I had the pleasure to visit Jordan as a visiting professor running an IEEE professional activities workshop at the Faculty of Prince Al-Hussein Bin Abdallah II for Information Technology, The Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan.Zarqa lies just outside Amman the capital of Jordan.
My hosts were the IEEE Jordan section and in particular Dr. Mohammad Salah and Dr. Mousa Al Akhras took good care of me. Many thanks to Dr. Mousa who arranged a Bedouin guide for me to be guided for Petra and Wadi Rum. All done a couple of day before I arrived, which challenged my cultural bias of planning well ahead. This travel journal covers my trip to Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and Jerash in Jordan.
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My private driver (a taxi) picked me up at 06:00 at my hotel in Amman. We then drove for 3 hours the 330 kilometer down to Musa Springs. On the desert highway there are speed bumps near all the towns to slow down the speeding drivers. I saw a lorry charge over one at 80 kmh. In Musa Springs I met my Bedouin guide: Audh Al Hasanat. He then took me on his Land Cruiser 'camel' the short distance to the start of the fabulous Petra.
Petra was voted as one of the 'new seven wonders' by travelers in 2007 (100 million votes were cast). Petra lies on the edge of the Arabian Desert and was the capital of the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV (9 B.C. to 40 A.D.).
The Nabataeans provided their city with great tunnel constructions and water cisterns. In Petra and nearby Wadi Rum, there are channels worn into the rocky outcrops that collect the sparse rainwater and channel it into cisterns and wells. The main parts remaining after the roman conquest are the tombs carved into the canyons and cliff walls.
My Bedouin guide left me at the entrance as he could not guide me inside as the government issues special guide licenses. He told me to take 4 - 5 hours which was good advice. I took 5 hours to see all the main sites in Petra. Take time to enjoy the ambiance in Petra!
Also enjoy trying to avoid all the sales people! Generally walking with your head down minimizes pesky sales pitches, although I was amused by some. One lady insisted that we had spoken and she had been waiting for me to come back and buy her wares. It wasn't true of course and I heard her use the same line on the next passerby.
It took me about 50 minutes to walk from the entrance to the Treasury, mostly because I was taking many photos on the way. The walk is easy as you wander downwards into the canyon. You can take a horse or horse and carriage the first 800m 'for fee' - which is when the canyon actually starts!
Of course, at the end of day when you return to the entrance you have a harder walk back up and out of the canyon.
Some of the things that impressed me are the various bands of colour in the rock which most photographers fail to capture, and the soft light in the canyons.
The most famous tomb in Petra is called the Treasury and is reached after a couple of kilometers walk through a narrow canyon.
I arrived at about 10:30 when the sun was still on the facade. This was meant to be about the best time to take photographs. The main photo and the one with the horse and carriage were taken at this time. There were quite a few people but it was not too busy. A little patience is rewarded with better photos.
But in my opinion the photos I took at 13:30 (1:30 pm) on my way back were better as the sunlight is reflected off the reddish yellow stone on the other side to create a beautiful soft light. The photo with the camels was taken at that hour.
After the Treasury, you turn a corner and the canyon opens up into a wider valley floor.I am as prone as anyone to take cliché photographs, so the Bedouin on a camel was naturally a great subject. Just out of shot was another Toyota Land Cruiser!
The valley floor continues in a northerly direction and come to an amphitheater, modeled on Greek-Roman prototypes, with a space for an audience of 4,000.
I climbed into some partially excavated tombs opposite to take this photo of the amphitheater. It actually consists of 3 photos made into a panorama. Here the strong colour bands in the rock are visible.
The hall of kings
The valley continues to widen and eventually opens up to an wider valley floor with some low rolling hills. In the distance you see 'the tradesmen's entrance'. There is a town visible in the distance and what appears to be a wide gate, where I suspect all the camel drivers, pony riders, horse and buggy drivers, salespeople and the tourist police come to work each day.
On the right side is a high cliff area with some large tombs carved or partially carved into the side. About 140 steps climb up to the largest completed tomb. There was a well presented salesman with his wares in for forecourt of the tomb. The view from here across the valley in the direction of the canyon leading to the street of columns and eventually the canyon to the monastery were visible from here.
The street of columns
After climbing down the steps from the hall of kings with a dutch couple, we walked a kilometer or so towards the street of columns. We passed two locals dressed as Natatean soldiers in the street of columns. The way is partially paved and that is easier than walking in the soft sand.
After this section of Petra, we headed towards the start of the long climb to the monastery. There were plenty of locals offering donkey rides, but we decided to walk.
You enter a small low canyon that climbs over 800 steps (stair steps). The steps are carved in the existing canyon floor. At times it is fairly steep (not as steep the Great wall of China), and at time the steps are well spaced and relatively flat. The canyon and the surrounding rock walls become higher and deeper as you go further.
Near the start we had to press against the canyon wall as donkeys came gamboling down after delivering their passengers and wanting to get back to their shady watering hole.
The way become narrower and steeper. We were lucky that it was only in the high 20s C (80s in F) because most of the walk was very warm with no air currents to cool you down. In a couple of place there were welcome breezes but these were few and far between. The walk takes about 45 minutes and about 45 sales huts.
Near the top there are the tea and water sellers and then about 150m further you crest a small ridge and look down into a bowl with the monastery.
The Palace Tombs of Petra, with the 42-meter-high Hellenistic temple facade on the El-Deir Monastery, are impressive examples of Middle Eastern Nabatean culture.
There is a small hill, only about 150 steps up where you can get a good panorama of the Petra valley to the east and the mountains to the south and west that first climb and then slope down to the Jordan valley and the dead sea.
At this point you are at the opposite end of the Petra valley to the entrance and you need to walk the many kilometers back to the entrance, or take a pony. It took me about 1 hour 50 minutes to walk all the way back, still taking some photos on the way.
5 hours, 1.5 litres water and about 250 photos of enjoyment!
Not everyone appreciates desert scenery. Having been raised in Australia and having spent time in its 'red centre', I have gained an appreciation for desert landscapes.
The desert around Wadi Rum is the most famous of the desert areas in the south of Jordan. But I get ahead of myself.
Audh Al Hasanat picked me up in his Toyota Land Cruiser 'camel' in Petra. We had lunch in a typical simple cafe in the township of Petra where I met two of his cousins. Then we started to drive to Wadi Rum. Along the way Audh stopped to greet about 8 friends, relatives and business acquaintances. So our 45 minute drive was spiced with stops, casual roadside greetings and meetings. The Zalabia Bedouin are the local tribe that inhabit the area.
When we arrived in the Wadi Rum area, Audh took his 'camel' off the road and let down the tires. As any offroader will tell you, the tire pressure needs to be about half what you use on the tarmac. We then started doing some real cross country driving through the sandy desert.
The interesting geographical and geological aspect is that the desert floor is sand. This in interspersed with sandstone peaks, generally rounded at the top, and increasingly eroded down the side until there are natural caves and fissures leading down to the base. Some of the natural sculpture is fantastic and fanciful. The highest elevation in Wadi Rum is Mount Um Dami at 1,840 m (6,040 ft) high. Jabal Rum (1,734 metres (5,689 ft) above sea level) is the second highest peak in Jordan and the highest peak in the central Rum,
Wadi Rum is home to eco-adventure tourism, now the main source of income. Popular activities in the desert environment include camping under the stars, riding Arab horses, hiking and rock climbing among the massive rock formations.
Audh took me first to the mushroom rock and then an area with several arches and stone bridges. One stone bridge is normally a popular walking route, but the day we were there a television crew had commandeered the arch and were using a large swinging boom camera to take shots from below to over the arch while the presenter walked over the arch.
Our next stop was at one of the Nabatean era water cisterns. The Nabateans wore channels into the rocks, sometimes edged then with rock in order to collect the meagre rainwater and lead it into a cistern in the ground. Audh told me that they get about 30 days where rain falls for about 10 minutes, so every drop collected counts! In the photo you see Audh standing on the cistern cover and there is a channel in the rock behind him to the left. The water was visible about 15 feet down.
We then drove to the famous Lawrence of Arabia fort, from David Lean's film. Amazingly it is still standing, unlike so many movie sets from westerns that were just a simple wooden front. We only took a brief look before moving on.
We then drove to a lookout point, crossing a small pink salt pan where we could enjoy the sunset. In the photos, you see a sand dune leading to the rock formation and then a view across the salt pan to the sunset.
After sunset, we drove to the village of Wadi Rum. The village consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents and concrete houses and also their four wheel vehicles, a few rough looking shops, and the headquarters of the Desert Patrol.The Bedouin are no longer truly nomadic, most having settled in a particular area, and many now having houses as well as tents. But here and in other parts of Jordan you will see Bedouin tents across the landscape.
We used the Caravan's Desert Camp, which is a relatively mainstream and a fully permanent camp on the outskirts of Wadi Rum village. It consists of Bedouin tents and western style tents with four sides, roof, floor and permanent beds. Nothing too flash but comfortable. The night sky in the desert is a thrill for anyone raised in the city or the wetter climate of Europe. That night was the best night sky I had seen for fifteen years, only bettered by some (but not all) of my times in the Australian desert.
After breakfast the next morning with Audh, I met another private driver for the trip to the Dead Sea.
My driver drove via Aqaba to the Dead Sea.
Aqaba is on the red sea and famed for its snorkelling and diving. It is the only place in Jordan with access to the sea and oceans, so it is the major port of Jordan as well as being a popular tourist destination for Jordanians.
Along the way I photographed a local pickup hauling goods and plan fronds in the outskirts of Aqaba.
The Dead Sea (Arabic: البحر الميت ) is also called the Salt Sea. It is on the western border of Jordan with Israel and the West Bank to its west. Its surface and shores are 423 metres (1,388 feet!) below sea level which is Earth's lowest elevation on land. I have also been to the second lowest place on earth – Death Valley California, which is a mere 212 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is 377 m (1,237 ft) deep, although you would be hard pressed to get down there because the sea is so salty you cannot dive into it. It has 33.7% salinity, which is increasing as the sea is shrinking (that is drying out). It is about 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name.
We drove from Aqaba in the south and more or less travlled on the Dead Sea’s eastern side for the entire 67 kilometres (42 miles) length. It is 18 kilometres (11 miles) wide at its widest point.
It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River. Rainfall is scarcely 100 mm (4 in) per year in the northern part of the Dead Sea and barely 50 mm (2 in) in the southern part. The Dead Sea zone's aridity is due to the rain shadow effect of the Judean Hills.
In addition the farming in the Jordan river valley is using all the water with virtually no runoff into the sea. So the sea is shrinking and one of the photos shows the salt deposits on the shore.
It was one of the world's first health resorts for Herod the Great, and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers. People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets. While I was at Amman beach resort, people were slathering black mud over themselves. This is allowed to bake dry before the person then takes a float in the sea. The result is meant to be good for your skin. I didn’t follow the propaganda so I cannot say it it works, except that people looked better after their dip when the mud came off, then when they were covered in mud!
I can say that floating in the Dead Sea is a special experience, you can see I could 'doff my hat' without sinking. Since I normally sink, which makes scuba diving easy, you can imagine that this felt weird. The water was warm and the salt clearly felt on the skin.
After the Dead Sea my driver took me back to Amman, about 35 kilometres away and on the long climb from -423m to +650müM (metre über Meer or metres above sea level) we passed many fruit sellers.
After discussion with my hosts, I took the morning on the day of my departure to visit Jerash. It lies about 50 kilometres NW from Amman. I got a good deal on a private driver who also took me to the airport for 60 JD.
Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Alexander the Great, or his general Perdiccas settled there around 331 BC. Alexander left Egypt, cross Syria and then went to Mesopotamia. Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East.
Recent excavations show that Jerash was already inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC - 1200 BC). After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed by the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace so the people could devote their time to economic development and civic building activity.
In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the province and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130. The triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard wintering there.
The city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square meters within its walls. It has two amphiteathers, a hippodrome, many temples, three major boulevards and THOUSANDS of columns. I could hear them to tell a joke "Ahmed and Mahmoud, two builders, are standing around with nothing to do. Ahmed asks Mahmoud if they should build something. Yes says Mahmound, lets make a column!¨
The age of the settlement is plainly obvious to anyone who has studied roman history because the types of columns change (e.g. to Doric) as you move further away from the southern end.
In the old amphitheater, there is a focal point, the local bagpiper (Jordanians took bagpipes from fighting alongside the Scots) showed me that when you stand in it, you get a strong echo reverberation come back to you. When you take one step sideways, it disappears!
The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. However, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad Period, I got to talk to an archeologist on site. In AD 749, a major earthquake destroyed much of Jerash and its surroundings.
My final photo shows the main square, which is like Saint Peters square at the Vatican, with one of the main avenues leading to the north.