A few hours drive from Amman along the King’s Highway that cuts through the desert and you can be in the stunning nature reserve of Wadi Rum, for me the second unmissable destination in all Jordan. Familiar to movie-goers from the David Lean film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, it was one of the principal encampments during World War I for the attack on the Ottamans by Lawrence and the Arab Army of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the Hashemite leader of the Great Arab Revolt.
Wadi Rum is a timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and stunning in its magnificence. The weather and the winds have carved the imposing, towering towers of rocks that surge out of the earth like skyscrapers, so elegantly described by T.E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and God-like…”
The totally natural Wadi Rum, described by Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom as “landscape that refused to be an accessory ” was a caravan route during Nabatean times, and those who trek or hike through the canyons and the red sandstone hills will come across stones and rocks inscribed with the graffiti of two thousand years ago. I cannot vouch for the age of the graffiti below: my guide assured me that it was thousands of years old but I’m naturally sceptical when around guides so I’ll pass on that one.
Monolithic rocks surge from the desert floor to heights of 1,750 metres offering a challenge to serious mountaineers. Less strenuous exercise like trekking or hiking in the empty spaces, offers the enjoyment of exploring the canyons, the water holes and the 4000-year-old rock drawings in this vast wilderness.
Trekkers should be well-equipped and always carry a map of the area, a compass, plenty of water, sunblock and a hat. It is easy to get lost in this maze of mountains and desert, so it’s best to take a Bedouin guide if at all possible.
To Jordan’s credit there are no hotels in Wadi Rum, but camping is permitted. A night spent under the star-studded sky as the sunset deepens the shadows and colours the rocks, to wake at first light to see them change again from brown to reddish-pink, is a life-affirming event you will never forget.
Although there are no cafés in the desert you may come across of the black, low-slung tents made from goat’s hair where Bedu hospitality ensures that you will be offered a refreshing cup of tea and a chance to get up close and personal with the pack animals.
Always dress modestly when visiting a Bedu area, skimpy shorts and tops will be considered disrespectful, and remember to ask permission before taking photographs of the local Bedouin.
There is a Visitor centre where the hire of guides and 4 x 4 jeeps can be made, and where bookings to spend a night in a Bedouin tent sleeping under the stars can be arranged – something everyone should do at least once in a lifetime.