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Published: September 24th 2018
Jordan springs to mind a laid back, desert with humble people living off the Dead sea, the lowest point on Earth (423 m, 1,388 feet below sea level). It is a region which has given rise to three religions which have spread extensively. I had four days to explore this wonderful place.
Jordan is a country with so much aridity that a little greenery is welcomed with hope.
Nomads of Edomite tribes named Nabateans (originally from Saudi Arabia) settled down near small springs in the arid deserts. Water meant everything. However, I found that the bleak desert also has its own beauty. The big eyes with long eyelashes of the graceful camels or the green fig trees sprouting in the crevices are delightful.
I flew Royal Jordan Airways and enjoyed the spicy breads for breakfast. We landed at Philadelphia (old name for Amman, the capital of Jordan). I took the airport bus and reached downtown hotel which is on a hill. Hence, when I came out, it was a lovely downhill to the local Falafel joints, shops selling souvenirs and an old bookshop. The local chicken dish in yoghurt and rice dishes (with spices, sliced pine and almonds nuts) and fresh fruit juices were tasty.
Exploring the folklore museum with my Jordan pass, I learnt about the simple lifestyle of Jordan. The dresses and bulky silver jewelry reminded me of Rajasthan, India.
Jordanians cherish labenah (cottage cheese), which is dried into
balls and carried by the men for lunch. They eat bread, fresh cucumber/ tomato as salad and mashed chickpeas with sesame seeds to make a dish called humus.
In the museum, I saw two camels, one carrying the bride under a covered canopy and her bridegroom sitting on the camel. I smiled to myself as I imagined it reversed. The woman would lead and the man sat in the canopy, covering himself like a shy bride. The people in downtown Jordan were friendly, asked if I was from India just like they did in Marrakesh to make me buy. Sometimes they were too eager to entice me to buy their stuff.
From the Roman amphitheater, I looked up at the citadel (remembered the heat and long climb in Athens) and wisely decided to go back to the 1935 year old, highly recommended restaurant called Jabri. After a fantastic lunch, I went to my hotel, reduced the air conditioning to freeze like iced fruit juice and took a refreshing nap under a soft, clean duvet.
In the evening, I strolled the rainbow street. What an apt name! It was full of lights and people were walking about enjoying the cool breeze.
I checked out another famous falafel joints and like the locals, sat on the benches by the road side with a can of
coke. I observed an hungry golden cat and how children tried to catch and pet it. Many were eating ice creams. Suddenly, the cat jumped out of their hands and scrambled for something to eat.In Arab countries, there are no stray dogs only cats.
Many young men and women were driving flashy cars and playing racy numbers. There were people selling lighted balloons which added to the glamour of the place. Next morning, I took JETT bus (Jordan Transport) from Amman to Petra. Petra is UNESCO heritage center known for massive, rock cut (sandstone) structures, tombs, empty caves, Djinn tombs etc.
The Bedouins used to live in these caves from which they removed the tombs to make space. These caves have scorpions.
Petra has canyon like sedimentary (sandstone) rocks and narrow paths between these gigantic columns created by frequent earthquakes in the Jordan rift valley. It is blessed with good quality Silica which acts as a cementing matter and used to make glass. A Bangladeshi lady and I shared a common tour guide. The guide turned out to be more of a photographer. For everything, he said there were differing views and there is little written information. He was going slow in the shades and busy taking photographs for us. He said hi! and hello! to each shopkeeper and
every hostler of horse, donkey and camel while my ears ached to hear more history.
We walked through the narrow Sid and came upon the awesome pink structure of Al Khazana. It was cut into yellow/pink sandstone and the lights played on it. Only 25%!o(MISSING)f Petra has been excavated. Petra is a necropolis with an Amphitheatre which celebrated the dead spirits. Scary!
We walked in the treeless bare land in peak noon and imagined the grand city of Petra. There was a monastery and it was 823 steps uphill.
I gave up several times, sat on the benches and my face was as red as an over ripe tomato. I got friendly with an English man and the last stretch was a bit better. The facade of the monastery was spectacular but the walk was simply too exhausting.
I saw the beautiful mosaic floors of the Byzantium church.
By now, I had enough of Petra. I booked Movenpick hotel at a handsome rate. I swam in the best waters ever found in a swimming pool. Then it was an unforgettable dinner with lamb stew and rice which was out of the world. The buffet had generous assortment of desserts to die for. I sat in the veranda watching life go by.
At dawn, I took the local bus from Petra to Wadi Rum. The road was King's highway, a super flat road
and dream terrain for a new driver! We reached Wadi Rum, a flat of desert with multi coloured sands of yellow, brown, orange and pink depending on the sedimentary rocks that had been eroded. There were massive hills or boulders undergoing varying levels of wind erosion scattered around the bleak landscape. Apparently, they howled at night.The only wild animal I saw in desert was a lazy lizard and plenty of annoying houseflies.
At Wadi Rum, we stayed in simple tents shaded by rocks.
Initially, it was scary because it was so isolated. There was only one woman, one man, a cook, a driver and me. We introduced ourselves and set off for full day jeep tour. The two other travelers climbed up and down the hot dune sands while I watched them from below. The sands were hot but they were brave!
We looked at ancient rock engravings which were scribbled on rock, a Lawrence of Arabia spring which was a trickle of water and a mushroom rock.
The guide encouraged me to climb up the rocks and took a photo. When I saw the photo, I was surprised to see myself standing on top of a lovely, rocky arch 😊
We had lunch in an open area shaded by rocks. The wind blew sand into our food. Flies followed us everywhere. Riding at the back of the jeep with the wind blowing on
your face was nicer than staying still. I drove the jeep in the desert which is awesome. It increased my confidence tremendously.
The temperature started to fall and my mood improved.
At first opportunity, I clambered over the flat rock to go stand on the narrow strip of the big arch.
I was hesitating to walk on it but got brave for the temptation of a good photo. Inspired, the other two went up as well.
We spread a mat, had Turkish tea and were a nice bunch of chirpy travellers at the Sunset site.
At the camp, the cook created a sand pit where a fire was lit and extinguished to heat the sand. Then chicken and vegetables were roasted in it. I still remember the perfect taste of the roasted potatoes.
As night fell, the sky lit up with millions of stars. We watched aeroplanes which looked like flickering bits of light like tiny UFOs (Unidentified Foreign Objects) with sound lagging behind them. No wonder, UFOs were sighted in the deserts.
I has a brilliant idea of sleeping outside in the open. The man agreed. We selected a high area over the rocks, set a mat with two mattresses and blankets. We set rules that if one of us decided to go back to our tent, we will let the other person know so that s/he did not face an empty bed and have a fright of a life time! If we had to be dinner for some wild foxes, it had to be for both of us 😊
As I lay down, it was an unearthly experience to see the
stars and the milky way staring down at us. The man spotted a shooting star too. There was only one problem though. God knows from where, there was a mosquito which was singing into my ears. In frustration, I pulled the bed sheet over my head.
The Sun came out of the hills in front of us. After an Arabic breakfast, we bid good bye to Wadi Rum and shared a cab to Aqaba. I was so happy to see the Red sea which was a deep blue. It has dolphins, sharks, coral reefs and is so famous for diving. Across, I saw Eilat, a town in Israel and further away was Egypt (the famous Egypt).
I took a cab from Aqaba to Dead sea. The cab driver was fat, chain smoker. There was a co-passenger halfway to Dead sea and then I was all alone. That man left me in the middle of the road, along the dead sea saying that we had reached dead sea. With my suitcase and umbrella, I crossed the highway and searched for a good hotel. It was too expensive as it was weekend. I decided it was not worth it. I
took a day pass at Amman Beach resort. I put my stuff in the locker and was floating in the mineral rich waters of the dead sea, having the time of my life.
Dead sea was salty but not too salty. I floated on my back and watched how my skin turned soft like a baby’s. The minerals are therapeutic.
I stepped out of the waters and bought some mud to apply to my body. I let it dry and then washed myself off in the sea. I swam in the fresh water swimming pools which was bustling children and families. There were so many men diving their big bodies into the dead sea that I felt uncomfortable. I preferred to sit out, watch them and helped myself to an ice cream named Petra for double the prize in local shop. The sun set over the dead sea which was magnificent.
I was being followed by a man in the resort. He claimed he was a taxi driver referred by the one who left me in the middle of the road. I repeatedly refused to take his services, but he simply refused to listen and followed me around. There were no security guards or police. I asked the lady at reception for a taxi driver and she called the same man who walked knowingly towards
Tents in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum means valley of the moon. Martian movie was shot here.
me with a silly smile.
It was getting dark. I went outside, hailed a yellow taxi, agreed on the price and asked him to take me to Madaba as per original plan. Mid-way, I changed the plan and asked him to take me to my old hotel in Amman. I had decided it would be safer to stay in Amman. I locked the taxi doors and kept a look out for police stations. I checked the side windows. No, I was not being followed. It was a relief.
The old hotel was full but the duty manager referred me to another who got me to stay in a rundown hostel in downtown. I asked for clean sheets and felt safe. I experienced all the noise of downtown Amman.The cool, sweet breeze through the window at night and the absence of mosquitoes were the high points of my hostel suite 😉
The next day, a short tour to the old Roman city of Jeresh. It was well laid out. It was hot weather and I took it easy. Nice place. While returning, I offered some travel tips to the new travellers to Jordan and hopefully, it would work
for them as well.
I returned to Kuwait, usual immigration and ‘flight’ to my house.
This was a different trip as not many people consider Jordan as a travel destination. I contemplated that the heat with no water might have inspired hallucinations/delusions and made people see burning bushes and Gods. It is very easy to believe that the end of the world is near and imagine judgement day when you are dying of thirst.
People in the Nabatean civilization became rich because of trade. The caravans followed the silk route. Silk, spices and frankincense were sold at a premium to the Mesopotamian civilization and later to Europe. It reminded me of how Jaisalmer and Jaipur became rich by levying taxes on the silk route. Even today, nations covet such trading posts.
Beyond commercial interests, a civilization is when you can live openly and sleep under the stars, feeling perfectly safe. The Bedouins in Wadi Rum have low crime levels and the elders maintain law and justice. Evil murks around at all places and indeed, it was an ugly Bedouin who had harassed me. Indeed, there is no place like home. Jordan, farewell!
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