Jordan is an amazing country, an oasis of peace in an otherwise volatile region. Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine, the Hashemite Kingdom is ruled by King Abdullah II and has a population of 10 million, 95% of whom are Sunni Muslims. The country lies on the east bank of the Jordan River, and has the Dead Sea on its western side, the Gulf of Aqaba to the south and deserts all over the place.
Jordan gained independence from Britain in 1946. Today the country provides shelter to an estimated 2 million Palestinian refugees and about 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Christians fleeing Iraq are also found here in thousands. Jordan is a tourist’s paradise with a wide range of exotic and fascinating locales. You can drive from Amman to any of the locations in a maximum of 4 hours.
Before taking our flights from India my friend and travel buddy Dr. Tanuja Reddy and I decided to take cabs to all the places we wanted to visit. In fact the taxi was the only booking we didn’t do in advance. We'd purchased the Jordan Pass online – and it saved us much trouble and money.
We got visas on arrival at Amman airport (free of cost for Jordan pass holders) and emerged from the building to find that the limo we had booked was nowhere in sight. Nor did the driver attend my calls. We waited for a good 25 minutes before taking an airport taxi – at less than half the cost of advance booking! The driver asked for 22 JOD and we paid up without bargaining. (The original taxi company later refunded the booking amount after my return to India and subsequent complaint.)
We stayed in Amman for 3 days. The first day was a day of rest after our long flight. On the second day we visited the citadel, the amphitheatre, and the adjoining museums. There was a slight drizzle and it was rather cold. In the afternoon we drove to the Dead Sea. I had been there earlier in 2006 and floated on the saline waters in a swim suit. I had followed the tour guide’s advice and rubbed the black sand on my arms and legs, only to encounter an itching sensation soon thereafter. Hurriedly emerging from the deadly sea water I'd washed myself furiously and frantically. I'd absolutely no inclination to repeat the experience. I warned my fellow traveller, who being a dermatologist, was quick to heed the warning. We contended ourselves by staying on the shore and taking pictures.
We also visited Madaba and Mount Nebo. Both places had improved considerably since my last visit - a clear sign that Jordan is really taking care of its tourist hotspots. We decided to skip the baptism site on the Jordan River where John the Baptist had baptized Jesus. I’d been there before and I hadn’t forgotten my disappointment at the miserable quantity of water in the little stream, which I just couldn’t call a river.
The next day we left our hotel very early and drove to Umm Qais. From there we proceeded to Ajloun and ended the tour by visiting the magnificent Roman ruins of Jerash. Umm Qais has some impressive Roman ruins. There were no other tourists here, or perhaps we were the first to arrive. We hired a guide for 10 JOD and our cab driver tagged along - to ensure our safety perhaps. We’d have been lost without them. The place has great views. You can see Syria and the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee in Israel. En route to Ajloun we saw a family harvesting olives and we also got to visit an olive oil press quite unexpectedly. Jerash is a don't-miss site. You don't see such Roman ruins even in Rome.
The following day we drove to Petra along the King’s Highway, a scenic route passing through the Dana Reserve. En route we visited Kerak castle, and Showbak castle. Petra is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World and this ancient Nabatean city has to be seen to be believed. Everyone gets to see the Treasury or Al Khazneh but only the superbly fit get to see the Monastery. There are mules to take you up the 850 odd steps, so do make it a point to go there. It’s a real stunner.
Our next stop was Wadi Rum where we stayed at the Wadi Rum Desert Luxury Camp in what looked like a Bedouin tent but was somewhat luxurious inside. The place was simply out of this world. My last visit to Jordan had not included Petra and Wadi Rum – that’s why I made this second trip. I’m glad I did.
From Wadi Rum we drove to Aqaba where we stayed the night before driving to Amman the next day to board our flight back to India. If you enjoy playing in water, Aqaba’s the place for you. You can dive to see the coral reefs and fish or take a boat ride. Eilat in Egypt is visible across the narrow Gulf and you can see the coast of Egypt in the distance. Saudi Arabia is barely 30 kilometres away. The Gulf of Aqaba forms the right branch of the Red Sea.
If you spend a week in Jordan you can get to see all these places - and more if you don’t mind rushing around. There are buses if you want to economize, but on the whole the costs are not too high. As for hotels the options are many. The best part is that the country is really safe, the people are warm and friendly, and travel to any place is easily doable. We didn’t find too many women travelling solo or in pairs though. We came across only one tour group from India. That was at Petra. It seems many of our countrymen and countrywomen simply don’t realize how easy it is to go to Jordan on their own.