Jordan beyond Petra


When a country as small as Jordan boasts of having one of the ‘7 Wonders of the World’, it is expected that this wonder will hog the limelight.  And Petra stands tall to the expectations of discerning tourists from all over the world. The magical walk through the Siq, leading to the Treasury, and the first view of its magnificent pillars as you emerge from the Siq is spell-binding. And don’t miss the  ‘Petra by night’ show, its a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read my article exclusively on Petra here.

A family enjoys camel ride in the desert of Wadi Rum

A family enjoys camel ride in the desert of Wadi Rum

But here are five places in Jordan that are as exciting, if not more, as Petra. The variety of experience offered by each is as different as chalk is from cheese. Ranging from historical ruins to the lowest place on earth to martian landscape to the holy grail of Christianity, let yourself free and take the road less travelled.

1. Jerash

Best known for one of the best preserved Greco- Roman ruins, Jerash is a day trip from the capital Amman. The site is vast, and to make the best of your visit, it is best to hire a guide. Known as Gerasa in ancient times, it also finds mention in the Bible, as part of the Decapolis, which constituted 10 important cities in the middle eastern region, which were clubbed together because of similar language, culture, people and political status, and of course geographical proximity. The site houses various structures like a Temple, an Amphitheatre (in fact two theatres), massive North and South gates that were entrances to the city, a Hippodrome (an arena for chariot races and other competitions), a city centre (knowns as Oval Forum where people mingled socially and the King made announcements), the Cardo (a street lined with pillars, which was also the route taken by traders to do business), a Mosque, a Church and various other edifices. Surprisingly, most of the city was buried under sand and has been discovered less than seventy years ago. Parts of the structure were ruined in an earthquake in 749 AD. The current city inhabited by local Jordanians sits next to the ruins.

Suggested itinerary: With the capital Amman as your base, leave for Jerash as early as possible, it can get hot in the afternoons in summer. Spend 2-4 hours in Jerash and then stop by Ajloun Castle on the way back. And you’ll still have a couple of hours to do the Citadel and Roman theatre in Amman.

Temple of Artemis in Jerash, Jordan

Temple of Artemis in Jerash, Jordan

The three-arched South Gate entrance to the city of Jerash

The three-arched South Gate entrance to the city of Jerash

Decorations at the Roman theatre in Jerash, as tourists get entertained by bagpipers

Decorations at the Roman theatre in Jerash, as tourists get entertained by bagpipers

2. Dead Sea

Who hasn’t heard about the Dead Sea, its a part of geography folklore, as the lowest point on earth, and also the saltiest sea in the world.If Jerash is a historical journey, the Dead Sea is a lifestyle destination. It is lined with world class hotels offering the best of luxury and spa treatments. Or if you want to be really earthy, just stroll down to the beach and roll yourself in the mud. The chemicals in the water that make it so salty, also give it special properties that bring a glow to your skin. And the density of the salt creates so much buoyancy, that its impossible to drown in it. Just lay flat on your back and gently spread your hands and let go, and voila, you are floating on your own. In the past, pictures of people reading books as they float were common, now the book is replaced by a selfie stick.

Suggested itinerary:  Leave Amman in the morning for the Dead Sea, and enroute visit Madaba (for the famous Madaba map) and Mt. Nebo (this is where Moses viewed the Promised Land before he died here). You’ll still make it to your hotel in Dead Sea by late afternoon. Spend the night at your hotel. Enjoy mud baths in the evening and again next morning. I got a Spa at the Crown Plaza, and have stayed at Holiday Inn and the Dead Sea Spa hotels on various trips.

Selfie time in the Dead Sea

Selfie time in the Dead Sea

Layers of salt and chemicals accumulated along the banks of the Dead Sea

Layers of salt and chemicals accumulated along the banks of the Dead Sea

3. Wadi Rum

Jordan is primarily a desert country, but as a tourist here, Wadi Rum is where you’ll most likely set your foot on sand for the first time. This is the land of desert safaris and camel rides and star-gazing and night camping. Wadi Rum isn’t your normal desert. Endless stretches of sand are broken by rocky mountains jutting out of the earth that makes it almost a moon-like terrain. A hollywood movie on Mars has been shot here to simulate the Martian landscape. And this is also where Hritik Roshan shot parts of his movie Krrish 3. We took camels from the drop-off point to a camp where we had lunch in tents. And then went out in the wilderness in a 4×4 jeep. In the midst of sand and rocky boulders, this place is like no other. As we all fell silent, the only thing we could hear was the gush of the wind and our own breathing. My mind went back in time by thousands of years, standing at this same place, with the thought that everything would have still been the same. And an occasional bedouin (the original nomadic desert dwellers of Jordan) with his camel crossing my path. The only difference now being that his descendants have a mobile phone and possibly a FB account.

One wish that remained unfulfilled was that of spending a night in a camp in Wadi Rum, under a bright moon and millions of shimmering stars.

Suggested itinerary: If you are following the above sequence, Wadi Rum is approx. 4 hours from Dead Sea. You have the option of staying overnight at a Camp here, or moving onto Aqaba late in the evening.

Road leading to Wadi Rum amidst enchanting landscape

Road leading to Wadi Rum amidst enchanting landscape

This is where Bollywood hunk Hritik Roshan shot for Krish 3 in Wadi Rum

This is where Bollywood hunk Hritik Roshan shot for Krish 3 in Wadi Rum

Sand and rocky mountains for miles and more

Sand and rocky mountains for miles and more in Wadi Rum

4. Aqaba

Jordan has less than 10 miles of coastline, which it purchased from Saudi Arabia in 1965. Aqaba is a port on this southern most tip of Jordan, located on the Red sea. And Red Sea could be a misnomer, its waters are so blue, it could hurt the eye. The moment you land in Aqaba (rather drive into Aqaba), and your mediterranean experience begins. Palm trees line the avenues, desert sand turns into gentle rolling green hills, the air is filled with moisture and a spring in your step. Like Dead Sea, the coastline is a stretch of international luxury hotels, so many options to choose from. We were immediately on a boat named Royal Yatch, joining a group of Russians for diving, swimming and snorkelling. I prefer mountains over the sea for vacations, but once I am in water, it’s difficult to get me out. Seafood & chicken cooked on the boat, was served for lunch as we soaked in the extremely pleasant weather somewhere in the middle of the sea, with four borders within reach, that of Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Suggested itinerary: Aqaba is less than an hour from Wadi Rum and it’s worth spending a night here. Take a boat ride in the Red sea along with lunch, and roam around the cute town for as long as you want.

Getting aboard a boat for snorkelling in Aqaba, Jordan

Getting aboard a boat for snorkelling in Aqaba, Jordan

Emerald blue waters of the Red Sea in Aqaba, where borders of four countries meet

Emerald blue waters of the Red Sea in Aqaba, where borders of four countries meet

5. Bethany-beyond-Jordan

It almost rhymes with title of this article:). Bethany is the holy grail for Christians all over the world. If Wadi Rum has you lost in time and space, Bethany is where you feel humbled, standing on the land where Jesus once did. This is where Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist. We couldn’t make it to Bethany in this trip, but I did spend a lot of time during my Jordan visit in 2012. Situated on the banks of River Jordan, it has a feeling of calm and peace. On the other side of the river is Israel, and there is a great chance you’ll see a priest baptising someone as the person takes dips in the holy river.

Suggested itinerary: Bethany is near Dead Sea and can be a short trip either from Dead Sea or while on your way from Amman to Dead Sea. Two to three hours here should give you a good feel of the place.

A church in Bethany, the site of Jesus Christ's baptism

A church in Bethany, the site of Jesus Christ’s baptism

A family on the Israel side of River Jordan gets ready for baptism, the chain in the river separates the two countries

A family on the Israel side of River Jordan gets ready for baptism, the chain in the river separates the two countries

If you are planning to visit Jordan, I’d strongly suggest to spend atleast 5 nights here and if you are the ‘detailed’ tourist, then even a week is not enough.

Any comments and questions are welcome in the ‘Comments section below.

This article is written by Travel & Wedding photographer/ writer Bhaven Jani, you can view his portfolio at http://www.bhavenjani.com and contact him at hibhaven@yahoo.com.

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