Wadi Rum- The Arabic Desert Moonscape

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. (sanjay austa austa)

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. 


(click on photos to go to gallery)

(Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine from my Jordan visit in May 2011)

After visiting Petra it takes a  bit of resolve to make  the onward journey towards Wadi Rum. The ancient city of the Nabateans falls two hours before the deserts of Wadi Rum on your linear journey southward through Jordan. The sites at Petra had left me so overwhelmed that I knew any further travels would only lead to disappointments and comparisons.

Indeed, Wadi Rum after Petra is almost like  Fatehpur Sikri after the Taj Mahal. But I am glad we made a dash for it, cutting short our Petra itinerary. The highway from Petra to Wadi Rum is smooth as it is beautiful and the landscape changes piecemeal by piecemeal :   Something like the road journey in Ladakh I thought, seeing the scenery morph from scrubby farmlands to ocher- pink desert sands. Small sculpted mountains grow from insignificant mounds into magnificent skyscrapers and before you know it, you are in the heart of it all.

If Petra is  Jordan’s historical heritage,  Wadi Rum is its Arabian Nights. Its in Wadi Rum where folklore meets imagination. No matter which part this  small peaceful  Middle-Eastern country you travel in,  all reference points are invariably of the desert. Its just as well.  Over thousands of centuries, the life of the Jordanians have been shaped by the deserts.  Almost seventy five percent of Jordan is desert-like, much of it uninhibited. The civilization is squeezed to a narrow strip around river Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. (sanjay austa austa)

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. 

We arrive in Wadi Rum late in the afternoon. All tourist camps in Wadi Rum are fashioned to look like the goat-hair tents of the bedouins. In fact everyone from the manager down, in these tourists camps dress up like the desert dwelling Arab nomads and its hard to tell a bedouin from the other  Jordanians.

Most bedouins will pose happily for pictures but some of them like our  waiter serving us Arabic tea, simply refused to be  photographed. There are bedouins who still have a nomadic existence.  They wander  with their flock of goats all over the Middle-East living a life not very different from their ancestors in Biblical times.  But most of them have now settled around the tourist hot-spots like Wadi Rum and  Petra becoming an  integral part of the thriving Jordanian tourism industry. They are well adapted to the modern way of life and love to keep in touch on facebook and twitter.  Many bedouins I photographed told me to add them on facebook and tag their photos so they can see themselves when they log in.  Some of them are however still very orthodox in their beliefs and you must certainly ask them before you take their photograph esp. if you have not bought anything from them. Modern or orthodox all bedouins have very distinct looks. They can be identified by the surma in their eyes and their very peculiar beard that is shaved on each side of their under lip.

Wadi Rum desert safari can be done on foot, on camels or on 4WD’s. Hiking is of course the best way to get the feel of the desert but the distances between one  mountain and the other are so vast that it is popular only with few intrepid travelers and those with  luxury of time.  Camel safari comes next and can give you an authentic feel of the desert. Hiking was out the question but we had no time for camels either and were happy to hop onto the 4WD’s that are increasingly becoming the first choice for lazy travelers like yours truly.

The best time to see the fantastic granite and sandstone mountains of Wadi Rum is of course the early mornings or late evenings. Not only does it make for great photographs but  the soft slanting sunlight accentuates the age old weathering on these mountains bringing out every detail.

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. (sanjay austa austa)

Photo-essay and travelogue for a magazine. 

There are many tourist points in this vast desert  and if you are on a 4WD you will be driven from one point to the next at top speed. Driving on the sandy desert road is far from easy but thankfully its usually a skilled bedouin behind the wheel. The 4WD’s are open and its fantastic to get a good 360 degree  view of the desert. But  if you are tailing other jeeps like we were, you will be sprayed along the journey with fine  desert  sand.

At one point the halt was longer than at others. A craggy sandstone mountain here accorded opportunity for amateur mountaineering. A small gully lead  up the mountain to a small ledge at the top.  I climbed upto the ledge and was rewarded with fantastic views of the other mountains far out and below me. We were almost 300 meters above the valley but the sands had crept up an  entire  portion of this mountain not far from where I stood. Coming down a mountain is never easy but in Wadi Rum we simply had to  wade down  the mountainside.

There is another place where the mountains form a sort of gorge from where the wind sweeps at you in a furry enough to knock you off your feet.  All such points usually accord grand views of valleys or the desert mountains.

But its not just nature and adventurer in Wardi Rum. There is a  lot of heritage  and history too. Wadi Rum mountains have paintings, etchings and rock inscriptions left over by inhabitants dating as far as the Nabateans. The best way to see these  paintings is on a trek.

No matter which desert one visits one has to live in for a day or two to  experience it. There are no hotels but there are many camps catering to all budgets at Wadi Rum. In the night the mountains silhouette against the starry night and make for an  enduring image of a  desert moonscape you carry with you forever.

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