Jordan's desert glories

  • luxury in the desert sand... luxury in the desert sand...

A Quick Glance

Destination(s) Jordan

Duration 4-5 days

Traveller(s) Group

Trip highlight Wadi Rum and surrounds

Travel Advisor Tracey Nelson

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The desert landscape of Wadi Rum is one you can only imagine must have been fashioned on some faraway, other planet. Hidden away from towns and cities in the remote and arid country of southern Jordan, the wadi (Arabic for ’valley’), has a sandy floor interspersed here and there by huge, dramatic rock formations. It’s stunning, extraordinary, beautiful and at times even jaw-dropping scenery. And it has a profound stillness that can rarely be found on Earth...

We set off in our comfortable Nissan Patrol from the ramshackle village of Rum, the gateway to the Wadi Rum Protected Area. This is Bedouin country, and our driver Ali is a local. The Bedouin have lived in this harsh landscape for millennia, so Ali knows every track and trail, every rock, every person and indeed every camel we see. We pass an imposing monolith prosaically named The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, he was here too, and gave the region some renown as a refuge for his Arab Army as they fought the Ottoman Turks in World War 1.

Ali steers us into the shade of a forbidding overhang and we look at images carved into the rock, mostly camels and human stick figures throwing spears, images that attest to the many centuries of human presence here. He introduces us to a couple of young shepherds who are part of his extended family. They are shy and nervous but acquiesce to pose for photos holding up a bleating lamb.

Further on is a collection of traditional Bedouin goat-wool tents in brown and black horizontal stripes, where we stop for chai and the opportunity to buy some ornamental jewellery. We don’t imagine trade here is brisk if they rely wholly on walk-past traffic! Our hosts here are quite old, but although they can only move slowly, they have lost nothing in gracious hospitality towards guests, a trait the Bedouin are renowned for. Again they are relatives of some sort, being cousins of Ali’s grandfather.

Ali offers to show us a spring the locals use to water their herds. A spring? In the driest place we have ever seen, how can a spring possibly exist here? But here it is, a couple more valleys away, in the cleft between rocks at the foot of yet another massive sandstone jebel. There are a few clay bowls scattered around that the herders use to bring the water up and to water their animals. Nearby, Ali shows us an ancient cemetery, a crumbling rock wall circling about a dozen ancient headstones, any inscriptions long since lost to the eroding winds of the desert.

It’s time to head for our camp, and we follow tracks in the sand this way and that, traversing the valley floor, around one rock formation after another until we feel that we are truly in the middle of nowhere. The landscape is spectacular, the endless sand and rock broken only by the occasional tree and a wandering camel or two. At one point Ali switched off the engine and we just sat there taking in the immense, overpowering silence, and felt very small.

A little further on, our camp **came into view, and before long we were greeted by our hosts, seated on a couch and enjoyed a chilled wine. This was hospitality and civilisation of a most unexpected sort. Our couch faced an incredible rocky skyline a kilometre or so away, while just behind us was a row of permanent tents with timber flooring and extremely comfortable double beds, each one with a proper enclosed en suite with running water. Truly the middle of nowhere, yet no sacrifice in comfort or style – this was really living!

Dinner that night was Bedouin-style, a goat roasted over coals embedded in the sand; a traditional desert oven. We ate in an open-sided tent facing out onto a dramatic sunset view, a four-course meal including dips, yogurt and roasted vegetables, then returned to the couch for a palate-refresher or two. Our Bedouin hosts had us all in fits of laughter with post-dinner entertainment of rather effeminate singing and dancing. For the rest of the evening we discussed the meaning of traditional Arab poetry and watched above for satellites crossing the sky. Sitting beneath a million stars, a fire warming our feet, enjoying the company of our hosts from what felt like another world, we had rarely felt so fulfilled and relaxed.

Courtesy of Peter Miers