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Dead Sea: The Healing Sea
Sujoy Dhar

Dead Sea: The Healing Sea

| | 16 Aug 2014, 02:27 pm
Want that famous "been there done that" picture of reading a book while floating on your back in water? Well, Dead Sea in Jordan beckons tourists offering not just the FB cover photo, but also a healing touch to skin and lungs . Sujoy Dhar checks out the lowest point on earth

It was a mellow May afternoon when we caught the  first glimpse of the serene,  lapping waters of Dead Sea on way from the Jodanian city of Aqaba . On way to the hotel, we halted at a point that was walled on one side by a rugged rocky mountain and an expanse of open land by the roadside on the other , which ends abruptly in a craggy cliff overlooking the salt water lake that borders Jordan to the east, and Palestine and Israel to the west.

As we went precariously close to the edge of the cliff to look deep down in the green waters, the best natural spa in the world with white salt formations on the banks captivated us.  While it was a greenish palate down there, we learnt soon that the water changes colours based on the elevation of the sun.

The sea could be teal, azure, blue, green or aqua - even pink- depending on where you are and when. There, before our eyes was the lowest – 417 metres below sea level- and saltiest spot on earth and a magnet for those sold on health tourism (read skin care). The mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west gave Dead Sea a spectacular look.

According to tourism literature on the place, since the quantity of water that evaporates from it is greater than that which flows into it, this lake has the highest concentration of salt in the world- 340 grams per litre of water.

So it is the high salt content that makes Dead Sea a bathers’ paradise since you cannot sink in that heavy saline water and thus enjoy a unique floating experience.

The Dead Sea is called so because the salinity prevents the existence of any life forms in the lake.  This salinity is the biggest draw of the place in terms of tourism. Tourists flock to Dead Sea for its tremendous healing power. For treatment of skin and lung diseases Dead Sea is considered the best place on earth.

This lake receives water from a number of incoming rivers, including the   Jordan River. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go. Thus they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that are used in health products.

A mud bath in Dead Sea is one of the most exciting experiences. You can find the buckets on the banks with black muck which, like unbridled children, you can apply all over your body before going to the water.

It is somewhat sensuous to watch couples smearing each other merrily with the mud and then wading into the water for a relaxing bath.

According to health tourism operators, this mud has recognized medicinal properties, and is used both for the medical treatment of skin diseases and for cosmetic treatments. 

So on the banks of the Dead Sea, apply mud first and then wait for ten minutes. You then go to the sea, float, swim, wash. Then take a shower on the bank. Our resort - Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort & Spa - had a beautiful private beach with showers facilities after the bath.

In this process, do not forget to take that envious FB photo of reading a book while floating. And the experience can also be somewhat inevitably painful since you also end up with some clumsy moves balancing your body and letting the salt water – it is  some ten times saltier than sea water - enter you eyes to cause a burning sensation for quite some time.

According to Jordan officials, the unusually warm, incredibly buoyant and mineral-rich waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King Herod the Great and the beautiful Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra.

The officials say all of them have luxuriated in the Dead Sea’s rich, black, stimulating mud and floated effortlessly on their backs while soaking up the water's healthy minerals along with the gently diffused rays of the Jordanian sun.

So you too can feel like a Cleopatra as you float and  try to capture yourself by someone in pictures hovering effortlessly in  water  rich in chloride salts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine and others.

The air in the region is also healthy. It is dry and oxygen-rich, with a six percent higher level of oxygen than anywhere else. In addition, the air is saturated with bromide and magnesium. “This unique composition helps in the treatment of lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, and helps to calm the nervous system,” says a health tourism website on Dead Sea.

Clinics in the Dead Sea area host "winter camps" for patients from Europe.

There is more to the place than Dead Sea, going back to Biblical times. While you enjoy the relaxing health benefits of Dead Sea, there are some of the most famous places around to visit. And one of them is the site of John the Baptist's settlement at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. It has long been known from the Bible (John 1:28 and 10:40) and from the Byzantine and medieval texts.

The site has now been identified on the east bank of the Jordan River, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and is being systematically surveyed, excavated, restored, and prepared to receive pilgrims and visitors. Bethany Beyond the Jordan is only 40 minutes by car from Jordanian capital Amman too. The Bethany area sites formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo.

The area is also associated with the biblical account of how the Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire.

Once you visit the spot and touch your feet in the muddy green narrow stream that is Jordan River here, you also see the pilgrims and tourists visiting the spot from the Israeli side.  At places the river is less than 10 metres across and 2 metres deep.

It is as if you can wade through the water a few feet to touch Israel on the other side.

However, the river is significant for its Biblical legacy. For Jews it is because the   tribes of Israel under Joshua had crossed the river on dry ground to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert.

For Christians it is because John the Baptist had baptised Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.

At the site where Jesus was baptised in Jordan river we found many Christian pilgrims taking a holy bath.

According to the website of Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the  baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the act that launched Jesus’ public ministry, most likely took place on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River, in a perennial riverbed called the Wadi Al-Kharrar.

You can see the remains of more than 20 Christian sites that were discovered, including several churches, a prayer hall, baptismal pools and a sophisticated water reticulation system, dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Among the several churches here, the most prominent is the gold-domed Greek Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist.

FACTSHEET:

Dead Sea (Jordan side) is a day trip from capital Amman and Aqaba. It is a 3-hour drive from Aqaba in southern Jordan and only 63 km from Amman. There are taxi/car services for around 20 JD to 35 JD. Shuttles also go from Amman or Aqaba. There are a few bus lines too for much cheaper travel.

From New Delhi (other cities of India too) to Amman there are several flights almost 5 days a week. A non-stop Royal Jordanian airline round trip can cost around Rs 45,000/-. The flight time is between 5 and 6 hours.

There are all kinds of hotels to stay. The Dead Sea Resthouse is a 2-star hotel for budget travellers. For the well heeled, the choice ranges from Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead ,
The Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, Holiday Inn Dead Sea, The Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa,The Dead Sea Spa to Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort & Spa.

IMAGES BY AUTHOR

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