TRIPURAINFO

PETRA THE RUINED CITY

Sudip K Roy

Ever since Petra in Jordan was announced as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in July 2007, I nourished a strong desire to travel to that mysterious old City. But owing to variety of constraints could not embark on the journey till 2018. There had been lots of excitement, as I started putting together travel papers and making all other arrangements for the trip. It was like a long cherished dream slowly becoming a reality.

Travelers say that when you visit Jordan, the first stop must be Petra ("ROCK" in Greek). Keeping that in view I also planned to see other popular as also historical places like Red Sea Resort of Aqaba, Jerash, the Dead Seaand of course Amman. However this travelogue is confined only to Petra though there might be passing references to other places that I have travelled through on way to Petra. 

Flew out of Kolkata by Qatar Airways to Doha, had a layover for about two hours before boarding the connecting flight to Amman. Flying time is around 8 hours in two phases as Qatar Airways has to take a circuitous route as over flying rights were suspended by UAE, Saudi Arabia&Egypt recently. While enjoying on-flight Qatari hospitality offered by pretty Irish Hostesses, landed at Amman [aka, Queen Alia] International Airport by mid-day local time. It's a very small facility compared to most other Airports in Middle East. Immigration formalities were simple and really quick compared to what one encounters particularly at NSCBI Airport Kolkata. 
At Reception Area met my Jordanian Guide Mr. Mohammad and Mr. Aziz the Driver. Both will be my constant companions throughout the journey. 

My route to Petra was via Aqaba, a famous Red Sea Resort very popular mainly with wealthy western tourists. The city is at Jordan's southernmost pointat the crossroads of Continents of Asia and Africa. With a population of less than a lakh, Aqaba borders Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Set my course for a 335 KM road journey through the Desert Highway. It's one of the main arterial Highways of Jordan and passes mostly through uninhabited desert areas except couple of small markets with surrounding villages. These places are centered on a moderately big sand colored gated premise which houses a Police Station, 02 fire Tenders and 01 Ambulance with living accommodation for the personnel, a very well planned public utility. Guide told me that a Doctor [generally Bangladeshi, Pakistani or an Indian] is also stationed there. 

Midway I enjoyed my first Jordanian lunch at an excellent roadside facility. The food in Jordan is quite nice and consists of meat along with fresh vegetables, beans, and pulses among other ingredients. Most items are meat biased but vegetarians can choose from plenty of vegetable, saladsand variety of flat bread. I had no problem with the food and in fact enjoyed it quite a lot. Most items are spicy and taste like our own Mughlaidishes. 

It took about 4 hours' drive to reach Aqaba from Amman. After spending two days of leisure and moving around the small and beautiful city of Aqaba, I left for my cherished destination of Petra, 125 KM away by road through the Desert Highway & Kings Highway. Both are excellent multi-lane Highways. Driving along these roads is anexperience worth remembering. Roadside topography remains similar, sparsely populated with little or no vegetation. One can feel uncanny silence of the desert all along the drive. Tomorrow onwards I will start exploring the mysterious dead Nabantaean Capital of Petra. As of now had only a distant look of the ruins down the valley from my Hotel balcony and a sense of unusual tranquility was overwhelming.

I was too excited for tomorrow as it was my day to be at rock carved city of Petra. My Guide had set the clock at 7.30 AM {Jordan time] to be at the Reception Center so we could be in the first batch of visitors and would be able to beat the heat. It was quite warm in daytime in September though evenings & early mornings were cooler, typical desert climate. Had been dot on time and crossed the Entry Gate after completing Ticketing and other formalities. Even the first Group was fairly big, about 130 Tourists. Except for couple of Indians rest were Europeans.

Petra comprises of 8[Eight] Trails and takes about 10-days to cover all. I opted for the Main Trail which 8.5 KM long. Though I preferred to walk both ways, there are options of hiring a Horse or a Camel or a Horse drawn Carriage at Government fixed rates.

I became part of agroup of Tourists amongst ruins of mammoth structures of more than 2000 years old City of Petra built by Nabataeans in the in the heart of mountainous desert of southern Jordan. It is not known precisely when Petra was built but the City began to prosper from the 1st Century BC as Capital of Nabataean Empire. It was once a prosperous City and a vital trading route connecting present day Iraq [Mesopotamia] and Egypt. Even after 2000 years and in spite of harsh nature coupled with human contribution to damage & defacement, intricate facades sculpted into huge sandstone cliff-faces still stand erect. Petra is also known the Rose-Red City, a name it got from the wonderful colour of the rock from which many of the structures were curved out. Support from UNESCO and commitment of Royal Government of Jordan made it possible for us to witness these remarkably preserved monuments of a fascinating but lost civilization. 

The Siq (Arabic: al-Sīq) literally means 'the Shaft'. It is the main entrance to the City. The Siq is anarrowwinding gorge which stretches for roughly 1.2KM through two high cliffs. As narrow as about 5 meters [at some points 2 meters only] wide, the walls tower up to 200 meters overhead, casting enormous shadows depending on time of the day and position of the Sun. This presents a magnificent show of light & shade. The Siqwas created by natural process that split in half Sandstone Mountain causing a deep, narrow paved pathway that was the Grand Caravan entrance into Petra.

Beyond the dramatic entryway into Petra, stands the most impressive landmark of Petra, the towering, carved facade of a significant monument, The Treasury (Al Khazana). It is almost 40 meters high and decorated with intricate rock carvings. On top the structure is an Urn which is believed to be holding Pharao's treasure. It is more like a Temple or may be a Royal Tomb than literally being a Treasury.

Petra was annexed to Roman Empire and therefore many Monuments bear signature of Roman architecture. 43 meters high and 30 meters wide structure lit up by sunlight, found its way to cover pages of Travel Magazines, Picture Postcards. 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' was shot here. All these suddenly became a reality in front of my eyes. Even seeing was not believing !

Another important structure on the Main Trail is the Amphitheatre with 4000 siting capacity. It is carved on a side of a huge Mountain. The Theatre consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways. A part of the Theatre including the back Wall was rebuilt by the Romans. Interestingly this is the only Amphitheatre in the world curved into the Rock. 

I closed my eyes for few moments and imagined sitting amongst 4000-strong crowd and listening to the oratory of one of our Political Leaders !!!

After the Amphitheater, the valley opens out into a plain and the main city area. The ruins of Royal Tombs, Cave [living quarters] and metropolitan area where once lived estimated 30,000 people scattered around are Markets, Wide Streets and Temples.

In about 8-hours I could only cover Trail-1 which is just the tip of what Petra offers. There are many mysteries in the remaining 7 [Seven] remaining Trails. As I have stated in the beginning, it would take upto 10-days to cover the left out portion. But I was amazed to see rock cut Tombs, Colonnaded Streets, Temples, Altars, and most importantly, The Treasury. Each one was so magnificent. I hope to come back here once again. 

While beholding the immensity of the ruined City I could not help pondering how small we are compared to these 2000 year old creations.










NOTE

# This travelogue is based on my interactions with my Guide, local people and with information received from Tourist Information Center, Petra, Royal Kingdom of Petra

# All photographs appended to the Travelogue are shot my me




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