Azraq in Jordan's Eastern Desert

In Jordan the week-end is Fridays and Saturdays. So Thursday after work I headed to the office of the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature to join a group heading to an oasis in Jordan's eastern desert. 25 of us piled into a modern bus. Most of the group were Jordanians but there were a few Americans, Germans and others. After two hours and a couple wrong turns we arrived at Azraq Lodge, an old British army field hospital converted by into a lodge. We had an excellent dinner prepared by the Chechen cook, enjoyed a small group of folk dancers accompanied by bagpipes, watched a video about the revival of the Arabian Onyx and went to bed.

Our sleep was shortened by an hour as Jordanians moved their clocks forward an hour. After breakfast we headed to the Azraq Nature Reserve. For centuries Azraq has been a huge oasis as the small amounts of rain that fell over the wide desert sank through the gravel ground and resurfaced at Azraq because of its lower elevation. We started at the visitors' center where we read about the recent history of the oasis. As the population of Jordan grew over the past 40 years (partly as a result of Palestinians leaving Israel, Gaza and the West Bank) the country needed much more water. So they started pumping water from the lakes and wells in the oasis to Amman. Gradually the water table started dropping until the lakes dried up. Now the government pumps some water back in to restore a small amount of marshes and ponds.

We walked on a boardwalk through what the ranger told us used to be a marsh. These tall reeds proliferated as the water table dropped. Now there are too many of them so they brought in water buffalo to eat and trample them.

We stopped by the edge of a marsh. The ranger explained that it used to be a large lake. Now the only water comes from a pump.

We continued through the reeds to an adobe building on the edge of a small pond. We looked out at a few of the birds on the pond. There were ducks, a Kingfisher, egrets and many more. Apparently Azraq is a popular rest stop for birds migrating between Africa and Asia.

We got back on the bus and said goodbye to anything green or wet. Our next stop was Azraq Fort, initially built by the Romans around 200 AD, renovated by Arabs during the Crusades and most recently used by Lawrence of Arabia as he fermented Arab resistance to the Ottamans during World War I.

There isn't much wood in this part of the world, so even the doors are made of stone. The guide said this door weighs three tons, but it swings easily.

Inside the fort was a large open courtyard surrounded by a small mosque and rooms for barracks, cooking, eating and even stables.

Below is the dining room.

Our next stop was Quseir Amra, a small hunting lodge built in the eighth century. The setting was desolate.

The lodge had a well to supply water for baths. Many of the walls and ceilings were decorated with painted pictures.

We drove through the desert to Qasr Hraneh built in the late seventh century. Though it looks like a strong fort, it was somewhat surprising that nobody actually know its use. One theory is that it was one of the first inns in this region.

Constructed with stones covered by adobe, it had two stories of small rooms surrounding a courtyard.

By now it was time to head back to Azraq Lodge for a late lunch and a bus ride back to Amman.

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