Monday, June 13, 2005

Dead Sea : Everything Stands Still

This is no ordinary sea. There is no sand beach but mix of small and big cobbles coated with silvery white color like crystallized sugar on balushahi sweet. With 75 kilometers long and 6-16 km wide, the only inlet to Dead Sea is river Jordan and it has no outlet.
Everyone knows that there is high salt and mineral content in Dead Sea. But how high? Almost 350 grams of salt per kilogram of water as compared to about 40 grams in the world's oceans. Often Dead Sea brings exotic images of people floating on sea and reading newspaper or ocean that has no marine life. Is Dead Sea so benign and benevolent ? If one sees loud and clear warnings on warning board, It doesnt seem so. Dont let water go in your eyes!! Dont Drink Water!! Dont take kids!! Dont Dive!!

I was keen to experience this extinct piece of land as the first ray of life hits the earth. The guard at Move-in-Pick resort wouldnt allow in early hours but later relented to let me go. Water was not exactly still, it did create small waves, bigger than ripples. They bounced back on rotund white/gray.brown stones to give eerie pulsating noise. Dipping fingers in the water gives a funny sensation. Bit of sticky? I am not sure but heavy yes. Water was transparent. One could see base of the ocean devoid of any small fish or plants of fungus. With no human being in the vicinity, I was all by myself sitting on the cobblestone with feet in the water facing barren hills of Israel shore; gazing deep in the still water of Dead Sea. For a moment I was transported to alien world. This was the closet I came to realize how the life on other planet be without any living organism of whatsoever kind.

Dead Sea at Jordon is at 400 mt below sea. It is lowest point on this earth. Journey from Amman takes just 40 minutes by road amidst hills. As Dead Sea approaches, there is no habitation except few resorts and a public beach. After getting a feel of water, I wanted to float. But how can I float without letting water touch my eyes. Normally when we go into water, our natural instinct is to move our limbs to float while natural gravity combined with our body weight drags us down. Here it was opposite- I was confused But before I could realize, my body toppled for few seconds only to make me float again. I had warning board etched in my brain. I had clasped my eyes close and opened them only when I could see sky above. But inevitable had already happened!!! As I opened my eyes, trickle of water drops on eyelash or forehead did the damage that I would never forget in rest of my life. This sea is no ordinary water but concentrated pool of chemical. Eyes were at flames, the only remedy- as suggested on warning board - was to reach to the shore and wash them under tap water. This journey seemed eternal with eyes closed, feet unable to grasp cobbles, fear of getting tripped and hurt. I couldnt even dare to open my eyes to check if I was in right direction. I could make out only by receding water level. That was my first and last attempt to take my picture of reading newspaper while floating on Dead Sea.

If this is what it is at the shore what it must at depth where it gets saltier in enormous proportions. I can imagine how deadly it must be for living things. Those unfortunate fish who accidentally swim from one of the several freshwater streams of River Jordan that feed the Sea are killed instantly, their bodies quickly coated with a preserving layer of salt crystals only to be tossed onto shore by the wind and waves. Scary isn't it?

But this eerie place is in danger of getting wiped out in next 50-100 years. Water level is dropping at alarming levels of almost 90 cms per year. Water from River Jordon ・only source of lifeline for Dead Sea ・is being diverted for agriculture, with industries are also in the business of evaporation of water to extract chemicals. Although there is a talk of Israel and Jordon pumping billions of gallons of water from Red Sea but would Dead Sea be the same as before?

I really hope and pray that this place remain intact the way it is


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