I flew into Amman, the Jordanian capital, from Delhi, on an early morning flight. I’d said goodby to my love and was feeling sad and lonely on my return journey to Dublin. I wasn’t even meant to deplane on this stopover. But fate had decreed otherwise. An Indian family I knew in Dublin was living here now. Their Dublin-based son had sent on my flight details. Arrangements had been made. Within minutes of arrival, I was off the plane, some Jordanian Dinars had been exchanged and I was now officially visiting the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
The excitement of meeting Mohinder Singh, my old colleague, his wife and their two lovely daughters Neelam and Veena gave me second wind, in spite of the previous, sleepless night. We had breakfast and rapid catch-up. Then Mr Singh suggested I take some rest and explore downtown Amman later with his daughters. I found the city to be an exciting juxtaposition of
ancient and modern, desert with urbanity, traditional markets alongside tall, modern buildings. The girls showed me where to get great kababs. Unlike the vegetarian snacks I’d enjoyed in India, real meat was involved. We also visited the gold souk, just to look, not to buy. At dinnertime, Mr Singh suggested I visit Petra next morning, along with the girls. As time was short (less than three days), visiting Jordan’s main tourist attraction was a must.
Early next morning, the car and driver bore us away, as if on a magic carpet, to the famous Dead Sea. I was deeply moved. This is a Biblical land. I’d heard of the legendary Dead Sea, a relic of the fire and brimstone which once rained down on the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their unwelcoming attitude to outsiders and visitors. You can literally lie down in the Dead Sea and the salt-soaked water will support your weight. After seeing the Dead Sea and trying the water, we drove on towards Petra. But what was Petra? The name means ‘rock’, so that should supply a clue.
As we drove through the countryside, I noticed that traditional dress prevailed among the males, as opposed to the city dress code. Many men dressed in long white robes and wore keffiyehs, traditional Arabic male headgear. Neelam and Veena told me that we couldn’t attempt to walk through Petra, as that would be too tiring. The plan was to hire horses to ride. I wasn’t too keen initially, as horse riding has never been my forte. But the girls reassured me that the horses were perfectly tame and would be managed at all times by an experienced man. That calmed me down a bit.
My camera was packed in my suitcase which had already been sent ahead to Dublin by the airline, so no personal photos remain of that memorable day. But I wasn’t sure what lay ahead as we arrived at the Petra valley. I wondered if it was an exhausting trek like the famous Cretan Samaria Gorge, which I’d visited several years earlier. After several miles of trekking in the hot sun, I’d been exhausted. But observing the pink sandstone, I realised that this was altogether different.
The ride through Petra was something I will remember for the rest of my life. The poor horse was very docile and hard working. He must have been to put up with an inept rider like me. But apparently, the real way to see Petra is by camel. I didn’t see any camels that day. Perhaps October was off-season back then. Bear in mind that this was the early 90s. The valley of pink sandstone was an ancient city, with civic buildings and tombs carved into the actual sandstone. No-one lives there now, of course, although it is inhabited with people who make a living from tourism.
I noticed that there were very few visitors in Petra that day. I was literally in awe as I noticed the tall, majestic buildings of what was obviously once a proud and important city. History tells us that Petra was originally the capital of the Kingdom of Nabataea, which was inhabited by a northern Arabian tribe which migrated north. The kingdom thrived for about 500 years, until it was annexed by the Romans sometime after the first century after Christ. Many of the buildings have a Romanesque look, so it would appear that the Romans must have built quite a bit here. The Nabataean Arabs have, apparently, faded into historical obscurity.
In the hot sun, we ventured inside one or two of the buildings and found them quite cool and pleasant inside. So these ancient builders obviously knew a thing or two about air-conditioning. Once our journey was completed, we found our car and were soon back in the air-conditioned apartment near downtown Amman. I flew to Dublin by Royal Jordanian Airlines the next morning.
Apparently, Petra still has secrets to reveal to the world. Isn’t it exciting? It was a surprise visit for me, short and sweet visit. But the memory will stay with me forever.
Photos supplied by Maria Perry Mohan.