Wadi Muqlaq Monk caves, eternal silence and a taste of the Grand Canyon
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:
This Week in Palestine
By Johannes Zang
Telling my Palestinian friends we want to hike in Wadi Muqlaq, Muqleq or Muqalliq, they shrugged their shoulders since they had never heard of this wadi. They were quite surprised to learn that it was very close to Wadi Qilt; in fact parallel to it.
You drive down from Jerusalem towards Jericho and just opposite the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Jericho on the left, which is the entrance to Ein Qilt as well, you should ask the taxi driver to stop. Currently there is a lot of construction work to enlarge the road. Walk on the road towards Jericho for about three hundred metres and then climb the crash barrier and go down the slope.
You will see a kind of stone wall held together by a wire net. On one of the stones you can see a green-white sign. Do not follow the path parallel to the Jerusalem-Jericho road but climb around the wall and continue your way in an angle 90 degrees to the Jerusalem-Jericho road. You will now steadily hike upwards. After hiking for about an hour you get to a viewpoint with a breathtaking view. From here you have your first look at Wadi Muqlaq, which is south of you. You will also see Jerusalem. Take some time to enjoy the splendid view across the Judean desert which looks like a blanket thrown over balls of different sizes. A foretaste of the Grand Canyon.
Here the green-white sign meets the blue-white one. Make sure you follow the green-white sign southwest and downhill. After about 10 minutes of hiking you find yourself in front of a hill – go left. And after about half an hour of continuous downhill hiking you will finally enter the Wadi. Find a nice shady place and have your second breakfast!
You start hiking again in the riverbed, but only for a few minutes. Then the path leads you out of the bottom to the left edge of the gorge. After about half an hour you pass caves and ruins of monastic life. Watch your step. There are a handful of spots where you have to hike very carefully. You should be able to stand heights.
Rev. Blaney Pridgen from South Carolina, who hiked with us, commented on the Wadi: “On the ancient Day of Atonement (Lev 16), a ‘scapegoat’ carried on its back the sins of Israel to be devoured in the wilderness by the desert demon Azazel. The wilderness wadi that we hiked through would make a likely lair for Azazel: desolate, foreboding, and as dangerous as sin; yet, also deep and eternally silent like sins forgiven and buried within the heart of our wilderness God.”
Continue to hike for about a good half hour until the path or trail leads you to the other side of the wadi. Exactly here is a good place for a drinking break – in the shadow of a cave. From here the trail leads you at the bottom of the wadi, the riverbed. Within 45 minutes you will reach a bridge and here ends the hiking trip of upper Wadi Muqlaq. Get out of the Wadi and walk on the paved road westward to reach, in another 45 minutes, Nabi Musa where the Muslims venerate the grave of Moses. Here you should have ordered a taxi to pick you up. Visit the mosque, walk around in the court yard, and have a look from the top of the roof.
Readers might ask what the difference between Wadi Muqlaq and Wadi Qilt is. What makes it special? Father Gregor, a Franciscan from Germany and a hiking expert in this country, commented: “It is wilder and perhaps more original. Wadi Qilt is inhabited and more frequented. In Wadi Muqlaq nature has left only sparse remnants of the monastic life that used to flourish there. That’s why you feel the loneliness/solitude which led the monks into the desert more impressively.”
I would add that there is no water in the Wadi except in winter or spring and hardly any visitors. Watch out for snakes, gazelles, hyraxes and the Muqlaq bush, a small plant with light green leaves that requires little water, according to Palestinian hydrologist Marwan Hassan. Unfortunately there is a lot of garbage in the Wadi.
Hiking time is 4.5 to 5 hours, without breaks. Difficulty: M (which is only for experienced hikers). Make sure to take along 3-4 litres of water, binoculars, sun protection cream, good hiking shoes and perhaps a rope for the sensitive spots. Start no later than 6:30 a.m. in the summer, 7:30 a.m. in spring.
Johannes Zang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org