By Jeremy Khalil on February 12, 2016
Gaya Travel team members continue their journey exploring Jordan, a peaceful Middle Eastern country that should be in all travellers’ radar due to its amazing wonders – Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqabah – that can never be experienced elsewhere:.
The jewel in the crown for Jordan’s tourism and renowned as one of the new immensely popular seven wonders of the world, Petra lies in a town called Wadi Musa (Moses Valley), where the Prophet Moses is known to have struck his staff onto a rock and the water flowed thereon. We were told by our guide that the water still flows to this day for regular use by the surrounding settlements. We encourage travellers visiting Petra to stay at the atmospheric Moevenpick Resort Petra since the property is the closest to Petra’s entrance compared to the other lodgings. To get there from Amman, the journey to Petra using the desert highway takes three hours and a half.
If travellers have more time, it is recommended that they take the King’s Way to get to Petra from Amman so that they can enjoy the change of scenery along the way since the view along the Desert Highway could become monotonous. It would take at least an additional hour and a half to get to Petra but travellers would traverse undulating landscapes, varying vegetation and small towns, which make for a more interesting journey.
Petra’s admission fees:
Discovered by Swiss scholar and explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, most of the wondrous sandstone-faced carvings by the Nabateans in Petra are actually tombs. The Nabateans were believed to have moved to the area from the Western Arabian Peninsula on 6th Century B.C. They left 3,500 inscriptions on the rocks, boulders and facades that mainly state about the Nabatean kings, but nothing about how they carve the tombs. However, archaeologists have discovered that the Nabateans began their carving from the top, then working themselves downwards. The stonemasons drilled a series of holes along a horizontal straight line along the face of the rock, stuck rods in them and rest the plank on those rods that were jutting out. They would then used those planks as scaffolding. As these carvers gradually moved down the facade, they were able to remove the traces of the holes they did earlier by carving over them.
There is however another argument stating that rather than using the planks, the stonemasons might also had used the step method in creating the facade of Al Deir (The Monastery), which means that instead of using the planks as scaffolding, the stonemasons cut out steps made from the rocks while working from the top of the facade. As the masons worked down the facade, they created more levels of steps going downwards as well. By ruminating how the Nabateans constructed the facades while admiring them with our own eyes, they simply fired our imagination on what it would have been like during Petra’s heyday, further elevating our wonder and amazement towards it.
Travellers exploring Petra will find themselves having to walk a great deal in exploring the place, therefore travellers must be mentally prepared for that. They would begin their walk by entering the Siq (Gorge), then heading towards the world-famous structure called the Khazneh (Treasury) that is 1,200 metres away. Along the way, travellers will be inspired by the beautiful geological formations that grace both sides of the gorge, which are indeed nature’s works of art. By the time travellers arrived at the Greek-influenced Khazneh, their jaws are bound to drop. This specific facade has been receiving so much attention and was even featured in the international box office Hollywood movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ directed by Steven Spielberg. The truth is, the Khazneh is not exactly the place where the Nabateans stored treasure, but actually the tomb for the Nabatean King Aretas IV who ruled from 9 B.C. to 40 A.D. Locals thought that the carving of the urn on top of the facade contained gold (which is not at all true), thus called it Khazneh and the moniker stuck to this day. Being one of the most recognisable ancient monuments in the world, travellers should seize the opportunity to take photos or selfies in front of it and make everybody else at home jealous…
But remember: Petra is not just the Khazneh! Apparently there are more of such astounding rock hewn facades that can be admired along the way when travellers walk further towards the Basin Restaurant from the Khazneh, which is 3.8 kilometres away. Normally, since travellers often come to Petra early in the morning to experience the site, they would then have lunch at the Basin Restaurant before continuing their exploration of Petra (lunch might be included in the tour package). The walk from Khazneh to the Basin Restaurant opens travellers to more intriguing rock-carved facades that sport various styles like Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Bedouin, besides Nabatean. Travellers will also see the splendid ruins of a Roman amphitheatre (because the Romans took over the city in 106 A.D., during Trajan’s time) and even the elegant collection of Royal Tombs.
Tip: Give yourself at least one day to walk around the ruins of Petra, including climbing up to Al Deir (the Monastery), where you might be able to see Palestine on a clear day. You need to get out of Petra before dark.
One such tomb that we recommend travellers to explore is the impressive Urn Tomb, probably for the Nabatean King Malchus III who died in 70 A.D., which has columns and burial chambers at its base that was later converted into church. If travellers were to have more time, they could climb up 900 steps to the Al Deir (The Monastery) or even the Sacrificial Altar, each of them might take two hours to get there (depending on traveller’s fitness and speed of climb). Both offer vantage view of Petra from higher ground. There are also locals who would offer travellers to climb up using donkeys to navigate the slippery and uneven steps. The trip on donkey that gets travellers from both climbs back to the Khazneh might cost JD10 to JD15 per ride.
Tips to cover Petra:
There is also Petra by Night on the nights of Monday, Wednesday and Thursday each week, offering travellers the enjoyment of seeing Petra being illuminated by 1,800 candles. The tour begins at the Petra Visitors Centre at 8:30 p.m. local time. The cost is JD17 per person.
Located around three to four hours’ drive from Amman, Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon) is a popular ecotourism destination. It is home to Jordan’s highest mountain, Jabal Umm ad Dami at 1,840 metres above sea level. It is also believed to contain large source of underground water yet to be extracted that could supply Jordan up to 50 years. The area’s inhabitants, the hardy Bedouins of Wadi Rum are the real indigenous Jordanians.
Gaya Travel Magazine team was informed by our guide Mohammed Al A’weimir that Wadi Rum was also part of the accursed Thamud nation, which existed between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., and was hit by earthquake and lightning. It was said that they incurred Allah’s wrath due to their transgressions and arrogance. The Thamuds were extraordinary stone masons who were literally able to carve mountains. Some said that the Nabateans were somehow distantly related to the Thamuds.
Wadi Rum is also closely connected to the British officer T.E. Lawrence (popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia) who led the Great Arab Revolt, campaigning the Arabs to oust the Ottomans from the Arabian peninsula and establish self-rule. Relating to this, from 24 July until 4 December 2015, travellers to Wadi Rum were able to witness the exciting reenactment of the Great Arab Revolt, besides riding on the replica of the Ottoman train that brought Ottoman soldiers to the Arabian peninsula, which was ambushed by the united Arab tribes (refer to www.jhrc.jo for more information and dates of the reenactment in 2016).
To experience Wadi Rum’s glory, travellers should at least explore the area on a four-wheel drive and have lunch in a Bedouin tent, including checking out the ancient petroglyphs at Khaz’ali Canyon, which are ancient etchings on cave walls that is believed to have been around since the time of the Thamuds. If possible, travellers should at least stay overnight in Wadi Rum at one of the camps such as Rahayeb Desert Camp to truly appreciate the desert’s remarkable beauty, Bedouin lifestyle and the glittering stars at night – as the matter of fact, Wadi Rum is the best place in Jordan to see the night sky.
Besides Rahayeb Desert Camp, there are many camps in Wadi Rum that travellers can choose. Besides excellent Bedouin style dinner and setting, these camps would also organise music and dancing, encouraging guests to bond with one another. For travellers who want to experience Wadi Rum, they need to take note that during high season, which is the period from December to January, it is difficult to find accommodation, so they need to make their booking well in advance.
One aspect of our trip to Wadi Rum that greatly impressed us was the experience of savouring delicious Jordanian lunch with lamb and chicken cooked in an oven underneath the sand (a traditional Bedouin barbequing technique called zarb) at the Rahayeb Desert Camp, which is nicely tucked away in a corner with majestically soaring sandstone cliff formations at the background. Another aspect that we loved was that along the way to the camp, we feasted our eyes with the beautifully jagged sandstone and granite outcrops that come in pinkish and reddish hues, which we found captivating. Being at Wadi Rum allowed the Gaya Travel team to admire the beauty of being surrounded by the commanding, mesmerising and out-of-this-world desert landscape.
Aqabah, which is located 375 kilometres away from Amman, is a port city that has been around since ancient times. It is now Jordan’s only access to the sea. During Ottoman rule, the city’s significance was reduced. However, due to its strategic location, Aqabah the bustling port city, which sits 200 metres above sea level, is now home to 150,000 people.
Touted as the gateway to the Levant, Aqabah sits in the Gulf of Aqaba that is also shared with Israel (Eilat) and Egypt (Taba) – Jordan’s portion of coastline spans 38 kilometres. The area is also known to be the place where Prophet Moses landed after crossing the Red Sea to escape persecution by the Pharaoh of Egypt Ramesses II.
The Jordanian government opens Aqabah to large scale international investments and confer the area’s status as Aqabah Special Economic Zone (ASEZA) with the intention to develop Aqabah further into Jordan’s international logistical hub that particularly serves the Middle East, African and European regions since it has nine sea ports, eight logistic centres and international airports, including strong network of highways. Eligible businesses can also enjoy tax exemption for setting up shop in ASEZA.
But what is interesting about Aqaba besides its access to the sea can be found in its waters, which are among the clearest we have ever seen and rich with marine life, particularly red corals, therefore a boon for snorkellers and scuba-divers. Diving season in Aqabah runs from May until July, the latter being the best time because the weather is not yet too hot and there is more marine life present. We were told that the water remains clear throughout the year, in case travellers would like to snorkel or dive outside of those said months.
Tip: Be sure to dine at the famous restaurant Floka, which serves marine-based gastronomy, particularly fresh fish, which tastes heavenly.
Travellers who are interested to contact the travel agents in Jordan are welcome to refer to http://international.visitjordan.com/VisitorToolbar/TourOperators/JordanTourOperators.aspx
For Part I of our story on Jordan, please refer to Issue 10.4 or on this link: Jottings on Jordan, Pt I of II
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Jordan Tourism Board for making our trip to Jordan a reality.