The Lost City of Petra and the Dead Sea usually come to mind when planning a trip to Jordan. Petra is nice, but there is only so much history and archaeology you can take in. Plus its listing in the New 7 Wonders of the World has meant that now you can expect hordes of tourists. And that can be a bit overpowering for some. What is often ignored by the lay tourist in Jordan is Wadi Rum. I found Wadi Rum to be a most intriguing and enchanting place. Here’s why:
Beneath the star-spangled skies
Wadi Rum is far away from any human habitation - save for the camps – hence there is no light pollution. The sky is clear virtually round the year. The perfect recipe to give you a clear, unadulterated view of the night sky. Our convoy of vehicles on a self-driving tour of Jordan reached our camp well after sunset. I was floored when, after a tiring day-long drive, I parked my car and happened to look up. The sky was ablaze with millions and millions of stars. Some faint, some shining like large solitaires, extending all the way to sublime infinity. I returned post dinner, spread a sheet on the soft, cool sand, and lay down, gazing at the canopy of celestial diamonds. Wadi Rum, I was told, is a safe place. You can walk around even at night provided you not lose sight of the camp lights (it is ridiculously easy for a visitor to get lost in the desert).
A Martian landscape, on Earth
Imagine an endless expanse of red punctuated with weathered masses of rock formations. That is Wadi Rum for you. Miles and miles of soft red sand, and rocks (granite and sandstone) with sheer vertical walls. Each rock has a unique pattern due to centuries of erosion by water and wind forces. If you look hard – and are creative enough - you can see faces of humans, animals, and monsters. The base of many rocks has been eroded, leaving behind a natural bridge between neighbouring rock formations. I clambered upon the rock bridge Al Kharaz. It was easy to see why Wadi Rum is known as a Martian landscape. Countless movies have been shot there, notably the old classic Lawrence of Arabia and the more recent Matt Damon starrer, The Martian.
Blast from the past
Wadi Rum was an important part of the ancient trading route. It has been inhabited since pre-historic times. You can still see remains of plinths of stone houses. Some diligent hunting may yield stone tools used by the early men. These folks had devised an ingenious way of getting water in this arid region. They carved spiral pipelines on the surfaces of the rocks. Water from the meagre rains would collect from this “pipeline” and drop into a well dug deep in the bedrock.
Get up close with the Bedouin life
At Wadi Rum, your hosts will be the Bedouins who are original inhabitants of the area. This tribe lays great stress on hospitality (even for their enemies). If an enemy were to step into their shelter, they are honour-bound to host them – well, for three days at least. They have some other customs you must familiarise yourself with, as the guest. For instance, I was a bewildered when my Bedouin host offered me three consecutive cups of coffee. Our guide explained later that having the first cup indicates you are accepting their hospitality. You taste the coffee with the second cup. The third cup is more profound - it stands for ‘sword’ – with this round I commit to my host that I will unsheathe my sword to come to his protection come hell or high weather. How interesting is that? I was also treated to zarb, an authentic Bedouin meal. It is a mix of meat and vegetables cooked in a stack of trays over a few hours in a hollow underground pit. A Bedouin barbeque if you please! The cooking done, the pit cover is lifted off and the tray pulled out with a flourish. The evening was rounded up over long drags on sheesha (double apple flavour, no less) and a long chat with our Bedouin hosts.
This place is perfect if you are looking for peace and tranquillity. During the day, you can enjoy the sand dunes and rock formations, and after sunset you are awestruck by the glittering sky. It’s the ideal place to spend endless hours in communion with yourself.