The Tree of Life is a lone and spreading mesquite tree, famous not because it somehow survives in the barren desert (plenty of trees and thorn bushes do that) but because it has survived for so long. No one is sure what sustains this old knot of thorny branches, but it has presumably tapped into an underground spring – a miracle that has led some to suggest it is the last vestige of the Garden of Eden.
It won’t be a change in the climate, however, that will signal its downfall, but the all-too-visible change in the kind of visitor it attracts, to which the daubs of spray paint all over the venerable old bark attest.
When standing under the spreading limbs of this tree that graces a patch of Bahrain’s southern desert, with earth movers scraping the escarpment for cement, and oil and gas pipelines running alongside, it’s hard to imagine anywhere less deserving of the name ‘Garden of Eden’. And yet, modern scholars point to several ancient sources that suggest Bahrain may have been the locus of paradise. In the Babylonian creation myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dilmun (Bahrain’s ancient incarnation) is described as the home of Enki (the god of wisdom), the Sweet Water from Under the Sea, and Ninhursag (goddess of the Earth). Likewise, in the Old Testament, it is possible that Hebrew and Sumerian traditions of paradise are similarly conflated. On encountering this Tree of Life, however, you may well urge archaeologists searching for Eden to keep looking!
Follow signs to the tree along the Muaskar Hwy. It is just off the sealed road (take a right turn by Khuff Gas Well 371 and turn right again along the power lines). There’s no need for a 4WD, but take care not to drive into soft sand. There is a signboard at the site telling visitors how to get there. The Tree of Life is 40km from Manama and a 45-minute drive away. Note the wind-eroded forms in the escarpment near the site.