‘A rose red city half as old as time…,’ John William Bugon once described Petra in his award-winning poem. The ancient city in Jordan is now one of the most popular destinations in the country. It has plenty to offer to any traveller – rocky outcrops on a stunning landscape defined by shades of red, amber and yellow; rock cut temples and ruins for history aficionados; and surreal locales where films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shot. But more importantly, Petra opens up a time warp that takes you back two thousand years. Once the center of powerful empires – Nabateans, Romans – the city was known for its ingenious channels carved into the rocks that gathered rain water to ensure an abundant water supply during the summers.
Getting there: there are flight connections from India to Amman offered by airlines such as Air Arabia, Etihad etc.
Time is required to see the city: a day at least
Top tip: travel light; there is a lot of walking involved.
A walk through a siq (canyon) leads one to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Established by the Nabataeans about 2000 years ago, Petra flourished under the Roman rule. The sandstone cliffs along the passage take on varying shades of brown, red and yellow, at their own whim and fancy. Formed when tectonic forces split a mountain in to two, the sharp corners were smoothened over the years by the waters. Sunlight creates as interesting play of light and shadow as one traverses the siq.
Just as the feet start getting weary and one wonders how long the walk will be, the siq suddenly relents and opens up. The imposing Treasury beholds and the cameras get clicking. Built as a mausoleum, the structure perhaps gets its name from legend that speaks of bandits who hid their treasure in the stone urn at the top of the structure. The numerous gun shots on the urn are testimony that many believed the legend to be true.
Camels bedecked with patterned kilims rest near the Treasury, waiting for those willing to take a ride. Numerous stalls near the Treasury cater to the tourists, selling fridge magnets, chiselled rock pieces, trinkets, sand art bottles et al.
For spectacular aerial views of Petra, one must make the trip up 800 steps on a rock cut path to the Monastery. It is an hour’s climb, with places to rest if one chooses to break the journey. For the lazy among us, mules are available, though one’s heart is practically in the mouth as the animals nimbly hop, skip and jump over the steep rocks.
While similar in design to the Treasury, the Monastery is a much higher structure. The facade, more decorated and intricate on the upper story, is carved out of a single rock.
The views from the highest point in Petra are worth the climb. One the left, the Monastery juts out of the rock, the rocky outcrop in front provides a sharp jagged contrast to the sky and on the right, one can see hills stretch to the horizon, all the way to the Dead Sea.