The Kings’ Highway

Towns and Tourist Sites in Jordan – Page 3
The Kings’ Highway, Kerak, Wadi Mujib and Dana


Kerak Castle (Photo JTB)

 

The Kings’ Highway

Don’t confuse this with the “Desert Highway” which is the main north-south highway nowadays in Jordan. The Kings’ Highway is a very spectacular route which was the original north-south road from Biblical times until recently, today it is largely unused by through traffic which takes the Desert Highway. The Kings’ Highway is neither cost nor time friendly for traffic, and unsurprisingly, there is no public transport that runs for all of its length; even the half dozen successive local buses that cover it now have a gap at Wadi Mujib. There have been many improvements to it over the last few years, and although it remains a twisting mountainous road, the surface is better and it is a little bit wider.

 

If you want to drive it, and it is well worth the effort, then you must use a rental car or the bus that runs fairly regularly in season from Madaba(qv). Hitching is also a possibility, but you should be prepared to ride in several cars. If you do drive it, allow a whole day, especially if you stop to visit the various sites on the way : Hamamet Ma’in, the castle at Kerak, Wadi Mujib and Wadi Hasa and Dana. This is quite a difficult drive; if you cannot share the driving, try to schedule a less arduous day afterwards. Note that in bad weather, high winds, rain or snow, the Kings’ Highway becomes dangerous, and is usually closed.

If you finish by taking a taxi, be sure that the driver covers all its length; if you give him a chance he will leave it at Kerak in order to avoid Wadi Mujib (pictured on the left). See also lower down.

There are some more photos of Wadi Mujib on the Photo Gallery pages.

Kerak

 

Situated on the Kings’ Highway, Kerak is chiefly known for its castle, one of the chain of “Crusader Castles” which once stretched from Turkey to the Egyptian border. These castles were supposed to be in line of sight of the next one along, and to be able to pass a message from Aqaba to the Turkish border in less than twelve hours, using a heliograph or light signals at night.

To be honest, and whatever the guidebooks say, I find Kerak Castle much less attractive than the castles of Syria. It has a particularly bloodthirsty history; notably under the ownership of Reynald de Castillon, who married the widow of the previous owner. [One wonders a bit about that marriage!] Reynald was killed at the battle of Hattin, some sources say that Saladin (Salah ad-Din in Arabic) took care of him personally, but the bloody history of the castle continued. When it was besieged by Saladin’s army, it is said that the defenders “sold” their wives and children to the besiegers in exchange for food. Perhaps the unhappy atmosphere is still there.

In any case, Saladin was impressed by the “courage” of the defenders, and when they finally surrendered he freed them without asking for ransoms.

Nowadays, Kerak has a reputation of being a “radical” town. Any time there is unrest in Jordan for whatever reason, the citizens of Kerak are invariably in the front line. They particularly distinguished themselves a few years ago when the price of grain, and hence of flour and bread, was sharply increased and it took a personal appeal from King Hussein to calm them.

There is rather a nice site about Kerak and the Crusades, written from the Arab point of view, at http://www.acsamman.edu.jo/~ms/crusades/index.html

Wadi Mujib
There are some more photos of Wadi Mujib on the Photo Gallery pages
and some description of the 
Nature Reserve of Wadi Mujib in the “Jordan out of doors” section

The scale of the cliffs in this photo is difficult to see at first glance, but I assure you that those are fair-sized trees that you can see down near the water.

A spectacular canyon [sometimes called “the Grand Canyon of the Middle East”) crossed by the Kings’ Highway, this area is now a Nature Reserve, administered by the Jordanian Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature http://www.middleeast.com/mujib.htm. It is well over 500m deep and runs down from the mountains to the Dead Sea. For those interested in exploring a dramatic site and seeing some of the rare birds and plants to be found there, the RSCN organises treks through the canyon. See the page on the Nature Reserve for some descriptions of these. Although a wonderful experience [so I am told!], these are not for the fainthearted or for anybody out of condition! They tend to take anything over eight hours, and involve a good deal of scrambling and frequently wading in the warm water. There is some talk of introducing “canyoning” here. There are also shorter treks, which rather miss out the majesty and the excitement of the wilder places. However, the canyon is very hot indeed in the summer, and trekking is not normally undertaken then. Note that in the spring and the autumn, which are otherwise the best times to visit it, there is some danger of flooding.

The entrance to the Reserve and the RSCN office are close to the Dead Sea, just beside the bridge which crosses the Wadi, and you can get full information there. Unfortunately, no public transport goes anywhere near to it. For those wishing to stay the night there is a designated campsite with enough room for 25 people. It contains five large tents, barbecue grills and toilets for visitors and campers. A Reserve vehicle is provided to drop off luggage while campers walk to the camping area. Pre-booking is essential for sleeping there, and also for any trekking you might wish to do. NOTE THAT THIS CAMPSITE IS THE ONLY ONE I KNOW OF RUN BY THE RSCN WHERE NO BEDDING IS SUPPLIED – YOU SHOULD BRING YOUR OWN SLEEPING BAG HERE. A bit of a nuisance, this!

IN NO CIRCUMSTANCES TRY TO DO ANY TREKKING HERE WITHOUT BEING ACCOMPANIED BY AN QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GUIDE!

Dana
There are some more photos of Dana on the Photo Gallery pages
and some description of the 
Nature Reserve of Wadi Mujib in the “Jordan out of doors” section

Dana, some 20 kms south of Tafileh on the Kings’ Highway, is quite beautiful. It is a nature reserve in a spectacular valley, there is a difference of 1500m between the floor of the valley and the hills around it. There are (I think, but I may be out of date) two cheap hotels (the Dana Village Hotel and the Dana Tower Hotel – both come with good recommendations) and the Guesthouse (Tel +962.3.227.0497 Fax +962.3.227.0498), from the terrace of which one has a gorgeous view. They have an email address but I am told that they don’t reply to emails! If you want to try anyway here it is : dhana@rscn.org.jo. [Send a fax as well, huh?] It isn’t all that easy to get there, you should take a bus from either Amman or Ma’an to Tafileh, and there is a shuttle bus from there. Dana is about 40kms from Petra, but no direct public transport links the two [a pity], you would have to go back to Tafileh and from there to Ma’an. One thing about the difficulty of access is that it is much less frequented than would otherwise be the case.

The nature reserve has a number of treks, possible with or without a guide – guides are available. For the dedicated hikers, there is a trail from Dana to Petra, taking several days, you would need a guide with you here. If you have the time, you shouldn’t miss Dana. There is also a viewpoint just above the village (which is largely in ruins) from which you can look at the Reserve without going into it.

If you would like to stay for a few days and explore the valley, there are a couple of camping sites there, equipment is supplied, so you don’t need to bring your own tents or sleeping bags. You can read the page on the Nature Reserve of Dana for fuller information. Unlike Wadi Rum (for now at any rate), Dana is fairly strictly controlled by the park rangers. You cannot camp outside the official camping sites, and you are not supposed to leave the marked trails.

It is sponsored and run by the Jordanian Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, they have a website where you can find more information and prices http://www.rscn.org.jo. There are also websites with information and photos of the wildlife in Dana at http://www.andrewsi.freeserve.co.uk/dana.htm and http://www.arabianwildlife.com/archive/vol2.2/dana.htm

In fact this is yet another ancient village in Jordan which was falling into abandon. The only water had to be brought in on donkeyback from a spring higher up on the mountain and several miles away. One of the first things the RSCN did was to run a conduit to the village from the spring, which encouraged a few of the older people to stay on. The Reserve is providing employment for many of the younger ones, who otherwise would have joined the exodus.

The official brochure says : ” Dana is a world of natural treasures containing a wealth of natural scenery, ancient ruins and a large number of flora and fauna, some only indigenous to the area. The Dana reserve is a system of wadis and rugged mountains, which extend from the top of the Jordan Rift Valley down to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. It supports a wide variety of wildlife, including many rare species of plants and animals.

The Dana village is a great example of a timeless and traditional Jordanian village, it contains a visitors’ center selling organically grown produce from the village terrace gardens, and silver jewellery and pottery produced by the women of the village. The reserve contains the Rummana and Feinan campsites and a Village guesthouse. Dana offers a selection of trails to key points of interest for both the casual and adventurous hiker.”

Dana is worth much more attention than it gets and it is a great pity that it is not easier to reach for those without their own transport. Like Petra and Wadi Rum, it needs a few days to visit properly, but even just sitting on the terrace of the Guesthouse, you can appreciate the beauty and the peace of this site.