The Wadi Rum Trail is a new community tourism project. Developed as a sister initiative to Egypt's award-winning hiking trails the Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail, it seeks to boost tourism that is rewarding for both hikers and the local community, creating the most positive, powerful and lasting impact in its region. Wadi Rum's tourism has become a booming, international industry today, bringing many economic benefits to its region, but also change to its landscape and aspects of community life that, in the eyes of many Bedouin, have not always been for the better. A demand for quick turnarounds, mostly by groups or individuals moving around Jordan on tight timetables, dominates Wadi Rum's tourism, with its natural and cultural assets typically packaged into accelerated, highly-stylised desert experiences, representing the easiest kind to sell. Quick 4x4 tours of its most iconic landscapes, usually with a night in which 'zarb' is served and music played in a purpose-built tourism camp are the frame through which Wadi Rum is experienced by most visitors. The Wadi Rum Trail was created in the belief tourism can be significantly more; it seeks to boost slower, more traditional kinds of moving that help conserve the natural environment and which also raise a wider awareness of the region's rich, ancient and unique heritage of climbing; especially the extraordinary but little-known role earlier peoples of these deserts played in exploring these mountains over previous centuries and millennia. As with its Bedouin-run sister projects in Egypt, the Wadi Rum Trail also seeks to create a more spontaneous, genuine space of exchange in which the traditional knowledge, skills and heritage of Wadi Rum's Bedouin and their ever evolving contemporary identity can be better understood.
Wadi Rum: its own new trail
Walking is not new in Wadi Rum. Its deserts are home to travelling routes of great antiquity, many of which are still walked today. The Wadi Rum Trail breaks new ground by connecting these old routes in a unique way that we believe, step-by-step, kilometre-for-kilometre and from one region to the next - shows Wadi Rum at its world-class finest for modern times. Ancient shepherd routes, early climbing lines, sections of the Darb el Hajj to Mecca, old caravan highways and newer byways trodden out to mountain tops in more recent decades are integrated into the trail, taking hikers through both Wadi Rum's best-known heartlands and its little-trodden frontiers and underlining the rich heritage of movement that exists in these deserts. The Wadi Rum Trail is not the only long-distance hiking trail in southern Jordan; the country-length Jordan Trail passes the region too. Nevertheless, it is the first community trail project of its kind to centre squarely on the deserts of Wadi Rum with the goal of showing the best of its region to the world. The Wadi Rum Trail was scouted by the local Bedouin and it is a path of which its region can be proud; it is not a route for one person, family or tribe, but a path upon which anybody from Wadi Rum's Bedouin community can run journeys.
Slow tourism: a boost
Wadi Rum is one of the world's most heavily-visited deserts, with a booming, international tourism industry. Quick 4x4 tours, stylised cultural experiences and increasingly - over the last decade - overnight stays in high-end, luxury desert camps with Martian-style sleeping pods dominate its tourism today. Whilst tourism of this kind provides a lucrative and stable income for a remote and in some ways marginalised region, it also has a heavy impact on the landscape and does little to showcase the true depth, greatness or beauty of Wadi Rum's Bedouin culture, which is perhaps its greatest treasure. In creating a new long-distance hiking trail centred on Wadi Rum we seek to raise the profile of hiking, climbing and slow, traditional forms of movement, boosting what exists already and growing it in lesser-visited parts of the region. Tourism of this kind leaves a more positive impact and helps conserve the landscapes that ultimately pull people to Wadi Rum in the first place; it opens a more spontaneous space for a meaningful two-way cultural exchange - which we believe represents the best of what tourism can be - and its growth will create new jobs and opportunities; especially those of a kind that help keep traditional knowledge and heritage alive.
Bedouin climbing history
Wadi Rum is home to some of the world's earliest known rock climbs and a climbing tradition of great antiquity exists in the region of which its Bedouin tribes have been the guardians for at least the last few centuries. Whilst little is known about the most distant chapters of climbing it is widely thought the early peoples these deserts climbed to hunt, as the Bedouin did in following millennia. Bedouin climbers typically ascended the mountains barefoot and often alone, searching out ways to the high parts of the mountains where the hunting was best. Bedouin climbing routes crisscross almost every major massif in Wadi Rum and although some have been forgotten others have been rediscovered in recent times and they all stand as a collective monument to the extraordinary skill and spirit of the desert climbers of old, most of whom remain invisible in history and unknown today. Whilst many climbers visit Wadi Rum to ascend its more technical modern climbing routes - established from the 1980s onwards - the Wadi Rum Trail integrates old Bedouin routes to raise a wider awareness of the rich and ancient heritage of climbing and exploration they represent. Wadi Rum has a truly unique history of climbing that deserves more research and recognition in Jordan and beyond.
The Bedouin are a people of nomadic heritage who lived as mobile pastoralists for most of their history, moving with tents in search of water and grazing for their goats, sheep and camels. Wadi Rum's Bedouin lived this way until recent decades, when most abandoned the desert for a settled life in villages. Only a minority of Bedouin remain in the desert now. Whilst those who have settled remain strongly Bedouin in their identity - proud of their desert roots, with a real, ongoing sense of connection to the land, keeping their old cultural customs alive in a new setting - the traditional knowledge and skills that once underpinned their survival are becoming increasingly irrelevant and forgotten. Today, few younger Bedouin know the ways, water sources, plants and animals, or the names, legends and history of the wider region's landscapes like their elders. The Wadi Rum Trail seeks to boost a kind of work in which at least some of this knowledge remains relevant for guiding hikers safely, giving an incentive for its preservation and a space in which it can be passed between generations of the Bedouin in the age old way it always has been. This intangible heritage represents a precious part of Jordan's past and present and an endangered cultural treasure for humanity that has a value for the future.