I wanted to go to Jordan because of Petra. Full stop. Everything else we saw and did were listed under ‘non-mandatories’ during my initial planning. Looking back, of course, I feel very foolish for even entertaining the thought of missing the Baptism Site or the Dead Sea. In my mind, Petra was our holy grail.
Was it all that I expected it to be? By heavens, yes, and even more. A lot more.
ENTRANCE TO THE PARK
Our first day in Jordan left us driving in the dark, narrow, winding roads of King’s Highway until 8:30pm. We checked in at the Mövenpick Resort Petra at 9pm, had dinner, and made it to bed by 10:30pm. Our aim was to be up-and-about early enough and get to the park before the sun gets too hot. Alas, our sleep-deprived bodies had another plan and we got to the site closer to 11am.
Knowing that we will be walking for at least 4 to 5 hours in the desert under the midday sun, we made sure our heads are covered to keep cool. I bought a floppy straw hat whilst my husband had a local man tie a hamdaniya using the Arabic scarf he bought in Madaba:
After buying our tickets to the park at 50 JD each person (around €54—quite steep, yes), we also had the opportunity to hire a tour guide for another 50 JD. With tickets in hand and Leith, our tour guide, leading the way, we were ready to see the treasures of Petra.
SUNSHINE, GOLDEN GRAVEL, AND SAND
The Bab as-Siq or Outer Siq is a kilometer walk from the entrance of the park to the actual Siq. Like a very wide driveway of golden gravel and sand, it’s the path that visitors take to and from the Siq itself. We walked on the right side of the Bab as-Siq that’s meant for pedestrians as we watched horses and carriages kick up clouds of dust as they raced up and down the road to our left. They’re transporting visitors who prefer not to walk the rough terrain. We had this option, too, as part of the tour guide fee that we paid for. But with infinite blue skies above us, the sun on our faces, and the most intricate rock-cut structures to our left and right, we wanted to take our time and see everything.
SHADE AND SANDSTONE CLIFFS
The transition of leaving the Bab as-Siq and entering the actual Siq is nothing short of dramatic. Entering the Siq is like stepping into an all together different world; compared to the open expanse of the sun-drenched Outer Siq, the Siq itself is narrow—at times just 2m wide, and walled off by towering sandstone cliffs 150m high on each side. Even the rocks themselves are different—hues of rose and red as opposed to the bright white and beige ‘outside.’
Walking through the mile-long meandering path is like a treasure hunt with gems in every turn: a lone tree sprouting out of a rock facade, a rock-cut shrine for the Arabic god Dushara, sections where the path narrows down enough that the sun cannot pierce through and dropping the temperature to a cool 9ºC, and then all of a sudden the sandstone cliffs open up to a clearing where the main attraction is a rock formation that looks like a fish when viewed from the side and an elephant from the front—sculpted by none other than Mother Nature herself.
Letting Leith and my husband walk ahead allowed me moments of solitude along the Siq. I stood alone, dwarfed by the colossal rocks, tracing my fingers through the cold ridges on the rose-coloured stone. I watched the shadows through the lens of my camera, welcoming the ‘click, click’ from the shutter as it breaks the almost defeaning silence amidst the rocks. Suddenly, my seclusion is interrupted by the thunderous roar of hoofs and creaking metal wheels of a carriage and I’m urged to move deeper into the Siq to the treasure of Petra.
We came across a wall sculpture of a camel caravan and I knew we were getting closer to the end. Leith asked us to walk along side him on the right side of the Siq as he showed us the deep reds of the rock facade. Then he paused mid-sentence, took a step to the left to get around a protruding wall of rock, and there it was—the view of the treasury from a narrow slit between the sandstone cliffs. My heart skipped a beat with the sight, after which I slapped Leith on the back for such a well-executed and well-choreographed reveal.
The Treasury was more than I expected: it was bigger than I thought it would be, its colour richer than I imagined. Standing at its foot, my head tilted all the way back, I could not help but feel fortunate to be able to see the structure’s intricate details up-close, and with my own two eyes. How the Nabateans hand-cut the Treasury in 300BC from top to bottom with such architectural precision that it still stands today, is indeed enough reason to make the al-Khazneh a wonder of the world.
BEYOND THE TREASURY
After sitting in front of the Treasury for several minutes, admiring it for all its wonder, we proceeded to see the rest of Petra Valley. What awaited us were hundreds more of rock-cut architectural marvels including square tombs, the more intricate royal tombs, stone caves, and even a 3,000-seater Roman-style theater. There were also freestanding temples and colonnades towards the back of the valley—all boasting the building skills of the Nabateans. But just as amazing, in my opinion, are the furry friends we came across throughout our two-hour walk into the valley. The camels and donkeys are absolutely adorable (although it’s quite sad that they’re being worked hard by the Bedouins).
If we had more time in Petra, we probably would have climbed up the 300 steps to the High Place of Sacrifice which promises to give a panoramic view of the landscape. And if I personally had more time and an all-together higher level of fitness, I would have done the 800-step climb to the Monastery. Sadly (or luckily) we had to start heading back to the road before the sun came down for a three-hour drive to the Dead Sea.