Don’t be overwhelmed if every road in Jordan leads to Petra. Ever since it broke into the tourist scene a couple of decades ago, people have made a beeline to visit this exotic place that is a wondrous mix of natural and man-made marvel, culminating in it being included in the new Seven wonders of the World.
Originally carved by the Nabateans over two millennia ago, Petra earned the name of Lost City as it went into oblivion after the 14th century. 2012 is being celebrated as the 200th year of the re-discovery of Petra after Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt stumbled upon it in 1812.
Petra is a poetry weaved by nature on stark rugged stones. One fine aeon in a generous mood, nature conspires to bestow mankind with its creation to obsess over. And the Nabateans lapped onto this opportunity and made it their home, adding onto nature’s wonder with their artistic and architectural grandeur.
My guide was very keen that I see Petra during the day first and then follow that up with a night visit. But our schedule didn’t permit us such luxury. Reluctantly he got me a ticket for the night visit on the day we arrived in Petra. I walked down the Siq on this moonless night with bright stars in a clear sky. The mile long path is lit with candles covered by paper bags, glowing like fireflies in a distance, guiding visitors right up to Al Khazneh, popularly known as the Treasury. One needs to register in advance for the night visit and it is organized only if more than 50 tourists make it. Mine was made possible by a Japanese group that turned up at the last moment. A few couples strolled along with me as I walked in awe. And the first sight of the Treasury, with hundreds of candles placed in front if it, is a moment to cherish. The soft music of the rababah sifting through the cool air as people swayed gently, lost in their own worlds. The musician then reached for the flute, sending everyone into a trance. Each one in sync with their partner or in touch with their inner self. A moment so spiritual and romantic simultaneously.
My enthusiasm wasn’t any less next morning. I was keen to see this magnificence in broad daylight. The journey into this mystical world starts immediately after the visitor’s centre. As you enter the Siq, the air feels magical, and you can’t help but wonder if such a thing as this is for real. The Siq is a finely sliced natural walkway through narrow crevices in gigantic rocks, not very unlike being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Flanked on both sides by soaring cliffs that dwarf anything inside it, the slice gets wider on one bend and suddenly narrows down at the next, flowing smoothly like a river romancing its sailors, at times giving an expansive view of its beauty when it spreads out into a courtyard, and then covering itself in a veil, making them curious what lies next. It is hypnotic walking down the Siq with the cool breeze whistling ever so softly as it first catches up and then leaves you behind.
And the Siq is just the preview before the Al Khazneh. The guides at Petra have learnt to heighten the reaction from visitors by making them look at a fictitious bird or rock high above and then have then turn around to face the Treasury. The reactions vary from uncontrolled gasps to gentle I-know-it-is-so-beautiful smiles. While the beauty of the walk in the candle light at night provides an overwhelming feeling, the day light brings fore the curves and lines in the rocks that are equally mesmerizing. And the fact that the inhabitants of this city were great engineers too. Water channels that run the entire length of the Siq, are cut out on either side of the cliffs, one ferrying drinking water and another carrying water for agriculture. The story goes that a Nabatean princess announced she will marry the person who can get her drinking water in the midst of this desolate rocky land. It must have set a lot of young men scurrying around for solutions.
Al Khazneh is the most visible face of Petra, but there is a lot more to the city. In fact, it can take more than a month to explore the whole of Petra. Tombs, houses, water storage tanks and temples are scattered over miles like how they should be in a modern city. And hold your breathe when you hear this. This whole ancient site of the Nabateans has been carved only by two people. And how do you know this, I question the guide. He highlights the pattern of chisel marks on the walls as he explains. Only two distinct patterns have emerged at all these sites, which point to two people responsible for it. I was totally flabbergasted by the enormity of this. Indeed this is the epitome of craftsmanship.
As you run your fingers on the pillars of the Treasury, you cant help but wonder that this city was altogether abandoned in the 8th century and subsequently into oblivion in the 14th century. And you are glad it has been rediscovered.
- Petra: Beyond The Treasury (gadling.com)
- PHOTOS: Petra Prepares For A 200th B-Day Celebration (huffingtonpost.com)
- Inside Petra: World Heritage Site and a check off the bucket list… (emeraldtraveler.com)