Wadi Rum is a protected area in the south of Jordan filled with huge sandstone mountains, wide sandy valleys, narrow canyons and ancient rock carvings crafted by natural elements such as wind erosion. The Bedouin tribes still live among the mountains of Rum and their large goat-hair tents are a special feature of the landscape. The dramatic desert wilderness of wadi Rum, also known as ‘Valley of Moon’, can be explored by foot, on camels or by navigating in ATVs.
History of Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum has been inhabited by settlers since prehistoric times. The valley was a part of the Nabateans trade route in 1BC which stretched from Syria to Egypt. They left behind signs of their occupation including scriptures on the rocks and a temple which are more than 2000 years old. The Wadi Rum shot to fame in early 19th century, after the Arab revolt led by King Faisal and British officer T. E. Lawrence. Some popular tourist sites inside Wadi Rum are named after Lawrence of Arabia. Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabia Bedouin, who have been living a nomadic life in the valley for centuries.
I had a great encounter with these hospitable bedouins, with whom i spent a day navigating the sandy terrain and spent a night under the star studded open skies. The experience left lasting impressions on my mind, specially waking up under cool desert breeze.
Navigating dunes of Wadi Rum
We spent the day navigating sandy plains of Wadi Rum intermittently studded with red dunes. Large sand dunes piled against rocky mountains created vivid panorama. It was fun to climb on top of these dunes and feel a gush of energy while staring into the distant horizon.
Long drive in the desert led us to Jabal Umm Fruth Bridge, one of the several natural arches in Wadi Rum. Gazing from the ground, the climb to the spectacular natural rock arch seemed steep and quite high up. It was challenging, but the arduous climb was made easy as Atallah held my hand and guided me to fix my feet in niches and crevices to push forward. Reaching the summit was rewarded with stunning view of the wadi from the top. We celebrated our victory with a little dance and posing for pictures. The driver friend on the ground did a great job at capturing some awesome images.
Nabateans in Wadi Rum
While on the way to the natural arch, we stopped at Anfashieh Mountains where Nabateans Inscriptions can be found on the sheer rock cuts. It was fascinating to witness the drawings of animals, humans, and camel caravans inscribed almost 2000 years back.
After almost 6 hours of running wild in the desert, we arrived at a sunset point. Tourists from all over Wadi Rum had assembled with their 4X4 lining up at the base of the dune. I climbed up on a quiet edge and waited in silence for the sun to go down. Though there was a crowd of locals as well as tourists, it seemed unusually quiet, as if everyone waited in anticipation for the grand spectacle to commence. From the edge i was able to capture dramatic views of Wadi Rum as the sun sank below the horizon. I could hear people clapping, Attallah explained they were Jordanians who clap when the sun goes down!
Sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum already had me in its grip. I have been to many desserts, but had never witnessed such charismatic terrain. That is when Atallah suggested that we go with him in the night to sleep in the desert, and we jumped at the idea. Post dinner we traversed across sandy plains of Wadi Rum. The engine of 4X4 came to a halt after dodging around sand rocks. We climbed up a dune and sat in absolute darkness of the desert. A compelling storyteller, Atallah unraveled the mysteries of the desert. He showed how he would find directions looking at the stars since childhood. Slowly we were taken into the spell as more stories unfolded. He asked us to close our eyes and lie down on the sand. For first few minutes, i was anxious as my mind raced through all the horrible things which could happen to us while lying there in wilderness. Within moments the chaos in the mind settled as the cool breeze gently brushed against my face.
Few minutes into the trance and all i could feel was cold sand touching my back. I don’t know how long we lay there. When i opened my eyes, I was jolted into the galactic vastness. The moonless sky danced with gazillion stars with a giant milky way sweeping across. The faint glow from distant camp illuminated red dunes just enough to reveal the waves. It seemed like being in the Martian land. We sat in silence soaking in the celestial grandeur.
Soft murmur of Atallah eventually brought us back to the reality. After a surreal experience of being out of this world, we were transported to a secluded spot. The revving engine came to a still in front of a dark corner with imposing rocks. We walked barefeet on cool sand, and as we turned around a corner i noticed a little reception waiting for us. A path lit with torches led towards a center adorned with red carpet and cushions. Atallah’s friend Ali had painstakingly created the ambience to welcome us at his campsite.
We were in remote corner of Wadi Rum, far removed from any comfort of the world. A cup of hot black tea blended with bedouin’s nomadic spirit did wonders to ward off the desert chill. With a little drum our bedouin friends started singing. The sand rocks echoed with nomadic folk tunes. We joined along to give a clap to the chorus. We were humbled by the efforts put by our bedouin friends who wanted us to experience a tiny fraction of their life in the desert. I was fascinated to watch these free spirited nomads cherishing the connection with the nature. In recent times, bedouin have been shifted to villages with electricity, hospitals and schools. But at the end of the day they find refuge in the calmness of the desert.
After a while of singing and dancing we drove to another uncharted dune. This was a time to call it a night, it was a time to sleep under the stars. I stayed wide awake marveling the vastness of the space. Mesmerized by the way of bedouin’s primitive lifestyle, i kept wondering what they think of us. Though soft sand made a good bed, sporadic flashes of commercial charter flights were a stark reminder that we will be returning to our comfort zone the next day. Warm glow of dawn breaking on distant rocks announced the arrival of a brand new day as Wadi Rum exploded with hues of red!
Attallah transported us back to the campsite where hot running water and the comforts of modern world awaited us. I reminisced about the starry night on the way to the Dead Sea. I have been to the desert in Rajasthan and seen clear skies in Himalayas, but spending a night on the dunes of Wadi Rum was magical.
We consider ourselves the conqueror of the world with nuclear energy and electrical power. We so easily forget that for millenias, the seafarers and desert nomads navigated these hostile terrains gazing at the stars to find distant shores. Being in the desert in the night, and Atallah’s stories made me feel so insignificant yet humble to bow down once again to the magnificence of the universe!
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