Wadi Rum in Jordan is the surreal red rock desert popularized by the movie, Lawrence of Arabia. Many tourists spend couple of hours to a day in this spectacular landscape, also known as the Valley of the Moon. C & I wanted to truly experience Wadi Rum, so we decided to camp overnight and experience it like the Bedouins. Bedouins and their camels are the rightful heirs of this desert, forging their way through rock cut roads and cooking in ovens buried under the sand. They know the desert like the back of their hand and if they wish, can provide us a glimpse of their fascinating life in the desert.
Wadi Rum has many Bedouin camps in and around the village of Diseh. They offer beautiful glamping opportunities and incredible luxury in the desert. Tempting as they all looked; we opted for a more rustic and intimate desert camping experience at Salman Zwaidh Camp inside Wadi Rum’s protected area. Our experience included a night’s stay and half board with dinner and breakfast; a half-day 4WD Tour of Wadi Rum was also included in the price. Our pre-arrival communication with the Camp was prompt and excellent compared to their secluded location inside the Wadi Rum desert.
We drove to Wadi Rum from Aqaba where we had spent the previous day snorkeling in the Red Sea and relaxing at the gorgeous Bedouin Garden Village. Mohammed, a Bedouin guide from the Salman Zwaidh Camp, came to pick us up at the Wadi Rum Visitor Center. While we were waiting for him, a couple of Bedouin touts tried their best to talk us out of our arrangements with Salman, saying we won’t be having as authentic an experience as we might have at a rival camp. This unsettled us quite a bit but we decided to go ahead with our reservations for the time being. Parking our car in the village of Diseh, we were soon headed to the Camp in Mohammed’s 4WD pickup truck. The views on our way to the Camp were spectacular and I immensely looked forward to the Wadi Rum Safari Tour. We kept driving deep into the desert and C & I both were reassured that we had chosen the right experience.
We were warmly greeted by Salman himself on our arrival at the Camp; he promptly dispelled any lingering doubts I had about his Camp. Apparently the touts always try this and con visitors to a subpar camp that doesn’t actually have rights to take tour groups inside Wadi Rum protected area. C & I were quite relieved that we didn’t fall for the trick. (Lesson learnt: Always trust your destination research and do not give in to spontaneity) Salman served us some freshly brewed Bedouin Tea and it was refreshing. I first drank the Bedouin tea on a cool morning in front of the Treasury at Petra and have loved it since then. We chatted with Salman as we finished our tea; he was quite happy to know we are Indian and regaled us with stories of Indian-Jordanian history and friendship through the ages. We were then led to our accommodations by Mohammed; it was a simple tent sparsely furnished with Bedouin rugs and linen. It felt exactly like a desert tent should: basic, cool and comfortable!
Then we piled up into the 4WD for our much awaited Desert Safari. When I first learnt of the safari, I thought it would be akin to the dune bashing tours in other Middle-eastern countries. However a tour of Wadi Rum is a very unique experience and Mohammed showed us the area as only a Bedouin could. He knew the roads well and took us to see the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s Spring, Lawrence’s House, the Rock Bridge, Mushroom Rock and many other famous sites inside Wadi Rum. We kept meeting other people and other guides in different places and I soon realized this is the standard route for all 4WD Tours. Our guide also led us to a few unique rock formations. He shared with us the Bedouin way of life and showed us hidden springs, natural herbal desert soaps among other things. He and C climbed all the way to the top of a rock arch (I couldn’t since I was pregnant with S); he also enthusiastically took our pictures as we jumped on the red sand dunes. We raced a few other 4WDs in the open expanse of the desert and all the while he had excellent control of the vehicle.
We returned to the Camp late evening and sipped on more of the delicious tea. It was getting close to sunset and a cool wind was in the air as the sun sank further. We hurried to the rocky outcrop bang opposite our Camp where many tourists had gathered to watch the sunset. Experiencing a sunset in Wadi Rum was an incredible experience; it will always remain etched in our minds. Swathes of desert stretched between red towering cliffs; the setting sun cast beautiful colors and patterns on the stunning landscape. We sat there long after the sun had set, long after other tourists started piling into their 4WDs to return to other camps and long after the first stars came out. We just had a short walk back to our Camp and we fully relished this opportunity to experience utter solitude in Wadi Rum.
The tables were already set when we finally walked back to the Camp and a bonfire crackled nearby. Dinner was chicken and rice cooked in an oven under the sand and a variety of salads to complement it. Shishas were lit and flickering candles provided a soft, warm light. A Bedouin boy tended to the fire as Salman and his staff sung songs and shared stories. The food was delicious and having it under the starry sky was one of the best experiences of my life. C & I felt fortunate that we had this opportunity to understand and experience Bedouin desert life and culture. The darkness, silence and sleep slowly enveloped us as the candles started going out and we retired to our tent for the night.
We woke up to the sounds of grunting camels in the morning. Our fellow guests were just returning from their sunrise camel tour; C & I had declined this as I was unable to ride a camel at the moment. We had some Bedouin tea and went for a short hike and returned just in time for breakfast. A short anecdote here and I don’t know if it was the desert air or the cooking or me but that breakfast was so good that I actually ate more than C for the first time in my life. It was a simple fare of fava beans, pita, eggs, hummus and salad but I went for second and even third helpings and I think embarrassed C by my greediness! To cut a long story short, I always joke that the Wadi Rum breakfast was the exact moment I started eating for two in my pregnancy.
We would have liked to stay much longer and experience more of the famous Bedouin hospitality but it was time to leave Wadi Rum. We had a long exciting day ahead of us at the Holiday Inn Resort, Dead Sea. Yepp, we were soon going to be floating on the Dead Sea and boy, I was stoked about it! Mohammed drove us back to our cars and we thanked him profusely and tipped him well (We hope! Tipping in new country is so confusing.) We were glad to experience Wadi Rum and I was falling more and more in love with Jordan.
Book your stay with Salman Zwaidh Camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
I visited Salman Zwaidh Camp in Wadi Rum in April 2015.
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