Kingdom of Jordan

Spring 2013. Being in Jordan is like being in an entirely different world. And boy, do I love every nook and cranny of that world! It is like a pack… err no, make it a ton of pop rocks- sweet with justenough sizzle. Charming and exciting. Wild and breathtaking. Quaint with a hint of egdy allure. In Jordan, I found myself met with surprises at every turn.

I can’t say our first encounter was a blast. I had a little issue with immigration because the officer didn’t think I look like the person in my passport photo! This being my first time in the middle east, the encounter gave me quite the scare! But other than that, the trip went without a serious hitch.

Jordan is gifted with one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. Pair this with a rich history of ancient civilizations and you have yourself an unparalleled adventure. Located all over the country are ruins that give us a glimpse of life from time long forgotten. From the nauseatingly awesome city of Petra made by the Nabateans, to the Greco-Roman ruins of Jerash, the country is filled with historic gems worth the long and tiring plane ride.

But the thing about Jordan is that its people is as beautiful as its landscape. the Jordanians are amazing- one of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered in my travels. do not be surprised to get smiles and friendly words from strangers on the street. it would really take a serious effort not to fall in love with this place and its people.

View of Amman from the Citadel
View of Amman from the Citadel

Its capital, Amman, rests across the hills of north-western Jordan. There are very few skyscrapers that inhabit its skyline but the city is, nevertheless, inviting with its slopes lined with square houses and an unexplainable small-town charm. Towering over one of its many hills is the Citadel that houses ancient roman ruins. Consider this a soft introduction to what’s in store for you in this side of the world. Entering the Citadel, we were greeted with the stunning view of the surrounding neighborhood as the setting sun casts its warm shadows over the hills. From one side, one is given a birds-eye-view of the roman amphitheatre. The Citadel is small in comparison to other historical areas in Jordan but is nonetheless a good visit.

Jerash
the gate of Jerash
dead sea
the dead sea

Most visitors immediately head south of Amman to Petra. However, if Greco-Roman ruins are your thing, then a visit to Jerash is a must. Just an hour and a half drive north of the capital, Jerash is a well-preserved ancient city. One can spend hours getting lost in this historic landmark- taking a walk on the cardo maximus, climbing up the ancient temple of Artemis, people watching at the colonnaded forum. It is easy to imagine what life was like ages ago when the city was flourishing.

Heading south on the way to Petra, you can pass by a number of interesting places. The most visited would probably be the Dead Sea. And rightfully so. The Dead Sea, often referred to as the lowest point on Earth, is a salt lake between Jordan and Israel. This body of water cannot sustain life due to its high salinity, hence the name. An hour in the dead sea would be enough time to experience “the float.”*

Aside from remains of ancient cities and the wonders of the dead sea, Jordan is also blessed with a number of crusader castles. Personally, I find Al Kerak (also called Karak Castle) the most impressive. Its architecture embodies the region’s history- an interesting mix of Crusader architecture, with west European, Byzantine, and Arab influences.

Just a short drive from Jerash is another castle worth visiting. The Ajloun castle (also called Aljun castle) stands atop a mountain overlooking the vast plains of Ajloun. This castle was built for protection against the crusaders. Chambers and walkways are still intact. Standing at the top of the castle, feel like a tower watchman as you look at the whole of Ajloun city spread in front of you. Do note that visiting the castles involve climbing up steep and slippery flights of stairs. A good pair of walking shoes would save you a lot of trouble.

the treasury- Petra's most elaborate structure
the treasury- Petra’s most elaborate structure

Of course, any piece about Jordan will not be complete without mentioning Petra. The ancient city of the Nabateans is a otherwordly beauty. Before heading there, brace yourself and prepare to be blown away by the sheer wonder of this stone city. Hand-carved among the mountains, the whole Petra complex is a historical treasure that is not to be missed. The journey starts with the walk along the Siq- a corridor of giant red rocks that leads to the city.At the end of the Siq, the entrance to Petra is a dramatic encounter. After a long stretch of walking between huge rocks, one blind curve and voila! the Treasury comes to view. Arguably the most intricately carved building in Petra, the treasury alone would be enough reason to visit. Just imagining how it was built still leaves me awe-struck. As it is carved on mountains, going around Petra means climbing endless flights of stairs. So unless you’re Superman (or you don’t mind missing on other parts of the city), you would need at least 2 days to explore Petra.

After the tiring climb up the steps of Petra, we gave the turkish massage a try to relax a bit. Although having your whole body (in your birthday suit!) scrubbed by a stranger was not my idea of a relaxing time, I felt surprisingly invigorated after the whole caboodle!

View of Petra from Rocky Mountain Hostel
View of Petra from Rocky Mountain Hostel
IMG_6023
Camels!

Finally, saving the best for last, one should not leave Jordan without visiting the Wadi Rum. I know that most people visit Jordan for Petra but I would definitely recommend saving at least a day and a half for the red desert! Exploring the Rum by yourself is not impossible but navigation in this vast plains is quite a task. this place has nothing but rocks and sand all over. No establishments, no stores, only nature at its most impressive. the jeep safari offered by many tour companies is a good way to go around the desert. although a bit pricey, getting the package that includes spending a night in one of the Bedouin camps- sleeping under the stars- is a priceless experience. but mind you, the desert is not for the vanilla traveller. you can’t expect 5-star accommodations and a relaxing stroll here. pack your most comfortable footwear and be ready to walk, climb, slide, crawl and basically tire yourself out. be sure to wear shoes with more traction as a slip on the rocks could bring you straight to a hospital bed. you will be climbing boulders of rocks and sliding down sand dunes. you will get exhausted but every drop of sweat is worth it. to ease your parched throat, down a cup of the sweet bedouin tea offered by the locals. (i don’t know whether the water they use is safe but wth, it’s all part of the adventure)

The red desert at sunset
Sunset in the red desert

After all the hustles of the day, spend a quiet time watching the sun set across the horizon, the red sand glistening like rubies. you can easily find a quiet place to sit down, away from everyone, and revel in the beauty of the universe. Be sure to catch your breath though because the night-time is also as beautiful with the star-filled skies unhindered by city lights.

I have yet to visit a lot of places around the world so i have no business saying that this is the best place on earth. but it definitely is one of the best places I’ve been to. so pack that bag, head to Jordan and dare to be blown away.

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*floating in water without exerting effort. this is due to the high density of the salt water in the lake.

I’ll be posting a more detailed account of all the places we’ve visited next time.

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