Northern Badia; Safawi
Iraqi Border with Jordan
I left Amman with a hiking team from Jordan early on a Friday heading towards the Northern Badia Desert “Safawi” to see the one and only standing Tree; Al Biqyawiyya, but the desert has more surprises to offer!
Around 6:30am, we parked by a signpost on Safawi- Azraq highway to begin a 24.21km hike in the Safawi desert. This desert is one of the most beautiful, enigmatic, and least known. Volcanic basalt rocks are scattered everywhere which makes hiking strenuous for the feet, at the same time, it offers the most spectacular scenery along the way. With every step we took off-road, a new surprise appeared.
The most amazing are the circular stone structures that are signs of early human settlements. They are scientifically referred to as geoglyphs, locally known as “the works of the old men”. The wheel shaped patterns were possibly crafted 8,500 years ago making them 6,000 years older than the famous Nazca lines in Peru. Scientists introduced many theories to explain these structures; either as burial mounds, or intended to align with sunrise during the winter solstice. I borrowed a theory related to the Nazca lines in the Peru that truly satisfies my imagination. It speculates that these structures were intended as a mean of communication with the extraterrestrials.
In the Safawi, two famous structures can be found. Wheel Number 6 is an example of the circle structure and then there is the Neolithic Desert Kite. The Kite differs in shape as the name indicates and is used for hunting purposes.
Yann Athus-Bertrand, a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist known for his book Earth from Above, explains in his atelier that:
“Desert kites, of which there are 700 to 800 throughout the Middle East, owe their name to the British pilots on the mail flights of the 1920s. They were built in the Neolithic period by hunters, who were probably nomadic, and who drove groups of gazelles found in the valley between their 2-mile-long (or 3.2-kilometer-long) short walls. Their funnel shape led the prey into a pen several hundreds of feet in circumference and often hidden behind the ridge. The panicked animals spread out in the circular space around which the various groups of hunters were waiting for them in shelters with their spears ready. These scenes are depicted in rock engravings from the Caucasus to the Sinai. The engravers used the surface of the rock as the relief of the landscape, thereby creating a model of the desert trap site.”
A very logical analysis and an excellent hunting technique, nonetheless, I still find the idea of drawing on planet Earth for aliens more fascinating. These structures are best seen from the sky so a helicopter tour is a great option.
As we trekked deeper into the desert, we found standing water, patches of desert bushes, and Bedouin settlements with their tents, sheep, and sun tanned faces smiling at us. A hiker in this lonely desert presents a great opportunity for a chit chat so an invitation for a cup of tea in a tent is expected.
Alternating our steps between the desert and the asphalt road to bring little comfort to our feet, we came across a small hut by the road. Within it, we found the remains of what was once an oil pipeline. Stripped from its glory, the Trans- Arabian pipeline (Tapline) was built in 1947–50 to transport oil from the Saudi Gulf coast to Sidon in Lebanon. In 1990 after the start of the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia ceased pipeline shipments to Jordan and it has been out of use ever since.
We walked further towards the holy tree, just to find ourselves surrounded by glittering water from both sides. Accumulated either by rain or from major water streams coming from Syria, it brought life to the desert. We saw fields of newly plowed lands planted with wheat and barley, bevies of what I think are larks picking grains and drinking from the streams, colocynth or bitter apples dotting the desert with their bright green and yellow color, and unfortunate run-down frogs all over the road.
Passing the British Road, the Holy Tree of Biqyawiyya also known as the Blessed Tree, the Prophet Tree or the Sahabi Tree, finally came into view and it was worth the effort. I could see from a distance a lone pistachio tree standing in pool of water surrounded by inhospitable desert from each direction.
Getting closer, I saw its thick trunk, its roots showing above the surface of the earth, and the branches were stretching away from the roots forming an umbrella. It is said that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad took shelter underneath it in his youth as he was traveling from Mecca; it is then that he met the Christian monk Bahira who identified him as the new prophet. This incident gave the tree religious value to Muslims everywhere who come to visit it as pilgrimage.
Whether the location of the story is proven by scientific evidence or not, the trees ability to survive the desert for centuries conjures the admiration of both the religious and the secular visitors alike.
After enjoying the peace and quiet the location of the tree offered and after filling our stomachs with dear food, our hike back to the signpost began. Never a dull moment in the desert! What my eyes missed on the way to the tree, I caught on the way back. Most importantly, I was happy that I concluded a 10 hours hike with an amazing sunset on the Badia Desert.
Some more photos I took for this amazing desert in other visits:
The Blessed Tree Documentary:
More about the Geoglyphs:
Writing and Photography
PS: This blog reflects my personal opinion and my personal take on many issues. Its not a scientific paper, the information used is based on internet searches rather than scholarly articles. Its purpose is to entertain and everything mentioned is open for debate and correction.