Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Petra.

The day we saw Petra will stay with me for the rest of my life, just like other memories from the Middle East: first time in a mosque, at the pyramids, in Karnak temple, in a hot-air balloon over Luxor..
However, this experience was different than all the other ones. So, I'll do my best to take you there with me, while reliving this particular memory.

We woke up in our first day in Wadi Musa, without having any idea about what lied ahead.
Zachary and Hillary whom we've recently met, joined us for breakfast and some small talk, the kind you have in the morning when the sleep still lingers on your eye lashes.
The hotel provided us with a free ride to the Petra entrance, so around 9:00 o'clock in the morning we were already buying our tickets - which included a horse ride for the first 800 meters. We slipped into the saddle and enjoyed the ride. Nice experience.. it brought back some long forgotten memories from my childhood, when I used to ride the neighbors' horses ..without them knowing.
For the next 20 minutes we just walked in amazement through the Siq; a 1200 meters long path waving in a claustrophobic-ally narrow, red colored canyon, cut into rocks by plate tectonic movement.
The sky scraping rock walls surrounding the Siq, made us feel like hobbits in a giants' people land.

Just when we started getting used with the canyon, we got a glimpse of Petra: the "Treasury" lied ahead, at the end of the path.
A few applause started from the Asian group in front of us; we just said "WOW", then - of course - we started taking photos.

As we learned later, this IS NOT Petra, it's just the image widely associated with the city. Bear with me until we discover it, but before that - a bit of history: "Petra, the fabled "rose red city, half as old as time", is a well known ancient Nabataean city in the south of Jordan. Due to its breathtaking grandeur and fabulous ruins, Petra was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Petra was the impressive capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC. The kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in AD 106 and the Romans continued to expand the city. An important center for trade and commerce, Petra continued to flourish until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water management systems around AD 663. After Saladin's conquest of the Middle East in 1189, Petra was abandoned and the memory of it was lost to the West" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra)
After reading a short description from our small guide received with the tickets, we all discussed about the path that should be followed next.
Zack and Hillary wished to see the monastery, while we preferred to follow the Lonely Planet guide and go to the High Place of Sacrifice. So, we decided that it's best to split, see each location and then meet around noon for sharing of impressions and also for having a quick snack (we carried a couple of falafel sandwiches, since we were warned about the hunger that will quickly follow the climbing).

A few more minutes sharing the same road and we all reached the steep path that climbed to the top of the mountain: a 45 minutes climb. A last look at the map,to make sure we're in the right place (as there were no signs, or any modern changes for that matter), then a final goodbye, a deep breath and off we went - following a boy mounted on a donkey - moving a lot faster than we did.

The way up was the same one used by the Nabataeans people when performing processions on top of the mountain; same stairs, same waived, steep path baring only the stamp of time.
In the first 15 minutes we kept stopping for taking photos of the valley bellow, but after getting used to the image, we started speeding up.
At some point, some wings flapping above our heads make us stop again, trying to capture a decent photo with the black birds nesting in the rocks.
...
Darn, the landscape lens was mounted on the camera.. not the right one for such a photo.. I decide to keep it for now and change it with the wildlife one, only after taking the panoramic view from the top of the mountain.
A few more steps and Andra discovers some nicely colored rocks, having layers upon layers of different colors. Just like the stones being sold, down in the valley, by the Bedouin kids. She takes two of them and we continue climbing, but not for long: we reach a point where the rock edges look perfect for resting and we couldn't resist the temptation to sit close to the abyss, with the feet dangling over the ledge.

Andra starts moving again. I stand up and follow.
For the next 20 minutes we're hiking up the same waived path, that is leading us through a constantly changing landscape. We're still surrounded by rock walls, so everything should be routine by now, but it's not. The walls have vines of different composition, with ever-changing color and pattern.

Some Bedouin women and kids have set up camp along this path and they nicely ask us to join for tea or to do some shopping in their taverns. Another 10 minutes and we're finally almost close to the top. At this point, we can only see portions from the valley bellows ..images sneaking to us through small gaps between huge blocks of colored rock.
A small, single flower rising directly from the sand, near the path, makes us stop for one minute. Then a weirdly blue colored bush, growing directly into the stone.

A few more meters and we finally stand on one of the highest peeks from the area, surrounded on all sides by the end of the world.
Only now we can wrap our heads around the magnitude of what was once the Petra city: we now see the roads, the theater, a temple, hundreds of tombs and other structures that we can't identify.
But even from this position, we don't see quite everything. So, after 10 minutes of enjoying the scenery, we continue discovering the surroundings.
We find another rock ledge suitable for some more resting on the edge of the abyss, so I decide to sit down. The adrenaline kicks in as I sit and look directly into the valley below.
Andra is not that happy about me staying in such a dangerous location, but she does takes some photos.

We continue to move around.
Before too long, we stumble upon a male lizard, brightly colored in a vivid light blue. The lizard becomes our new focus for the next 5 minutes.
I change lenses and hunt the creature through the rocks, managing in the end to have it within arm's reach.

After wondering around for some more time, we discover a large room cut directly into the rock, in the same manner that makes up the entire Petra city.
The sheer size of this room is overwhelming, especially when trying to imagine the Nabataeans using old tools to make their way through the hard rock.

We continue the descent, manage to get lost and then find the path again, just in time to meet with our new friends in the valley we left a few hours back.
We pick a shady spot and wait for them. Some Bedouin kids notice us and - in no time - we're helplessly surrounded. They touch Andra's hair, necklace, watch; they ask me to take some photos with them while wearing my glasses, then they joke around about each-other.
After 10 intensive minutes, we're saved by a large group of international tourists. The kids run to them, hoping to sell some of the post cards they're carrying.

After having a quick snack, we all run away from the heat that keeps rising, and find refuge in the hotel's rooms - vowing to return to this magnificent place.
We do it in the late evening, only to discover that we're almost alone out there. The crowds of tourists have vanished, letting us alone with some Bedouins and the echo.

The setting sun makes the color stand out from the rocks, and it looks like the shaded ones have turned brick red.
We find a good spot near the old theater and watch the barrier between the shade and the light going up fast.

As a fitting end to this experience, we get to see Petra's transformation that comes at night: from the washed out color - to the new, strong reddish one.
We go back towards the exit, surrounded by wildlife presence and its specific sounds, feeling that we leave behind an unfinished experience and a ghostly city that slowly comes back to life with the falling night.

2 comments:

Pavel Krasnovskij said...

it seems an amazing place, i'd love to visit it now when i saw the pictures! thanks for a story!

Razvan and Andra said...

We're glad you liked it! It is really worth seeing.
In total, we saw three world wonders, including those from the "extended list", and we enjoyed Petra the most.

Unlike the other ones, where you take some photos, get a guide that feeds you some history.., at Petra you get to slowly discover it by yourself. The sheer size of the city keeps the tourist apart and hiking alone through ruins - makes you feel like Indiana Jones :)

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