Wadi Rum. The largest valley in Jordan, also known as Valley of the Moon and synonymous with Lawrence of Arabia and the multi-Oscar award winning film of the same name. If there is one thing that has driven the tourism industry of the area, it is the journey T.E. Lawrence made on camel back through this area with a 500-man Arabic force to attack the Ottoman Turks in Aqaba.
The Lawrence Connection
As befitting a person who has been responsible for driving some of the tourism interest in the area, there are a number of features named after or in connection with Lawrence.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (originally known as Jabal al-Mazmar or The Mountain of Plague) is the first to greet travellers arriving to Wadi Rum. Situated next to the visitor centre it was named after the book that Lawrence wrote and is one of the best known features of Wadi Rum. So well known, I didn’t even bother getting a photo. Or forgot - one or the other!
Lawrence’s Spring is another well known site that most tours begin with. Also called Ash Shallala, this is supposed to be where Lawrence bathed in a natural spring.
It’s quite a long scramble up to the top but was good to get the juices flowing in the cold morning air.
Lawrence House is another popular stopping point, supposedly being where he lived and stored equipment for a time.
Tucked in behind Lawrence’s House up on the hill was some good views of the overall terrain.
Red Rum Scenery
It’s not just Lawrence’s three and a half hour biopic that has drawn filmmakers to the area. The distinctive red coloured sand makes it perfect as a backdrop for Mars-inspired movies such as Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars and The Martian.
Bridges Over Rum Country
Depending on who you believe, there are either five (according to our guide) or seven (according to Wiki) natural bridges (arches) in Wadi Rum. We were fortunate to get up close and personal with two of them, whilst seeing another from afar.
The first bridge we visited is named Little Bridge in Khor al Ajram. It has a span of approximately 4 meters and can easily fit a person inside.
From the vantage point on top of the bridge, the mountains of Jabal Rum, Jabal Um Ishrin and Jabal Khazali can all be seen.
Probably the most famous bridge of all is the Um Fruth rock bridge. Standing a slightly more impressive 15 meters tall, it was easy to climb up and even though I’m not a fan of heights, there was nothing too scary about standing on top.
Thankfully, the kids were off playing a game of “hide the jandal” in the sands, so we didn’t have to talk them out of going up the top. Of course, the inevitable result of the game was two lost jandals (one of each), and about 10 minutes of lost time digging in the sand for where they might’ve been. I mean, seriously, what else did they think was going to happen?!
The third bridge we saw was Burdah rock bridge. When I say we saw it, I’m saying we saw it a way off in the distance. At 35 metres high, it is considered to be one of the highest rock bridges in the world. Definitely one that I would’ve loved to have hiked to for a closer look.
If you’re a natural archer (OK, that’s a made up term), then check out the following link of arches in the Wadi Rum area:
Nabatean Rock Art
Situated throughout Wadi Rum are a large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions (more than 20,000 of each). This isn't too surprising when you realise that the area has been inhabited for over 12,000 years.
We spent some time at Khazali canyon which is a 100 meter long deep and narrow crack in Jabal Khazali.
Here, the walls were covered with Nabatean, Islamic (Kufic) and Thamudic inscriptions and petroglyph rock drawings. If you look closely, you can see Nabatean carvings of animals, people and spirits. The Kufic inscriptions are religious in nature.
Unfortunately, water has damaged the Thamudic inscriptions over time making them nearly invisible.
The importance of the petroglyphs and inscriptions is such that they formed part of the reason for inclusion of Wadi Rum as a UNESCO Heritage site.
Being able to watch the sun go down in Wadi Rum in wondrous. Being able to watch the sun go down with a couple of glasses of wine, almost the same the colour as the surrounding sands, is simply divine. Veronica’s suggestion to bring along a bottle of Jordan River Shiraz was an absolute winner.
While increasingly the Bedouins who reside in the region of Wadi Rum are leaving to seek greater opportunities in the cities, there still remain a couple of hundred who live mostly in Wadi Rum village and in the desert environs. The Zalabyeh tribe is the main Bedouin tribe and those that have remained have managed to carve out their own living mostly as drivers, guides or tour operators.
Our guide and driver for the day was Mohammed, who was softly spoken, deeply knowledgeable of the area and a real pleasure to be with.
During the day we were kept well fed and watered, having first been offered morning tea and then our own private cooked lunch of Bedouin stew, flatbread, hummus, goats cheese, baba ghanouj, tomato and cucumber. To supplement the meal, we’d also brought along our own roasting marshmallows!
The most welcome stop was for cups of tea though. Taken Bedouin style with about 50 spoons of sugar, it was a necessity as it was freaking cold with an extremely bitterly wind blowing.
Our trip to Wadi Rum wasn’t finished when the sun went down. As part of our package we’d booked an unforgettable night out in the desert. It wasn’t just the scenery and stars that made it unforgettable but also the freezing cold temperatures. Huddled under some of heaviest blankets known to man, we all wished we’d had the foresight to bring balaclavas!
Our elevated sleeping “tents” were more like cabins and made out of traditional goat-hair with wooden floors covered with a carpet. With everything provided for our stay, they were as comfortable as could be, despite the extremely cold weather.
Prior to turning in for the night, we were also treated to a large buffet-style meal in the communal tent. The food was cooked umu-style, using sand instead of dirt to bury the meal. This meant the flavour wasn’t nearly as strong as that of a hangi and our kids surprised us both by actually eating a fair amount of it. The desert air had obviously worked up an appetite.
Whilst you can travel to Wadi Rum village and arrange tour packages, we booked ours in advance with Wadi Rum Nomads. The internet thingy promoted them (thanks, Trip Advisor) as being an entirely reliable and reputable company and we couldn’t recommend them enough.
In terms of cost, it wasn’t a cheap activity at 60 JD each for adults and 45 JD each for the kids, plus a tip for Mohammed at the end. This included our accommodation, food, water etc and there’s no way to put a price on such a brilliant day.
We were also fortunate to have a such a great guide, for the day, although having briefly interacted with a couple of other guides, they all seemed pretty good. He mostly leaving left us to enjoy things on our own, yet was completely accessible when explanations were needed or for anything else we needed (like having to stop the ute to retrieve things that had blown away).
It was now time to head up the Desert Highway back to Amman for the next chapter of our trip. What we didn’t know, was that there was trouble waiting for us.