Jordan is much more than deserts and the Dead Sea. Discover why Jordan is called ‘Jewel of The Middle East’.
“What can you do in a desert?” I ask my co-passenger just before the Royal Jordanian Airlines lands at the Queen Alia International Airport. I am in Jordan and I brace myself for the chaos that characterizes most middle-eastern cities. The view at Amman, however, is surprisingly serene. Amman is as much a place for sleepy sand lined boulevards, scenic mountain top homes and spectacular mansions, as to international hospitality projects and top-of-the line hotels promising worldly comforts to the travellers. The Regency Amman, where I checked in, is a classic example.
On the first day our tour guide takes us to the town of Jerash, about 48 kilometres from Amman. Stopping over at the popular Lebanese House restaurant, we proceed to see the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. I find myself face to face with life roman warriors and gladiators at the Roman theatre. After three hours of exploration, I return to my hotel. The day ends with an excellent dinner consisting Arabic gourmet food at Levant restaurant located at Jabal Amman.
The next day I realise why Jordan is called the ‘Jewel of Middle-East’. There is much more than deserts and dry mountains to see here. The place is steeped with history and has a rich culture. Our tour to the biblical heartland of Madaba, proves this point. Next, we head to the King’s Highway. It is 335 kilometres long and the oldest road in the world, still used extensively. The highway is majestic as it is lined by prehistoric villages from the Stone Age, biblical towns from the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, Crusader castles and much more, on both sides. Finally, we make our way to the top of Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the holy land of Jerusalem and bid farewell to the material world.
We continue our journey through history to reach Mount Nebo located 817 metres above sea-level and then experience an altitude drop as we make it to Bethany, 410 metres below sea level to witness one of the most pious places in Christianity, also regarded as the baptism site of Jesus Christ.
While the ups and downs through Jordanian history leaves us wide-eyed and exhausted, nothing beats the excitement of finally making it to the famous Dead Sea. Checking into Movenpik on the coast of Dead Sea, I take a quick shower only to immerse myself into a sea of salt the next moment. Having eight times more salinity than other water bodies in the world, The Dead Sea is an experience of a lifetime. We are advised not to get into the water, and rather plaster ourselves with the famed mud, to get a ‘glowing look’.
The next morning, I can’t wait to experience how it feels to float on the Dead Sea. As still as water can be, the Dead Sea is warm and perfect for an early morning swim.
Twenty kilometres, half an hour, and one breathtaking sight after another later, we reach the Ma’in Hot Springs, used since the times of King Herod. They are one of the world’s most famous and well-preserved hydrogen sulphide water channels. Combined with a rejuvenating meal of chicken curry and boiled rice, we head onto the next phase of our Jordanian exploration.
By sundown we arrive at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra. This sleepy town is naturally designed as a fortress and the mammoth mountains opens into the “Treasury”, made famous by Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Highlighted by Siqs, craters and other rock carved graffiti’s by Nabataeans, the town has a sense of mystery and enchantment about it. No wonder, Petra has been chosen as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die” by BBC.
My fellow travellers and I hit the sand dunes of Wadi Rum the next day to soak in the sunset on the great Jordanian valley. Cut into the sandstone and granite rocks in south Jordan, 60 kilometres to the east of Aqaba, there is a large desert that has been made famous through a number of movies like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Red Planet’ and more recently ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”. The place is known to be the haven of the ‘Bedouin’ tribe who inhabit the area with their goat-hair tents and sports utility vehicles. The view from the top of Jebel um Adaami, the highest peak in Jordan, is a must-experience as well.
A feast at Captain Cook’s desert camp feels like a heavenly treat after a hectic day and night of sightseeing. Over the following hours, I settle down at the Movenpik, Tala Bay, overlooking the Red Sea and the distant mountains of Israel on one side and Egypt on another.
I reserve my final day in Jordan for the Red Sea and its maritime wonders. After a quick and fulfilling breakfast served by a Egyptian maître d’hôtel at Movenpik, we head to the Aqaba diving centre, home to exquisite corals and sea reefs and regarded as one of the top diving destinations in the world. Three hours later, which includes a dive into the Red Sea, I come out a different person.
As I bid adieu to my friendly tour guide, he says, “you haven’t seen even 30 percent of the country”. And I agree. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a jewel waiting to be explored.
The Madaba Map carved in mosaic dates back to 6th century AD and is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem.