Click here to view a Jordan Photo Tour and travel in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum
These days, there are fewer locations where a traveler can truly detach and escape from mobile phones, PDAs and televisions. While these gadgets have given us a broader view of the world, sometimes it’s physically and mentally healthy to unplug. Wadi Rum, in southern Jordan, is a magnificent place to step back in time. It is where T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) based himself during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Its dramatic landscapes include the Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock formation, named in memory of Lawrence, whose classic book of the same name recounts his experiences in the Middle East.
Although rustic, an overnight visit is a highlight for many visiting Wadi Rum.
The Pillars are visible from a new visitor’s center accessible by a modern paved road. Daytrippers can take advantage of gift shops, a restaurant and a theater, and clients can fill themselves with great Middle Eastern food, load suitcases with Lawrence of Arabia souvenirs, photograph the beautiful landscapes and then head to one of the world-class hotels of Petra, the Dead Sea, Aqaba or Amman. Afterward, they could rightly claim that they had been to Wadi Rum. They couldn’t, however, truly claim that they have "experienced" the place. That declaration requires a bit of roughing it.
My adventure began in a four-wheel-drive vehicle traveling off-road to explore the desert about which Lawrence so eloquently wrote. Our destination was a Bedouin-style camp and the Umm Fruth rock bridge was just one of the many visual rewards along the way.
Once we arrived at the desert camp, the caravan of six 4x4s offloaded its passengers, and we were greeted with a serenade of live Bedouin music, shown to our tented sleeping quarters — simple cots with heavy blankets — and then served an authentic Bedouin barbecue, which included chicken slow-cooked in an underground oven. A camaraderie quickly developed between my fellow campmates around the fire pit as we ate, told stories and consumed more than a few bottles of wine.
Lawrence of Arabia described Wadi Rum as "vast, echoing and godlike," and, as the night wore on, the stars above revealed themselves. It was then that I experienced a connection with nature that can be rare for city-dwellers. The entire desert was illuminated by the moonlight, and the stillness was deafening.
Those planning to experience Wadi Rum, especially during the winter months, should bring a warm jacket and gloves, something few of us think of packing when heading to the Middle East. The experience is meant to be rustic, and it is. Most journeys are for one night, and clients will find only the essentials. Basic sit-down toilets are available, but showers are rare and offer only cold water.
A number of tour operators conduct a wide variety of excursions by Jeep, camel and on foot in Wadi Rum, including Wadi Rum Adventures (www.wadirumadventures.com), Wadi Rum Mountain Guides (www.rumguides.com) and Bedouin Roads (www.bedouinroads.com). For clients who are more adventurous and physically fit, "scrambling," a mix of hiking and rock climbing, is an exciting alternative offered through Wadi Rum Mountain Guides.
Daytrips are also worthwhile, with most tours ending at a vantage point where clients can witness the beauty of the changing colors of the desert landscape as the sun descends in the west.