‘Hustle-bustle’ has a hyphen… my wild guess is that this hyphen is like a hammock for peace to be there and chill! Almost like Jordan. Jordan is surrounded by countries with unrest that is almost genetic and right in the middle of the Middle East is this small country where peace reigns.
‘Small country, is it?’ you just might ask. Well, I was going from Delhi to Amman, the Capital of Jordan, and so I was going from the NCT (National Capital Region) with a population of around 25 million to a country that is now touching 7.9 million. From Irbid in the North to Aqaba in the south is a distance of around 400 kilometres and all it takes is around 5 hours to go from one end to the other… which is like travelling from Delhi to Ludhiana in Punjab! Jordan has a 98% Arab population and only 1% and Circassians and another 1% are Armenians. Of the entire Arab population are more than 40 percent who have entered the country as refugees and are Jordanian Lebanese or Jordanian Palestanians or Jordanian Syrians and so on… this is one factor that has lead the government here to ensure that the focus on internal security is intense and they indeed have the most powerful secret service. It is rumoured that one in three Jordanian works in some way or the other for the police and that this is one reason why peace hasn’t gone berserk as it has done in the countries surrounding it.
With this small background, let me add that the country is full of archaeological sites, nature reserves, and biblical points of interest, well maintained ancient ruins and photogenic deserts – the best possible introduction to the Middle East. There is thrill for the thrill seeker, If falafel and hummus and then shisha puffs thrills you, Jordan is the place. If treacherous climbs to the top of ancient and hidden cities like Petra give you an adrenalin rush, Jordan is where you need to go. If understanding the truth behind the excavated Roman cities is what you wish to study, do it in Jerash in Jordan. If floating in the Dead Sea or wrapping yourself up in therapeutic black mud is what your heart yearns for, you get it all in Jordan. If a camel ride, night walks through dunes, and succumbing to Bedouin magic holds thrilling possibilities, reach out for Jordan. If thrill is in diving into the Red Sea or snorkelling in clear water to watch the lively corals, you can do it easily in Jordan. Jordan has undeniable adventure possibilities for people of all ages.
My visit to Jordan wasn’t limited to walking up and down the rainbow street in Amman… or just visiting the Citadel there. Let me just give you a list of EIGHT activities that will tend to cover all the thrilling possibilities in this country. There will be other posts where I shall be talking in detail about them as well as other wonderful things that happened while I was in Jordan, so let this be an ice-breaker to the wonder that Jordan really is.
One. Walk from the Citadel to the Amphitheatre in Amman
Well, this one isn’t the last word in the world of excavated wonders… but the view of the city that you get from the Citadel is worth every Dinar spent to reach it. The Citadel has the much photographed hand of Hercules… and so the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace are a part of the ruins here on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al-Qala’a which is about 850m above sea level. There is a 1700m-long wall from the Bronze Age that surrounds it and for those interested, it is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon.
What I really loved was the walk down from the Citadel to the fascinating excavated wonder of Roman Philadelphia that is cut into the northern side of a hill, has a seating capacity of 6000, and was probably built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138–61). This Roman amphitheatre is the most complete excavated sites and one finds it amusing to guess where the rulers must have sat and how far the common man must have sat. The walk down takes you through the innards of the city and discovering the way the common Jordanian lives can be quite an eye-opener.
Two. Converse with the ancient city of Jerash
I would have been reluctant to call excavations grand and impressive but as one enters the ancient city through Hadrian’s Arch, built in 129 CE for the visit of Emperor Hadrian and crosses the Hippodrome to reach the market place, and stares at the Cardo maximus, the main street (with an underground sewage system, I must add), one knows that the ruins in Jerash rule over all ruins everywhere. This is where you can see the way the ancient civilization must have progressed from kowtowing before the Temple of Zeus (built 162 CE) and a Temple of Artemis (the Goddess of the hunt was the patron goddess of Jerash) to letting them go as people embraced Christianity. This is where you get to watch a Nymphaeum (public fountain) and this is where you see the past centuries juxtaposed against contemporary Jordan!
By the way, I also read somewhere that Jerash is also known as the Pompeii of the Middle East!
Three. Discover life in the Dead Sea
Yes, the Dead Sea does have therapeutic powers to bring life back to dead skin, if I may say so… because the minerals in the Dead Sea are believed to cure or lessen symptoms of many skin problems like psoriasis. But the best facet is that you have the joyous experience of floating in the sea.
I remember as we drove down, Ayman, our philosophic guide said, ‘The Dead Sea is the lowest dry land in the world, at 396m below sea-level. The concentration of oxygen here is high and so you must not refrain from breathing deep!’ Well, we did that and some of us also packed ourselves in black mud.
The Dead Sea is actually a salt water lake that is 15 km wide and 72 km long and is shrinking with every passing year! It is 33% solids (20x bromine of sea water, 15x magnesium, 10x iodine) and ‘dead’, since we did not see any fish anywhere here. For those who love statistics, most seawater has a salinity of between 3.1% and 3.8%, but it rises to 33.7% in the Dead Sea.
Four. Turkish Bath after a long walk in Petra
As this is a compressed account of my adventures in Jordan, let me just say that Petra is the hidden city from the past where history is in every stone that you touch… even the rubble over which you walk has something to say if you only care to stop and listen!
From Al-Khazneh to the Monastery to the Urn Tomb, from the street of facades to the Colonaded street… this is an entire city that will take you hours of strenuous walk to discover. I walked over 21 kms in a day and was suitably exhausted to opt for a Turkish bath in the hotel.
The Petra ruins, by the way, are a photographer’s delight and one can even go for a ‘Petra by night’ walk that allows you and your camera to see what many cannot see.
Five. Have Bedouin whiskey in Wadi Rum
Well, what the Bedouin mean is their tea… and surprisingly, it tastes great when you have sand surrounding you and following you. The Wadi Rum is the desert that forms a large part of the country and spending a night in the Bedouin camp is an experience in itself.
We went for a night hike in the desert and saw the Wadi Rum from a perspective that not many tourists get an opportunity to see. Imagine lighting a fire in the middle of nowhere and preparing tea… oops! Bedouin whiskey… and then following scary shadows back to our camp.
Six. Snorkelling in Aqaba
If it isn’t snorkelling, then it could be diving as well… but the blue waters of the Red Sea in Aqaba are bewitching and it becomes more interesting to be told that the buildings and the hills visible on the other side are a part of Jerusalem in Israel… and that some distance ahead is where Egypt begins.
You know you are really close to all these Middle East countries and as you take your plunge into the sea you experience a thrill that is rare indeed.
Seven. Photographing the ancient map in Madaba
The 6th Century map made from over 2 million tiny pieces of coloured stone belongs to the Byzantine period and attempts to tell us what the Holy Land looked like around 560 AD. We did have fun trying to click the tiled gazelles, fishes, the Dead Sea, the walled city of Jerusalem, and Bethlehem and trying to figure out the way our world has changed since the time this map was created.
Eight. Zarb, hummus, falafel, and shisha…
If you’re in Jordan and are still looking for a Sher-e-Punjab Dhaba to have butter chicken, you’re advised to stay in your country. When in Jordan, taste all that Jordan strives to give and believe me, you are going to love the way they barbecue their meat, the way they make their dips and the way the women in Amman… yes, the women in Amman take in lungful of shisha or the flavoured tobacco. I was also amused to stumble on to their local beer that was called Petra beer and had more alcohol than I expected. For that matter, even their wines have more alcohol than you would normally expect but are quite pleasant. But we’ll talk about all this in a separate post as this one is all about compressing an adventure.
Adventure in Jordan
Yes, if you’re a seeker of adventure, then Jordan is where you need to be. But let me add here that this post is just an introduction and there will be more on my blog soon. So do reach out for www.passey.info and read my Jordan travel posts here.
This post was first published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 06 July 2015:
More pictures relevant to this post:
09 July 2015