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Jordan…Eat, Explore, Escape to…

Jordan was the last destination that I thought I would choose to travel to because I knew of it as a hub for medical tourism but hadn’t really heard of it as a travel destination and have not had the opportunity to visit the “must-visit” countries on my list as yet. Also, when I told my Jordanian colleagues that I was planning visit the country on a week’s holiday, they were happy that I had decided to visit their country but on second thoughts they thought I was crazy and gave me all the possible reasons why I shouldn’t be visiting. “Our airport is small and you will find it extremely boring after your visit to Europe and Asia. There is really nothing to see in Jordan”. I had to firmly tell them that I wanted to know the places to visit and that I wasn’t really asking them if I should be visiting or not. So with their help, we decided to visit Amman, the Capital city, Jerash- the site of Roman ruins, Mount Nebo where the memorial of Moses was, The Dead Sea which is the lowest point on earth, ‘The Lost City’ of Petra and spend a night under the stars in Wadi Rum.

Despite the repeated reminders from my Jordanian friends that I mustn’t expect too much, the itenary had got me excited. It seemed like a perfect short break- a blend of spirituality (going to the site of Moses),comfort ( a spa at the dead sea) and adventure (finding the lost city of Petra). Food – we knew would be great because Amman boasts of Levant cuisine -kebabs (meat), falafels (chickpea dumplings), fresh vegetables, cheesy desserts and because Jordanians are warm hosts.

Our visit to Jordan helped us clear some myths about the place.

Myth 1: The Airport is small…

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The airport wasn’t that small or outdated. It is smaller than Dubai’s but Dubai’s airport is the 3rd busiest airport in the world. So it really isn’t a comparison at all. The airport officials are friendly and kind and visa is available on arrival for some nationalities, including Indians.

Myth 2: The city is boring

The drive from Queen Alia International Airport to Amman city was a long one that saw no greenery, not much of development; just stretches of land with buildings and shops that screamed ” old town”. Was definitely a huge contrast from the bright lights and skyscrapers in Dubai but Amman city has an earthy feeling about it and the cream sandstone and limestone buildings elude warmth.

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Amman City

Amman is a westernized city with a boulevard, a university, malls and lots of restaurants serving Arabic, Italian, Asian and French food .The small roadside eateries serve succulent meat dishes which you can devour without guilt. A cup of hot Arabic mint tea after a complete meal ensures you digest it all !

Myth 3: There is nothing much to see in Jordan

This was the biggest shocker and I am just so glad we took the decision to travel to Jordan.   It’s one of those places that must be visited at-least once in a life-time because it’s a complete experience by itself. Small, simple, surreal – is what best describes this land.

Day 1: Roman Ruins in Jerash

On day 1 , we went to Jerash, the city with the Roman ruins. The Romans ruled over the region for 4 centuries. It’s rightly called the Pompeii of the Middle East. 2 hours of walking through the ruins can mislead you to believe that you are in Rome and not Jordan. The area has been well preserved.

Mount Nebo and Madaba – Spiritual journey

Climbing up Mount Nebo is a spiritual experience. To stand at the site where The Prophet Moses (PBUH) was buried and to walk on the land that He was forbidden to travel on is a divine experience . From there, we went to Madaba- the city of Mosaics and visited the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George wherein lies the famous 6th Century mosaic tile map of the Holy Land of Jerusalem

Day 2: Dead Sea – The Lowest point on earth

Going to the lowest point on earth (the dead sea) is one off the bucket list. The journey by road took us around 3 hours from Amman  The roads however were wide and good to drive on.After going back in time at the Roman ruins and the walk up the hill to the site of Prophet Moses memorial, the reality and comfort of the Move ‘n’ Pick Hotel was more than welcome. We were so ready to be pampered. Charming spacious rooms built in connected stone caves. A quick change, to go to the dead sea, apply the dead sea mud all over you, float in its waters, rub off the mud and there is a new, sparkling you- rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to take on the world. The concentration of salt in these waters is the highest in the world and this adds to the buoyancy.  I had heard anybody could swim in the Dead Sea. Well, it’s true. I did too 🙂

A warm shower, a buffet dinner fit for a king and a belly dancer to entertain and you have happy, content, souls retiring for the night.

Day 4: “The Lost City”, Petra- One of the Seven Wonders of the World (2007)

We reached Petra at night. The city was lit up with yellow lights with little souvenir shops and cozy restaurants almost like a fairy tale.  After a dinner, we hit the bed as we were supposed to go the next morning on a  tour to find the treasure.

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Petra by Night

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Into the Nabateans’ land

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Caves, Tunnels in the mountains

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14 km walk to the top and back

Petra took us by surprise. We had not done much research so we really had no clue as to what the Treasure meant or what we were about to discover. All we knew was that it would be a 14 km walk to and from the Treasure. Our tour started around 11 a.m. on what seemed like a dusty, desert area surrounded by  red and pink sandstone mountains, something like the wild, wild west with horses and all… It was slightly warmer than the past few days’ but not enough to stop us from venturing further. Walking in between cliffs and mountains, with our guide telling us the the history of the capital of the Nabataean empire, we were enthralled.  A winding path between rugged, steep, canyons that was used mainly for trading made it difficult for pirates to find their way.

After around 3 kms of walking, between 2 cliffs, one can see “The Treasure”; which is a tall structure which was probably the palace of the Nabataeans.  It’s beautifully constructed and as you approach it, you first see just a little of it between 2 cliffs lit by the setting sun and it does take your breath away.

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Donkey ride to the top

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The climb

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Once you cross ‘The Treasure’, you can make your way to the top of the mountain to see the monastery using a horse or a donkey.  Tanned, Arab men with kohl lined eyes stride around on horses, camels and donkeys adding to the aura of the place. There’s nothing strange if you you feel like someone in an Arabian Nights Tale. Just go with the flow. Well, this was where Indian Jones was shot!

While the rest of the family opted for the donkey, my daughter and I just did not have enough faith on the donkey’s wobbly legs on the edge of the steep cliff. Let’s just say, we were scared, so we trudged along. Right on the top is the Monastery, a massive structure used for praying- the height at which it’s been built would surely ensure peace and tranquility.

Apparently only 15% of the city has been excavated as of date as per archaeologists!

Day 6: Wadi Rum- The quintessential desert (The site for the shooting of the Lawrence of Arabia

After the walk , we were all set for a night under the stars. Petra to Wadi Rum was a two hour drive and we reached after dark. Tired and hungry, we were glad the tents were comfortable -not high-end but had cots and good blankets to keep the cold out. Dinner was a special dish called “Zarb ” which involves meat being cooked in a pit, in the earth over a period of time so that it absorbs all the spices and cooks well. This was the bedouin way of cooking meat and is definitely worth experiencing. The meat was succulent and we were hungry. There was no chance of a slip between the cup and the lip.  After all that meat, lazing around the campfire with a cup of Arabic tea, gazing at the stars, in the middle of nowhere or somewhere far, far away from civilization surrounded by wind eroded canyons and miles and miles of empty desert is peace in simplicity!

Day 7: The desert safari.

If you are not stuck up on having a 4-wheel drive to go into the desert, then the safari in Wadi Rum is a fun experience. The open pick-up van creaked and groaned under our weight making it’s way through the red desert sands  and cliffs. Every cliff was unique, eroded differently from the previous one, the wind formed different patterns in the sand and after climbing up the rock on which is carved the face of Lawrence of Arabia, we returned to the camp, to head back to Amman, stopping over only momentarily at the Port town of Aqaba.

Myth 4: It’s not worth travelling to

Jordan quenches your desire to see the desert in it’s authentic form, untarnished, untouched by development. In that sense, it is a country to visit.

A package which allows you to experience simplicity, spirituality, nature and comfort. If you are open to explore, to appreciate the Creator’s creativity without any human intervention, then Jordan it is.  If you are tired of orderly, perfect beauty, or too much structure, then Jordan is a place to explore and to unwind in.

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