Carved into eternity

| Updated on: May 05, 2011






Hey India! India!” I sighed and turned as the horse-owner, whose offer of a paid ride through the ruins of Petra I had steadfastly declined earlier, rode up in a hurry. Turned out, he'd only come after me to ask if I wanted to take pictures of his prettily decorated horse, as he'd caught me petting another little pony nearby.

That's the Jordanian for you — friendly, charming, polite and very welcoming, expressing curiosity in you, your country and your experiences in Jordan.

The tiny country — you can drive from north to south in about a day or so — has enough for the religious, the adventure lover, the lounger, the naturalist and the history buff, as I found out on a trip organised by the Jordan Tourism Board.

History carved into giant rocks

Jordan, at first glance, is an unending brown expanse, deeply lined here and there. Imagine, if you will, a beautifully browned cake with a cracked crust.

While there are a plethora of places to see and things to do, it is the magnificent and well-preserved ruins of the ancient cities of Petra and Jerash, and the beautifully brown Wadi Rum desert that are the most captivating. More than 2,000 years old, Petra was once a trade centre and the capital of the Nabatean kingdom. The entire city was built by hewing into gigantic rock faces on Mount Hor. Entry is through the Siq, a walkway that is actually a gorge or split in the towering rocks. Looking up at the lofty sides, I felt tiny. The awe I felt then was just the beginning of more to come.

The city's fabulous rock-cut architecture is at its exquisite best at the Treasury and the amphitheatre carved out of the hillside. The ancient city even had an elaborate drainage and canal system.

The centuries-old skilled craftsmanship and artistry are equally in evidence at Jerash, a wonderfully preserved Roman city that claims an unbroken chain of human settlement for over 6,500 years. From a vantage point, I could clearly make out the oval marketplace or plaza, the colonnaded walkway leading out of it, the cathedral and the theatre.

Desert rush of adrenalin

At the Wadi Rum desert, we witnessed a stunning sunset as the brown sand caught the flaming pink of the setting sun, and the surrounding rock formations were bathed in a soft glow. With canyons, rocks and enormous dunes, Wadi Rum is a camper/ hiker/ climber's dream come true. The region can be explored on foot, bicycle, jeep or even camel-back.

An experience quite unlike anything else would be the Dead Sea. About ten times saltier than any other seawater, the Dead Sea allows you to bob along its surface effortlessly, even if you don't know to swim. I chose an early hour just after dawn to go down to the sea, and it proved wise too. The sun was just warm enough, the water just cool enough and the seaside empty enough to be quite blissful. I also slathered myself, as advised, with the mineral-rich Dead Sea mud for a quick do-it-yourself spa session. The effect of the mud wore off fairly quickly though, and hopes of being greeted back home with expressions of wonderment at my glowing skin were sadly dashed.

A word of caution here — the extreme salinity means you have to take care not to swallow the water or get it in your eyes, or you will find yourself making a half-blinded, hurried scramble out of the water. Given the rocks that line the shore, you may just end up with a collection of cuts by which to remember the Dead Sea.

Veggie delights

One of the best things on this trip was the local food and I was especially delighted to find an amazing vegetarian spread at every meal.

Jordanian meals usually start with mezze , an appetiser platter entirely vegetarian. Creamy, smooth hummus and baba ganoush , made from chickpeas and roasted eggplant respectively, paired perfectly with warm, fresh and wondrously soft pita bread. Tabbouleh, a bulgur and greens salad, along with other assorted salads and dips comes next. The main courses usually comprise baked vegetables or delicately spiced rice platters with lentil or vegetable side dishes. Two must-visit restaurants include Haret Jdoudna at Madaba and Petra Kitchen at Petra.

Sacred land

Jordan is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Bethany beyond Jordan is where John the Baptist Church is located, and where Jesus was baptised.

A short drive takes you to Mount Nebo, the last stop in Moses' flight from Egypt, from where he is believed to have viewed the Holy Land. A platform erected on Mount Nebo offers the same sweeping view of Jerusalem, Jericho and the Jordan river. The church at Madaba, close to Mount Nebo, has an ancient mosaic map of the Holy Land besides other beautiful mosaic works. It was interesting to see Jordanians praying on this side of the Jordan river and Israelis on the opposite bank, just a few metres away in Bethany.

Published on May 05, 2011

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