Wadi Qilt: Nature, Culture and Religion
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:
By Johannes Zang
This Week in Palestine
Hiking was presumably invented in Germany in the 19th century. Hiking means to go from A to B not for selling goods at the market, buying something or meeting people but just for the pleasure of walking, enjoying the fresh air and nature, watching the birds and other animals – and, of course, challenging your body and mind. The pleasure of walking.
When I started to work as a music teacher in Bethlehem in 1999 I remembered former visits to the Holy Land with great hiking experiences. Most of them I had done on my own, a few with other Germans and two with Israelis. But would Palestinians be interested in hiking at all? Would they share with me the “pleasure of walking?”
The first hike I would like to introduce is well known to many Palestinians since it used to be a famous and beloved classic school trip: the Wadi Qilt or Wadi Fara. During my stay in Bethlehem from 1999 to 2003 I hiked there about a dozen times in winter, spring and even in the summer. I often started near Ein Qilt, but have also started in Jericho, going upwards. I have entered the Wadi near Ein Fawwar or at the very beginning near the Almon settlement. Most school trips used to start near Ein Qilt and end either at St. George’s Monastery or in Jericho.
I will introduce here the long version of the hike. You enter the Wadi after passing the Alon settlement (don’t confuse it with Almon from which the extra-long version of the hike starts) at Ein Fawwar. Take the time and watch this miraculous spring. Every twenty minutes, like clockwork, water spurts out of that spring and collects into a pool.
According to a Palestinian legend, two demons living below the spring are engaged in a never-ending battle. When the good demon gets the upper hand, water pours out of the spring. If the bad demon prevails, the flow miraculously slows down. Continue your hike while crossing in a zigzag fashion on either side of the Wadi.
In winter be prepared to walk through almost two-foot high water. In spring you can behold meadows of flowers. After about an hour or so of hiking you approach Ein Qilt. Make sure to stay on the left side of the Wadi that leads up to the cliff above the canyon. The view is tremendous. The path then leads down to Ein Qilt – a perfect place for a longer break. Do take note of the Arabic inscriptions on the rocks. On the northern side of the Wadi there are several caves with some mosaic remains scattered around, indicating an early monastic settlement known locally as Deir Abu Alassi.
From this point on you can follow the aqueduct which was built during the Jordanian rule along the original Roman one which was commissioned by Herod to bring water from Ein Fawwar to his winter palace and garden. The structure of the Roman aqueduct is still visible in the valley. Shortly thereafter you will pass by a few Bedouins who inhabit several houses in the middle of an oasis. Some trees and bushes are permanently green especially along the aqueduct. Watch out for the hyraxes, a rare species whose classification is still not clear. Some consider this animal, which resembles a marmot, of the same genus as elephants. You might hear these ruminants long before you see them – due to their whistling sounds. You will also encounter herds of sheep and goats. They enjoy the shadow of the many natural shelters and caves the Wadi provides. Make sure you walk through one of the aqueduct bridges over a gorge. Watch out for the eroded pebbles in the bottom of the valley, including the caves and rocks. The presence of shelters and ruins dating to the Byzantine period indicates the density of monastic life during that period. The closer you get to St. George’s monastery the more crosses you see on the other side of the canyon. Make sure you visit the monastery and learn something about its dramatic history. Have some of the colourful fruit drinks the monks offer for free as you enjoy the view from the balcony. Contrary to other Greek Orthodox monasteries,women are allowed to enter this one, provided they cover their legs and arms (the monks could provide for that).
Continuing the hike from this point, it takes little more than an hour to reach Jericho. Slowly the Wadi fades out and you will find yourself in the middle of banana fields. End the hike with a fresh fruit juice at the main square of Jericho.
The Wadi Qilt makes for an amazing hike that takes you through three climatic zones with caves, springs, natural pools, amazing rocks, Bedouins, an aqueduct, an oasis, an ancient monastery and meadows of flowers in spring. At Wadi Qilt culture and nature come together wonderfully. It is unfortunate that Israelis go on hikes much more than Palestinians and hence know the country better than them.
A word of caution: bring with you at least 4 litres of water, sun protection and good hiking shoes. There is one spot where you need to climb down a 2.5 metre dry waterfall. Don’t start later than 7 a.m. in spring and 6 a.m. in summer. Approximate hiking times (without breaks):
Ein Fawwar to Ein Qilt: about 2 – 2.5 hours
Ein Qilt to St. George’s Monastery: about 2 – 2.5 hours
St. George’s Monastery to Jericho city: about 1.5 hours
Johannes Zang (together with his wife Janina) currently works as a pipe organ teacher at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. He is also a freelance journalist with German catholic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org