THERE WERE MORE THAN 20 people perched atop a colossal outcrop in the middle of a red landscape which looked like Mars. As the sun started to lose its shape, in the process bathing the entire topography of Wadi Rum in an orange-red glow, I stole a moment of solitude. The excited chatter of my co travelers seemed to fade away as my mind concentrated on the sound of violent wind, the taste of the air and the unusual sight of a terrain. Despite being well traveled I had not experienced anything like this before. In that moment, I was alone despite a company of young, cheerful co travelers.
A strange stillness engulfed me, as I stood there, stunned and stoned. My mind kept wandering to a planet far away. The film Martian was shot here and I could see why. The scenery does look like Mars (OK, none of us have been to Mars, but we have seen Mars pictures!) At times, I would imagine I am walking on Mars, alone!
The Cydonia region of Mars is known for many formations which look like an identifiable feature, the ‘face on Mars’ being the most popular one. On the same lines, I could spot a rock which looked like a massive frog meditating in the middle of nowhere, a large side view of a human face, the raised palm and fingers. Now, I am not too sure of the real mouse or lizard on Mars, eh!
A delectable warmth swell through me as I absorbed the sights in silence. The scene beneath my eyes was bereft of any beginning or end. The sandstone and granite rocks, the sand, the horizon seemed to merge into each other seamlessly. In a distance, few desert camps, dwarfed by the mammoth mountains behind them, were the only signs of civilization. It was a surreal feeling! For me, an unprecedented one!
As the sun set, we descended carefully on the rough rocky patches. I chose to walk up to the camp and chased my co travelers sitting atop camel. It was the first time I was on a sand dune and the kid in me was excited. I sometimes walked, sometimes ran only to realize running in sand is no fun! The camels and jeeps ran past me, dramatically initiating little sand storms. Wadi Rum, the valley of the moon, is a magical place!
We started on open jeeps before we settled in the camp. Just as we passed the entry gate, ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’,a massive rock formation, stared us in the face. It stands out due to its unique structure and overwhelming presence. It was named so in 1980 after a book penned by British Officer T.E.Lawrence. During the Arab Revolt (1917-1918), he had passed Wadi Rum many times. He was also an archeologist, an author and a diplomat. He was given the title of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ as he gained international fame. There is also a 1962 movie based on same name. It chronicles his wartime phase.
We moved ahead, our bodies shaking, thanks to the bumpy ride. The jeeps halted at a stop and we climbed up the sandy terrain to reach a mountain top. It definitely made us feel like the King/Queens of all that we surveyed. Next, we made a pit stop at a site rich with ancient rock paintings. Curious to see Petroglyphs up, close and personal, I climbed up a tricky rock.
I was amazed to see the details. Men perched on camels, hunting scenes, caravans, other wildlife dominate the rocks. The Alameleh inscriptions found here is said to be one of the best preserved. Needless to say, this region has been inhabited since pre historic times. In ancient times, caravans used to pass this site. The Wadi Rum is dotted with many such Thamudic and Nabataean inscriptions. This site is near ‘The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom’ close to Diseh district. Watch out for a rock formation that looks like a human head.
Siq Um Tawaqi – Lawrence’s spring.
Wadi Rum is incomplete without the quintessential Bedouin experience. Bedouins are the nomadic tribes which have inhabited the deserts of Middle East since time immemorial. A small canyon sheltered a Bedouin tent. I know it is a touristy frill but I fell for it. There is no bigger joy than sharing the tea with stranger on your travel. As you enter the campus there is a rock with a carving of Lawrence of Arabia.
Arabian Music Night at the Camp
The night was spent in the desert camp. Still stunned by all that we saw, we huddled in the common tent for what turned out to be one of my most memorable musical night! A visually impaired man named Mohammed Ali (perhaps in his 60s) regaled the guests with Arabic songs. He played Oud with aplomb as his companion concentrated on the ‘dhol’ like instrument (Can someone please help me to identify it?) Oud is a pear shaped instrument similar to guitar. What happened next was nothing less than magical. A group of Jordanian men, who were visiting Wadi Rum on an official offsite visit, started dancing to the tunes.
The few burqa clad Jordanian women sat at the seats nearby and watched the spectacle. The men were so spontaneous that their dance looked like a perfectly choreographed sequence, arms on shoulders of partners, legs rising up and down in synchrony. Their non dancer friends cheered and clapped from their seats, smoking sheesha intermittently. I was sitting in one corner, away from my group, avoiding any conversation because I was enjoying what I saw. Conversation would mean losing out on what was a beautiful moment. I was dying to join them but handicapped by my introverted self. Soon, Belal Al Adinat, one of the best dancers and reveler that night sat next to me. He initiated an interesting chat and educated me on all things Jordan. He urged me to join Mohammed Ali on stage. I hesitantly grabbed my moment of glory. He is now my Facebook friend.
Post dinner my group encircled Mohammed Ali in a private heart to heart conversation. He was ecstatic to know that we are from India. Though he was not be able to see us, but I am sure he felt our smiles when he played tunes of old Bollywood songs on his oud. ‘Tere man ki ganga’ from Sangam turned out to be his favourite song. One of us volunteered to mail him the online links of old Bollywood songs (He was stuck to the 60s) as he requested. There was certain warmth in that moment, hard to describe, impossible to recreate! Do you really need cultural similarity or vision to connect to strangers?
We wandered for sometime in the desert, gazing at the abundance of stars. We could hear Arabic music being played in a far away camp. Some jeeps whizzed by leaving behind their light trails. The climate had turned colder. I returned to the camp for water before calling it a day. Most of the staff had vanished. I saw Mohammed Ali sitting besides the bonfire in silence. He helped me secure water bottles for the group and we began another round of tête-à-tête, this time just the two of us. Middle East is perhaps one of the best place for bromance, age no bar!
For me, Wadi Rum was the most favourite place in Jordan (I visited Amman, Jerash, Aqaba, Petra, Dead Sea, Madaba). It will always be special.
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Where to stay: We stayed at Al Captain Camp. The place is decent for its remote geography. Don’t expect luxury here. It’s a basic tent with large carpeted rooms. The beds come with a mosquito net. Dinner is buffet style. I loved the variety of olives and vegetarian mezzes they had. The vegetarians and vegans will find it very convenient. They made a bread which resembled the Indian version of ‘rumaali roti’ (Thin bread foldable like a handkerchief). The staff was very friendly and courteous. Try Zarb, a unique dish where meat and vegetables are slow roasted in an underground oven call taboon. I couldn’t sample it because they had mixed up the meat and vegetables. Try requesting them for an all Vegan preparation. This dish is unique to the Bedouin desert region of Petra and Wadi Rum.
When to go: I went in May. The weather was perfect.
En Route: Don’t forget to make a stop at the railway station on the approach road to Wadi Rum. There is a touristy attraction lurking here. One can board the train and pretend to be caught in the chaos of the Arab revolt of 1917. Al Hijaz train ride is a must for railway and ‘drama’ enthusiasts. Imagine yourself in a rickety train, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by the (mock) scandalous Bedouins. The steam locomotive is now run on diesel. It is Japan built (1953) and handed over to Jordan in 1959. Trains in Jordan are not meant for public transport. They are limited to touristy activities or run as freight trains. This place is also perfect for getting stylish profile pictures of yourself.
Nearby are endless fields of watermelon. You can buy fresh watermelons from the farm. Yes we did that!
- Apply sunscreen. The terrain is harsh and bereft of plants.
- Carry water and food. Chances are you will get food and beverage only in the camp and Bedouin camps.
- It is colder in night. Carry warm clothes.
- Don’t change camera lenses in open. The sand may damage the body.
- Beware of poisonous snakes and insects, especially in night. Also stick with your group and guide. It is easy to get lost here.
The view from my #SoulWindow is alien!
Pictures above : Do you see human hands, a massive frog and a human face? Click circles to enlarge and find out!
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- I am against taking rides on any animal. I skipped camel ride and preferred to walk and use jeep instead
- It is advised to not litter the place, wear conservative outfits and not play loud music.
NOTE : I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip
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