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Jordan: Wadi Ram, a mythical desert




Located in the south of Jordan, 2 hours from Petra, Wadi Ram (pronounced rom) is a desert like no other, dressed in red, yellow, white that set ablaze and magnify anthology sunrises and sunsets. The sand there competes for space with magnificent sandstone formations marked by the distant ripples of geological thrusts.

The man also left his signature there, in the form of rock engravings much earlier than Christ and the prints of camel rides, now covered by the grooved tracks of 4x4 tires. Because the Bedouins have both feet firmly anchored in the 21st century and their cell phone screwed to the traditional keffiyeh goes well with tourist nomadism. However, they jealously preserve their particular way of life, which Lawrence of Arabia shared and recounted in the past.

A way of life that is still found in the evening, by the fireside, under a festival of stars, to the sound of the lute and the rababa. This treasure was inscribed by Unesco in 2011 at World Heritage in the “Nature and Culture” section.

Lawrence of Arabia, the hero of Wadi Ram



Even today, Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935), whose real name is Thomas Edward Lawrence, fuels the imagination of Wadi Ram, a century after his epic which changed the destiny of the region. Working for the British secret services, he imposed himself upon his arrival in 1916 in the village of Ram, dominated by a huge mountain of red sandstone called The 7 Pillars of Wisdom.  Echoing the title of the famous book in which TE Lawrence recounts his incredible adventure.

As a British liaison, as World War I raged, Lawrence came to the region to stir up the self-reliance instincts of the Arab nation in an attempt to destabilize the then Ottoman enemy. The Arabs will obtain their autonomy and their king (Faisal, companion in arms of Lawrence). The British, meanwhile, will win this shadow battle. However, they will dismiss Lawrence, this young officer who has become a little too autonomous, too close to the Arabs. 

The Bedouins did not, however, keep an unforgettable memory of it either, regretting that they owed an infidel the victory over other children of Allah. "El Aurens", as he is known here, died in a stupid motorcycle accident, leaving romantic souls his epic tale and moviegoers one of Hollywood's masterpieces, Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean, awarded with 7 Oscars.

It was here, in Wadi Ram, that David Lean set up his cameras to immortalize Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn against the background of music by Maurice Jarre.


Wadi Ram: what to see


Two villages serve as a “gateway” to Wadi Ram. As if the desert needed man to decree entry!

Beyond that, 740 km² have been decreed restricted area, of which a portion is a wild area, that can be visited, but where permanent constructions are strictly prohibited. To sink into these sands, you swap your classic vehicle for a 4x4, a horse or a dromedary.


We can even perform unforgettable hiking. All in the good care of a Bedouin who will serve as guide for short day trips or itinerant circuits of several days with nights in bivouac.


There are many sites to discover. It all starts with the Lawrence source, Lawrence of Arabia film crew base camp. Further on, the siq du jabal Khazali is a very narrow gorge, a sort of confidential oasis enamelled with a succession of small natural pools. Its walls bear rock engravings.

Another great classic, theBurdah rock arch (well known since a brand of cigarettes used it for its advertisements). The show-offs are photographed at the top: it seems so easy seen from below ... and yet ... A little lower, but just as charming, the arch of Umm-Fruth.

In the "canyons" section, that of Abu Rajebah, to be covered on foot, gives less the impression of a tourist highway than the superb and impressive al-Barra canyon. Then lawrence house, around which the most famous wide shots of the film were shot. Finally, at siq Um-Tawaqi (Lawrence Canyon), rock engravings, including portraits of Lawrence of Arabia and Prince Abdullah.

Much more interesting, Alameleh inscriptions represent caravans of dromedaries and hunting scenes. The specialists agree to see there "signs" of yesteryear, intended to orient the caravans. Because we are located on a pilgrimage (and trade) route connecting Jerusalem to Mecca.

More rock engravings, less popular, in Um-Ishrin, a mountain range with impressive sheer cliffs set against a backdrop of petrified whipped cream. The echo here is impressive. This overview will end with the mushroom rock, very visited because very photogenic. Of course, each guide has his own little secret places, bringing here and there touching testimonies of his childhood.

- climbing enthusiasts will also find their way on the sheer cliffs of the sandstone massifs. If the difficulty levels go up to 7+, the sites are accessible to beginners and mountain guides supervise the various trips. From all up there, breathtaking view of the distant horizons.

Wadi Ram, a desert not so deserted

Although it is a desert area, Wadi Ram still has its regulars. In essence, 130 species on earth and 120 in the air.

The rock faces are home to a few colonies of Bats and many reptiles, such as dab (uromastyx aegyptia), a saurian of the iguana family, characterized by its ringed tail. We pass you ten species of snakes and the 8 types of scorpions : you just have to watch where you set foot ...

In terms of mammals, the adorable gerbils point the muzzle. And who says desert mouse, says ... sand cat. This feline is rare, very discreet and nocturnal at the same time. The blandford fox and Nubian ibex are more convenient to observe.

THEArabian oryx had, as for him, disappeared from Jordan in the years 1920, victim of the hunt, because sought for its meat, its coat and its horns in the shape of scimiters. In the seventies, theOperation oryx (unrelated to James Bond) aimed to acclimatize a handful of these elegant white antelopes to their natural space. A first attempt failed in Wadi Ram in 1998 before a new, more successful trial was undertaken in 2002.

The arid environment also admits its plants. In a few minutes, rare rains bring forth unexpected flower beds, destined to be toasted by the merciless sun. The saxauls whites are those bushes that seem dry… but are not. The taman is a perennial herb, the pancratium sickenbergeri produces beautiful white flowers. A flora which is the delight of the Bedouin ruminants. Mainly goats and of course the iconic dromedary!

The little prince of Wadi Ram

Some encounters, like the one with Atallah Dakhilallah, affect the most knowledgeable of travelers.

Atallah is not an old Bedouin with wrinkles marked by sandstorms. He's a young guy who still has a lot to discover and already so much to say. He talks about his childhood, of the camp we shared for a few months with another family, at the foot of that mountain. From the heartbreak of separation, when each family decided to forge its own path. He tells about the herds that were kept as children in these dunes. Precious poultry for eggs, donkeys used for transport, goats which give milk and whose meat is reserved for guests ...

While piloting his 4x4 with an expert hand in the soft sand, he takes the chants that the women sang: the joyful airs of young girls and the nostalgic chants of old women, sung in a low voice, forehead to forehead, their heads covered with a cloth.

Then he hums the epic melodies that his father, Dakhilallah, interpreted during men's vigils, accompanied by his artisanal rababa. This rustic viol with a single string made of goat hair, rubbed by a horsehair bow, produces a melancholy and heady sound. With his sword dating from 1907, his rifle still hanging in the tent (no longer loaded for ages), his old-fashioned camel saddle assembled with leather straps, Dakhilallah represents an honorable past.

Atallah is the present substance and the future of this desert. He continuously fights with the Bedouins and the authorities so that the desert keeps its authenticity and its soul. He continues to devote all his energy to your visit, all his passion for the land that saw him be born and will one day see him return to her: Wadi Ram.

Getting around on a dromedary

Now let's talk about the traditional Bedouin 4x4: the camel.  Its only hump (the camel has two) is a reserve of fat that gives it two weeks of autonomy without eating or drinking. The dromedary is the Bedouin's best friend : it carries it literally as well as figuratively.

As for budding Bedouin tourists, they are offered short walks, even camel rides lasting several days.

However, riding these brave creatures is much less easy than it seems, to see Peter O'Toole playing it in Cinemascope! First of all, we get on the beast. Vertigo guaranteed and probable fall if you have not gripped the pommel well ... Do not trust the camel drivers, for whom a tourist in bad posture is often an entertainment. You have to prepare your shot, because once in the saddle, you hardly have time to use your hands for anything other than holding on!

Once gone, you have to find his position… The initiates put one foot across the neckline and put the other on it. Easy to say. On the way, we follow the movements of the dromedary, accompanying the bust with the undulation of its body. In addition to a risk of seasickness, everything is rolling ... Especially since, during the short walks offered, your companion will hold your mount by the halter. No risk of runaway, therefore.

A form of bliss sets in, which ignores the last step. The most sporty: get off the dromedary! It's even more impressive than the climb. Lean back and grip both front and rear knobs (while you're at it) as the animal kneels, starting with its front legs. Because his body suddenly collapses and we are suddenly propelled forward. Then he flexes his hind legs and there we are sent back. Without tension, they said ...

A unforgettable experience, especially for the buttocks!

A dream night under the desert stars

If the day is rich in discoveries, colors, impressions, twilight is also a sublime moment in the Jordanian desert of Wadi Ram. The sandstone mountains, already naturally red, seem to literally burst into flames. The rare bushes cast shadows which tend towards infinity, in search of the stars which light up the firmament one by one. Stars shining here stronger than elsewhere, desert obliges.

The show is magical in the hot season when we spend long moments sucked in by the sidereal immensity (and astonishing) of this sky dotted with luminous shards. In winter, the nights are freezing and we take refuge in some Bedouin tent to share a common meal around the fire. The lute or the rababa are never far away to push popular songs that the Bedouins resume by beating the rhythm, in a good-natured atmosphere. The evacuation of the open hearth doing what it can, we end this smoky moment like a desert herring, but happy with this beautiful sharing.

We then spend the night in the shelter of rocks that the Bedouins know how to choose, depending on the season: in winter, for the stored day heat… in summer, for the preservation of night freshness.

The next day begins a new day of happiness at the option of a sunrise that will compete with magic with the bedtime the night before.

The other side of the Wadi Ram medal

Human development always has its backlash. The Wadi Ram is no exception to the rule. And if the tourist activity constitutes a real manna for the Bedouins, it also causes imbalances which oblige to fire the alarm signal.

Because everyone wants to live their experience in the desert, without necessarily accepting the harsh living conditions: scorching in summer, freezing in winter, with scarce water resources ... And this results in the infrastructure construction where the Bedouins set up occasional and seasonal camps. False Bedouin tents that cannot be dismantled plant their agglomerations in the sand, covered with traditional materials to create an illusion in the eyes of day tourists: air-conditioned in summer, heated in winter, lit at night, equipped with sanitary facilities… Do not throw any more. !

The generator that operates day and night imposes its diesel engine noise on the magical silence of the desert. The luminous halo of the street lamps makes the stars in the sky turn pale. These entrenched camps, which line up like a parade at the foot of the most sumptuous massifs, alter their wild beauty. Not to mention the pollution linked to human overcrowding : wastewater, garbage cans, etc.

Result of this bad dream, the real Bedouins are driven out places they traditionally occupied, now squatted by these permanent camps. They end up either settling down or fleeing further.

The authorities are complicit of this imbalance by an “astonishing” passivity: to date, the fifteen authorized camps are largely outnumbered by the illegal ones. Some have even established themselves in the so-called “wild” area. Incredible in a country which knows how to demonstrate a certain authority when it sees fit!

Without being embittered or backward-looking, these things must be said: not to deprive travelers of the desert, but to ensure that the right camel is chosen!

Factsheet

Find all the practical information, tips and addresses in the Jordan Routard in bookstores.

To prepare for your stay, consult our Jordan online guide.

- Visa: possible at Amman airport or land borders from Israel for 40 JOD (single entry).

The good plan: the Jordan Pass is proof of visa, while ensuring access to almost all major tourist sites in the country. Count 70 JOD (including 1 day visit to Petra) to 80 JOD (including 3 day visit to Petra).

Money : neither bank nor distributor in Ram or Diseh. Take precautions from a big city.

How to get there ?

- By plane:  from Paris, 1 flight / day with Air France and 1 flight / day with Royal Jordan to Amman, then car rental, taxi or agency (around 320 km). More difficult by bus.

To organize your stay in the desert

Wadirum Beduin Friends : An association created by Bedouins who deeply love their desert and are opposed to the idea of ​​a fixed camp. With the help of Anne, a sort of French fairy passionate about Wadi Ram. For a visit truly off the beaten track.

Who to go on a trip with?

For a simple one-day discovery, plan 70 JOD / car (up to 6 people) in 4x4 and 25 JOD / camel.

For a trip of a few days in the desert, count 70-80 JOD / day / person in a legal camp and 90-100 JOD / day / person for a more eccentric bivouac. Including Bedouin guide, 4x4, meals, accommodation.

- Atallah Dakhilallah : member of the Wadirum Beduin Friends association, this serious and competent young Bedouin drives the 4x4, cooks, walks, sings and climbs, always with a good mood. Beautiful Bedouin life experience guaranteed! Phone. : 077 724 78 99. 

- Ali Hamad Zalabiah : Ali, who has a camp (authorized, on a human scale and even charming), also gladly offers to sleep under other skies. Excellent climber, he can guide climbers up to level 6. Tel. : 079 567 53 27. 

- Rum Horses : horseback riding to the Saudi border with Atallah Al-Swilhin, a horse riding enthusiast. Count 24 JOD / h for short hikes 6 days. Phone. : 079 580 21 08. rumhorses@yahoo.co.uk  

- Shabab Sahra : Mainly from October to March (it is very hot the other months). Count 50-70 JOD / person depending on the level and duration of the climb. Shabab Sahra is a group of licensed climbers, who can guide up to level 7+. They provide all the safety equipment. Harbor. : 077 697 63 56 (Abdullah). 

Or sleep ? Where to eat on the edge of the desert?

In Diseh:

3 kif-kif camps, which line up their tents like Babaorum in Asterix… Camp life, in an atmosphere that is sometimes a little schoolchild when the coaches unload their groups on a spree.

- Captain's Desert Camp : reservation required. ½ board 35-45 JOD / person in tent according to comfort nique 7 JOD.

- Oasis Desert Camp : ½ board 25-30 JOD / pers in tent or bungalow. Meal 8 JOD for non-residents. Cheerful welcome from Ratep Fellahat. Harbor. : 077 746 15 19.

- Hillawi Camp : ½ board approx 25-35 JOD / pers. Meal 12 JOD for non-residents. Phone. : 201 88 67. Port. : 079 590 44 41.

To Ram:

- Resthouse:  Dishes 8 JOD or buffet (depending on attendance) 15 JOD, picnic 8 JOD. Serves alcohol. A small, simple snack restaurant serving hearty, unpretentious cuisine. A popular stopover at the entrance to the village, before or after your immersion in the desert. Phone. : 201 88 67.



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