Introducing Azraq & the Eastern Desert Highway
The deeper you go into the desert, the closer you come to God.
To the east of Amman the suburbs gradually peter out, replaced by the badia, a stony black basalt desert that stretches to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The desolate region has long been cut by pilgrimage and trade routes to Mecca and Baghdad; today it's the Trans-Arabia Pipeline and the increasingly strategic Hwy 10 to Iraq. If it wasn't for these, eastern Jordan would probably be left to the Bedouin and their goats. Out in the east you are quickly reminded that Jordan's lonely deserts make up 80% of the country's land, yet support only 5% of its population.
The main attractions for visitors are the hunting lodges, bathhouses, forts and pleasure palaces, collectively known as the 'desert castles', which dot the inhospitable landscape. Azraq holds the region's only real accommodation and is also the site of its greatest environmental disaster, which has seen the region's greatest oasis destroyed in the space of a generation. On a brighter note, the nearby Azraq and Shaumari wildlife reserves offer a rare chance to spot some impressive desert wildlife, including the oryx and wild ass, both reintroduced from the brink of extinction.
Public transport is limited in eastern Jordan, so travelling around in a chartered taxi, organised tour or rented car is a popular and often necessary alternative. Beyond the main highways you'll need a 4WD and preparation for a desert adventure.