Thursday, January 13, 2011

8 Days in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

My first trip of the new year, was to the mesmerizing Hashemite Kindom of Jordan.

Before, I hardly knew much about Jordan apart from the beautiful Queen Rania whom I've seen on TV passionately advocating her cause for global education, and of course, the enchanting image of the 'Treasury' of Petra that appeared in the movie Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade - now a world famous attraction.

I was thrilled to finally be able to witness the true beauty of this stunning kingdom first-hand. In total, I spent 8 days & 7 nights travelling from the north to the south of Jordan, covering several of the key sites. Here's a summary of my recent trip.

*AMMAN, The Capital City*
In this modern yet traditional sprawling town, I visited the Citadel, popped into the nearby 6,000 seat Roman Theatre, took a walk through the streets of downtown and into a bustling marketplace, and stuffed myself silly with Arabic mezze and cookies.










*UMM QAYS*
From Amman, I first travelled up north to Umm Qays and checked out more ruins of theatres & a colonnaded terrace, located on a site set on a hilltop.






*AJLUN*
Heading down south from Umm Qays, I came to one of Jordan's most important historical attraction, the Ajlun castle. Built in 1184AD, it epitomizes the robustness of Arab-Islamic architecture, with a fortress that stretches far across the northen Jordan Valley.








*JERASH*
Once covered entirely by sand, Jerash is considered one of the best preserved Roman towns in the world. Now partially restored, I was awe-struck by the majestic Hadrian's Arch, colonnaded street, fountain, temples and theatres, all spread out on this vast site. I also managed to catch the 'Roman Army and Chariot Experience' (RACE) show at the hippodrome.








*DEAD SEA*
Believe it or not, I was more than 400m below sea level, and even stayed a night! At the Dead Sea you can, as this area is the lowest point on the earth's surface. Due to the extreme mineral salt content of the Dead Sea, it hardly supports any living creatures, hence its name. Also, with the high density of the water resulting in greater buoyancy, one can float effortlessly and leisurely in the water, like I did till sun set!






*MOUNT NEBO*
Set atop Mt. Nebo is a holy site commemorating the prophet Moses, also believed to be the place where he was buried. Here at the summit, I saw (as Moses did) the panoramic view of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem. Besides the Monastery, other things to look out for include the olive tree planted by the late Pope John Paul II, as well as the symbolic serpentine cross.






*MADABA*
Nicknamed 'The City of Mosaic', Madaba is where you can find the prettiest mosaic masterpieces. I visited a mosaic workshop, and checked out the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George which contains the remains of a 6th century map of Jerusalem and other holy sites - made out of millions of colourful mosaic pieces.



*KARAK*
Here, I visited the main attraction of Karak - the Crusader Castle. I stumbled through the dark maze of stone chambers and got lost in the architectural beauty of this ancient stronghold.








*PETRA & BEIDA (LITTLE PETRA)*
The most anticipated part of my journey, is here at Petra - known today as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As I walked with my guide over a kilometer between the narrow gorge flanked by 80m high cliffs, I listened to his fascinating tales of the ancient civilization and looked out for clues of their existence hidden in the rock walls. At the end of the walk through the 'siq', that first glimpse of the Al-Khazneh, was almost magical. Once inside this 'lost city', I was transported back in time to the primeval Nabataean Kingdom, and spent hours in the site exploring the impressive tombs (many with elaborate fa├žades carved into the rock face), temples & theatre. I also climbed the steep steps cut into the rock to get up to the High Place of Sacrifice, and enjoyed a great view over Petra from there.










*WADI RUM*
Here in the desert landscape of Wadi Rum, I rode a stubborn camel, took a 2hr + Jeep ride thundering up & down sand dunes exploring the canyons, stone bridge, primitive rock drawings & monolithic sandstone mountains, and sat down for tea with a Bedouin woman in her austere tent.










*AQABA*
Finally, down south of Jordan at upper tip of the Red Sea, is Aqaba, a great place to just chill and relax. I treated myself to a scrumptious fresh seafood meal (a must!), went for an hour of dead sea mud massage (another must-do!), and hopped on a submarine to explore the underwater marine world of the Gulf of Aqaba.










Some of the things I learnt:

★ One of the unexpected things I came across while doing my research, was that the current King of Jordan, King Abdullah II (who was a Star Trek fan), actually made an appearance as an extra in an episode of the Star Trek series back in 1996 when he was just a prince. Read about it here and here.

★ The Jordanians are very hospitable and friendly people! They are peace-loving, and welcome anyone of any race or religion into their country wholeheartedly. Also, being great hosts, Jordanians like to offer their guests with more food than they can possibly take. Meal portions are usually huge!

★ Jordanians are rather affectionate towards each other, and address close friends and loved ones as their ‘Habibi’. After spending some time with a local, you might just be their Habibi too!

★ Jordanians are proud of their nation, and they have every right to be so, as they managed to sustain peace, stability and economic growth in their country in recent decades.

★ I am crazy about Arabic cuisine! I ate only traditional Arabic food throughout my entire stay, and I am particularly addicted to Makloubeh (rice cooked with eggplant and spices topped with chicken or lamb) and Kubbeh (torpedo shaped fried croquette stuffed with minced lamb).

★ As Spain has Arabic roots, both the Spanish & Arabic languages share some very similar words.

★ When dipping in the Dead Sea, DO NOT, EVER, let the water touch your face, especially your eyes. It stings!!!

Did I have a good time? You bet!

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