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Going to Petra: A journey back in time

india Updated: Nov 10, 2011 01:08 IST
Kiran Mehta
Kiran Mehta
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A journey to the lost city of Petra in Jordan is like taking a trip back in time — Roman tombs, Nabatean temples and gigantic cliffs transport you to an epic past.

Even today, the Bedouins continue to populate Petra. When you think ‘Bedouin’, images of ancient people come to mind, but what greets you is unexpected. Many Bedouin men dress in crisp shirts and chinos. While most of them own camels, they can also be seen speeding through the desert in four-wheel drives.

Be the change
Ironically, the Bedouin tribes of Petra are called ‘Bedul’ that means ‘change’. Yet, even though they have adapted to modern times, they’ve held onto their culture.

One such Bedouin was Salem Al Faqeer, who practices the art of his forefathers — bottled sand art. While these bottles look no different from sand art found across the Middle East, Salem informs that they contain naturally-coloured sand. Salem says, “We have 14 different stones in Jordan that we work with.” He works meticulously on bottles of all sizes. With a long, thin metal stick as his brush, he works with the fine sands and creates shapes of camels, eagles, and other symbols of the desert. But borrow the metal brush from him and it’s clear within seconds that this art takes years of practise. The stones damaged by earthquakes are the ones that artists like Salem have access to as they pose no threat to the heritage site.

Until 1986, the Bedouins lived in Petra, but were later relocated to the Beduoin village of Umm Suquiem in order protect this site. Ask Salem if he resents this move and he says, “Not at all! We want to protect Petra as much as the government.”

Home sweet home
The intermingling between the Bedouins and other nationalities is startling. Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, a Kiwi is one such example. She came to Petra as a tourist in 1978, while in her 20s. She fell in love with a Beduion boy, Mohammed, whom she later married. She became one of the tribe doing what the tribals do for a living.
Mohammed passed away a few years ago, but she didn’t go back to settle in New Zealand as she thinks of Petra as home. Marguerite surprises when she says, “Even though I came from the west, I rarely missed that way of life or the amenities it offered. Today in our village, I have access to the latest technology, such as on-demand television or satellite dishes etc.”