A Journey to Jordan: Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum

While I was very keen to travel to Egypt, Jordan was not specifically on my bucket list. But the fact that many friends have done these two together, and our travel organizer Travel with Neel had paired them were the reasons I decided to tag along. All that I knew about Jordan was Petra, a place that is among the New Wonders of the World.

Once the trip was finalized I started looking for more information, especially from trusted sources. This is where I heard about the Wadi Rum deserts, and quite a few of my friends were gaga about it. So, by the time I embarked on the trip, I was much more charged up about Jordan compared to earlier.

We traveled to Amman, the capital of Jordan by Royal Jordanian Airlines from Cairo. The Israel-Palestine war had resulted in tight security at the airports in the neighbourhood, and we faced multiple luggage checks and frisking at Cairo and Luxor airports. As we drove out of Amman airport in the evening, the country looked much cleaner and more developed than Egypt. We came to know that the Jordanian Dinar was one of the strongest currencies in the Middle East, and due to their booming exports of phosphates and other chemicals, it was a rich country.

We checked into Olive Hotel for the night, a decent place with very huge rooms. We would again spend a couple of days here towards the end of the trip. Compared to the places we stayed in Egypt, the food aspect here was a bit lacking. Another thing that we realized over the trip (which may be a wrong perception) is that the Jordanians are not as easygoing and friendly as the Egyptians, in fact, many are a bit grumpy. The attitude towards tourists is also not that welcoming.

The next morning was time to check out and move by bus towards the south of the country. Our first stop was Mount Nebo, mentioned in The Bible as a place from where Moses looked at the Promised Land. Most of the tourists were clicking pictures with the statue of a metal serpent that Moses invoked there. The church next to it is from the Byzantine period, adorned with some impeccable mosaic designs.

En route to our next destination Wadi Rum, we stopped at a store where among other artifacts Donkey Milk and Camel Milk Soaps were being sold. It seems these are good for the skin and even Queen Cleopatra of Egypt used to bathe in donkey milk. 

Soon, we entered the huge desert area and reached Wadi Rum in the evening, with an exquisite sandstone look replete with rock formations in the background. There are quite a few camps for tourists in the Wadi Rum desert, and we checked in one of the lovely rows of cottages at the Mazayen Camp. The huge tent where dinner is served seemed straight out of the desert films we had watched in our childhood, and the spread there was the best in our entire Jordan trip. Wadi Rum was the location where the film “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot.

Wadi Rum was a place that touched our hearts with its magnificent views. In the morning, we took an open jeep ride into the desert passing by hordes of camels on the way and marveling at the beauty of the yellow sandy landscape. This was a major highlight of our short Jordan trip. 

From Wadi Rum, we proceeded to the Lost City of Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World announced in 2007, after a campaign selected them from 200 monuments. The rock-cut architecture of the lost city in South Jordan has really put the country on the world map. Built in the third century BC, Petra was part of the trader route between Europe and Asia.

We had a buffet lunch at Al-Qantara Restaurant in Petra city. This was a completely Arabic lunch with a live Falafel counter, and ambience of the restaurant was totally ethnic. In the afternoon, we went for a walk visiting the different shops near the Petra gate. We saw one place where camel meat-based dishes were being sold, but we were already too full to try that out. Our dinner at the hotel that night served Zarb, the traditional rice and meat delicacy from Jordan, where the meat is cooked Bedouin style in pits.

In the evening, we had the opportunity to take part in Petra by Night, a night walk with a group of about two hundred people through the rock city illuminated by a thousand candles. Petra by Night allows a limited number of visitors only three days per week, and it is not to be missed while visiting Jordan. It seems a very long and arduous walk and we had to rest for a while quite a few times, but the experience is exotic with the limited lights bouncing off the rocks and structures around. The walk culminated at Al Khazneh, the treasury of the ancient city, where a musical performance was held for a limited time. This definitely was another major highlight of our Jordan tour. 

Petra during the daytime becomes a hub of activities. We used buggy coaches to travel to the treasury and then explored the other buildings on foot. The city is huge and in a couple of hours, you can only cover a part of it. The whole area had a festive look with people screaming in Arabic, many small shops, horse-drawn coaches, and camels ferrying tourists around. 

From Petra, it was quite a long drive to Amman and we checked back at the same hotel Olive House in the evening. Though the hotel in Jordan (Olive Hotel) had huge rooms, the dinner buffet was kind of average.

There are quite a few places in and around Amman that merit a visit. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Jerash is the first. The city is supposedly there from the Neolithic age but came to full glory during the Greco-Roman period. The Arch of Hadrian, Colonnaded Street, the Hippodrome, and the theatre are some of the highlights here.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is important as a pilgrimage center for Christians. This place, bang on the Jordan-Israel border is known due to the baptism of Jesus Christ by St John the Baptist. The Jordan River is only a few feet wide, and beyond that, we could see the Israel flag fluttering across the border. A visit here has to be done under strict vigilance by the Jordan army. There is an Orthodox Church near the site that impressed me.

We then proceeded to the Dead Sea, a salt lake near Amman. The mud pack therapy from the mud here is well-known and most of our group members had a bath in the salt-laden waters.

We also travelled to Amman City Centre and visited the 2nd Century Roman Theatre. The theatre which could accommodate six thousand people, now has an attached museum that gives a complete idea of the culture, dresses, and food of Jordan. We also tried the local dessert Kunafa from Habibah Sweets, where people queue up to buy the sweets. I have had Kunafa on many occasions in India, but this was far better.

On the final day our group split. One group went to the seaside resort of Aqaba, while some of us were booked in the evening Saudia flight to Hyderabad via Riyadh. The journey back was a bit of a bother with an unremarkable and uncomfortable night at Riyadh Airport waiting for the connecting flight, where the infrastructure was not up to the mark, including Wi-fi not working and poorly designed chairs. Actually, Indian metro airports are far better than all the airports we visited during the trip.

In my view, Jordan may not be worthwhile as a standalone trip, but if you are visiting a country near by, do add this to the itinerary. Wadi Rum and Petra will not disappoint you.

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