Serene and tranquil. When I was invited to visit Jordan, the small West Asian nation that shares borders with such trouble spots as Iraq, Syria and Israel, it never occurred to me that I would find that these were the only two words that could describe the country. But they are. Though Jordan had never featured on my list of top ten must-visit countries, now that I’ve been there, I can assure you it ought to be on such a list.
Jordan’s mild Mediterranean climate is a plus point for travellers because you can visit the country any time of the year. And there’s a lot you can do. For one, the country seems to specialise in spas and wellness centres, including the famous
chain. You can also go on night safaris, camp in deserts, immerse yourself in the therapeutic waters of a thermal spring or simply float dreamily on sparkling clear water for hours. But climate apart, my trip to Jordan was full of surprises, especially considering all the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern countries.
I had never imagined that a country 3,965 kilometres away from India would feel so much like home! Bollywood songs played on television sets in old shops, and, in an alley, a shopkeeper sold shawls and reminded me of the Janpath market in Delhi.
It can be a trip back in time though, because Jordan’s Bollywood-obsessed people don’t seem to know much about today’s filmi celebrities. Instead, Mithun and Dharmendra are their heroes still.
Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that’s one of the few in the world to still have a ruling monarchy – complete with deeply respectful subjects who swear they would die for their king, according to Ali, our guide. But that’s as far as the ‘olde worlde’ feeling goes. If you’re feeling like a time traveller rather than a tourist, all you need do is step onto the streets of Amman, the country’s capital. You’ll be whisked into the present in a second.
That’s because the wide French-built roads are almost awash in large, swanky SUVs, zooming here, there and everywhere. In Amman, it’s almost impossible to spot a small car. All major luxury car brands – Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, Peugeot – have showrooms in the city. And if your car-mania isn’t satiated by the sight of these, visit the Royal Automobile Museum, which has more than 200 fancy cars and motorcycles donated by Jordan’s royal family.
There, we saw vintage cars of a kind that we had never seen before, causing our jaws to drop almost to the ground. A group of red Ferraris dating back to the early ’30s was the best part of the museum.
Outside the museum, we went up to the Citadel, an archeological site located on a mountain, for a panoramic view of the city – past and present. Today, Amman is dotted with white, uniformly-built houses. What must the area have looked like in the time of Christ?
Dead and alive
But cities are cities and it was time for us to explore the country. One of Jordan’s most amazing natural wonders is the Dead Sea – undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.
The Dead Sea is 400 metres below sea level and contains a variety of minerals believed to have therapeutic properties that can cure all kinds of skin diseases. Because of its high salt levels, you can float on its waters for hours without fear of drowning.
So a dip in the sea ensures that you come out refreshed and with your skin rejuvenated. For instance, it’s been said that if you have a light scar or a bruise, the Dead Sea water will heal them in a couple of days.
This is because the Dead Sea’s vast expanse receives a number of incoming rivers. On reaching the landlocked region of the sea, the waters evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich cocktail of salts and minerals – invaluable for the country’s economy. Products obtained from the Dead Sea include mudpacks, shampoos, soaps, shower gels, and sun protection creams, all of which are widely exported.
We also visited Petra – a city built over 2,000 years ago by Arab businessmen who had it carved out of rocks. Now it’s known as the eighth wonder of the ancient world. The entrance is through a narrow gorge, over one kilometre in length, flanked by cliffs as high as 80 metres. The myth is that treasure is hidden beneath one of the rocks.
When you visit, don’t forget to carry a good pair of walking shoes – you’ll need them. The authorities also organise night visits for tourists, where they get to explore Petra’s ancient columns and pillars in the light of 1,800 candles.
Then you must go to Jerash – the best preserved Roman provincial town in the world. The archaeological department of Jordan is restoring the columns and pillars at this site that had been hidden in the sand for centuries.
Rediscovered about 70 years ago, Jerash reveals spacious public squares, theatres, baths, fountains and city walls pierced with towers and gates. Performances at the ancient city, representing the Roman Army, take you back in time.
The show features 45 legionaries in full armour in a Roman Army drill and a display of battle tactics. Ten gladiators fight “to death” at the ancient hippodrome. Several Roman chariots compete in a classic seven-lap race. Needless to say, the show keeps spectators hooked. The Jerash festival, held in July every year, transforms the city into one of the world’s liveliest cultural places. It features folk dances, ballet dances, concerts, plays, operas, and sales of traditional handicrafts, all in the dramatic surroundings of the Jerash ruins.
If you’re interested in adventure, head to the deserts of Wadi Rum, which offer sports such as trekking, safaris, rock climbing and mountain biking. Wadi Rum is also a great place for bird watchers. Spring and autumn are the best times of the year to spot different species of birds nesting in the rocks. The city of Aqaba on the coast of the Red Sea offers a range of aquatic sports like scuba diving, water skiing and sailing. It is also a shopper’s paradise.
Diving is a popular sport, made more interesting by the year-round presence of several species of aquatic animals. Aqaba’s coastline has a fringing reef, which stretches for 25 kilometres right down to the Saudi Arabian border. You can see deep-sea wonders through glass-bottomed boats and submarines. If you are up for a taste of Jordanian hospitality, make sure you have a huge appetite.
They have huge platters of starters alone consisting of salads (lettuce, spinach, green olives) and hamas (mashed chickpeas). The main course, which includes beef, chicken and mutton is sure to satiate your taste buds.
My rating for Jordan? Five stars! The writer’s trip was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board.