So after being bitten by the bug in Bali , I could not wait to be mobile again . Within a duration of 4 months I zeroed in on my old dream – Petra . While the Treasury ( Al Khazneh ) or the characteristic image which flashes in our heads when we think of Petra was breathtaking , it was the image of the red sand stoned canyons (Al Siq) which was my motivating factor.
I arrived in Amman on a surprisingly pleasant August afternoon. Much to my relief the cool winds blew off my misconception that all Arabic countries were ALWAYS hot as hell. I had booked myself in Valley Stars Inn which was a 3 star property offering complimentary breakfast , customised itineraries and located only 1.5 kms from the gate of Petra.
The journey from Queen Alia airport to Petra takes 2.5-3 hours . The road runs through barren lands and you can see a number of heavy vehicles plying . There are road signs in Arabic and English . I was greeted by one of the hotel employees and as Namrata had predicted was lovingly “Welcome(d) to Jordan” N number of times during our journey.His welcome messages had a hint of harmless flirting . We briefly stopped at a roadside tea stall where I was treated with Sulemani or black tea by my new friend . The shop also had enticing and impressive range of cosmetic products made of the famous dead sea mud. I succumbed like any girl would.
I had booked a night tour of Petra typically called “Petra by night” scheduled on my arrival night. After getting much needed rest , I was excited to experience Petra in all its glory in the dark August night. I purchased the tickets from Petra visitor Center and the tour commenced. Everyone was repeatedly requested to murmur or better still , keep shut , during the tour.We later understood the reason of this somewhat autocratic regulation.The group marched through Al Siq or the narrow pathway which was lit with candles ,under the moon, in silence . The only sound we could hear was of light thuds of people’s footsteps on the slightly uneven ground , whispers of mesmerised tourists and an occasional innocent banter of a kid . This sound was negligible compared to the cacophonous “silent” nights of big cities . The walk is a 2 km silent and slow stroll which leaves you with enough time to soak in the atmosphere and come to terms with the fact that you are in one of the wonders of the world. As you reach Al Khazaneh or the main building you will see it candescent in the warm lights of 1500 odd candles. The view is nothing short of dazzling ,pun intended. A local musician would be playing a traditional wired instrument. The tourist group settled in front of Treasury to imbibe its beauty and enjoy the symphony of the indigenous artist . I was propped up on a high rock by one of the local men and “Welcome(d) to Jordan” again. It was a perfect vantage point and I sat there soaking in much as I could , sipping ginger tea and pinching myself that I had really made it to Petra. I would highly recommend doing the night tour before experiencing Petra during the day.
The next day was dedicated to Petra. Petra and more of Petra . I met a fellow solo Taiwanese traveller during breakfast and we decided to explore Petra together.
As we entered the gates I could not help but notice that Al Siq was nothing like what I had seen the previous night . The red sandstones emanated a rosy glow in the sunlight and magnified its beauty . Siq was full of awestruck tourists , families on horse drawn carriages , photo enthusiasts and few uncomfortable selfie takers ( selfies were not a rage in 2013 ). We made our way through Siq stopping at every possible spot to capture its beauty . There was a peculiar shaped stone which looked like and elephant head and fish from different angles . We could not get enough of it. As we confronted Al Khazaneh the last night’s feeling of disbelief came rushing back to me . It was a marvel . The area was thronged by tourists , camels , ponies and horses . Everyone had a smile on their face. (No, not the animals!).Guess it took a structure built around 2000 years back to bring us all together and share the same feeling of fascination.
The ignorant and unprepared me thought that Al Khazaneh and Al Siq is all that Petra had to offer , when I was enlightened by my fellow traveller that the way from the right side of Khazaneh would lead us to the ancient CITY of Petra . We excitedly jaunted and soon discovered the gems Petra had to offer . The 264 square km city had numerous rock cut tombs which made me gape at the intricate architecture and wonder to myself the tools ,time and tenacity it would have taken to build this wonder . There were large number of sacrificial and religious high places , the glorious remains of a well engineered water crafting system and an enchanting aura which was capable of taking you back in time. I learnt that Petra was a major hub for Arabic incenses , Chinese silk and Indian spices . It was essentially a bridge between Egypt, Arabia and Syria- Phoenicia . I suddenly cursed myself for not paying attention in the history class as the only words which came to my mind were Byzantine , Greek , Roman.. in no significant order or relevance.
We set out to explore the city and make the most of the day that we had got there. While we were walking on the uneven low land , there were more athletic tourists climbing rocks! There are more than 800 low steps to climb, however the uneven remains of the steps make them challenging to tread. We took break at regular intervals to regain our spent energy and rest our calves. The path was home to Bedouins selling local jewellery , souvenirs etc .You will find locals selling horse or donkey ride up the streets too. After stretching our stamina to almost full , we reached the famous Monastery . Needless to say , it was a magnificent piece of architecture. It filled us with renewed vigour and we treaded ahead . The terrain became less rocky but more vertical now . There were signs luring us to reach and witness the “best sight”. We debated upon the direction and finally chose the one which seemed the easiest and closest. As we reached the vantage point the wind became cooler , sky became blue-er and atmosphere became silent again. I once again tried my best to capture the sight and sound of seemingly endless expanse of land , occasional chirps of birds and general feeling of rejuvenation. We climbed 3 vantage points and could not decide which had the best views
As evening inched closer , we took our leave from Petra and simultaneously strived to gather all possible memories of the heritage.
We had a scrumptious lunch of all things non vegetarian (read shawarma , kebab , mansaf) and decided to meet for a mezze dinner at night.
The next day was scheduled for the majestic Wadi Rum . More of it in my next blog .
General Do’s and Don’ts for Petra -Use your common sense and gut instinct ladies . You would be more stress free if you keep your shoulders and knees covered as a mark of respect for the local custom. You should carry sunblock , water and chocolates or energy bars on the tour. Your closed , sturdy gym shoes would suffice for the walk in Petra. Jordanians respect their guests and are very warm and cordial people. I am sure you would be “welcome(d) to jordan ” a number of times too.
I made my dream come true in Petra and hope you do the same too.
PS – Still looking for my Indiana Jones 😉