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Monday, November 8, 2010

3 Down 5 to Go

Don’t feel like making this poetic. So I’m not going to.

Petra is a newcomer to the list of wonders of the world. In 2007, due to very active campaigning by Queen Rania, Petra was included in the revised list, and oh thank god it was. How would I describe Petra? Hmmm… Petra is a city carved into rock. Not out of rock, because these rock monuments are literally carved into the stone mountains of the region. The city was built by the Nabataeans supposedly around the last century BCE first century AD. Details are yet to be known as since the 5th Century AD, the city was abandoned, and kept hidden from the rest of the world until about the mid 19th Century when a Swiss traveler heard of the Sacred City of the Bedouin, open only to those of the Badia and thus snuck in with a goat. (Yes goats are that cool, they’ll get you into sacred cities. Please reference previous post about the omniscience of the goat.)

Anyhoo, Petra. The city is reached through a Siq or a natural gorge, the best defense from invading armies. Once you walk down this 2 kilometer long winding, oft narrow gorge you understand why Petra was carved where it was. The gorge tapers off sometimes to allow only maybe one chariot through, and sometimes it is broad enough for a couple of elephants to trundle through. The road itself is paved such that parts are racing horse friendly while other parts will be sure to trip up a wheel unsure of where it is headed. An intricate knowledge of the Siq is therefore important for one’s grand entrance into the city. The Siq itself is beautiful with random carvings in the rock walls that serve no real purpose but just look pretty. Trees and bushes sprout out of the rock interface, thus indicating the presence of multiple water channels that fed the city in its heyday, another reason for the location considering the surrounding desert. You want to climb into some of the rock crevices you see but guides loitering around with their tour groups prevent you from doing so. Beh. Great photo op lost.

The entrance to Petra is framed by the Khazeneh or Treasury. It is an absolutely magnificent rock façade carved into the first mountain of the city. Initially thought to be a temple to one of the patron Nabataean gods, recent excavations found skeletal remains thus indicating that it probably was a tomb, even though the façade implies otherwise. Under the actual tomb structure you see where the doors leading to the underground tombs are. Over 8 bodies are said to have been found under just this tomb.

You can just meander through the city, which would be the best way to see it. Take an entire day, from 8 in the morning till 5 when it gets too dark to see anyway. We however, had 4.5 hours. Fail SIT. But not to be daunted we zoom through. Do not underestimate the speed a group of young adults can explore at.

Nature has been kind to Petra. Some of the carvings have been weathered such it is difficult to state authoritatively if all the crevices we saw were man made. They most probably were but who’s to say for sure? The layers have given away to reveal a kaleidoscope of colours so vivid, they make you stop. They bring to life the sands of the desert, the bleakness of the landscape is let up, even if briefly.

We zoom on, till we reach the Colonnade, a row of pillars where the city centre once was. Surrounding it you see the rubble of the free standing houses that once stood there were destroyed by successive earthquakes. This is the fate of most of the free standing rock structures in Petra, one of the reasons behind why it was abandoned eventually.

The highlight of the exploring however is the trek through the mountain to the Monastery. The Monastery was used by both, the Nabataeans and the succeeding Christians and is reached by trekking up 800 steps through the mountains. It is not easy. I almost began doubting the existence of the Monastery about 45 minutes in. You see, when they say 800 steps, they are counting the physical rock steps cut into the mountain. What they forget to mention are that there are no steps someplace and you just have to walk up the slope which is not really that difficult but the principle of the fib is what hurts. The little shops set up by local Bedouin women make it so much more pleasant though. If you do wish, donkeys are available at relatively affordable rates to carry you up. Coming down could be scary considering the slope but the Monastery is more than worth it. The monastery is yet again a beautiful rock façade which you can clamber into with the help of three of your friends. (There are pictures of my valiant attempt on Facebook.) More importantly, the view of Petra and the surrounding Desert and sand dunes and hills is what is so beautiful. It is an amazing panoramic view of the region and you’re as high up as you can get in this area.

Anyway, darkness descends really early since winter is here. By about 430 the sun has gone to bed and we’re still meandering down. We have a deadline to meet so we decide to spend our last deenars on camel rides through Petra at dusk. Every penny worth it. The streets are abandoned as everyone has packed up and left. You get a really great scenic view of the city as you trot down towards the entrance. The camel man is friendly and a wealth of knowledge and plus he says my Arabic is very good. It is so endear yourself to me, I realise. My friend decides to make her camel start cantering which means mine must too since they are tied together. Let’s just say we are not friends anymore. I’m kidding. Maybe. It’s quite an experience actually. Trotting camels are very very very bumpy. This camel ride was my favorite so far though. Yes it even beat the one at the Pyramids. I would highly recommend a camel trot through the empty streets of Petra to all and sundry. Just don’t canter if you plan on going sand dune crashing/rolling/God Alone Knows what the next day.

Ok that’s all. Made this long and boring enough. You’re welcome!

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