I should confess at the outset that I was always fascinated by the fancy pictures of models floating on the Dead Sea, either reading a magazine or daintily holding a cocktail glass between manicured fingers. Without any delay, once my Jordan trip was finalised, I put this very romantic feat first on the “must do” list.
The Dead Sea is conveniently situated an hour from Amman, the capital of Jordan, and near many places mentioned in the Bible. Although sparsely populated and serenely quiet now, the area is believed to have been home to five Biblical cities.
The Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other-worldly beauty. Set among palm trees and olive groves, my hotel Kampenski Ishtar offered me incredible vistas of the Dead Sea, forever tempting me to take the plunge.
Without a doubt the world’s most amazing place, the Jordan Rift Valley is a dramatic, beautiful landscape, which at the Dead Sea, is over 400m (1,312 ft.) below sea level. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.
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. All of whom 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. I wanted to follow suit and one fine afternoon, I embarked on this fancy adventure, more as a photo- op than anything serious.
Soon I realised that it is not really that easy to float on the Dead Sea as believed, and those who model mostly feign ease while nonchalantly gazing into the camera. For people like me whose swimming skills start and end with the swimming pool, it was a tough task. The only time I swam in a sea was in the Andamans (Indian Ocean), that too close to the shore.
My experience of floating in the Dead Sea was different, as I had to literally learn the knack of doing it right on the spot and pretend that it was effortless. One, the extremely salty water got into my eyes and burnt, making me blind. There was no fresh water at hand to clear the eyes of the salt (one has to reach the beach showers for it). I tumbled more and more, trying to get out. “Grin and bear the burning”, I told myself. This went on till I got the hang of it, then there was no stopping. I wanted to float forever, drifting into a weightless world, gazing at the endless blue sky, feeling like a “kati patang” gliding into ether.
The mud pack was another beautiful experience. A huge jar nearby was filled with the mud from the sea. I scooped handfuls of the creamy stuff and smeared it all over my body. The soft, black, butter like mud felt so good against the skin.
One look at myself in the nearby full size mirror (what I saw was a demon coming out of children’s comics), I shrieked in disbelief, but nevertheless I clicked selfies, grinning with sparkling white teeth prominent against a jet black background. But when the warm water from the hose drenched my whole body, revealing a softer, more beautified skin that was when I had my “Aha” moment and was glad that I ventured. The whole experience was beautiful and unforgettable and I would strongly recommend it to all the future visitors of Dead Sea. Later that evening resting against white bolsters in a ‘Cabana’ on the beach sands of the Hotel, I watched belly dance while my friends smoked ‘Sheesha’. Rejuvenated with the Dead Sea mud pack, I felt like a princess. With the cool breeze caressing my cheeks, I drifted into a dream where I was a close friend of Cleopatra and we both were floating on the Dead Sea waters, sipping wine from golden goblets!
(Vijaya Pratap is a travel writer and a documentary filmmaker focusing on art, culture and history)