Where to en­joy soli­tude

‘I find it whole­some to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in com­pany, even with the best, is soon weari­some and dis­si­pat­ing. I love to be alone. I never found the com­pan­ion that was so com­pan­ion­able as soli­tude.’

Lonely Planet (UK) - - In This Issue... -

So wrote Henry David Thoreau in 1854 in his clas­sic tome on back­woods liv­ing, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. It’s a book that el­e­vates the experience of be­ing alone to a semiex­is­ten­tial state, and a cen­tury and a half later, in a world of so­cial me­dia and in­for­ma­tion over­load, it’s a book that seems more pre­scient than ever. In it, Thoreau aban­dons his com­fort­able city life for a rus­tic cabin in the Mas­sachusetts woods, and in so do­ing, learns the ben­e­fits of self-suf­fi­ciency and self-re­liance: the sim­ple plea­sures of chop­ping fire­wood, for­ag­ing for food and sit­ting in silent, soli­tary con­tem­pla­tion of na­ture.

The Empty Quar­ter

There might be more than seven bil­lion of us on the planet, but pock­ets of wilder­ness re­main if you know where to look. Take the Empty Quar­ter, for ex­am­ple. Cov­er­ing 251,000 sq miles, an area roughly the size of France, and span­ning the bor­ders of four coun­tries – Oman, the UAE, Ye­men and Saudi Ara­bia – the Empty Quar­ter (or Rub’ al Khali, as it’s prop­erly known) en­com­passes the largest swathe of sand dunes any­where on Earth. On a map, it’s a big, blank splash of yel­low that takes up most of the Ara­bian penin­sula, un­marked by any defin­ing fea­tures. But it’s only when you set foot on the dunes that you re­alise how pro­foundly empty this place is. Apart from a hand­ful of Be­douin tribes­men who have clung on to their no­madic lifestyle, no-one lives in the Empty Quar­ter these days – so when you set up camp, you can be pretty cer­tain that you’re the only hu­man soul in sev­eral hun­dred square miles. The ex­plorer Wil­fred Th­e­siger had a life­long fas­ci­na­tion for the place, and with its pal­ette of fiery colours and blaz­ing night skies, it’s not hard to un­der­stand why. ‘No-one can live this life and emerge un­changed…’ Th­e­siger wrote. ‘For this cruel land can cast a spell which no tem­per­ate clime can match.’ MAKE IT HAP­PEN Most vis­i­tors to the Empty Quar­ter fly to the Omani town of Salalah, and then travel on­wards into the desert by 4WD. It’s im­por­tant to travel with an ex­pe­ri­enced guide, as it’s ex­tremely easy to get lost. Most op­er­a­tors, such as Ara­bian Sand Tours (ara­bi­ansand­toursser­vices.com), carry all the equip­ment you’ll need, in­clud­ing tents, sleep­ing bags and food. Evening meals are cooked for you over the camp­fire.

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