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Published: November 9th 2008
First glimpses of the treasury
Every tourist has this shot. I was lucky to get there at a time when there wasn't a million people cramming to get the same shot.
I'm surprised at the number of people who have no idea what Petra is. You know, that mystical city that was lost from civilization for 6 centuries. The centre of the great Nabataen civilization; that great Arab force that for some time controlled world trade thanks to its strong control of key east-to-west trade routes. That rose coloured city that was carved 2600 years ago from sandstone drenched in an array of red hues. No - most people look confused. And let’s not begin to talk about the looks regarding the Nabataens - "Naba what?". Of course, then I tell them, "you know that place in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - that stone temple at the end". And then the sparkle returns to their eyes together with an exclamation of "oh wow!".
Of course, I too was one of the unenlightened, and sadly, after visiting the place, remain still moderately ignorant. So, what is Petra? Well, a long time ago, in 600BC, a few Arabs got together, got real powerful by bashing anybody who wanted to trade through their strategic lands (spanning from the Euphrates to the Red Sea), decided to build a big city out of rock,
Full view of the treasury
You should recognize this from Indiana Jones. We were disappointed though to not find the entire grail temple behind those doors. In fact, its just one big ugly room.
tried to become cultured by incorporating the latest fads from around the world into their architecture (or so I'm told by the local tourist brochures) and then just withered away after they were defeated by the Romans in 100AD. No famous inventions to my knowledge and no famous contributions to society - but by heck, one very impressive looking tourist site that will keep the country of Jordan bringing in the tourist dollars for many years to come.
Despite its gorgeousness, Petra is not one for the weak. Most tourists are recommended to spend 2 days here, since to fully appreciate it, you need to walk, and walk, and walk, then pant a bit, then keep walking, then lie to your wife to say "we're almost there", then keep walking, stagger a bit, dodge a few slaps from your wife when she discovers you were lying, and then finally breathe a sigh of relief as you arrive at .... the front entrance. Yup - it’s a lot of walking, and they make that clear to you by making you walk 2km just to reach the front gate.
The first major attraction for Petra is "the Siq", roughly translated,
A cave dwelling?
There are many strangely shaped carved caves around Petra. Not sure what they were for, but they do look strange. This one we feel lokos like some kind of animal's mouth.
"the shaft", which is an impressive 80m high red sandstone canyon that leads you into Petra. Jagged cracks and peaks, mixed with multiple hues of red sandstone come together to make this a gorgeous 1km introduction to Petra. Alas, the return journey as you leave Petra gives you a much deeper insight into why its called the "Siq". The path is uphill on the return, and although gradual, is the killer at the end of a long day of walking, leading most people to feel cramped, frustrated, and most definitely "Siq".
Next up is Petra's most impressive sight, the Treasury, which is that famous sandstone temple from Indiana Jones. And everybody tries their hardest to get "the photo" - a snap of the Treasury through the cracks of the narrow canyon of the Siq. Most fail miserably though, as you can see by my attempt. The treasury is spectacular, considering it was carved from pure rock, and even more so that it has preserved its sharpness and clarity after so many years of weathering. Strangely though, the Nabataens must have run out of steam or money when building the Treasury, since the inside of the building is just one
An attempt at being artistic
Looking out from a local cave
big empty ugly room - no carvings, no elegance. Just darkness, and a distinct odour of tourist sweat.
What follows then is another 2km of walking past numerous carved rock abodes and tombs. The most interesting of these is the Royal tombs. Once again, its the immensity and the fact that they have been so well preserved that make these appealing. In addition the tombs are set against a backdrop of mountains that makes any tourist feel like an intrepid traveler at the top of the world.
So now, that's 4km, and although that’s normally a simple saunter - when combined with the desert heat, most are starting to feel a bit tired, fatigued, and most definitely stinky. That's when you discover the next task - the climb up to the Monastery. Heartily advertised by eager donkey masters as a "harrowing journey of 850 steps that no human can do without the help of a trusty stead'. And just to make it easier, they place the one and only restaurant in Petra - a buffet run by Moevenpick - at the base of that climb. Just the thing to prepare you for a long climb. The trek up
View from the royal tombs
Looking out at the surrounding mountains. The photo does a pitiful job of capturing the moment.
though is in my opinion, the 2nd best thing in Petra. The rock faces are stunning - red sandstone melding with jurassic craggy mountain to create some breathtaking imagery. The convenient smattering of quaintly dressed village people, donkey herds and goats help to add to the atmosphere of remoteness, that alas is much too frequently broken by the cackling of some overly joyous tourist.
Sadly though, the Monastery - the so called ultimate goal for any Petra visitor - is a big letdown. It looks like the neglected clone of the ugly step sister that tried too hard to imitate her pretty sibling. Simply put - its a rip off of the Treasury, but in an uglier shade of brown. Thankfully though, the surrounding scenery about a 10 min walk from the Monastery more than compensates. On one side you get dramatic vistas over the adjacent desert - a desert much like Wadi Rum - red rock mountains cast amidst open sands. On the other, just mountain after mountain, rock after rock, of incredible scenery.
And thus ended day one of Petra - or so it did, after I stumbled the 6km back to the front entrance of
One of the royal tombs
These are gorgeous, particularly as they are set amidst some great looking mountains.
Petra. The more lazy tend to cave in and hire a camel or donkey, but I seized the opportunity to walk back through a much more deserted Petra - devoid of crazy tourists, rampant photographers, and best of all, no donkey-ride touts. Particularly interesting was "goat feasting time". Seemingly at sunset, the goats on the nearby mountains are let loose to go scavenging through any stalls for leftover food. So I was treated to the sight of the ravenous mauling of many a food stand and garbage bin.
I did forget to mention that Melenie meanwhile spent the day in the hotel, as she was still feeling very sick from the worst bout of gastro ever. I came home expecting to find a much recovered wife, but was sad to find her in much the same state I had left her - dehydrated, pale and pathetic. And then came the hardest part of the day. Leaving my wife to go eat dinner, while she sat alone in the hotel. Which, if you know, is the hardest thing ever for my wife since she is such a food-a-holic. I would like to say that eating was just not the same
The view from the top of the monastery mountain
There are some spectacular views up here. Alas, my photographic skills fail at capturing them. At least the donkey is cute.
without her, but alas, I stumbled upon a really great meal of Jordanian stew with this rice that tastes just like Hainanese chicken rice, only better. Together with a side of fatoush salad, which was also delicious, I felt rather culinary satisfied, but, just to make Melenie feel better, returned back pretending that dinner had been some miserable affair.
Stay tuned for day two in Petra, in which somebody faints off a donkey, rides in an ambulance, and abuses a hotelier.
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