Petra, Jordan

30 10 2009
The Jordanian Royal Family

The Jordanian Royal Family

During our stay in Jordan, we of course made time to visit Jordan’s most famous attraction – Petra! Petra is such an amazing place that even the ever-wandering Bedouins choose to remain there. It is also the place the movie directors pick when wanting to film in a land time forgot – both Indiana Jones and The Transformers have been filmed there.

 The hostel we planned to stay at in Wadi Musa (just outside Petra) arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up from Amman. The journey from Amman to Petra should not cost more than 50JD and we paid a little extra so that we could stop off at various spots along the way. You can also catch a local bus from Amman to Jordan – this will usually cost 5JD each. I would recommend that you do one leg of the trip by taxi as the journey takes 3 hours and the highway is quite dull so it’s worth doing a few stop-offs to break it up.

Our taxi driver was a lovely guy who pulled in at a cafe and picked us up some delicious falafel to snack on along the way. During our drive we were stopped numerous times by police to have our IDs checked. This was quite reasonable as the road we were on went past Jordan’s borders with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Jordan feels like a very safe country and you can tell that the authorities are doing their best to keep the country stable. The Royal family is incredibly popular and you will see their photos everywhere. Whatever they are doing is working because the country is prosperous and most people seem contented. In places there does seem to be poverty but I would say that that is more to do with living in such a harsh climate.

The Dead Sea

The Dead sea

First stop was at the Dead Sea. Stupidly we had not packed any swimwear as we had not been planning on going to the Dead Sea. It is not the most picturesque coastline but it is dramatic. Sharp cliffs meet with a dark sea and in the distance you can see the coast line of Israel. There are few areas where you can access the water but here and there you can see people floating about in the salty brine or painting their bodies with the black mud. We bought some of the mud and I shall let you know if it does anything miraculous to my skin.

After a short stop (I think our driver was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t stop longer for a swim as he was having a good chinwag with some pals of his), we headed onwards along the coast road. Our driver suddenly pulled over at the side of the road and pointed out a small pillar of rocks up on a cliff. Turns out that in front of us was Lot’s wife, the lady who turned back for one last look and got turned into a pillar of salt. That’s the amazing thing about Jordan, it is absolutely steeped in ancient history and myth.

On we went. The drive was pretty arduous and took about 5 hours so not one for anyone prone to car sickness. Next up was the village of Dana which we stopped to look at from a distance. It is a traditional Bedouin village. We then headed up into the mountains and stopped to visit a local Bedouin man. He invited us into his home (built into the rock face) and offered us some very tasty sage tea. He was very friendly and showed us some of his handmade items as well as his collection of ancient coins. People in Jordan are often trying to sell you something but they are always polite if you say no and do not tend to be as forceful as people can be in other Middle Eastern countries. I bought a bracelet and a necklace from him for a very reasonable price (with a bit of haggling). He genuinely seemed to enjoy meeting us and we enjoyed meeting him. If you are ever travelling up the mountain road to Shobak castle then do stop to see him.

Shobak Castle

Shobak Castle

Shobak castle was built in 1115  and located up on the top of a conical mountain, surrounded by desert. It was built to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus and was fought over by many different people during the crusades. Not much remains of it but one can still feel that it was once a very important building.

Our driver then took us onto the small town just next to the site of Petra. We stayed at the Petra Gate hostel and I would definitely recommend it. It is clean and the staff are very friendly, especially the owner (Nasser) who was always available to answer questions and give advice. For a very reasonable price you also get a good breakfast. The next day we woke up early and were taken for free by Nasser to the entrance of Petra.

Words simply cannot describe Petra. There is nothing like it in the world; it combines both the geological magnificence of the grand canyon with the archeological spendour of the pyramids.  You approach Petra via a short hike through a gorge known as Bab Al-Siq. Lining the route are various engravings and tombs. The whole way you can easily imagine how Petra was once a bustling city and one cannot help but think of all the explorers and adventurers who have trod the path before you.

Entrance to the treasury

Entrance to the treasury

At the end of your hike you come to a narrow opening through which you can just catch a glimpse of the treasury. Walking through, the treasury is revealed in all it’s glory. This quote from two commanders from the Royal Navy in 1818 best sums it up, “We do not know with what to compare this scene, perhaps there is nothing in the world that resembles it.”

As we only had one day in Petra, we decided to climb up to the high place of sacrifice in order to get a good view of the whole site. The climb was arduous but worth it as the view was spectacular and, as it required some fitness, there were less people around. Reaching the summit we then opted to take a different route back down which also took us past a number of other sites and allowed us a great view of the royal tombs.  Walking down, we came into the city centre and the colonnaded street. By this time we had been walking for about four hours and were pretty tired. The monastery is at the top of another mountain and is about a 4 hour round trip. If you are only there one day then I think the high place of sacrifice is better to visit, as the round trip takes you past almost everything.

The Treasury

The Treasury

The amphitheatre

The amphitheatre

The street of facades

The street of facades

On our return walk, we got chatting to some young Jordanian girls on a school trip as well as a very sweet Bedouin girl called Riza. They were all delightful and keen to practice their english on us.

By the time we got back to the Petra Gate hostel, our legs were aching but we were exhilirated by the sights we had seen. We ventured out for a kebab before opting for an early night to rest our weary limbs. The food in Petra is not as good as the food in Amman and expect to pay slightly inflated prices.

We opted to do our return trip to Amman by local bus. The journey was on the desert highway and only took about 3 hours. Using the local bus is a great experience as you get an insight into local life. I must say that I am in awe of Jordan’s strong sense of family values. There was a pair of gorgeous little boys on the bus and everyone got involved with playing with them and keeping them entertained.

Jordan is a very moderate Islamic country which allows people to have freedom of religion as well as giving women relatively equal treatment. Many women, as well as men, opt to wear head-dresses but, personally, I think this is mainly a practical adaption for living in a hot, dusty country. Generally, the women seemed to be respected and looked after.

Having been to Petra, I can honestly say that there is nowhere like it and that it would be a shame to never visit it. As one of the new seven wonders of the world and having been built by the Nabateans in 100BC, visiting it is a truly a memorable experience.

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2 responses

31 10 2009
mikelowrey

Great blog about Petra, I am still to write mine up. Definitely one of the most amazing places I have ever been to. Would have preferred the dead sea if it was not so oily! Did you manage to get to the Baptism Site? Unfortunately we could not make it there on our trip,

Anyway I also took some photos of Petra on my blog.

http://uncoveringthelevant.wordpress.com

3 11 2009
Sage

I am partial to a cup of Sage tea too and find it strangely uplifting and exhilirating! This is a wonderful account of your trip to Petra and it really makes me wish I could go there – right now! Are you a travel writer? If not, you jolly well ought to be! You brought the place alive, whilst providing the sort of information any intrepid traveller would be grateful for. Thank you enormously. I say, aren’t the rocks through which you glimpse the treasury in the picture you have supplied sublimely pink in a gold/pink way? Gorgeous!

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