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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, report, c. 15 April 1917

WEJH TO WADI AIS AND BACK
[Arab Bulletin, 23 May 1917]


I. - Wejh to Wadi Ais via the Darb el-Gara

I left Wejh at 9 p.m. on March 10, with four Ageyl and four Rifaa Juheinah, for Sidi Abdullah's camp. We went out along the Khauthla road as far as J. Jidra (el-Nebadein; but the northern hill of the two), at 12.30 a.m. We then bore off right from the Khauthla road, across a sanded area of rough stones. This lasted only till 12.50 a.m., when we entered a wadi, crossed it, and passed over others and their tributaries till 1.15 a.m., when we stopped in Seil Arja, which runs down to Munaibura. The going for the last hour was rough.

March 11

Started at 6 a.m. up a tributary of Seil Arja, and continued in it till 6.30 a.m., when we reached the head of the valley and entered a plain, about a mile wide. At 6.45 a.m. the road forked and we went right downhill, at 140°, into Seil Mismah, at 7.10 a.m. Mismah runs into Arja and Munaibura. We crossed it and rode up a side-valley (rough in parts) to a watershed at 7.40 a.m., and a steep descent of a few minutes into a great sand and gravel plain. Across this we went at 110° till 8.15 a.m., when we crossed Wadi el-Murra, which runs into the Sebakha at Kuma; J. Murra was about three miles away to the north. At 10.10 a.m. we reached  Wadi Abu Ajaj, running from 20° to 200°; it is not one bed, but a whole system of seils, all shallow and bushy, with soft sandy water-courses winding about them. About three miles away on the right lay J. Ajwi, overlooking Mersa Zaam. Ajwi is a very unmis­takable square-sided flat-topped coral reef. We stopped at 10.45 a.m. in Wadi Abu Ajaj and started again at 12.45 p.m. At 1.30 p.m. I was abreast of J. Tibgila, about five miles off, and at 1.50 p.m. and 2.5 p.m. crossed the branches of Wadi Ghorban, which passes just south of Tibgila. The going across the plain was at first soft, and later rather more solid, but with very soft sandy valleys, which would be bad for cars. The guide now took us too far east, and the path entered the lower spurs of J. Raal, so that we did not enter the Hamdh valley till 4 p.m. We bore across this to the ghadir at Abu Zereibat, which we reached at 6 p.m. It was little, if any, smaller than it had been in January last.

March 12

Started at 3.45 a.m. and proceeded to lose the road in the dark. At 4.30 a.m. we entered low rough hills, J. Agumma, till 5.20 a.m., when we turned to the right up Seil Aguna at 135°. At 5.30 a.m. reached the watershed, which was easy, and rode down a short valley on luxuriant colocynth into el-Khubt, at 6.10 a.m. Colocynth makes the best timber when crushed and dried. Its juice is rubbed on the feet to produce a purgative effect, which is said to be quite distinct, even when the drug is applied in this very diluted manner. Horses which will eat its stalks and leaves can go without water for a considerable time.

El-Khubt is a great plain, draining at its extremity into Wadi Hamdh near Abu Zereibat. A road goes up it to Urn Lejj. We crossed it diagonally, aiming for el-Sukhur (wrongly called J. Arban on the map). At 7.15 a.m. we reached the east bank of el-Khubt, and turned right, up a side-valley, for ten minutes, on to the plain (Magrah) of el-Darraj, a scrub-covered area leading right up to the feet of el-Sukhur. We halted at 7.40 a.m. in the middle of a rain shower, which lasted intermittently from 6 till 8.30 a.m. In el-Darraj were some half-dozen tents of Waish Billi, with sheep, goats, horses and camels. There has been no rain to speak of in the Bluwiya this year, and plenty in the ]uheiniya, and, therefore, many of the Billi have come over the border peaceably to pasture. These tents were watering from Heiran.

We left el-Darraj halt at 10 a.m. and moved across to the feet of the Sukhur. We wound up a valley till we were between them and the iso­lated Sakhara south-west of them, and then scrambled for fifteen minutes up rock shelves and along faults over a knife ridge and down a stony bed, past a huge boulder all hammered over with tribal marks, into the basin of Wadi Heiran. The Sukhur are huge striated masses of a red­dish coloured volcanic rock, grey on the surface; the Sakhara is like a brown water-melon standing on end: on its south and east faces it is absolutely smooth, and dome-headed, polished till it shines, with fine cracks running up and across it, like seams. The height above the plain must be about 700  feet.

At 11.5 a.m. we were over this pass and in a narrow valley, between granite outcrops. This led into another valley, and so to another, till we entered Wadi Heiran (40° to 200°, its course) at noon. The well lay some way on our right, down the valley. We crossed the valley, rode up a tributary, and then till 12.45 p.m. went up and down over granite shards piled up in tiny 50-foot mounds all round us in wild confusion.

There was no road and we kept no direction, but wandered where We could. Wadis ran in and out everywhere.

At 12.45 p.m. we descended sharply into Seil Dhrufi, a wooded valley 100 yards wide, along which we went at 120o. At 1.30 p.m. we got to the head of our branch of the valley, and ascended a narrow and difficult hill-path, with broken steps of rock, difficult for camels, round a shoulder of Jebel Dhrufi (it is a range) to a saddle from which a steep but short descent led into and across a valley sweeping down from north-east towards the sea. The ground again became a confusion of small mounds and valleys till a new watershed was reached at 1.40 p.m. This was easy and led us to a big valley running south; we bent on the left at right angles close by the rock-wall down which we had come. We turned up this gorge, which grew very narrow, and the path soon left the bed and began to climb the side of the hill to the north. The ascent was very steep, unfit for laden camels, owing to the rough surface and the narrowness of the path, between very sharp slopes above and below. At 2.20 p.m. we reached the watershed and descended a sandy valley into W. Hanbal, a large well-wooded tributary of W. Heiran. We stopped for twenty minutes to gather for the camels the luxuriant grass in a little sandy bay of the hills and then crossed the wadi and marched up a tributary of its east bank, W. Kitan. This is a stony valley with a good hard surface (no rocks), about 300 yards wide from hill to hill, and well wooded with thorn trees. We marched up till 4.15 p.m. and then halted; the valley had drawn in a little in the last half-hour. The hills on the south were small; but to the north is a very large hill, J. Jidwa, about six miles long and perhaps three miles distant, flanking the valley with a steep and high hog's back, running nearly north and south.

March 13

Started at 3.30 a. m. and reached the head of W. Kitan in a few minutes and went over a narrow pass between rock masses (steep but not difficult; too narrow for wheels) into Seil Jidha, which runs into W. Amk. It has sharp hills each side. At 4.30 a.m. we diverged to the right up a gorge running south. This was from eight to ten feet wide between its cliffs, but the bed of the torrent was all encumbered with fallen stones and trees, so that the passage was difficult. At 4.50 a.m. we reached its head and found a gentle valley running away south. At 4.50 a.m., when the Wadi turned west about a mile above Bir Reimi, which is only themail in the wadi bed. The water smelt one foul smell, and tasted equally unpleasantly but quite differently. We had high hills on the east and smaller hills to the west. We started again at 8.30 a. m., leaving Wadi Reimi by a side wadi to the south, which ascended to a gentle watershed, from which we had a fine view down the broad and green Wadi Amk, which passes through Khuff to the sea. This branch of it runs 150o and is bounded by considerable hills. At 9.10 a.m. the valley turned more to the east, and at 9.20 a.m. received a large feeder (on the main stream) from the north, and bore off 180o. We cut across the confluence, at 70o, making for the centre of a great hill in front of us. At 9.30 a.m. we found a side valley and at 9.40 a.m. went over a patch of soft white sand in its bed. At 10.15 a.m. we entered Wadi Dhuhub el-Amk, coming from the north to join W. Amk. We went up a side valley from it, with high hills on the right about a quarter of a mile off, and then climbed a sandy valley between piles of the curiously warped grey granite, looking like cold toffee, that one finds frequently in the Hejaz. This valley led us to the foot of one of these great stone piles, up which runs a natural ramp and staircase, badly broken, twisting and difficult for camels, but short. This brought us at 10.30 a.m. back into W. Dhuhub again, above its northern bend. We followed the valley till 11.38 a.m. (its head). It runs about 120o, has low hills on the right, and high hills on the left of the road, and is full of quite large trees; there are water pools in the gorges about it. There were a number of Merawin tents here and there, with plentiful sheep and goats. At 11.15 a.m. the valley narrowed and began (from being excellent smooth shingle) to get stony. At 11.25 a.m. it became a mere ravine, on the north bank of which an execrable track led us up to the watershed between W. Dhuhub el-Amk and W. Marrakh. The view from the crest was beautiful, but the descent dangerous. We reached the foot at 11.45 a.m., and found ourselves in an absolutely straight valley, running steeply downhill at 130o towards a depression ahead, between two regular walls of moderate hills. At 12.25 p.m. a large side-valley entered on the right, showing, through its break in the hills, a parallel range a couple of miles away and broken ground behind. There was a corresponding (but small) break on the left. The hill walls then opened out in a double sweep like an amphitheatre of grey stone with veins of dark red brown granite running over them in up-and-down lines, looking like cockscombs, or a rustic scenic railway; and in front came down a steep black wall of harra, with a low hill of brown granite in the middle of the line. We halted at 1.10 p.m. under the trees, shortly after passing a pile-circle of uncut stones about forty feet in diameter, with a central cairn, and some small square piles round about it, outside the circle. These were the first stone remains I had noted (bar simple cairns) on the way from Wejh, but from now onwards to the mouth of Wadi Ais they were to grow increasingly frequent. In parts of the harra and its valleys are distinct remains of old villages and rough terrace constructions for cultivation. The Juheinah ascribe all these to the Beni Hillal, and never put up even a cairn of more than three or four stones themselves. Their only stone constructions are little square boxhouses of the type they call 'nawamis' in parts of Sinai. These little places are made to shelter the young lambs and kids, and are put up, as needed, by the shepherd boys.

We have now got into a much more fertile area than the Tihamah or the hills near Wejh. My camel men got milk to-day in the Merawi tents - the first milk they had tasted for two years - and this plain of fine quartz gravel and coarse sand is all studded over with a stubbly grass, in tufts sixteen inches high, of a slate green colour, white at the tips. The heat is very great, but there is a faint cool wind, which, however, has little effect on the plague of flies.

I have with me a Syrian, a Moroccan, a Merawi, four Rifaa, and three men from Aneizah, Rass, and Zilfi respectively. The last describes himself as an eyewitness of Shakespear's death. He says he was with Ibn Saud's artillery, looking through his field glasses and very conspicuous, since he was wearing full British uniform and a sun-helmet over all. He was therefore easily picked out, and was shot at long range. His helmet was taken into Medina, and publicly exhibited as proof to all Moslems that Ibn Saud was a traitor to Islam, and had permitted Christians into his country. There were great demonstrations in Medina, and the hat is still displayed in the Serai, with an inscription pointing its moral.

We started again at 2.35 p.m. (120°) across Wadi Marrakh, which runs out to westward to the Makassar just south of Harrat Gelib, and at 3 p.m. entered Harrat Gara. It fills a wadi, running north, and falls down in steps or waves to Wadi Marukh, where it is cut short. We had mounted its first terrace by 3.25 p.m., and found a small sand and grass plain in the lava of the second step. We then turned east, up Wadi Gara, which is one of the main sources of the lava flow. The lava was in a great rope, down the centre of the valley, whose water had cut for itself a deep bed in the granite each side. At 4 p.m. a stream of lava came in from the south, and we crossed it, and the edge of the main stream, and other side streams, very slowly and painfully till 4.50 p.m. The north bank of the wadi was a straight line of hills. At 4.50 p.m. we passed a first crater, of fine sifted black ash and earth, just south of the road, and at 5.10 p.m. halted at the tent of Sheikh Fahad el-Hamshah, who pro­duced bowl after bowl of milk, till 10 p.m., and then rice and a dismembered sheep. Camels and men all very tired, for the going over the harra is vile. Harra looks like scrambled eggs that have gone very wrong, and affords the worst going imaginable for man or beast.

March 14

Started at 5.40 a.m., and at 6.25 turned 120° with the valley, and then sharply to the left up the slope between a group of cones of black ash from a huge crater to the south. At 7.10 a.m. reached the watershed (Ras Gara) and went down the eastern slope of the valley, passing the remains of what was perhaps a fort, of rough uncut stones, rectangular, about 40 feet wide and 100 feet long. Walls about three feet thick, and now not more than four feet high. Descent was very bad; at 8 a.m. left the main valley and stopped at 8.20 a. m., at the end of the harra, up a side-valley, in the tents of Sheikh Mualeh, a relative of Fahad. We halted till 9.35 a.m. and then marched 120° till 10 a.m. when we reached the head of the valley, across remains of old settlement and fields. At 10.10 a.m. we had crossed a small spur into a tiny valley between hills, which led us at once to a kind of chimney, up which the camels had to climb till 10.25 a.m. It was dangerous riding up, and most of us walked. From the top there was an easy run down Wadi Shweita till 11.20 a.m., when it ran into Wadi Murramiya, one of the most important tributaries from the Juheiniya into Wadi Hamdh. The wadi is filled all across the middle with bristling harra, but a clear path exists each side. We marched along the west edge till 11.50 a.m., when we struck round a bay of lava, and camped under a tree in a grassy dell. In the hollows and sandy places of the harra you find wonderful vegetation, which affords the best grazing in the country. Flowers grow freely, and the grass is really green and juicy. The green looks the more wonderful in com­parison with the blue-black naked crusts and twists of jagged rock all around. Harra seems to be either loose piles of fist- or head-sized stones, rubbed together and rounded, possible for camels; or solid, almost crystallized, fronds of rock, which are impossible to cross.

We mounted again at 2.15 p.m. and crossed the remaining harra in a few minutes to a flat plain, containing stone circles and cairns. At 2.40 p.m. this came to its end, and we turned 125° up an easy pass. At 3 p.m. reached the watershed (broad and flat) and entered Wadi Cheft, which is half a mile wide, straight, overgrown with brushwood and lined with hills. At its lower end (3.45 p.m.) was a field about a quarter of a mile square, ploughed two years ago. This was the first field I had seen in the Juheiniya, though many others are reported. The field end­ed in a harra which we crossed-the worst road yet experienced on the march. We have had many bad roads, but this is awful. The path zig­zagged across the harra, which is very deep and piled up and broken. At 4.30 p.m. we reached the southern side (it was going north) and climbed a low watershed into a smooth valley, which turned down towards W. Murramiya, at 4.40 p.m. We climbed a feeder for a few minutes, and then rode down into W. Murramiya. Its central harra was easy to cross, and took five minutes only, and we then climbed up its further bank - it is here a plain about two miles wide, covered with large trees (W. Ghadirat Murramiya) till near the eastern hill border. Along this we marched, by a beautiful road, till dark. We could see the lava a mile and a half to our right, and behind it a break in the hills and high ranges in the distance. At 6 p.m. it got dark and a hill rose up in the centre of the valley. About 6.30 p.m. we crossed an imperceptible watershed, and rode down W. Tleib, till we stopped at 7 p.m.

March 15

Rode at 5.30 a.m. down the valley, which became more and more green as it got lower. The hills each side were low at first, but then J. Elif on the right, and later J. Keshra on the left, raised the level. At 8 a.m. we passed a conical hill in the valley, below Keshra, and at 8.30 a.m. went over a low watershed into a parallel valley; at 9.20 a.m. this opened into W. Ais at Abu Markha, where the valley is about a mile wide, more thickly wooded than most Hejaz valleys, and with a great 30-foot deepwater hole to an underground stream in its side. Wadi Ais is here sharply limited by hills on its south side, but is open on its north with all the Tleib system of valleys running down into it. I found Sid Abdullah at Abu Markha, just dismounting from his camel, after his march here from Bir el-Amri.

Time taken from Wejh to Wadi Ais: 47 hours.

Road was a bye-road, impossible for any but pack-animals and not for regular or extended use by them.

Average speed of camels about three miles per hour.

II – Abu Markha to Wejh

When Sidi Abdullah had made arrangements for a nightly cutting of the railway, I decided that I might return to Wejh. I started therefore at 6 a.m., with three Ageyl, and Mohammed el-Gadhi, with about dozen of his followers. Sherif Shakir put us on our way for the first hall hour.

At 7 a.m. we reached the low watershed into W. Tleib, which we had crossed on the journey down to Wadi Ais. We marched across Wadi Tleib, and up a steep side-valley to the north of Jebel Keshra. At 8.55 a.m. we reached the head of this, and went down an easy slope into W. Saura, turning a little right out of our road to some tents at 9.20 a.m., where we halted. They fed us very hospitably, and at 12.50 p.m. We rode across Wadi Saura, which comes from the east, and up a northern branch of it to the common origin of W. Osman and Wadi Bedia, on the eastern slope of J. Riam, at 2.5 p.m. On the western slope of Riam is the common source of W. Tleib and W. Murramiya. We rode down W. Osman (which is fit for gunwheels, except for about 150 yards at its head, where rock cutting would be necessary), twisting and turning with it, till 5 p.m., when, at a right-angled turn, we saw on our left Magrah el-Ithrara, whose western half drains into Murramiya. We halt­ed at 6.15 p.m. in the mouth of W. Geraia.

Rode at 5.5 a.m. and at once Wadi Osman widened out. We rode a­cross it to the tents of Dakhilallah at 5.55 a.m. We had to stop there till 1.35 p.m. while they prepared saffron-rice and a lamb. We then rode up a side-valley, and down into Osman again at 2.15 p.m. We fol­lowed it down (it was not so zigzag in its course as it had been yester­day) till 4 p.m., when we turned abruptly to the right, and found our­selves in Wadi Hamdh, which here flows in a narrow rock-walled valley, about 200 yards wide. The valley is bare at the edges, of hard damp sand. In the middle it is packed with aslam wood, the ground being leprous, and of a white salty colour, with soft bulging patches where bushes grow or grew. The water-beds are cut in a clean light clayey soil from one to eight feet deep, and in the central one was a ghadir (brought by W. Osman) about two feet deep, 250 feet long, and twelve feet broad. The water was sweet and good. Half a mile above the ghadir, Wadi Hamdh ran into Jebel Muraishida, and turned abruptly north to get round it.

Faqeir is said to be about seven miles up. From Ghadir Osman we rode at 6.30 p.m. along Hamdh, and at 7.15 p.m. were opposite the break where the road from Wadi Osman to Aqila (Ugla) reaches the Hamdh. Our course now 280°. At 7.30 p.m. we turned 300°, and at 8.20 p.m. diverged from the bed of Hamdh to the left, to sleep. Wadi Hamdh is clearly distinguished from any other Hejaz wadi (except W. Yambo) that I have seen, by the damp chill that strikes up from its valley. This is of course most obvious at night, when the mist rises, and everything glistens with damp; but even in daytime Wadi Hamdh feels raw and cold and unnatural.

Started at 5.20 a.m. along Wadi Hamdh. At 6.15 a.m. Wadi Mur­ramiya came in on the left; it forms by far the best road from Hamdh to Ais, and from Wejh to Sidi Abdullah's camp offers the quickest and smoothest road. We rode down it, into the brushwood of W. Hamdh, where we found large pools of rainwater, some fresh, others gone very green and stale. We then crossed the valley, left Wadi Dura on our right (the confluence of Dura and Murramiya makes the plain of Aqila, whose brackish well is the only permanent supply in the district till Faqeir is reached) and rode past Bir Aqila (on the left, in the Hamdh valley) over a low watershed, to the landing ground at Um Jarad at 7.20 a.m. From this point Major Ross's map is available. It is admirable. I rode till W. Methar at 10.15 a.m., camped till 3 p.m., and then rode slowly (one of us fell off his camel when racing and broke his arm and had to be left behind) till 6.20 p.m., when we halted, with a narrow gorge to the south in which are rock-pools of water.

Started at 5 a.m. Halted at 6 a.m. in Wadi Melha, north of the road, which contains good water pools. Rode again, 6.45 a.m. till 10.10 a.m., when we halted till 12.20 p.m. We then marched to Bir ibn Rif­ada in Khauthla, at 4.50 p.m. There are at least five wells in and near W. Khauthla; and about them are small plants of dôm-palm, one or two grown-up dôm-palms, and, at Bir ibn Rifada, the drying remains of the palm and vegetable garden that Suleiman began to make. The well water had a purgative effect on our camels. We rode again at 5.30 p.m. and camped between the Raals at 7.30 p.m.

Started again at 1.36 a.m. and rode till 8.45 a.m. in the south edge of Murra. From 8 a.m., when men and camels were all tired, it seemed fit to the boy Mohammed el-Gadhi to run races. So he took most of his clothes off, got off his camel and challenged any of us mounted to race him to a clump of trees on the slope ahead, for a pound English. All the party started off at once; the distance turned out about three-quarters of a mile, uphill, over heavy sand, which I expect was more than Mohammed had bargained for, though he won by inches, he was absolutely done and collapsed bleeding from his mouth and nose. Some of our camels were very fast, and when racing in a mob, as we were, they do their best. We put him on his camel, at 11 a.m.; when We started off to march to Wejh at 5 p.m., he was quite fit, and again play­ing all the little jests that had enlivened the march from Abu Markha. If you come up quietly behind a camel, poke a stick up its rump, and screech, it plunges off at a gallop, very disconcerting to its rider. It is also good fun to cannon another galloping camel into a tree; either the tree goes down (Hejaz trees are very unstable things) or the rider is scratched, or best of all, is swept off his saddle and left hanging on a thorny branch. This counts a bull, and is very popular with the rest of the party.

The Bedu are odd people. Travelling with them is unsatisfactory for an Englishman unless he has patience deep and wide as the sea. They are absolute slaves of their appetites, with no stamina of mind, drunkards for coffee, milk or water, gluttons for stewed meat, shameless beggars for tobacco. A cigarette goes round four men in the tent before it is finished; it would be intolerable manners to smoke it all. They dream for weeks before and after their rare sexual exercises, and spend their days titillating themselves and their friends with bawdy tales. Had the circumstances of their life given them greater resources or opportunity, the Beduins would be mere sensualists. It is the poverty of Arabia which makes them simple, continent and enduring. If they suspect you want to drive them, either they are mulish or they go away: if you know them, and have the time and give the trouble to present things their way, then they in turn will do your pleasure. Whether the results you gain are worth the effort you put forth, no man knoweth. I think Europeans could not or would not spend the time and thought and tact their Sheikhs and Emirs expend each day, on such meagre objects. Their processes are clear, their minds moving as one's own moves, with nothing incomprehensible or radically different, and they will follow us, if we can endure with them, and play their game.  The pity is, we break down with exasperation, and throw them over.

T.E.L.

Source: SD 97-109
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 2 July 2006


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