Bedouin Camping in Wadi Rum, Jordan is easily one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that is truly unique and does complete justice to vast sand dunes of the desert.
It is rare in our overly articulated lives when words are superfluous. I have to admit I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it until we were right in the middle of nowhere in Jordan. We had been driving a while and stopped to just soak in the surrounding. A group of three Jordanian old men approached us talking quickly in Arabic. I was a little wary – unsure if we had offended them in any way or if we were breaking any rules. They sensed our hesitation and broke into a warm inviting smile – the kind we reserve for long lost friends. From then on, it was like we’d been welcomed into the fold.
We sat there sipping warm sage tea that they poured for us and dunking bread they happily shared – they said a few words in Arabic,we said a few in English with “shukran” interspersed to show our gratitude for their hospitality. And then for a while we all just lingered in silence, the only sounds in the air from the whoosh of the wind and the odd-passing vehicle. Little did I know in that moment, this was going to be the beginning of a whole lot of memorable moments and even more tea-drinking ( which in my world, is a VERY BIG DEAL)!
We drove for miles and miles and wound up at the gateway to Wadi Rum, the “Grand Canyon of the Middle East”, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Jordan that’s been high up on my travel list ever since I moved to the UAE. M and I had signed up for a drive through the desert with a night of camping bedouin-style. Of course I was a little skeptical about the possibilities of communal-bathrooms and tents but my worries were quickly replaced by the excitement at the adventure ahead of us.
With our bags loaded, our guide set us up for the desert drive in his trusty beat-up toyota with an open roof. We were lucky with good weather – clear blue skies, sunshine yet a cool breeze meant we could comfortably cover the desert-scape ahead of us. The village of Wadi Rum consists of several hundred Bedouin families and just a few bare-bone facilities. Once we set off on our safari, our first stop was at the ruins of the Nabatean Temple, foot of Jebel Rum, just meters outside the village. From then on, it was like an endless sea of sand dunes, rocky mountains, gorges and canyons. Sand as far as you could see.
Our guide was knowledgeable and talked us through some of the Nabataean inscriptions that consisted of mountains goats, people and spirits. He was adept at pointing to the Islamic inscriptions that talk about the prophet along the Khazali Canyon that we climbed. The toughest walk was the El mahama canyon with one too many rocks too far apart, a tad bit too high and rigorous for someone like me who’s both not-so-fit and vertically challenged. A few bruises were nursed as we stopped for a cup of sage tea before continuing our journey into the desert. From one canyon to the next, rock formations, a few valleys and very many red sand dunes. We trekked, we walked and became one with our surrounding. As it neared sunset, we proceeded towards our campsite.
That there’s more than a fair share of bedouin campsites sprinkled along the desert but so far apart that you hardly see them is a testament to the sheer vastness that engulfs you. As far as you can see there’s only the desert, its changing colours, varied landscape.
I made friends with the campsite chef and we watched him prepare our dinner – grilled chicken, potatoes and onions cooked in the ‘zarb’ underground oven covered with sand. The long cooking process produces incredible smoky flavors that are quite unlike anything you’ve tried before. May be it had something to do with the fact that we were ridiculously hungry from all the desert activities we’d been upto.
We woke up early to watch the sun-rise, a breath-taking one to say the least. It was cold in the desert but the little glass cups of tea that we held between the palm of our hands kept us sufficiently warm. We were lucky our campsite wasn’t crowded, very few women meant I pretty much had most of the bathroom to my myself and there was almost nothing to complain about. We had some foul-hummus for breakfast and were ready to head back.
As we left our campsite and back through the desert to the village, we knew we’d had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, the kind where the minute details are foggy, what you really remember is a feeling, of pure contentment, of quiet calm, of nature’s many colors even in the desert.