The Dead Sea, “Sea of Salt” is a salt water lake between the West Bank and Israel to the west, and Jordan to the east. Situated about 130 km from the historic city of Jerusalem, Dead sea is a “must visit” place for the tourist who visits either Israel or Jordan. Reasons are
- Dead Sea is not a Sea…
- At 420 metres (1,378 ft) below sea level its shores are the lowest point on the surface of the Earth that are on dry land.
- With 30 percent salinity, it is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. Anyone can easily float in the Dead Sea because of natural buoyancy.
- Highway 90, runs along the Israeli and West Bank shores of the Dead Sea is the lowest highway in the world!
- One of the earliest written documents (in Hebrew) of human life “dead sea scrolls” were found in caves at Qumran at the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is 67 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide at its widest point. It is shared between Israel and Jordan. At 330 m deep (1,083 feet), the Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea. There are no outlet streams. Daily 7 million tons of water evaporate but the minerals remain, causing the salt content to increase. One of the most unusual properties of the Dead Sea is its discharge of asphalt. From deep seeps, the Dead Sea constantly spits up small pebbles of the black substance.
Healthy Water: It was one of the world’s first health resorts using water as a therapeautic agent (Sanus Per Aquam- SPA) , and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers.The unique concentration of the Dead Sea waters has long been known to have medicinal value. Aristotle, Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra were all familiar with this and modern doctors as well often prescribe patients with skin ailments to soak in the waters of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea area has become a major center for health research and treatment for several reasons. The mineral content of the waters, the very low content of pollens and other allergens in the atmosphere, the reduced ultraviolet component of solar radiation, and the higher atmospheric pressure at this great depth each have specific health effects.
Sufferers of the skin disorder psoriasis also benefit from the ability to sunbathe for long periods in the area due to its position below sea level and subsequent result that many of the sun’s harmful UV rays are reduced. Furthermore, Dead Sea salt has been found to be beneficial to psoriasis patients.
Dead sea water, black mud, salt have been attributed medicinal values.
Life at Dead sea: The sea is called “dead” because its high salinity means no macroscopic aquatic organisms such as fish or water plants can live in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present. Many animal species make their homes in the mountains surrounding the Dead Sea. A hiker can see camels, ibex (type of deer), hares, jackals, foxes. Hundreds of bird species inhabit the zone as well. Both Jordan and Israel have established nature reserves around the Dead Sea.
The Past: King Herod the Great built/re-built several fortresses and palaces on the Western Bank of the Dead Sea. The most famous was Masada, where, in 66-70 AD, a small group of rebellious Jewish zealots held out against the might of the Roman Legion. In Islam In Islamic tradition, the Dead Sea was about the land in which the Prophet Lut (Lot in the Hebrew scriptures) lived. His tribe had done wrong (act of homosexuality) and had therefore been given a punishment for such deeds. Thus, the lowest land on Earth was formed because of this punishment. The sinners were destroyed and the followers were saved. (an analogy to Paataal Lok?). According to some interpretation, the sura of ar-Rum of the Quran refers to the Dead Sea as the lowest place on earth. Bedouin tribes have continuously lived in this area, and have survived due to the presence of few oasis like En Gedi.
Industry: In the early part of the 20th century, the Dead Sea began to attract interest from chemists who deduced that the Sea was a natural deposit of potash and bromine. The Palestine Potash Company which supplied half of Britain’s potash during World War II, was nationalised and renamed as Dead Sea Works Ltd in 1952. From the Dead Sea saltwater, Israel produces tons potash, bromine, caustic soda, magnesium metal, and sodium chloride. The salt evaporation pans which have been created for these commercial ventures are visible from space.
Caution from nature: In recent decades, the Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking because of diversion of incoming water. From an elevation of 395 m below sea level in 1970 it fell to 420 m below sea level in 2007, reaching a drop rate of 1m per year. The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater level drop, causing saltwater that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. This is believed to be the cause of the recent appearance of large sinkholes along the western shore – incoming freshwater dissolves salt layers, rapidly creating subsurface cavities that subsequently collapse to form these sinkholes.
One of the plans which were suggested as a means to stop the recession of the Dead Sea is to channel water from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, either through tunnels or canals, to be officially known as the “Two Seas Canal”. The World Bank is supportive of the project. However, several environmental groups have raised concerns about possible negative impacts of the project on the natural environment of the Dead Sea.
Suggested 2 day sightseeing: The entire Dead Sea landscape is dotted with ruins of magnificent palaces, synagogues, monasteries and mosques. One can explore the traces of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Muslims and Jews. Essentially one large nature reserve, it’s also a region where unique geological formations and a variety of animals, birds and plant life can be seen.
Day1: Jerusalem to Beduin camp near Masada: Gives an opportunity to go through the “West Bank” and see the West Bank wall & check posts built by Israelis, to prevent illegal crossing. Visit the following on the way: Beit Hassofer Museum – Kibbutz Almog Audiovisual presentation featuring the history of Qumran. Qumran National Park Ancient caves and settlement on the northern shores of the Dead Sea where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – the oldest biblical documents ever found (however the original scrolls are now kept in a museum at Jerusalem. Einot Zukim Nature Reserve Fresh water springs and pools, guided tours to the “Hidden Reserve”, picnic tables. Metzoke Dragot Center of desert tourism on the cliff, beautiful porch and coffee shop, provide extreme activities, Safari jeep tours and rappelling. Stay at Beduin tent camp at night: with local food, entertainment, belly dance, camp fire and sleep under a large tent in the chilling desert –unique experience!
Day2: Masada, Dead Sea: Early morning trip to Masada which is also Israel’s second most popular tourist site after Jerusalem. This is accessed by a serpentine hiking path or a cable car ride. A mountain top fortress which King Herod transformed in 35 BC into a three tiered winter home, boasts two luxurious palaces, bathhouses, storage rooms and impressive water cisterns – now in ruins. An eternal symbol of Jewish history and heritage, it is the site of heroic defiance by a few Jewish zealots who took their own lives rather than surrender to the might of the Roman empire. Masada offers fabulous views of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert during sunrise. Also has Masada Sound and Light Show which runs for 40 minutes with fireworks. Return to the Beduin camp for bath and breakfast. Then visit Ein Bokek Site of most Dead Sea hotels. Features a few shops and restaurants. Go to the waterfront, change into bathing suit and float in the dead sea. Remember that one can not swim in this water, as the water irritates the eyes. Get photographed on the dead sea, floating! Also visit Ahava Visitors Center Ahava produces cosmetic and health products based on mud, minerals and salts found in the Dead Sea. On site are a presentation explaining the stages of production, a factory shop, a souvenir shop (to lighten your purse!) and a coffee bar. Upon return visit Ein Gedi – Desert Oasis and Kibbutz: An oasis situated in the heart of the Judean Desert. Within this oasis the establishment of Kibbutz Ein Gedi and alongside its neighbour, the Nature Reserve, housing the desert fauna and the freshing, cool natural springs waters. One major product of this community is Ein Gedi Mineral water, highest sold in Israel. It also has Ein Gedi Spa Hot mineral spring waters, natural water swimming pool, natural black therapeutic mud, Dead Sea and beach, massage treatment center, Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens More than 1000 species of flora, world wide. The combination of a growing population amongst the growing vegetation, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Near the kibbutz. Visitors have access to the adjacent nature reserve for viewing bird sanctuaries and wildlife of desert, including the Nubian ibex(a deer). Return to Jerusalem for onward journey after a hectic two days of desert life, historic exploration and an unforgettable experience of floating on the Dead Sea!
Alternative: One can visit the Dead Sea on the Jordan side. Day trip from Amman/ Aqaba. Biblical sites of Bethany & Mount Nebo can be added in the itinerary.