The Middle East is a deeply sensorial place. Aromas and flavours, rich in their variety and piquancy, laden the air of bustling bazaars and swelling souks. Byzantine mosaics and glistening ornate metals bring a bright glow to daily life.
But even where there is no hubbub, where the pace of life is peeled back, one can find a sensory intensity that is just as pleasing. The desert, in its vast sandy sprawl beyond the reaches of urbanity, lends fervour to the senses.
The desert is a canvas that catches and throws the changing light of day with magnificent flair. The mesmeric stillness of dusk and dawn, as the expanse laid out before you changes from pink to red to gold and back again as the sun continues its quotidian quest across the sky. An otherworldly aura prevails: the dunes, like the scales of sleeping giants, cast shard-like shadows over the undulating sands; each whisper of wind carries with it a different message from afar. It is upon these sands that the senses truly come alive.
Like wisps of smoke floating, breezelessly but inexorably in one direction, from burning Bakhoor and other incense, travellers have traversed these vast spaces, connecting the world through the Middle East. The incense road, which spanned thousands of kilometres, transported frankincense and myrrh from the very lands in which you find yourselves now.
The essence of Bakhoor, even in the arid embrace of the desert, will evoke a lush garden where towering trees and vibrant plants flourish, where the trickling of a nearby fountain is ambient to birdsong. Close your eyes and imagine it.
It would be a mistake to think of the desert as a place of nothingness. Its beauty exists in the sweeping scale of the starry night as it does within delights, big and small, that grace the Middle East. From the shapeshifting grains of sand that make up the whole, to the softness of the rose petals whose scents have drifted through Arabian cuisine, Islamic tradition and fine perfumes for centuries.
These subtleties of scent and taste, which pirouette on the caressing zephyr, pronounce themselves with louder voices in the quiet of the desert. In springtime, the Al Hajar mountains, which peer over the sea to the north and the sand to the south, burst to life as the Damask roses bloom – an elegant defiance for something seemingly so fragile to take root in such rugged terrain.
Wake! For the Sun, who scattered into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night
What better way to stir as the sun spills itself across the red sand than with a cup of coffee? These delicate beans, parched and roasted over an open fire, then ground coarse like the sun-beaten desert sands, are as much a symbol of Middle Eastern hospitality, generosity and sophistication as they are a drink. Away from the thronging crowds, the mores of coffee drinking gain greater intimacy. Served from a traditional Arabian coffee pot, as gold as these lands or as silver as the night sky, savour the welcome personified by each cup.
Soak up these sensations, some stilled and some strengthened by this sandy solitude. The vividness of life in the Middle East is sometimes best appreciated where nothing else seems to be.