Camel Trekking in Wadi Rum

Life in the Wadi
By Belkis Kambach
  |  Gorp.com

Wadi Rum is a Bedouin settlement in a valley with giant 2,000-foot desert cliffs, ancient valleys, and towering weathered sandstone mountains that rise out of the white and pink colored sands. Stunning in its natural beauty, Wadi Rum epitomizes the romance of the desert. Tucked away, remote, and splendid in both landscape and culture.

Not being a sand dune style of desert, Wadi Rum has intriguing hills and rock formations known as "jebels" that reach a height of about 1,700 meters. Thousands of years ago, this area was part of the silk and spice route between China and Arabia. Here is an unspoiled natural beauty forged by millions of years of geological formation, erosion, and evolution.

The word "Wadi" means valley, and Rum a settlement, the home of several semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes of about 20 Bedouin families that have inhabited the area for generations. Wadi Rum preserves a centuries-old lifestyle that has been practiced in the Arabian Desert for thousands of years. Bedouins, "people of the desert," make up 30 percent of Jordanians. Their culture is old and has remained more or less unchanged for centuries; they herd sheep and goats in the desert and wear long dark robes, with red and white checked "tablecloths" wrapped in a specific intricate manner on their heads.

These kind and friendly desert people settled around the 'Beau Geste' Camel Corps Fort in Wadi Rum, and in scattered nomadic camps throughout the area. You will enjoy their hospitality, perhaps sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky sipping a welcoming cup of Arabic coffee with cardamom or rosemary tea (Jordanian tea is very sweet and minty and drips down your throat like a warm liqueur).

One shouldn't leave without tasting Ntepen (eggplant sauce). Dining under the family tent affords the opportunity to experience this way of life firsthand. Samir, our local guide, said that when a Bedouin invites you for dinner he is responsible for your life until you leave his tent, an experience you will remember, but it is the Bedouins' roguish humor and warm hospitality as much as the magnificence of these deserts and mountains that make a visit to Rum a unique experience.

For history and antiquities lovers, Wadi Rum is a vast house of clues from the past—for almost every valley, mountainside, or large fallen boulder has some vestige or hint of human activity that took place here during the past several thousand years. Everywhere there are pictographs of Thamudic, Safaitic, Nabataean, Greek, and Arabic texts and some formal inscriptions, and rock art depicting hunting scenes. Traces of ancient civilizations exist in many of these carved inscriptions.

You can trace the footsteps of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, since much of the film was shot on location here, and let the fabled T. E. Lawrence come alive where he was based during the Arab Revolt in World War I, whether through memories stirred from the screen version or from the pages of history and the actual exploits of the legendary British officer.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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