Floating on the Dead Sea was high on my bucketlist. As a kid, I would look at pictures in text books and wonder if one could actually float on the Dead Sea? Now that wanderlust had made us surrender completely, it seemed like a perfectly good reason for us to pack our bags and set sail to Jordan! Well, we would have loved to set sail, but flying was a better option. Hip hip hurray!!! Off to Jordan!!!
Be on the road
While we love road trips, our decision to explore Jordan by renting a car was driven more by the lack of public transport than our desire to venture on a road trip. A road trip seemed like the perfect way to explore this small, yet fascinating country. There is an inexplicable joy in exploring a new country, being lost a few times en route, taking random halts for some street food and striking a conversation with the locals. Here is the list of cities/towns where we did take a break as we drove through barren lands, flourishing oases and rolling green plains:
While tourists flock Petra and Wadi Rum, small town of Madaba is often ignored and hence has managed to retain the authentic feel of a small Jordanian town. It is best known for its Byzantine and Ummayad mosiacs, especially a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of The Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church. Its a pity that a considerable portion of the map is destroyed. What remains is extremely impressive and interesting – as the Jordan river empties its water into the Dead Sea, the fish swim away from it!
Visit to this church was the only religious bit of our vacation – we gave Mt Nebo and the Bethany-Beyond the Jordan (the site where Jesus was baptized) a skip – not sure if many tourists would have done that. If you are here for religion, these destinations would be high on your list.
Inspired by the mosiacs that are centuries old, the locals have taken a fancy to the craft. Mosaic workshops dot the area around the St George church. Set aside some serious money if you want a good piece to take home.
Click here to read more about our day in Madaba.
Wadi Mujib via the King’s Highway
There are three highways that take you from Amman/Madaba to Petra :(1) The Desert Highway – Highway 15 (2) The King’s Highway – Highway 35 (3) The Dead Sea Highway – Highway 65
Highway 65 takes you straight to Aqaba. Highway 35 and Highway 15 meet after Petra and then take you to Aqaba.
The Desert Highway has been constructed recently and is the fastest route. If you have ever seen pictures of the serpentine roads in Jordan, you need to head to the King’s Highway that takes longer but is breathtakingly scenic.
Locally, no one has heard of the ‘King’s Highway’. If this is the route that you wish to follow and need directions from the locals, you need to ask the way to Aqaba that has the following pit stops – Karak-> At Tafila -> Dana -> Shobak -> Petra
We followed the scenic King’s Highway and the views made us gasp every few minutes.
Wadi Mujib is also know as Jordan’s Grand Canyon. Driving along the King’s Highway is an experience in itself. The colours of the rocks change with the angle of the sunlight and the cloud cover – what a sight!
Al Karak Castle
Driving through Karak city is a nightmare. The city is interlaced with one ways – I am sure PACMan’s maze is inspired by the city’s road map!
Al Karak is one of the largest crusader castles in the Levant. Construction of the castle began in the 1140s, under Pagan, Fulk of Jerusalem’s butler. There is plenty to see in the castle including the water cisterns, soldier rooms, kitchens etc.
We were stumbling along the castle corridors, busy playing ‘King and Soldier’, when a local guide saw the lost look all over our faces and took us through the ruins. We thanked him and gave him USD 10 bill, which did not make him too happy – but he didn’t seem too unhappy either.
We had a cup of tea at the restaurant inside the castle premises. The drapes and castle walls did add an authentic feel to the whole place – Ankur and I now decided to play ‘King and Queen’. Every woman likes to be treated like royalty!
After driving for one and a half hours we reached the Dana Biosphere. There is great view point that allows you to admire the rocky terrain. As I had spent the entire day hopping off the car to click the same flowers at various locations (blame it on the large memory card in the SLR which gives me the liberty), there really wasn’t much time left to hop off and gaze into the Dana wilderness.
The next morning started early. We wanted to start our Petra tour early to beat the crowds and have a little more time to explore the ‘Rose City of Petra’. Petra was dusty and windy, and cool – thank you spring time! We left the modern world behind and approached the city that would have been bustling with people, colours and activity about a thousand years ago.
The Siq was about 2.5 km and paved the path to the Treasury. Until the Treasury, we admired Mother Nature; at the Treasury, we admired man and his creative spirit. The Treasury, our guide told us, is a tomb. The grandeur of the structure has to been seen to be believed! The carvings and pillars brought to life ancient beliefs and man’s desire to live on to eternity – even if in stone.
Our guide recommended that we walk upto the Monastery/Al Dier, which is an even bigger structure (as compared to the Treasury) and offers phenomenal views of the Petra rock and wondered how Petra-in-action would look like from the top- thronging with traders, donkeys braying, caravans of camels, music and entertainment – like a city mall with animals?
Click here to read more about our day in Petra.
We reached Wadi Rum tourist centre a little after noon. The landscape in Wadi Rum was different from what we had seen in the country so far – red sand with rock faces that are as high as 150 meters – perfect moonscape.
We were greeted by our guide, Aoud,at the Wadi Rum protected area entrance and jumped into a 4X4 vehicle to explore the desert. We sat in the rear open seats as our guide Aoud, took us through the desert. The 5 hours that we spent with Aoud covered about 8 off spots in Wadi Rum. My favourite part in the whole Wadi Rum experience – sandboarding! I wasn’t too successful and sand boarded in the most amateur fashion, falling flat after every 30 meters! My shoes weighed 2 kgs heavier and my fingers fished sand from my pockets – what an experience…a definite must do!
It was about 5:30 pm and we headed to a quiet spot to enjoy the sunset. Spring time had made the desert spring into life and the desert plains were carpeted by small white flowers. We climbed on a rock and watched the desert change colour as the sun set – let the romance begin <drumroll>. The large rocks changed shades from red to brown, purple, grey and then black. The night was beautiful with over a million stars!
Click here to read more about our adventure in Wadi Rum.
Aqaba was when the vacation swung into Ankur’s way of taking a break – relax, unwind and do nothing. Eat, drink and be merry – the motto held strong as we lounged by the sea and enjoyed a belly dance show i later in the evening.
Our second day in Aqaba was little more exciting for me. I dived the Japanese Gardens in the Red Sea. And no – the Red Sea in not red! The quality and health of corals was outstanding – as good as that in the Maldives and the number of sea goldies that swum by made me fumble in my counting!
In the evening, we drove till Tala Bay to watch the sunset. We spent a few minutes at the corniche and enjoyed the soft light . We then drove further, close to the Saudi Arabia border. That was in interesting piece of land – we were standing in Jordan with Saudi Arabia to our left. On the opposite side of the Red Sea, were the territories of Egypt (to the left) and Israel (to the right).
Click here to read more about our diving at the Red Sea at Aqaba.
We left Aqaba at 9 am the next day as we wanted to reach the Dead Sea in the afternoon, which seemed like the best time to take a dip in the salty water (following the Dead Sea Highway). Within 3 hours, we saw our first glimpse of the Dead Sea and we were really excited about it. It looked like a calm lake with white crustation at the shore.
By the time we reached Crowne Plaza, I was as excited as an electron out of its orbit- time to tick an item on the bucket list. Within minutes, we were at the Dead Sea beach. Ankur played cameraman as I stepped into the salty water, which visibly, looked denser than usual sea water. I walked in a little further until I was waist deep in water and stood there. It was difficult to let go without making an attempt to float. I looked around me and saw a couple of people ‘bobbing’ on the surface. With a deep breath, I kicked my heels up and voila….I was floating!!! I was bobbing over the Dead Sea!!! Tick!!! I unfolded my newspaper and posed to let Ankur take the bucketlist picture.
Click here to read more about the Dead Sea.
Amman: Oh City Life in Amman!
The last day of our trip was scheduled for Amman. We had booked a room at Genny’s B&B, the only B&B which was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, and we were glad that we did!
We spent the evening exploring Rainbow Street – a street lined with restaurants. The next morning, after a filling breakfast at Genny’s B&B, we left to see the city. We just had the Citadel and the Roman Theatre on our cards, not to forget vegetarian lunch at Hashem’s.
Ten great days – new friends, new culture, delicious food and items on the bucketlist duly ticked – what a trip!
It was time for us to pick up our bags and head to the airport…Home Sweet Home!
As always… send me an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help!
Let the travellers’ tribe grow!