I travelled with my daughter Anna and The Adventure Company www.adventurecompany.co.uk
In the early hours, we arrived in the bustling city of Amman, now with a population of some 3 million people including almost one million Iraqis who have left their own country and have helped to inject new wealth into Jordan. We stayed at the Hotel Amman West, a comfortable 4* hotel.
Our first day took us 45 km north to Jerash, quickly leaving the rush hour strewn motorways of Amman to cross rolling hills of olive groves, punctuated by small stands of pine and eucalyptus trees.
Jerash is a well preserved and sizeable Roman city, and now the site of the huge annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, this year hosting Placido Domingo. Accessed through a vast monumental arch, built in commemoration of Hadrian, who visited the city in 129-130, we passed the Hippodrome to our left, this the site of ancient sporting festivals and chariot races, and now staging replica battles and chariot demonstrations again. We moved on through the South Gate, passing the lower terraces of the Temple of Zeus before admiring the impressive Oval Plaza, a large paved area enclosed by two curving colonnades. The nearby South Theatre is the largest of the city’s three theatres, built around 90 AD, with impressive acoustics, only marred by the rather sad appearance of a bagpipe and drum duo who ‘performed’ whilst we looked on.
|Oval Plaza, Jerash|
|The Cardo, Jerash|
|Temple of Artemis, Jerash|
|Farmland in Aljoun, north west Jordan|
A very good dinner at Tannoureen in West Amman, rated the best place for Lebanese food in Jordan.
Passing through Abdoun, the ‘Belgravia’ of Amman, we headed south on to the King’s Highway bound for Dana. After 30 km we reached Madaba, historically a Christian town and only recently Muslim dominated. The town is famed for its mosaic work in the many churches here, and we visited the best known, the Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land, situated in the Greek Orthodox church of St George, thankfully empty at the time of our visit whereas it is usually mobbed by visitors.
|Map of the Holy Land, St George's Church, Madaba|
|Memorial to Moses, Mount Nebo|
Then turning south again, we crossed the mighty Wadi Mujib, Jordan’s Grand Canyon, cutting through 1200m of desert plateau down to the Dead Sea in the west, reaching Karak, the most prominent town in southern Jordan, in time for a late lunch.
|Wadi Mujib, Jordan's Grand Canyon|
Karak itself is a bustling, largely Bedouin, market town, but one that descended into riots over food prices as recently as 1996.
The two hour drive to Dana took us into the increasingly inhospitable Shara mountains, attaining 1500m near the Dana turn off. Crossing another deep canyon, Wadi Hasa, we saw the extinct volcano known as the Black Mountain, a striking protuberance in an otherwise white limestone landscape.
|Black Mountain, Wadi Hasa|
|Dana RSCN Project|
|Views from the Dana RSCN Guesthouse|
Awoke early, disturbed by one irritating mozzie, but enjoyed the dawn, with the emerging light progressively highlighting the bands of limestone and the lower strata of sandstone and granite. Fleeting views into Israel before the inevitable haze build up.
|Wadi Dana, limestone and sandstone landscape|
We called in on the Dana Visitor Centre, which espouses sustainable tourism, and has a small workshop for local people producing small pieces of jewellery from silver and local malachite stone. There’s also a small processing plant for local nuts (almonds and pistachios) plus dried fruit and herbs. We then walked to the local spring created by a schism between the limestone and a basalt intrusion, followed by a bus and 4WD trip to the RSCN campsite on the northern edge of the wadi. Some walking amidst the white sandstone blocks and a little bird watching took us up to lunch. Sightings included wolf and striped hyena tracks, plus a small but deadly scorpion found beneath a rock. Birds seen included hoopoe, Tristram’s grackle, Sinai rosefinch (the national bird of Jordan), green finch, honey buzzard and yellow vented bulbul.
|Dana village from the spring|
|Sandstone landscape in Wadi Dana|
|Scorpion in Dana National Park|
|Rosefinch, national bird of Jordan|
Arrival at the Treasury did not disappoint, emerging from a narrow gap in the wadi to be confronted by this magnificent sight illuminated by a ‘field’ of candles on the ground in front of it. Everyone was seated on rugs and treated to tea before a short rendition on a local string instrument and a haunting flautist who emerged from the base of the Treasury.
We left ahead of the madding crowd and enjoyed the walk back, pretty much alone, and in a respectful silence. Looking back to the entrance of the Siq from the dam, the white sandstone was illuminated by the light of an emerging moon, giving the whole area a spectral glow. Magical.
|Obelisk Tomb, on the approach to Petra|
|The Siq, Petra|
|In the Siq|
|Approaching the Treasury through the Siq|
|Anna at the Treasury|
|The Treasury, Petra|
|Sandstone features in the tombs of Petra|
|On the East Cliff, Petra|
|The Theatre, Petra|
|Looking back to the Outer Siq|
|Urn Tomb, Petra|
|Ad-Deir, the Monastery, above Petra|
|Descent path from the Monastery|
Anna rested this morning whilst the rest of us took a short drive to Little Petra. A superb road led up the hill to the north of the hotel, winding through the white sandstone formations and affording a view down to the city of Petra far below. It was very hot today, estimated at mid ‘30s C.
Little Petra, used as a resting point for trading caravans in the Nabatean period, is a gem, and we had it completely to ourselves for well over an hour. Unlike Petra, this is not a place of tombs. It features many reservoirs built into the rock, used to store water guided by sculpted channels along the length of the wadi walls. Areas for communal dining were also seen. It took no more than 15 minutes to walk from end to end and we scrambled up to a few viewpoints along the way, often enjoying the spectacle in complete silence. The rest of the day was spent chilling out at the hotel, with a BBQ on the roof terrace for dinner.
|Idiot's way down in Little Petra!|
A late start took us back on to the King’s Highway, passing a clutch of new luxury hotels with great views down to the area before the entrance to the Siq. We slowly ascended the high flat plateau to ~1500m, with extensive views east towards Israel. We finally reached the village of Rum, popping into the Visitor’s Centre out of 40 degrees of heat, and a quick lunch before loading ourselves into a 4WD for a three hour circuit of Wadi Rum.
|The 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', Wadi Rum|
|Wadi Rum, the landscape in the film 'Lawrence of Arabia'|
It was still very hot when we got there, after a very bumpy ride, 37 degrees C in the shade! We had a very chilled evening in and around the tent, gazing at the stars, iridescent in a totally clear sky. It was a very windy night though, tents flapping until past 0100, then total silence. Bliss.
|Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum|
Up relatively early, although late to sleep meant missing the sunrise. A quick breakfast, then on to camels (mine the bad-tempered one) for a hour back to Rum. One hour was enough. No Michael Asher trips for me!!
Along drive north, about three hours, in very windy conditions which created numerous dust devils and larger dust storms as we headed north. We stopped for lunch in Madaba, then headed west past the Mount Nebo complex again before descending from 725m down to -400m, the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.
On arrival at the Dead Sea Mövenpick it was very hot and sticky, about 40 degrees C. Hazy views across the Red Sea revealed the disputed West Bank and patrolling Israeli military helicopters were spotted later in the day. Late afternoon we finally had a swim (well, float) in the rather viscous waters of the Dead Sea, which is, in fact, now 25m lower than it was in the ‘50s due reduced inflow from the River Jordan and continuing evaporation. Incidentally, the salt content is around 30%, which compares to normal sea water at 3-4%.
A luxurious end to the trip.
Return to London on Royal Jordanian Airlines. Clean, comfortable and efficient.
This was a somewhat more comfortable ‘adventure’ trip than I would normally travel on, but the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a little gem, a real melting pot of complex history, vast landscapes and welcoming people. Samir, our guide, typified the land: born on the West Bank, but now settled north of Amman with a small farmstead, he is warm and generous in nature, modern in outlook, but steeped in the culture and history of his country. Petra will not disappoint: it is truly an amazing and somewhat humbling spectacle. I thought that it might be too hot to visit Jordan in June, but the humidity is low and it keeps the tourist hordes away. If you want somewhere completely different to visit, just 5 hours from the UK, with archaeological interest, challenging landscapes, good food and friendly locals, then look no further.