The Bedouin Trail is an intercontinental travelling passage between Africa and Asia, of which most can be hiked. It runs over 1200km through the Middle East, connecting two of the great capitals of the ancient world and traversing the traditional territories of seven Bedouin tribes. The Bedouin-created sister projects of the Wadi Rum Trail, Red Sea Mountain Trail and Sinai Trail stand at the heart of the Bedouin Trail, with its thru hike route aligning with long sections of each, whilst also extending them into new, adjacent regions. It is the first passage of its kind to connect the continents of Africa and Asia and the longest hiking route in the Arab World and it stands as a contemporary monument to a nomadic civilisation of the greatest antiquity. The Bedouin Trail aims to give an accessible way into the heart of the Middle East's deserts and to open a space in which the great depth, beauty and diversity of Bedouin heritage across different regions, nations and continents can be better shared and understood. It is hoped the Bedouin Trail will raise a wider awareness of the common challenges Bedouin communities face across the Middle East in our times and also that it will boost the tourism each of its constituent trail projects need to survive and continue making a positive impact in their home regions. The Bedouin Trail focuses on the Bedouin, but it is a project with a wider significance too; it seeks to tell a story of our early human past and to underline something of the origins of the contemporary world in which most of us live today. The Bedouin Trail is overseen by a transnational Bedouin collective in which the Wadi Rum Trail, Red Sea Mountain Trail and Sinai Trail are all represented equally, by an appointed Sheikh, with each having an equal say in its ongoing development.
Empowering sister projects
The Bedouin Trail unites Jordan's Wadi Rum Trail and the Red Sea Mountain Trail and Sinai Trail of Egypt into a collective of three projects. Each one is a community tourism initiative designed for a unique home setting that functions independently, with a distinctive working model towards its own set of goals. The Wadi Rum Trail operates in a region where tourism is already strongly established but dominated by 4x4 travel, seeking to boost slower kinds of movement that show more of the region's natural and historic treasures and which have the potential to create a more spontaneous space in which the depth of the region's Bedouin heritage can be better shared and discovered. The Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail work in a context that has always been more significantly more challenging for tourism, especially through the turbulence of the last decade in Egypt. Each seeks to show a more positive, hopeful and ultimately more accurate, everyday side of its Bedouin homeland, putting lesser-known areas on the tourism map for the first time and opening up legitimate, leadership level jobs and opportunities in communities that have long been marginalised from economic developments in the region. Aligning with sections of each and linking them into an new intercontinental passage the Bedouin Trail seeks to raise the profile of each project, boosting the tourism that each one needs to both survive and develop in new ways that allow it to make the biggest, most positive impact in its region.
Through the Bedouin nation
The Bedouin are a people of nomadic heritage who live in tribes across the Middle East, from Jordan to the Sinai, Egypt and beyond. Every Bedouin tribe has its own traditional territory, some of which are centuries old, with others of much greater antiquity. These territories remain a real part of the region but stand unmarked on modern maps. Outside the Bedouin world there is little knowledge of their whereabouts and often even of their existence. The formation of modern nation states and a redrawing of borders in the Middle East over the last 100 years has brought great changes to the region's Bedouin tribes. Modern borders have often bisected Bedouin territories, leaving a single tribe divided between two nations and sometimes more. Mobility is more restricted with borders stopping many Bedouin tribes making the same range of migrations as they once did and often making it harder for sections of the same tribe to meet. The Bedouin world exists across many nations but its tribes remain strongly connected by ancestry, history and culture. Wherever they live, Bedouin groups will often identify much more closely with eachother than with the settled peoples of their new home states. The transnational cultural block that makes up what might be called the Bedouin nation remains largely invisible; the Bedouin Trail seeks to underline its age old place in the modern world, showing the rich, diverse heritage that exists within it, which makes the Middle East the region it is today.
An origin story for humanity
Over every continent on earth, humanity lives a mostly existence in villages, towns and cities today. This world of sedentary civilisation has not always been with us; the world's first settled states and kingdoms appeared only 5000 years ago, following several millennia of gradual sedenterisation. Centred in Mesopotamia and Egypt this settled world was made possible by the domestication of crops and animals, whose tending allowed humans to create a bigger, more reliable supply of food by remaining in a single, fixed place. This increase in food security allowed settled societies to devote more time to other endeavours and innovations in art, writing, science, engineering and religious thinking soon followed, reshaping the entire world and laying the foundations for the societies in which most of us live today. Nevertheless, humanity never settled in its entirety; many communities maintained older, nomadic ways, continuing to pioneer ways of living in wilder regions and greatly deepening humanity's knowledge of the natural world. Nomads of different kinds remain a part of the modern world but stand in a small, ever-shrinking minority across every continent. Crossing ancient heartlands of both the settled and nomadic worlds, the Bedouin Trail seeks to tell a broad story for humanity; it aims to show how the settled world of which most of us are now part began to emerge, whilst reminding us of our collective nomadic heritage and underlining the value nomadism can still have today.
The Bedouin are a transnational people who live all over the deserts of the Middle East today. Wherever they live, Bedouin communities are undergoing a period of change that stands unprecedented in centuries and arguably much longer. Over the last decades, for many different reasons, there has been a large-scale move away from the traditional mobile pastoralist way of life, with many Bedouin adopting a more fixed, sedentary existence in villages and towns. Some of the Bedouin see this as for the better, others for the worse; some would prefer both but in a better balance. Whether good, bad or perhaps both, one thing is indisputable; the switchover has left the traditional knowledge and skills needed to survive in the desert largely irrelevant to life today and much has been forgotten and lost to new generations. This body of knowledge was passed between generations from early ages to the present and it represents a treasure of our collective human past, with an ongoing value not just to the world but to Bedouin communities themselves. The Bedouin Trail seeks to boost new, grassroots tourism economies around the route, creating jobs that offer younger Bedouin a chance to remain connected to the desert and through which traditional knowledge and skills can be kept more relevant. In reality, more will be required than tourism to stop this cultural loss but it can help raise a wider global awareness and start a dialogue about it, which is a starting point for a way forward.
Our human journey
The Bedouin Trail stretches over 1200km between the deserts of Africa and Asia and is the first passage of its kind to link hiking trails between the two continents. In doing so it seeks to commemorate perhaps the single most important journey in our collective human past, by which our ancestors moved out of Africa into Asia, continuing over thousands of generations to spread to the literal ends of the earth. Humans moved through southern Asia after leaving Africa, reaching Australia with a sea passage around 50,000 years ago. Europe and Central Asia were reached around 40,000 years ago and by the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago humans had reached the northernmost parts of Asia. The ice age opened up a land bridge that humans crossed into North America too but recent evidence suggests a human presence had been established in the Americas long before, as far back as 30,000 years ago. Whilst some scholars claim humans left Africa across the Bab el Mandeb straits at the southern end of the Red Sea, compelling new DNA evidence suggests our exit was in fact made via the intercontinental land bridge of the Sinai. Whether the Sinai route or a more southerly one was taken between Africa and Asia, the Bedouin Trail seeks to commemorate the extraordinary first journey our ancestors made between both. These early journeys stand as the greatest of testaments to human courage, discovery and resilience and laid the foundations for human societies all around the world today.
The making of the Middle East
The Bedouin Trail connects travelling routes of many different origins between Africa and Asia, from paths walked by prehistoric nomads to ancient trading highways, parts of the Darb el Hajj to Mecca, Roman quarrying roads, Bedouin climbing routes and mountain stairways assembled by early Christians. It connects the monuments of the Pharaohs in Luxor with the rock-hewn capital of the Nabataeans in Petra, passing ancient rock art, Ptolemaic temples, Roman forts, Ottoman palaces and Byzantine monasteries. The Bedouin Trail shows both well-known treasures of the region's cultural heritage and remote gems rarely-ever seen at all, illuminating how each of the civilisations present in the region influenced its contemporaries and those that grew in later ages. The Ptolemies built their temples in the style of their Egyptian forebears. Egyptian deities were reimagined by the Romans and integrated into their own pagan religion. Rome's persecution of those who rejected paganism saw Christians flee to the wilderness where they founded remote monasteries are still operating today. The Nabataeans made wells and desert highways that have been used by everybody from Hajj pilgrims to the Bedouin in the present. On its passage through the region the Bedouin Trail seeks to show something of how every civilisation in this region both settled and nomadic have interacted historically, helping to shape the Middle East and the world into what it is today.