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Wilderness feels like home – Vol. 3

An up-close-and-personal encounter with nature in Jaj
 Jbeil District – Lebanon | August 1, 2016

Intimate encounters with mountains and nature in Jaj in Jbeil district can be so inspiring that it shows human perseverance beating off the rough terrain, boosts creativity and strengthens the resilience of villagers, visitors, hikers, explorers and adventurous nature lovers. We might believe that iconic places and flagship monuments are the only destinations where grandiosity brings back humility to the soul, but in our quest for new places and unknown destinations, we may unveil landscapes of hidden beauty and write of our journeys and our own narratives of wilderness. Journeys through mountains can bring rebirth of the self.

Located 75 kilometers from Beirut, Jaj village ranges from 1200 to 1700 meters altitude. Lowlands surrounding the village feature cultivated terraces and Calabrian pine forests harboring populations of aged pistachio (burzok). The rough land on the mountain’s peaks hold a cedar grove, shading an old church. The area harbors sporadic old cedar (arz), maple (kaykab), bear plum (khawk el deb), wild service-tree (ghbayra), deciduous oak, colorful flowering shrubs and endemic ground cover. Take a 30-minute hike to the small cedar forest; explore the mountains and surrounding hills for 360-degree panoramic views and meet the sole cedar trees.

Standing at the highest peak overlooking the cedar grove, an echo from the Epic of Gilgamesh came to mind: ‘At the very dawn of civilization, in the first city-states of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, the cedar was known as the World Tree and as the abode of Ea (called Enki, the Lord of the Earth), the God of wisdom. His name was inscribed in the very core of the sacred tree; whole glyph is translated as “House of Wisdom, of strength and abundance”’ [1]. In old times, kings and conquerors made sure that their innermost shrine resembles the inside of the tree [2].

Silent nights in Jaj bring back old narratives about the land of cedars. Whispers about Phoenicians transporting cedar logs through the rivers to the coast, particularly Byblos for shipbuilding and export still echo through the valleys and narrow slippery water routes. They add that Solomon, King David’s and ‘Diane d’Ephèse’ temples were built from Lebanese cedar wood [3]. Nowadays, the sole cedar tree in Jaj is a temple in itself; especially at sunrise and sunset. If you sleep underneath, the breeze cuddling your body and soul at dawn might have secrets to tell you. As Rumi said ‘Don’t go back to sleep, you must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep, people are going back and forth across the doorsill. Where the two worlds touch, the door is round and open, so do not go back to sleep’. When wilderness feels like temples, our hearts hold admiration for its mountains and valleys, narratives and old stories, remains of forests and traditional knowledge.

Enjoying a long lasting well-being from the connection with nature and mountain activities – hiking, biking, camping, stargazing and rambling around the Church Old oak tree– in Jaj is another feeling to take home when closing a journey in nature.

Notes for travellers
If you take the road from Amchit, you will pass by Gherfine, Haqel, Habil, Lehfed and end up in Jaj. Don’t miss the 300-year-old oak (sendian) and the walnut trees next to the ruins of a house in Saqi-Rechmaya. In the village, pass by the 200- to 300-year-old oak tree near the church and visit the sculpture museum of Boutros Farhat. Eat at Sama Jaj (70 540223). If you take the road from Jbeil, you will pass by Annaya, Lehfed, Jaj. Do not miss the house of the Canonized Estefan Nehme in Lehfed.

[1] Hageneder in Sattout and Zahreddine, 2014.
[2] Sattout and Zahreddine, 2014.
[3] Kuniholm, n.d.

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