At first glance, it does look dead.
At first glance! But then there’s hazy movement and gradually, things seem to come alive.
By Inder Raj Ahluwalia
By any account, this isn’t your normal ‘run of the mill’ type of destination. 400 metres below sea level, this is the lowest point on earth, and appears far removed from the everyday world as we know it. But make no mistake. It is part of our everyday world. Just ask the thousands of tourists who annually descend here to enjoy the myriad charms of this unique site.
The simple fact is that the Dead Sea region is a special place. Graceful gazelles graze close to the saltiest water on earth, and fresh water springs and nature reserves are at hand, as is the mineral-rich Dead Sea water.
Along with the health-enhancing properties that have made the region world-famous, adventure opportunities abound, with excellent options for exploration, touring, hiking, and plain relaxation. Mineral-rich mud is carried from deep within the earth by springs, fresh-water springs, run-off from watersheds, and the Jordan River, and along with the year-round sunshine, cause an evaporation effect and create the salts and minerals. From the Dead Sea coast, from the Jordan River at its northern point, to Sodom at the southernmost tip, there’s a variety of spas ranging from the ‘popular style’ to the luxurious, all exploiting the extraordinarily rich mineral wealth of the region.
Also known as the Salt Sea, the Dead Sea came to be so named because virtually nothing lives in it owing to its 30 per cent concentration of salts and minerals, which also accounts for the phenomenal buoyancy of the water, which precludes swimming but keeps everything and everyone afloat.
Natural spectacles apart, the region mirrors the glories of the past and documents grand moments of history. It was where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea that Jesus underwent baptism. Today, the devout come here in large numbers to immerse themselves in the holy waters. A quick bus or car ride brings you to several important sites in the area. There is Qumran, where the Essenes, closely associated with Jesus, lived their strict religious and disciplined lives, leaving behind the enormously valuable heritage known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Hailing diatance away from the water body is the brooding but magnificent Masada palace and fortress, built by King Herod on a high plateau that towers over the Dead Sea. It was here that the Jewish zealots made their famous last stand against the Romans. Here, in Israel’s most thoroughly excavated archeological site, reached by cable car or by a steep snake-trail climb, one can see the architectural prowess exhibited so long ago.
Culture apart, outings into the region provide excitement and adventure, with trained guides leading safaris and challenging desert tours that include rappelling among the crags and cliffs.
Lushness and greenery are also at hand. When David sought refuge from King Saul, he found comfort in Ein Gedi where fresh water springs feed a lush oasis. Today, one can visit magnificent nature reserves at Nahal David and Nahal Arunt, created to protect the ancient sites. Here, in the midst of nature, casual walkers can follow the streams and plunge in hidden waterfalls, while serious hikers have soaring cliffs to climb and archaeological sites to admire.
The world converges here to reap the benefits of the soil, skillfully exploited by health and nature-care centres and spas. Because of its relative isolation from urban centres, the region’s hotels cater to every need of guests, with the saunas being their specialty. All the big hotels have spa pools filled with piped-in Dead Sea water, and offer mineral-rich mud pack treatments, and underwater and normal massages.
The treatment at these famous spas concentrates on the application of the minerals and programmed exposure to the sun. Floating in the sea itself is also beneficial as weightlessness relieves pressure on joints.
The Dead Sea continues to captivate one’s imagination as it has done for over two thousand years. In many ways, it is a region like no other. Beautiful, peaceful, almost ghostly! And always worth visiting for so many reasons. Arguably one of Israel’s prettiest areas, it is immensely popular with the Israelis themselves as the unending hordes of tourists shows.
Every day and every night, it comes ‘alive’.
- The Dead Sea is about three hours driving from Tel Aviv, Israel’s aerial gateway.
- While it is a year-round tourist destination, the best time to visit in from September through March.
- The region offers several hotels and guest houses.
- The Spas are a major attraction. Most large hotels have their own spas. One can enroll in long, detailed health courses under professional guidance. The major spas offer several different types of massages, mud wraps, an assortment of water treatments, sulphur pool treatments, inhalations, beauty centres for men and women, health bara and heated indoor Dead Sea water pools.