Although much has been written about the magic of Petra, Jordan, nothing really prepares you for it.
The sensible traveller will put on the most comfortable pair of walking shoes, wear a hat, be armed with a water bottle to enter the Siq, a narrow gorge, over one kilometre long. Soaring cliffs on either side look down benevolently. You keep going forward. Walking is the best way to experience the Siq. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling. At the end of the Siq, you are ambushed by the first glimpse of Al-Khazneh—the word derived from ‘treasury’ in Arabic. It is carved in classical Greek architectural style, out of sheer, dusky pink rock, and dwarfs everything around. Many stories are told about Al-Khazneh; that bandits hid their loot inside a stone urn kept on the second level of the building, riddled with bullet holes by Bedouin who hoped to crack open the urn so that treasure would spill down. It is also said that it was the treasury of the Pharaohs during the time of Moses. It’s also said to be the tomb of an important Nabataean king, carved sometime in the early 1st century—a symbol of the engineering genius of the
Al-Khazneh is not the only architectural wonder in Petra. Besides hundreds of elaborate tombs cut into rocks and embellished with intricate carvings, there is also a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theatre, which can seat three thousand people. Petra houses obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets; high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery, reached by a flight of 800 steps chiselled into rock. A 13th century shrine, built by the Mameluk Sultan Al Nasir Mohammad, believed to commemorate the death of Aaron, the brother of Moses, can be seen on top of Mount Aaron in the Sharah range.
Around the treasury are souvenir stalls set up by artisans from the nearby town of Wadi Musa—a nearby Bedouin settlement—that sells local handicrafts, such as pottery and Bedouin jewellery. If you are looking for the famous bottles of striated multi-coloured sands from the area, you can get it here.
The Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabataean Museum, housing finds from excavations in the Petra region, give insights into Petra’s colourful past.
No automobiles are permitted to enter the site. If you don’t care to walk, you can hire a horse or a horse-drawn carriage to take you through the Siq. For the elderly or the handicapped, special permits (at an extra fee) are available for the carriage to go inside Petra. Once inside the site, do what the Arabs do—hire a donkey, or even a camel. The handlers of the animals ensure no accidents happen. The best time to see Petra, especially for shutterbugs, is either early to mid-morning or late afternoon, when the angled sun enhances the breathtaking natural hues of the rock formations.
Apart from Petra, not to be missed is the ancient city of Jerash. People have lived here uninterrupted for over 6,500 years—even earlier than the Indus Valley civilisation. Jerash lies on a plain surrounded by hilly, wooded vistas and fertile basins. Conquered by Pompey in 63 BC, it came under Roman rule and was one of the ten great Roman cities of the Decapolis League.
Local guides will tell you that Jerash’s golden age was under Roman rule, during which time it was known as Gerasa. The site is now acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. It lay hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated in 1928 and restored over the past 70 years. It is one of the many towns the Roman Empire left behind in the Middle East, marked by colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls guarded by towers and gates. A subtle blend of the East and the West is preserved in Jerash. In terms of its architecture, religion and languages, the two powerful cultures meshed and coexisted—the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the traditions of ancient Arabia.
Jordan is where history walks accompanied by mythology—the Dead Sea that lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and is fed by the waters of Jordan River. It is the lowest elevation on earth—around 400m (1,312 ft) below sea level. Eight times saltier that the sea, the Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west. The area is said to have been home to five Biblical cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zebouin and Zoar (Bela). Biblical legends say King David took refuge here and King Herod used it as a spa—the cunny skies and the year around dry climate makes it ideal for visitors seeking rejuvenation and pleasure. The extreme salinity of the waters makes sure you can’t sink in the Dead Sea—hence, it was consiered a miraculous place in olden times. Now bathers float, reading a book or a newspaper. It is a popular resort area now. The waters in which Cleopatra bathed now are hospitable to many who seek various cures. Legend and history meet in the waters, subtly greeting visitors who come in search of pleasure, or sometimes even a miracle.
However, the Dead Sea is drying up. Efforts are on to save it from disappearing and a massive engineering project is being planned to pump water into the Dead Sea from the Red Sea that lies around 110 miles to the south through water pipes along the border between Israel and Jordan. Affectionately named the Peace Conduit, the water project could bring peace between the two historically hostile nations of Jordan and Israel. Now, that would be the true miracle of the Dead Sea.