“Make sure,” he said, pointing out into the middle of the bus, “to not give in, okay!” He was one of those tour guides where I was not entirely sure if he was honest or just believable because he spoke with confidence about things we knew nothing about. It seemed as though anything he said – even if it was absurd – must be true only because he said it loudly and with a firm expression. He was the expert after all. “No one in Jordan steals!” was one such comment.
From the Israeli border near Eilat, I walked over to the Jordanian side of the border and was met with several men running amok and yelling in Arabic as though something bad had happened. It was both scary and confusing as we were cordoned off and forced to wait as we watched them scream to border control staff before coming back and yelling at our tour guide as though something had gone seriously wrong. I could instantly see what was being played out before me. “They won’t let you into the country,” he said to the handful of us standing quizzically, “until you pay an additional $US100, otherwise you will have to return back to Israel.”
What a load of nonsense I thought to myself. They wanted to pocket the additional money and all this theatre was to make it seem believable. We unhappily paid the men and went through to the bus that waited for us at the carpark, an old bus with brown, plastic features and dirty red curtains. The ride bumped its way toward the visitor centre offering some incredible views of the Jordanian landscape, but nothing prepared us for the walk through the Rose City.
“Make sure,” he said, “to not give in, okay! The children are very persuasive.” In this instance, he was being honest. We arrived at Petra and like most tourist areas, it was filled with children and adults calling out to you and asking you to buy this product and thing. “Horse? Horse?” I was offered the opportunity to ride an Arabian down the long path before us, something very tempting as it is one of my favourite animals.
The walk is over one kilometre to Petra’s Siq known as the ‘Bab Al Siq, the dusty ground on our way first covered by rocks that I regretted wearing my converse sneakers as I slipped and lost my balance a few times, mostly because my attention had shifted from the ground to my surroundings as hints of Petra’s unique tombs can be seen in the small, carved monuments that we walked passed. Whatever happened early this morning suddenly disappeared from my thoughts as we wandered past several Djinn blocks and carved burial monuments until we finally reached the Siq itself.
The ground suddenly smooths as though indicative of the water that may have once travelled through from the Dam and you begin to wind your way through an enchanted stone maze carved both naturally and artificially. There is no doubt about it, but that turn around the corner to see the Al Khazneh (the Treasury) is overwhelming and despite the numerous tourists and horse-carts blasting past us carrying the elderly or the lazy, we managed without interruption to get a glimpse of this fascinating building that had been carved into solid rock.
What most do not realise – indeed I was not aware myself until I arrived – was the sheer size of Petra. It is an ancient city and once a trading centre of the Nabataean Empire. One really gets that sense of history as you continue onward and begin to experience just how incredible it would have been to have been there during the height of this civilisation, the success of commerce that made this naturally fortified city a major place for many across the world to visit and trade.
Many attempted to sack the city until control was finally taken by the Romans, clearly visible in some areas such as the Sextius Florentinus Tomb and the huge amphitheatre that sits central in its grandeur and able to accomodate over 4000 people. Walking past the Treasury leads to an open space of tombs and monuments that flourished with the city as the inhabitants grew and populated it, now littered with tea stalls and various jewellery that one can buy.
Climbing up towards the Monastery and passing the Lion Triclinium, you can enjoy picturesque views and by that stage I felt overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of this place, as though I could imagine the hustle and bustle thousands of years ago but now a living remnant of ancient history. I could easily imagine this that I started to cry. It is truly breathtaking. Rightly so, UNESCO has named Petra a World Heritage Site and indeed, the archeological significance has also rendered this incredible place as one of the new seven wonders of the world.
To visit the entire area would take more than one day, some trails offered with a licensed guide to places like Kharubat Al-Fajjah can take as long as eight hours. If there is any place in the world that I would highly recommend, it is Petra.
- Err on the side of caution with tour groups from Israel. It is better to enter independently and do research for highly recommended tours from Jordan. Collecting you from the border enabled them to behave inappropriately and take advantage of our vulnerability.
- It is a place one can spend several days visiting, especially for those who are active and there are numerous hotels right near the visitor centre, which has very helpful information and guides.
- Wear good clothing and shoes and take plenty of water, as though you were going on a day hike as Petra is huge and well worth seeing beyond the Treasury. You should expect at least ten kilometres of walking if you want to enjoy what Petra has to offer, so it is not for the faint hearted.