ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Arabia

THE RED DESERT OF LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Wadi Rum, Jordan

2006.05.22.

In June and July 2008, a retrospective screening of David Lean’s films took place at BFI (British Film Institute) London Southbank. We picked an evening show of Lawrence of Arabia as an after work treat. Watching the 1962 classic on the big screen was a fantastic experience, especially for the majestic desert scenes that reminded me of my brief stay in Wadi Rum back in 2006. Wadi Rum, an UNESCO World Heritage site acclaimed for its desert landscape, is a popular filming venue for epic movies from Lawrence of Arabia of 1962 to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker of 2019. Wadi Rum also put its mark in modern history when T. E. Lawrence passed through the desert numerous times during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18. Together with the iconic red dunes and rugged plateaus, the memories of T. E. Lawrence has made Wadi Rum, also known as Valley of the Moon, the most well known tourist attraction in Jordan after Petra.

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At around 09:00 we arrived at Wadi Rum Visitor Centre where our guide Attayak greeted us at the ticket office. After we got the admission tickets, Attayak drove us into Rum Village and stopped at the Resthouse Cafe, where we met Shaba, our desert guide for the day. The first thing we did with Shaba was to get bottled water and the red and white keffiyeh. We put on the keffiyeh with Shaba’s help before hopping onto his Toyota Land Rover. Our first stop was the Spring of Lawrence. Story has it that the spring was the spot where T. E. Lawrence bathed and relaxed himself during his stay in Wadi Rum. Reaching the spring was a 15-minute climb up a slope of boulders, about 200m high. We were a little disappointed to find the spring was no more than a tiny pool, perhaps an outlet of underground water. Though we were rewarded by the magnificent panoramic view of the desert.

Our second stop was a cliff of ancient petroglyphs, where figures of camels, goats, and humans were found. Petroglyphs and inscriptions could come from the ancient desert nomads 12,000 years ago, or any desert dwellers thereafter, including the Nabataean caravans 2000 years ago when Wadi Rum was situated in the crossroad of caravan routes between Saudi Arabia and Damascus. In the shade of a rock plateau, we got off the Land Rover once again for our first desert lunch. Shaba took out canned tuna, fresh tomato, mixed beans, cheese, and bottled orange juice. He then started a fire to make our cups of mint tea, a common practice for the nomadic desert Bedouins, who have roamed the Arabian desert for centuries. Despite circumstances after World War II that led to mass sedentarisation for the Bedouins, the carefree lifestyle of the desert nomads continues to inspire literature and cinema, consolidating the cultural heritage and promoting tourism of the Arabian Desert. Today, most Bedouins have moved to houses or apartments. The few Bedouin tents remaining in the desert are erected mainly for tourists. As globalization continues to reach the different regions of the Middle East, nomadic traditions of the Arabian Desert are becoming a collection of romanticized stereotypes reconstructed solely for the commercial value of tourism.

Rich in iron oxide, the red sand is perhaps the most iconic feature of Wadi Rum, making the desert the most designated movie set for the Planet Mars.
With less than 3 days of rain in a year, Wadi Rum offers the ultimate desert experience for all visitors.
Hiring a 4X4 is the most convenient and efficient means of transport when visiting Wadi Rum.
A half-day 4X4 tour offers a quick taste of the Arabian Desert, but it is much better to stay the night in Wadi Rum for a deeper experience.
We don’t know how much of the story of T. E. Lawrence in Wadi Rum was true and how much was mere mythology. Nonetheless, Lawrence of Arabia has pretty much single handedly imprinted Wadi Rum into the minds of the rest of the world.
Our guide Shaba interacted with a camel while waiting for us. to return from the Spring of Lawrence.
It was our first close encounter with a camel in the Arabian Desert.
Walking up to the Lawrence’s Spring was a tiring task.
The Lawrence’s Spring is actually a fantastic lookout for the desert scenery below.
The view from the Lawrence’s Spring explains why so many films about Planet Mars were set in Wadi Rum.
During the hottest hours of the day, most people and their vehicles would find a shaded spot.
12,000 years of human history has been depicted by 25,000 petroglyphs and 20,000 inscriptions in Wadi Rum. Some petroglyphs were made thousands of years ago, depicting animals that might no longer exist in Jordan.
Created by the Thamud and Nabatean peoples, the Anfashieh petroglyphs and inscriptions are over 2,000 years old, depicting ancient hunting scenes.
In Wadi Rum, we encountered all sorts of beautiful rock formations.
Under the shade of a rock mount, our guide Shaba started a fire to make tea.
During lunch break, Shaba socialized with another local Bedouin while we were finishing the food.