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.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?