Lots of salt – no fish and ships

Travel broadens the mind, they say and while I am all for the travel, sometimes the broadening does take a bit of time in manifesting itself. Right from trying to understand that flights do get delayed, tickets do get booked at the last minute and that as an Indian, I do need to visit one embassy or another quite frequently to get visas, my mind is well on its way to gaining the much touted width.

However, on some journeys you don’t have to travel too far in order to get a completely new perspective on people and places. Take for instance a recent trip to Jordan. As a destination, it is hardly the most exotic. I have put off for a couple of years repeated invites through friends to visit. And yes, you can’t say tourism and Jordan in one breath without Petra making an entry. But Jordan is far more than Petra and some transient tourism. Firstly, it seems to be one of the few places where Indians get a visa on arrival. Thank you so much.

Then, to a resident of Oman, Jordan presents some really interesting parallels. It has hillsides and terrain that could have been transplanted straight from here and it has people who display the same levels of hospitality and friendliness. What Jordan does have in addition is a location in one of the most volatile regions of the world and a shared border with Israel. My trip to Jordan was to drive four-wheel drive vehicles in locations near the Dead Sea and while I learned a lot about the capabilities of the SUVs in question, I learned much more of an interesting land. For instance did you know that the surface of the Dead Sea was almost 500 metres below sea level? And that almost a third of the Dead Sea is salt? And that is more than 8 times the normal salinity of a sea? And that while nothing lives in the sea, almost nothing is allowed on the sea too – take boats for example. Of course, the fact that an international border runs through somewhere in the middle of the Dead Sea does give a reason to avoid having small boats causing big problems. Besides, it isn’t as if anyone is going out fishing to start with.

My unsinkable enthusiasm met its match in the overly buoyant waters of the Dead Sea. You can lie on your back or your front – you’ll float, but you are strongly advised against putting your head in the water, or you’ll have the salt burning your eyes through the evening. And of course, we just had to enjoy the recuperative powers of being caked in Dead Sea mud, with even the most grizzled veteran claiming a miraculous recovery from the ravages of age.

Between the mud, potash and salt industries and the fall in the fresh water feed from river Jordan, it is a wonder that the sea doesn’t set new records for the lowest open stretch of water.

But it’s when you are on the road that you see the other side of the country. Speed limits are way below what we are used to here. And they are enforced by police patrols and speed cameras. And military checkposts are visible every few kilometres. And you can see how much effort has gone into making one of the driest places on Earth (measured on a per capita basis) into an agricultural heartland, with thick rubber hoses meandering all across the barren landscape.

To add a sense of the incredible, we also visited a bio resort in the middle of nowhere, with a pure vegetarian menu and the excesses of a luxury hideaway built on the site of Herod’s palace at a hot spring. So while this trip didn’t have Petra on the itinerary, Jordan does nonetheless come across as a place you want to visit. Next time, Petra and hopefully Aqaba too.

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