So Petra has been on my bucket list for years. But before this trip, I had no clue about Jordan as a country. Now after this short wonderful trip, I feel that I have been there for ages, and yet there’s so much I am to yet to discover about this country. It’s like I have I had a short, quick and delicious meal, but there were so many complex, delicate flavors, I feel totally sated and fulfilled. And it’s this contrast that makes Jordan interesting – it has the most rugged, stark and difficult landscapes in the world, and yet it’s really..and I mean really beautiful; it’s in the middle of the most turbulent region in the world (it has borders with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia), and yet it’s the most peaceful country in the region; it’s got the most ancient archaeological sites in the world and has the most modern Queen in the middle east; it had the most warm, friendly and straight-forward men I met, and yet ..and yet I didn’t meet any women; it’s mostly known as an Arab country, but has some of most important Christian monuments; it’s surrounded by countries that have the maximum oil reserves in the world, and yet Jordan has…none. You see? 🙂 So here’s my quick tips for Jordan.
1. Visa – Jordan is one of the few countries which has visa on arrival for Indians. But a word of caution – there are some weird conditions. All Indians applying for visa on arrival need to show a minimum of USD 1000 per per person as cash. When I say cash – I do mean cash. Not credit cards, FDs, traveler’s cheques, or pre-booked accommodation. As weird as it is, you need to carry the dollars on your person, and be prepared to show it to the immigration officers. In addition to this, the visa fees is 40JD. (1 JD was roughly 87 rupees when I traveled).
2. Getting there – There are a lot of Middle Eastern carriers that fly to Amman the capital of Jordan. Flights range from 30k – 50k depending on the season and the airline you choose. Since the hubby prides himself on being a backpacker, we chose Kuwait Airways, which roughly came to 30k. I have to admit though – they were reasonably good. 🙂 My tip: If you happen to be from Kerala, try flying out of Kochi or Trivandrum. There are a lot more cheap options to the Middle East.
IMPORTANT: I flew out of Trivandrum on Kuwait Airways. When we were checking in, the airline official told us that we could not board the flight because we did not have an “Okay to board” status, and this was because we didn’t have the required visa. We explained to them that Jordan had visa on arrival, and the “Okay to board” message is typically given when the visa is applied online, and the visa will be granted when the person lands in the country. In our case, it was visa on arrival, which meant that we would apply for visa only after we reached the country and paid the fees. The airline officials were adamant, and I was having visions of us going back home and spending the holiday watching re-runs of Boston Legal. That’s when the hubby displayed his beautiful loud temper and created a ruckus and make me swoon over him again. After a prolonged fight, we were allowed to talk to immigration, who very calmly told us that of course we can go – after all, its visa on arrival. Crazy huh? So yeah, research your facts, and fight if required!
3. Places to visit – Oh dear, this is the tough part. As I mentioned, Jordan’s beautiful – a land with stark beautiful deserts, powerful mountains, vast expanses of desolate rocks, deep canyons, beautiful castles, lots of history and culture – and of course Petra. Places I visited and would highly recommend:
Wadi Rum: Wadi Rum, which means Valley of the Moon, is a protected area which covers most magnificient mountains and deserts in Jordan. Yes, you read it right – mountains and deserts. The vast red expense of the desert merges with huge powerful mountains made of sandstone to create a dramatic landscape that seems too beautiful to be real. The landscape is amazing, but what struck me the most was the silence in the place – every single breath you take, every step you make, I swear you could hear it,.. feel it. With an expanse of 700 kms which is a protected area, the main residents of the Wadi Run are Bedouins who stay in Wadi Rum village. The most exciting thing to do, of course, is to camp in the desert with the mountains overlooking you. There are around 30 licensed camps which are mostly run by the Bedouins in Wadi Rum village. Most of the camps are pretty basic, but I have to say pretty awesome. They provide you tents with proper beds and blankets, toilets are shared, but very clean, and some really good Bedouin food. Our evenings were special – meeting other travelers around the fire pit, exchanging travel stories as we huddled between blankets, sipping mint tea and laughing away into the night. And then when the laughter melts away into the night, walk into the sand and the desert and gaze at a million stars twinkling into an expansive sheet which tethers the silent mountains around us – and there’s nothing as soul-transforming as that. Nothing as cold either 🙂
There are different ways of exploring Wadi Rum – by foot, by camel, and by jeep. Wadi Rum had some beautiful hiking trails, but with time as a constraint, we chose to take a jeep safari, and it was a wonderful experience. As much as you expect consistency in a desert, I would swear that I gasped every time I turned my head, catching my breath at the sheer magnificence of the place.
Petra: What can I say about Petra, that has not been said? Not much, and yet you have to believe me when I tell you that no article can capture the grandeur of the place. I have to add that the Jordan government had done a pretty decent job in maintaining the place. It’s clean, well-maintained, and the infrastructure is excellent. With an entrance fees of 50JD for one day, Petra is expensive. But the good news is that longer you stay, cheaper it is. A two-day ticket costs 55JD, and 60JD for 3 days. Very reasonable eh? My tip: Start really early in the morning to avoid the crowds. We started at 7 am and had the whole place to ourselves. And it’s am amazing experience to explore an ancient city, and to feel that you are the only two people in it 🙂
The King’s Highway: While not exactly a destination, this is one of the best drives in the world, and one that you should definitely not miss. It’s one of my favorite parts of our trip. A serpentine road that doodles its way up the craggy mountains and deep ravines, it not only offers the best landscape in Jordan, but also a pretty exciting and hair-raising drive. Add to it is the fact that this is one of the most ancient routes in the world with quite a few interesting archaeological sites, some of the finest Christian Byzantine mosaic in the world, prehistoric Biblical villages, Islamic towns, Nabatean temples, and of course, Petra. If you want to do a day long drive up the King’s highway, Kharak castle and Wadi Mujib are worthy stops.
Wadi Mujib: Wadi Mujib is a a river that goes on to join the Dead sea. But what’s exciting is that the river goes through a fiery landscape of deep gorges and rocky cliffs, which is called the Mujib reserve. It’s possible to hike through the Mujib canyon, but it’s most famous for canyoning. While we did want to try this, it’s not possible to do this during winter. In winters, there are flash floods due to the rains, and it’s closed for canyoning. We did however get to walk around and that itself, was amazing.
Dead Sea: I have to admit that I was quite skeptical about this one. The whole “floating on the lowest point on earth” seemed to be highly overrated. But as our car wound down the valleys and approached the lowest point on earth, and I caught my first glimpse of the beautiful blue that provided a stark contrast to the white mountains overlooking it, and I was smitten. Yes, you can float, and yes, its the lowest point, but more importantly, it’s beautiful. My tip: The Dead sea stretch has the most beautiful, and the most expensive resorts in Jordan. If you are like me, you can stay in a smaller town called Madaba, and do a day trip to the Dead Sea. Another important point – the only public beach that leads you to the water is called Amman beach, and you need to pay 20JD to access it. Expensive, I know. But the alternate is to use the beaches with the resorts, and they would charge you a minimum of 50JD to just get into the water. If you can afford it, the resorts are great. But if not, then the Dead sea is the same everywhere 🙂 Also, Madaba is quite a residential town, and you get to partake a slice of Jordanian life!
Other notable places to visit: If you are interested in archaeology, and Christian history, Jerash, Mount Nebo, and Bethany are good stops. I was quite kicked about viewing Bethlehem from Mount Nebo!
4. Getting around – Public transport is not the greatest in Jordan, so the best way to travel is to hire a taxi, or to rent a car. The roads are excellent, and people drive quite well. Since we weren’t sure how things would be, we had opted for a taxi. It’s expensive, but worth it in my opinion. Your travel in comfort, you have a lot of flexibility, and more importantly, get to see the country’s breathtaking landscape.
5. Eating out – So the good news is that there are a lot of cheap options, and there are a lot of expensive options. It of course, also depends on the places you travel to. Madaba, being a residential town, had a lot of local eateries, which served really good local food. You could get Shawarmas and koftas for as low as 2JD. Petra, of course, is more expensive, but you do have cheaper options if you walk closer to the city. The restaurants closer to Petra entrance gate are nice, but a meal could cost you an average of 10 JD per person.
Happy travels, people! 🙂