We started off the afternoon with climbing the Um Fruth Rock Arch. The arch is about 20m high. At first glance, the steep surface of the rock arch seemed impossible to climb. With his bare feet, our guide showed us the way to ascend the slope. The key was: climb in a slight diagonal, move fast, never stop and never look back. We did what he said and reached the top in a single breathe. Of course, climbing back down was a bigger challenge.
Before retiring to our evening camp, we did a 1.5km walk through a canyon. Everything appeared red and orange under the afternoon sun. The walk allowed us to admire the two most remarkable features of Wadi Rum: the red sand dunes and the rugged rock mounts (or desert mountains as the locals called them).
Near our camp, we climbed another rock mount where we watched the sunset. From the mount, Wadi Rum appeared vast, dry and windy. Despite tired, I totally fell in love with the horizontality of the desert. As the sun receded below the horizon, so as the vivid colours of the landscape. The wind felt a little chilly as the desert colours faded with the evening twilight. We had a delightful night chatting and laughing with the Bedouin hosts, and had a delicious dinner of lamb and chicken rice.
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.
Passing through the Siq once again, we entered Petra at around 08:30. Before reaching the theatre, we made our way to a stepped path towards the High Place of Sacrifice. For an hour we hiked up the hill behind the Royal Tombs with occasional views of the ruined city and surrounding landscape. We finally reached the high alter where ancient Nabateans made sacrifices to their gods, an open area with a raised platform for ceremonies. From High Place of Sacrifice we walked west toward Wadi Farasa and the Snake Monument. At Wadi Farasa, we arrived at the Tomb of Soldiers. Due to the sculpted armour on the statues, many believe the tomb were belonged to some Roman officers in the 2nd Century. Though some historians disagreed, arguing that many architectural elements on the tomb facade actually predated the Roman Conquest of Petra, and the tomb was probably constructed in the 1st Century.
At around 14:30 we made it to the Snake Monument, a destination that requires one of the longer tourist hikes. It took us a while to actually locate the snake monument. In fact, we saw the monument only after a local Bedouin pointed it out for us. At the Snake Monument, we encountered a Bedouin family who still lives in Petra. There were two kids in the black Bedouin tent (probably made with goat hair according to traditions). We played football with them for about 15 minutes before heading back. Before Petra was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1985, there were about 150 Bdoul Bedouin families living in the caves of Petra. After Petra was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, most families were relocated to the new village of Um Sayhoun nearby. Today, about 10 families who refused to move out still remain inside the archaeological park, living off mainly from the tourist industry.
Back at the Royal Tombs, we decided to hike up the hill opposite to the famous Treasury for the famous birdeye view. The steps were steep, and the hike took approximately 45 minutes. The view was quite impressive despite the Treasury was in shade. On our way down, we got ourselves a can of refreshing pop. Without it, we would probably take us two times longer to reach the exit of Petra.
The Cult Chamber is an interesting and mysterious small building in a valley in Wadi Farasa East. Its original purpose was unknown.
The boulders and stones surrounding the Cult Chamber are resulted from occasional flash floods.
Known as the Renaissance Tomb, Tomb BD 229 contained features that resemble the style of Italian Renaissance.
The interior of Renaissance Tomb was excavated in 2003. Containing 14 pit graves, all had been looted in the Middle Age.
Near Wadi Farasa, the Soldier Tomb complex once housed a tomb and banquet hall accessed via the central courtyard surrounded by columns.
At the area of the Snake Monument, we arrived at an open valley with tombs and small structures along the rock cliffs.
It is hard to believe such rugged landscape was once hosted a majestic capital city.
We were distracted by a group of goats appeared near the Snake Monument.
The goats belonged to a Bedouin family living in the area.
Since 1985, most Bedouins living in Petra were relocated in a modern settlement nearby.
We met the two Bedouin kids who invited us to play football with them.
We had some brief fun with the Bedouin kids despite the afternoon heat.
Back at Palace Tomb, we decided to head for the lookout of Jabal al-Khubtha.
The 40 minute hike to Jabal al-Khubtha proved more than worthwhile.
Jabal al-Khubtha offered one of the best view of the Treasury.
Unless arriving at Jabal al-Khubtha in the morning, one would likely find the Treasury in shade.