Two sides of Jordan


The hauntingly beautiful Wadi Rum

Meridian Writers' Group

RUM, Jordan-When you become blasé about viewing camels that are backdropped by the rusty ochre sandstone formations of Wadi Rum you know it has been an astounding day. This sweeping desert landscape, in Jordan's southeast corner, is one of soft sand punctuated by towering craggy monoliths. It gave me a new reverence for what nature can produce and restored value to overused superlatives like "awesome" and "spectacular."

The mountains and sands of Wadi Rum would be remarkable in their own right, but the region has gained extra significance by its association with T.E. Lawrence. This is the area where the British military officer was based during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during the First World War. In his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom , Lawrence describes his work with the Arabs to free them from Turkish rule, becoming almost one of them. His memoir was the basis for the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia , which makes him out to be a hero although there's a great deal of contention about just how true his account of events was.

What's not in doubt is the accuracy of his description of Wadi Rum. "Vast, echoing and godlike," he called it. He got that right and I'm happy to report, even though I'm viewing it from an open, four-wheel-drive vehicle and not from atop a camel seat as Lawrence did, that the passage of nearly a century has not spoiled this place.

On this afternoon guided journey, we follow a route that seems to me trackless. We hop out to view 4,000-year-old rock drawings, an ancient watering hole and to make soft footprints in the sand that the wind silently covers within moments. This is a place where, on a short walk alone, you hear the whisper of your own breath and, when you let your imagination run, the mountains seem to become high-masted ships or, more fancifully, giant lemon meringue pies.

We view herds of haughty-looking camels and we clamber up the Bridge. This ages-old arch of rock gives amazing views and is not for vertigo sufferers. We get a glimpse of what climbers must experience here - Wadi Rum is on the rock climbers' "hot" list.

At day's end our guide, Ibrahim Abdel-Haq, instructs us to find a private spot to watch the sun perform its closing act. We sit silently as the fiery ball paints the desert first with bright pink, then with splashes of red and purple, and lastly in a soft apricot light before the curtain comes down, unbelievably black.

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