a plateau of Jabel Bani Jabir (Ash Sharqiyah Region), 100 kilometers south-east from Muscat, 17 kilometers west from Tiwi. The entrance is through one of three inconspicuous openings in the ground. The fissure is an extremely difficult cave to negotiate and it is important that the expedition is not undertaken lightly without professional equipment and guidance.

View Larger Map

Different points in the cave are named after the American couple who discovered it in 1985. To enter the cave, one must initially be lowered down on a free-hanging rappel.

Rappelling the 120 meter ceiling

Descending from Cheryl's Drop

Majlis Al Jinn represents a single, giant chamber with three holes in the ceiling. The surface of Selma Plateau is 1,390 meter above sea level. Cave room starts some 40 meters below the surface. The floor area of the cave chamber is an astounding 58,000 square meters, the length measures 340 meters, and 228 meters wide. The volume exceeds 4 million cubic meters. The ceiling is up to 120 meter high similar to a 30 or 35 floors tall building. The cave room is dome-shaped; a suitable form for enormous void and the temperature inside the cave is a cool 17 - 18 °C.

The cave has three entrances in the ceiling, each with its own name:
  1. Khoshilat Maqandeli (First Drop) – which is 118.0 meter deep.
  2. Khoshilat Beya Al Hiyool (The Asterisk) – the star shaped entrance through widened trenches in the ceiling of cave, 139.6 meter deep.
  3. Khoshilat Minqod (Cheryls’ Drop) – the smallest entrance measuring only 2 meters wide that descends close to the centre of cave chamber. It is the most often used entrance into the cave. Descent through this entrance is the highest at 158.2 meters. It was named after Cheryl Jones, wife of the discoverer, Don Davison. Cheryl was the first explorer using this entrance.

A caver (encircled in red) is dwarfed by the enormity of Majlis Al Jinn

These entrances formed at locations where the ceiling of cave meets several fractures. Initially these were narrow seeps, but as the rainwater continued to dissolve the limestone along the fissures, the ceiling became thin and rocks collapsed forming larger holes. Below each of these entrance shafts, are giant heaps of debris. The debris contains bones and corpses of unlucky goats and other animals that have fell in these incredibly deep holes.

Cheryl's Drop - the smallest entrance in Majlis Al Jinn

Majlis Al Jinn was formed by hypogenic processes; through groundwater which dissolved the limestone and gradually created an enormous void. In the past, the groundwater level was much higher and the flow was so intense. The ceiling of the cave is an outline of limestone layer but resembling a more clay consistency. This type of rock is more resistant to karsts processes.

Light enters through the holes in the ceiling like bright beams, increasing the effect of mystery and otherworldly beauty of this unique place. Similar effect is produced in the night by moonlight creating a creepy and haunting experience.

Natural lights beamed inside Majlis Al Jinn

The beautiful natural light

At the time of discovery, the cave was hard to access. It required much time to hike and climb until reached and with all those climbing gears and equipment, it was a very arduous task.

At present, Majlis Al Jinn is accessible only using a 4WD utility vehicle and considering the weather is appropriate. The Government of Oman is developing this cave into a tourist attraction by organizing an environment friendly and convenient tour arrangement.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia, Google Maps

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