So, after we started from the home of our couchsurfing host, I boarded his Nissan truck for a short 15-minute ride from his home to the Petra entrance, along with Gabriel, another Mexican couchsurfer who was staying with my host. I hopped on the open back of the truck, to take some pictures.
Nawwaf is the archetypical example of Bedouin huge-heartedness, as he stopped at every person walking on the road, and asked if they wanted a lift. And soon, I was sharing the open back with a kid called Mohammed. He spoke fluent English, and welcomed me to Jordan. I had a quick 5 minute chat with him about how to milk the camel, which he knew perfectly. (I was to learn later in the night in a bedouin cave, that camel milk was a potent Aphrodisiac, which was used prominently by Nawwaf’s uncle, who made 3 children AFTER he turned 70!)
After a while, Mohammed got off his destination, and a few minutes later, we reached Petra. I proceeded to buy a 1-day pass at 50 JD, and kept cursing the high cost of the ticket. But Gabriel was staying for a longer time, so he enquired about a multiple-entry ticket. And this is how it works – 50 JD for 1 day. 55 JD for 2 days. 60 JD for 3 days, with the 4th day entry totally free! The pricing slab made no sense for either of us, but he proceeded to get the 60 JD ticket anyway.
Now, for those who know of Petra only from the Indiana Jones movie, here is a little history lesson. Petra was built by the rather obscure Nabateans, who were also rather gifted in assimilating multiple cultures into their midst. And they were extremely skillful to carve an entire city into the giant rocks that outlined Petra. But for reasons unknown, Petra was completely abandoned by the 14th century, only to be discovered by a Swiss traveller named Johann Ludwing Burckhardt in 1812.
As you proceed through the entrance, and beyond the shops that sold souvenirs, you will be greeted by a horde of horsemen who will convince you to ride a horse, since the entire Petra city is about 7 km walk, and through some stone-filled paths. They will also tell you that the horse ride is included in the ticket cost, which is partially true. Your ticket cost does include a free horse ride until the entrance of the Siq, but this is only 1/10th of the whole length. So, once at the Siq, the horse-handlers will try to convince you to go through with the remaining trip, which will of course cost you. I didn’t try the ride, and kept saying Shukran, so I don’t know how much it will cost.
Now, a word of advice. The Bedouins who handle the horses, donkeys and camels in Petra are very proud people. If they offer you any of their services, politely say Shukran (thank you), and they will not bother you again. But do not ignore them! They don’t like to be treated like beggars, with your snobbish gestures implying leave-me-alone. We saw a Chinese couple who refused to answer to anybody’s calls and kept ignoring the horsemen, only to be called ‘stupid’ in plain English to the face in front of everybody. Ouch!
The first noteworthy stop in the whole walk of Petra, is obviously the Obelisk tomb. I am not an expert in architecture by any means, so I am going to quote the marker sign verbatim when I tell you that, ‘the Obelisk tomb is a perfect example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between East and West. The obelisk is obviously an Egyptian influence, and the niche between the obelisk is a Graeco-Roman influence.’ Giving that badass architectural description made me feel so good!
Just a short walk ahead, was the majestic Siq, or actually As-Siq. Now, the Siq, I can describe. This is basically a grand entrance to the Petra with bizarre looking formations of rocks on both sides, consisting of multiple colors. It’s almost like somebody painted the rocks, because we could see a whole palette of colors on each of them. The rock cliffs were rather tall too, almost 50 metres at certain spots. This is a photographer’s delight, and me and Gabriel just kept clicking off here.
Emerging from the Siq, you will finally come face to face with the face of Petra. Or rather the Al-Khazneh (treasury). If it wasn’t for the guidebook, I would have always thought that this was a temple. Being the superstar in the Petra complex, it was not surprising to see the camels and the horses again here, especially since the next major stop was quite a distance away. But being at the Al-Khazneh at noon, with the sun glimmering against the pink rock, was a bliss that we had to stand back and enjoy for a while. Too bad that we couldn’t enter the giant building though.
After the treasury we kept walking, passing by an amphitheatre, some colonnaded streets and a couple of tombs. But I didn’t stop or spend too much time there, because I had seen enough of these in Amman and Jerash already.
The next attraction was the farthest of them all, and the most difficult to get to. To get to the Ad deir monastery, one needs to walk up a flight of 800 stairs, and rather steep ones at that! Almost every 50 steps, there was a kid with a donkey offering us if we wanted to ride the donkey to go up. I was determined not to spend that extra Jay-dee (that’s what the hipster kids in Jordan called their currency) on a donkey that might not even take my weight. So, I stopped at every 10 steps, pretending to take a picture, took a deep breath and continued to climb the stairs.
After nearly an hour of grueling walk, we were at the top! And Ad-Deir was worth the torture. Almost similar to the Al Khazneh, the Ad-Deir rock colour was distinctly different, taking a slightly yellow shade. But the carvings were as intricate as the Al Khazneh, and better, we could even enter the gargantuan structure. It doesn’t matter that there was nothing much inside the Ad-deir, and the whole place stank of cattle poop.
By the time we reached Ad-deir, it was already 3 PM, and we wanted to see the sunset in Petra. Frankly, Ad-deir was the best place to see this, but that meant you will have to walk back in the dark, which was definitely not going to be fun. So, we walked back to the giant Urn tomb, to see the sunset from there.
On the way, I stopped to talk to a Bedouin family that sold souvenirs. I know I have said this before, but Bedouin hospitality is absolutely amazing. I had barely asked a couple of questions, before they whipped out a tea-glass and some light snacks. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality, and actually ended up buying a souvenir without any compulsion from my new friends.
We continued our walk back to the Urn tomb, which was the largest of the royal tombs in Petra. And once we reached this huge tomb, we climbed up and found ourselves sitting on the edge of the tomb, waiting for the sunset. Turns out we still had an hour, so I did what I am normally good at. I went to talk to another Bedouin family nearby!
There was a trio of brothers who ran a shop on the top of the tomb, with little artifacts and cold drinks. (Do you know how they get the electricity for a fridge up on the tomb? They don’t. They need no electricity to chill drinks during winter, and during summer, they bring ice and dump it in the fridge). I had a coke and we again shared a good conversation about football, alcohol and gorgeous Jordanian women. Guy-talk, what else were you expecting?
After a while, it was finally sunset. We caught a quick glimpse of the sun going down, before heading out quickly, lest we be caught in the dark Siq. Well, how much ever fast we walked, we still got caught in the Siq. But, luckily we were not the only folks, so at least we had company!