Travel: Caravan trail to the oasis

The Bedouin have departed in Toyotas, and lorries now thunder down the old route to Azraq. By Magnus Mills

The last thing I expected to find at an oasis was a blue swimming pool. Especially an empty one. I went into the eastern desert of Jordan with the vague idea that when I got to Azraq there would be a watering hole, some palm trees, and maybe a few Bedouin tents. Oh yes, and a hotel.

It wasn't until I stood next to the redundant diving-board that reality sank in. If you expect to find a hotel in the desert, a hotel with telephones and a fax machine, then you must also expect to find a swimming pool. And, if you arrive out of season, the swimming pool will have been emptied.

I considered none of these things as I flogged along the road to Iraq. All I knew was that at the end of my journey there would be an oasis, something to look forward to. In the meantime there was only a huge black cloud in the east. And I was driving towards it. I have never seen a more desolate road than the one to Iraq. I suppose that's the appeal of a fly- drive holiday. You go whichever way you want.

After all, I could have taken the other road to Iraq. The smooth new highway that comes up from the south, the one that takes you back past the outskirts of Amman and down to the sparkling Gulf of Aqaba. But I took the northern road instead.

It turns more or less parallel to the Syrian border and hasn't been resurfaced for years. Furthermore, it is frequented by sanctions-busting truck drivers who don't really care about rules. They use the part of the road that is least uncomfortable to drive on, and if this happens to be the left (wrong) side, and you're coming the other way ... well, it's best to be ready.

It's odd how these guys will try to run you off the road and then give you a cheery wave as they go past, just to show there's nothing personal in it. It's a hard life being a truck driver bound for Iraq, with only the desert ahead. And, on this occasion, that looming black cloud seemed to reach all the way to Baghdad.

It was a relief to arrive at As-Safawi, the junction where I could turn back towards the oasis. As I said, it wasn't quite what I expected. The town of Azraq has the only water in this part of the desert, and stands on what was once a major caravan route towards Saudi Arabia. Successive empires have felt a need to control the areas and maintain links with the Bedouin tribes, which explains the presence of a large black fort at the side of the road.

Bits of it were built by the Romans, the Omayyads (from Damascus) and the Ottoman Turks. In 1917, TE Lawrence set up his headquarters here, during the Arab Revolt. The caretaker is the son of one of Lawrence's Arab officers. He showed me round while yet more lorries thundered past outside the ancient walls.

Here were stables with stone mangers and tethering blocks. Here was a giant door made from a single slab of basalt, and which still opens and shuts (if you're strong enough).

The oasis itself is not what it used to be. Once it consisted of pools and swamps extending 10 square kilometres, and was visited by many birds migrating between Africa and Europe. The establishment of wells to pump drinking water to Amman has led to a severe depletion of the wetlands. The oasis still supports water buffalo and other wildlife, but the scale has been reduced. Also, the birds are less likely to stop here than before.

Standing by the roadside, I could see where the marshes used to be. The palm trees were still there, presumably because their roots went deep enough to reach the water table. But from what I could gather, life had changed a great deal. And all the Bedouins had gone off in their Toyota pick-ups.

Jasmin Tours (01628 531121) offers an eight-day trip around Jordan for pounds 856, which includes flights, airport taxes and accommodation (half-board). During the summer the company also has a six-night package to Aqabar for pounds 390, including flights and B&B.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York