Worth every grain of salt

While you take advantage of the healing powers of the Dead Sea, do not miss other sites of historical importance in Jordan

Worth every grain of salt

Standing on the shores of the Dead Sea, as the last rays of the sun falling on the Israeli occupied West Bank cast a reddish-gold hue over the hills, you cannot but help realise the value of peace in an island surrounded by a sea of strife.

It was one of the most beautiful sunsets; almost otherworldly. Soon after, the hills began to be dotted with lights along the hilly silhouette, in a happy, haphazard manner. The only thing that came between those lights and me was the Dead Sea which looked ominously dark and tranquil.

Actually a lake, the Dead Sea is 1,407ft (429 metres) below sea level, making it the earth’s lowest elevation on land. It is in the 350-mile-long Jordan-Dead Sea rift valley, bordered by the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan to its east, the State of Israel to its southwest, and the West Bank to its northwest.

In the day-time, the Dead Sea (also known as Bahr al Lut) is like any other water body. Get closer, dip your hand and the water feels different. It feels slippery and sticky at the same time. Give a slight lick to your finger and you’ll be in for a shock. The aftertaste is horrible, truly horrible, and the salt is so intense it actually stings your tongue and your throat remains bitter and salty for quite some time.

But, when in Jordan, it would be a travesty to miss a dip in the Dead Sea.

They say it is the most mineral-laden body of water in the world with salinity approaching 33 per cent compared to 3 or 4 per cent in normal seawater. Further, while sodium chloride (NaCl) accounts for approximately 80 per cent of the salt content of normal seawater, NaCl comprises only 3 per cent in the Dead Sea water. The remaining mineral balance in the lake consists of magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, bromides and other trace minerals. And because of the density of the salty water it’s perfect for floating. However getting the balance right can be tricky, especially for those who have a big belly! If you are not careful, you may fall face first -- and if that happens the burning in the eye will be excruciating.

The land-locked Dead Sea, shrinking rapidly, as not enough water from the Jordan river is flowing into it, has clearly attracted many for centuries, specially the rich and famous, including the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and, of course, Cleopatra. People have searched in vain for the elixir of life as its mud is supposed to contain anti-ageing properties.

I had no such ambitions of achieving complete immortality. I was more than happy to rejuvenate the dead hair follicles (the salts are good for your hair) and rub the dead skin off and leave it in the deepest (it is 997ft deep) recesses of the lake. Coarse salt is apparently an excellent exfoliant!

With that in mind I dipped myself in the water, then, following the regimen, plastered myself with the gooey black mud, let myself dry and then went in again and dipped and rubbed it off. But what I did miss was getting myself photographed in that reading-a-newspaper-while-floating-in-the-Dead-Sea pose!

With almost no natural resources - water, oil, gas, timber, fertile land - Jordan is rich in heritage. Countless armies have come and gone -- Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Christian Crusaders -- leaving an indelible mark with a scattering of archeological sites all over the country.

It is where Prophet Lut sought refuge from God’s wrath when he pelted Sodom and Gomorrah with brimstone and fire. Aaron and John the Baptist died in Jordan; and Jesus was almost certainly baptised here. Even Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) passed through it on the night of Mairaj. Prophet Ibrahim arrived in the Holy Land, Jacob and Esau made their pact, Jesus received the Holy Spirit and resisted the temptations of Satan; Joshua crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, Elijah crossed the Jordan River and rode a "chariot of fire" into heaven; Elisha cured the leper in the waters of the river.

And it was from Jordan‘s Mount Nebo that Moses, having led the Israelites for 40 years through the wilderness, finally saw the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to enter. Christians and Jews believe, Moses was buried somewhere on or in Mount Nebo, but Muslims believe his body was carried across the river and placed in a tomb now lying off the modern Jericho-Jerusalem highway.

The baptism site of Jesus, where John the Baptist lived and where Jesus is believed to have been baptised, is another point of interest. Called the Bethany Beyond The Jordan, it was excavated as recently as 1996. Before the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel was signed in 1994, it was a minefield. So far, more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating the Roman and Byzantine periods have been discovered.

Just like you cannot leave the country without experiencing a dip in the Dead Sea, similarly it would be a real pity if you miss the ruins of Petra, the 2000-year-old city carved from sandstone cliffs. Summer can become stifling at the ruins. So sunrise would be a good time and if that is not possible it would be best to arrive at 3pm to miss the worst of the midday glare and stick around until sunset. I would not recommend a night tour, since you cannot really appreciate the natural beauty of the rock formations, but if a visit in the day is not possible, then that is the next best option. You are led through a narrow gorge by thousands of candlelights up to the iconic entrance of the ancient city where you witness a light and sound show.

Looking up to the Treasury, you cannot but wonder its fate if ISIS ever decided to pay these ruins a visit, given their forays in Baghdad, Aleppo, Nimrud or Palmyra.

Worth every grain of salt