An oasis of peace in the otherwise unstable region of Middle East, Jordan is one flight away from New Delhi, India and very well connected with Dubai, that connects the rest of the world. A visa-on-arrival destination for Indians, getting in and around is smoother than you imagine. Get some bragging rights with having visited a beautiful landscape with heart warming lovely people who are eager to help and insist that you come back soon to Jordan. The pink hues or its landscape and the texture of pointy mountains, rolling desert sand will be etched in your memory. Pack your sunscreen, hat and glasses, put on your walking shoes and carry some cash always if you find yourself stranded. Most of the place accept credit cards now but still, better safe than be sorry.
If Jordan was a person, she would be of class, culture, pace and such timeless beauty and grace, that we would be compelled to stop pay attention to her.
THE JEWEL OF JORDAN
Wander in Petra – Petra is worth at least two visits, not only because it is impossible to cover it in a day, but also because it is two different creatures during the light of the day and darkness of the night. You will be astounded the second time you visit it to discover even more and new things. The mothership of tourism in Petra is Petra, the carvings in the mountains that will blow your mind. Just to realise that these were made not in the times of trucks and cranes generates so much appreciation for the workers and the visualisers. You can hire a guide at the entrance, or if you are one of the well read ones, you can follow the well-marked paths and unravel the history and culture. Ensure you don’t give in to the pesky camel riders and horse riders who follow you for a while to make you rent a beast of burden. Keep your ears open to the horse carts that speed through. The night tours are open till midnight and the day tours open at 6. Check out their website to buy tickets in advance as there are times when counters close if they have sold the number of people they accommodate in a day.
The night tour brings you to the main amphitheatre where lamps are lit and stories are told, music is played transporting you to another world. Wear really comfortable shoes are the walk many not be uphill but the stones beneath make it a little difficult. Petra is about colourful hues, textures, waves in the rocks that are age old.
Little Petra – There are two ways to access Little Petra. If you are the more adventurous types, they you could access it after entering Petra and hike up to Siq al-Barid or Little Petra as commonly and popularly known. This is a place to experience the life, markets, culture and be at rather than getting thigs checked off the bucket list. A lot of traveller skip this place, which is why it makes it more enjoyable – because of less crowds and less pestering and insistent tourist guides. However, since the trails are not as well marked as Petra itself, so, you would not want to get lost here. A UNESCO world heritage site, there is no fee to enter the archaeological site.
Bobble in Dead Sea – This will be the single most memorable adventures topping the list of all adventures of your life. To feel actual weightlessness in water will no doubt be an incredible experience for you. There is a public beach but most of the coast of the Dead Sea on the Jordan side is lined with hotels. Some offer day passes, some insist on a night stay. Why it is a good idea to get into one of these is that the hotels will offer towels, place to shower and change and the most important element – dig up dead sea mud that is considered super therapeutic for skin ailments and keep it ready in buckets for you to just apply and soak in the sun. Be cautious that high on mineral content, the mud may trigger minor burns so do not over expose yourself. The extremely high levels of salt water is a major irritant to the eye. So even if a drop of water gets into your eye, rush to the banks and wash up with cold fresh water immediately. The lowest point on Earth, a few 100 meters below sea level is not going to disappoint you.
Get a scrub in s Dead Sea Salt Spa – AlfLaila would be your best bet as the place is relatively new but the masseurs and techniques really old, tired and tested. Book a ritual instead of just the massage. The ritual will include dipping in Jacuzzi, excellent scrubs, massages, showers and winding it all up with excellent Bedouin tea. In majority of the spas in Jordan, the entry and exits would be separate for men and women. The more modern ones have now started accommodating a common area which are gender neutral. Many of the spas that are attached to a resort or a hotel offer utilising facilities for the day – like the pool, steam room, common areas etc.
Visit a beach resort in Aqaba – Aqaba is as cosmopolitan as Jordan can get. If you stay here a little more than half a day, you are bound to forget that you are in one of the countries in the Middle East. Tourists from all around the world, in bikinis sipping alcohol and grooving to music by the poolsides could pass Aqaba as any other destination in the world. As much as it is a family destination, it is popular amongst young travellers, bag packers, and couples celebrating special occasions. In the Caribbean-like spirit, the laid back town stays up late and closes down post noon to prep for the rest of the night, so bring your party shoes when visiting this part of Jordan.
Dive in Red Sea – The Red Sea is considered to be one of the best places to dive in the world. Book in advance as sometimes you may not get a walk in. Most of the dives happen early in the morning till noon as after noon it is not conducive to go diving. The winter temperatures are still balmy at no less than 20 degrees, but summers are hot, so it is more a day on day call if there is dive being organised. Israel is visible from the coast and one of the routes to the country passes from Read Sea. There are a few certified PADI dive shops that you could write to in advance and check out if there is spots on the boats going in. The waters of Red Sea are celebrated for clarity – which is everything in diving. The cleared the water, the more chances of spotting wildlife and accentuated underwater experience of.
Visit the Citadel of Amman – Gigantic and historic, you can visit it on your own or hire a tour guide. However, you will be pestered and convinced by the milieu of tour guides who wait for you at the ticket counter to hire them, and how by doing that you are doing a favour on tourism and on Jordan. While the guides are a little on the costlier side, they are not a rip-off, especially if you get a chatty one who will check with you where you are headed next and offer a discount Half a day trip from will get you exploring the middle east history and the beautiful panoramic sites of Amman, disturbingly similar to Syria, which is almost grounded to rubble now. Being here at the Citadel will make you grateful towards Jordan for preserving itself so well for tourists. This is also the highest point in Amman, hence you will see all the catacomb-like houses that are build in hills and the snaking routes across the city. The ruins are maintained in a great condition and give a generic overview. The Roman Temple of Hercules is the most imposing sight a these architectural ruins. Catch a bird’s eye view of the Roman Theatre from up here, before you decent to visit another majestic architectural heritage.
Rainbow Street in Jebel Amman – If you have heard a lot about the youthful party culture of Amman and are eager to be a part of this, Rainbow Street is where you should be. The street is unrecognizable pre and post 6pm. Out of experience I can tell that before sun down, it is a tamed street with most of the shops shut, cafes and restaurant either shut for the noon – French Style – or still empty. Come dusk and you will begin to see cars and bikes vrooming past with the much happening crowd who is here to unwind. Locals and foreigners turn out here in equal numbers. Besides antique shops and cosy bookshops, Rainbow Street is also host to many film festivals, art exhibitions and music concerts if you are in time here catching one of those. The kilometre-long narrow and short street is best explored on foot post sunset. You can also book yourself a walking tour, in most of which, Rainbow Street is the star attraction.
The Roman Theatre – You will catch a glimpse of the Roman Theatre on your way up to the Citadel of Amman. Many tourists skip this as what you see is what you get. Only if you have the time in your itinerary, step into the space to get a sweeping view of the Citadel high up above. The ruins are in excellent condition and have been completely restored. The entry fee is a nominal amount which include entry to the two museums inside the popular culture museum and folklore museum.
Downtown Amman – This is one of the secrets which is mostly not listed in most of the guide books. Ensure that you visit the market area of Amman, the downtown part of it on foot. Even day time is fine as the buildings are so close to each other with electricity wires almost making a clout on top. There are food casts and water-ground fruits found in colour-pop bottles to quench thirst. A car ride may not be a a great idea as this locality is prone to slow moving traffic. Satiate the foodie inside you with mouth watering treats being fried, boiled and prepared in some of the oldest eateries. Thing the Old Delhi/ Chandani Chow of New Delhi and add the labyrinthine narrowing streets going in every direction. This well kept and preserved secrets from the Indiana Jones tourist trail is a liberating immersion in the Middle East culture and a intense course in the comings and goings of Ammanis and Jordanians. If you don’t want to be pestered, camouflage yourself in local dresses, which are pretty simple and soak all the five senses in a trip to Downtown Amman.
Border watch the promise land from atop Mount Nebo – Dotted with viewpoints to panoramic views, Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the promised land. A touristy-telescope at the view point will allow you to see exactly what he saw. It is said that when he died, he was buried somewhere here in an unmarked spot, though this fact is contentious – like all mythology and religious claims. The centre of attraction if The Moses Memorial Church that displays spectacular mosaics, depicting maps, history and other hieroglyphs. Right form the peak of the mountain, you can see the land that is the edge of Palestine and Israel. If the day is clear and sunny, you will be able to spot Dead Sea banks. The most photographed spot is the cross with serpents that depicts the suffering of crucifixion of Jesus.
Mosaics and Madaba – Just a couple of hours away from the capital city of Amman, Madaba is a easy one day get away from the insanity of Amman, crowds, people and traffic. Madaba is all about mosaics and you can easily spend your entire day here visiting all things mosaics – The Madaba Institute of Mosaic Art and Restoration, The Saints George church that houses a Mosaic Map. There are other sites that are of religious significance and historical importance for the biggest religions of the world – Christianity, Jews and Muslims. It is worth pondering how one little town could shoulder so much and offer in terms of rich history and a window into the past. There are day bus tours from Amman that take you across the most important sites in Madaba.
Road Trip on Kings Highway – Another great aspect of Jordan being a small country is that the roads are in one hundred percent excellent condition. So if you plan to rent a car, by all means go ahead. You can also request for a GPS from the rental service or a buy a mobile number with internet services which are readily and inexpensively available at the airport when you arrive. The three highways are pretty straightforward. The self explanatory Dead Sea Highway connects the southern the tip of Jordan with the Dead Sea. The other two highways run parallel to the Dead Sea Highway. The King’s Highway runs across Jordan, and is in the middle, followed by Desert Highway, which is the eastern most highway. There are not many restrooms or fuel stations on the way, so pack what you need and be prepared to go out in the open. It is unlikely that you will find traffic.
Camel Ride around the Desert Highway – The vast expanse of nothingness of the desert at Wadi Musa makes exploring landscapes extremely joyful. The days are dehydrating hot and nights are cold to want to stay indoors. But if you are lucky and in the right weather, book a camel ride and go exploring a small part of the extensive desert. Be aware that it is likely that you do not ride camels usually. Resist the temptation and the trap of booking a longer tour by hours for a cheaper price. You will not be able to last that long on a camel as it is extremely uncomfortable, even though they are well cushioned for tourists. Also, wear comfortable clothes that allow your feet to open, but ensure that you are covered well with hats and long length trousers to avoid getting a bad sun burn.
Cruise the Dead Sea Highway – Of the three highways, undoubtedly the most scenic, The Dead Sea Highway has some of the most prominent spots of Jordan. If you are on a limited number of days for travel the Dead Sea Highway will offer the best of Jordan. Between the three highways that slice across vertically through Jordan, if you had to pick one, pick this. The northern stretch which ends at the Dead Sea is simply spectacular as it runs across with the Dead Sea one side and steep cliffs on the other. There are some panoramic platforms from where you would be able to get some envious pictures of the landscape. Do know that most of the international tourists often visit Jordan with the sole objective of visiting the Dead Sea. The highway road is in excellent condition as of 2017 and some of the best restaurants, biosphere reserves, stunning views of the Israel Coast and humbling landscape of the wavy mountains.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME TO SPARE
Sleep under the stars in Wadi Rum – Bang in the middle of the country, equally close to both north and south of Jordan Wadi Rum is that measured desert experience that many tourists come to Jordan for. You can chose to visit it during the day but if you have time to spare in your itinerary, Wadi Rum is the place to stay in the Bedouin Camps for a night. Handmade from goat hair, the tent will keep you warm in the desert chill at night. Often the tours are packed with folk music, hookah and local food to give you that absolute local flavour in the experience.
Jerash – A day trip away from Amman, the ruins of Jerash will keep you glued to the Nabatean history. It is also unlikely that you would know the history of each archaeological part strewn here, it is recommended to download an audio book, or hire a guide so that the history and interconnections of each can be narrated. The condition of the ruins and their maintenance will impress you. On a sunny day, stay hydrated as the walk through the entire premises will not be as ‘touristy’ as you think. Since Jordan has a rich history of Arabs, Turks, Greeks and Romans ruling the region, the temples and toms often run into different mythologies. However the ruins in Jerash are primarily Romanesque. For panoramic views, walk up to the entrance of Temple of Artemis and get some sweeping views of the ruins and the city. The most breath-taking, picture-worthy and magnificent are the pillars or ‘Forum’ as it is called. The plaza and the columns make for stunning views of these archaeological ruins. Do check out the Museum with in the premises, but check the timings as the archaeological ruins are remains open longer and the museum shuts earlier. So if you are here, visit the museum first and then wander around at leisure.
Kerak – What would have been off-limits because of the unrest in the middle east in 2016 is still a very much in shape city. The centre of attractions for tourists is the Kerak Castle. Many tourists choose to skip visiting here because of the absence of upkeep, but not site too small for a architecture/history buff. You can easily make it a day trip by visiting the different parts of the castle and a nearby located marketplace, the prison cells and the beautiful Islamic Museum that depicts the crusader and Muslim history of the region. Beside Madaba, this is one of the two places in Jordan that has a significant Christian population. Kerak sees many tourist buses arriving from both the northern and the southern part of Jordan. So enquire at the reception of where you are staying if you are in Aqaba or Amman and have not rented a car. The day trip buses are comfortable and economic.
Explore Wadi Musa – The city around Petra, Wadi Musa thrives on tourism. You will experience some of the best hospitality at the restaurants, hotel staff going out of their way to make you comfortable. The backdrop is chiselled, rocky mountains, some of which are parts pf Petra. The city is uphill and downhill so walking is not for the fain hearted. Your best bet to go around the town is hiring a taxi or renting a car. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to spend you days reading, sipping coffee and talking to locals who are eager to have a conversation. Sometimes, they will join you on your table at the restaurant for a polite conversation so don’t over react or get taken aback.
Mujib Biosphere Reserve: Considering the size of the country Jordan has a surprisingly high number of biosphere reserves – Shaumari Biosphere Reserve, Dana Biosphere Reserve and Mujib Biosphere reserve to name a few. Most of them were established by Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) but now are in good condition and well maintained by the Jordanian government. Most of them also offer Safari jeep tours but don’t be very optimistic as the wildlife that you will spot would be mostly oryx, onagers, gazelles and bustards. Shumari also sports an aviary. The Dana Biosphere reserve is known for its species of plants and birds. The best time to visit Dana is spring when it is blooming in its full glory. In summers you will spot jackals, wolves and herds of ibexes. But for a memorable experience, visit the Mujib Biosphere Reserve that will sometimes make wade through knee or chest high water flowing through the routes. You will spot hyenas and foxes in abundance.
It all started with a pick at the airport: