5 Cultural Gems To Discover This Summer

If you’re looking for a summer holiday with a difference, why not unleash your inner culture vulture? Make this the year you visit some of the world’s most treasured gems. If you’re a history enthusiast or you’re eager to get some of those bucket-list sites ticked off, here are some ideas.

  1. Chichen Itza, Mexico

A stunning example of Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s star attractions. The highlight of this ancient city is a domineering stone pyramid, which forms the backdrop for many a holiday snap. The city dates back to 600AD, and it has been beautifully preserved. Take a tour to learn all about the Mayan civilization and the significance of the El Castillo pyramid. Stick around for sun down and appreciate an entirely different aesthetic. By night, the pyramid is illuminated. You can appreciate its intricate decoration and striking geometry in a different light.

  1. Petra, Jordan

All the pictures and postcards in the world could never prepare you for seeing Petra with your own eyes. This rose colored ancient city is a worthy wonder of the world, and it has to be seen to be appreciated. Enter through an ornate doorway carved into the rock face and prepare to be amazed. Book one of the many education tours on offer to gain an insight into the architecture and design. Take in the incredible sights and sounds and marvel at the attention to detail. Make sure you have sturdy, comfortable walking boots with you and keep your camera handy.

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Image via https://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2216880341

  1. Great Wall of China

An engineering feat and a breathtaking landmark, no trip to China is complete without a tour of the Great Wall. Stretching more than 21,000 kilometers, you probably won’t manage it in its entirety, but it’s fascinating to see it and learn more about it. Local guides are happy to impart their knowledge and wisdom, and there are tours available throughout the country. If you’re visiting Beijing, you can easily arrange a day tour.

  1. Machu Picchu

An iconic symbol of Inca culture, the lost city is a magical and mysterious place. Established in the 15th century and located almost 8,000 feet above sea level, it takes a little effort to reach the site. But it’s well worth it. The ruins have been tended to meticulously and they remain in excellent condition. You can also enjoy staggeringly beautiful views over Peru. Fly to Lima and spend a couple of days exploring this vibrant and hectic city before heading to Cusco. It’s worth doing a little training before you trek up to Machu Picchu, as the altitude can be draining.

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Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/7914096100

  1. Taj Mahal, India

India is famed for its mesmerizing scenery and nothing lures intrepid travelers in like the Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century as a memorial to Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife, this giant mausoleum is made from pristine white marble. It glistens in the sun and the dome penetrates the Agra skyline. Wander around the manicured gardens and soak up the tranquility. Visit at sunrise or dusk to avoid throngs of tourists.

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Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2215341546

If you’re after something different, why not inject some history into your holiday? There are so many awesome sights out there to discover.

Wadi Rum, Jordan – Journey to the moon

WADI RUM, JORDAN: Journey to Wadi Rum was like journey to another world or another planet. Wadi Rum, meaning Valley of the Moon, is the largest and most magnificent of Jordan’s desert landscapes. Vast scenery of Wadi Rum is endless and is at everywhere you look. This silent and timeless place is still untouched by humans although it has been inhabited by many cultures since prehistoric time. This is a vast wilderness that holds spectacular treasures from as early as 4000 years ago. Wadi Rum was added to UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural and cultural significance in 2011.

Vast and empty land of Wadi Rum, Jordan
Vast and empty land of Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

This makes a great day trip from Petra or Aqaba. Many people come to Wadi Rum for overnight or weekly camping. There are some designated areas where they can stay like the Bedouins, roam around in camels, horses, or donkeys, and eat meals prepared by the Bedouins in traditional style. Trekkers, hikers, and rock climbers come here to enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces. This place can also interest professionals like geologists, scientists, and historians. To the west, this became very well-known after the epic movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962. It was also used as the surface of mars in the movie “Red Planet”.

Amazing landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan - it does look like the surface of the moon
Amazing landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan – it does look like the surface of the moon
     

It took us about hour and half from Petra to reach Wadi Rum. We paid 150 JD (50 JD per person & my 3-yr was free) for all four of us for about 5 hours of stay in Wadi Rum. The price included the tour and Bedouin-style lunch. Our guide met with the Bedouin in a spot near Wadi Rum, not near the Visitors’ Center. So, we avoided paying the entry fee there. But usually tourists have to pay about 50 JD to enter the valley and pay separately to the Bedouins for tour and everything else. There are many options to choose from to explore the desert and they can be arranged by the Visitors’ Center or your hotel beforehand.

Beautiful Wadi Rum, Jordan
Beautiful Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Jordan in mid-February in 2013. Wadi Rum was our last trip there after Petra. It was slightly chilly in the city, but once we were in the desert…it was really pleasant. Try avoiding going there during summer…it can get crazy hot. Even most of the Bedouins move off the desert to elevated mountains in hot summer months.

A nice afternoon in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
A nice afternoon in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Movenpick Resort in Petra, right outside the Visitors’ Center. I don’t think I need to say much about Movenpick, it’s a 5-star hotel…very luxurious rooms with excellent customer service. Wi-Fi wasn’t free but breakfast buffet, with variety of different items to choose from, was free for its customers. We checked out of the hotel in the morning and headed straight towards Wadi Rum on the last day of our trip and checked in Arab Tower Hotel in Amman at night.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Wadi Rum is a classic picture of sandy desert. Whole area is 280 sq. miles (780 sq. m.) of natural scenic site. Visitors can spend days or weeks exploring its mountains, hills, vast landscapes, sand dunes, many natural rock bridges, sandstone and granite rocks, Bedouin inhabitants, natural and hand-cut caves, inscriptions and petroglyphs, and many other wonders of nature and pre-historic time. Our Bedouin guide brought an old white 4×4 SUV to take us around the desert. Adventure is having your SUV stuck in the sand or taking a ride thru the empty path of desert without following any signs or paved road, and sliding down small sand-dunes with the vehicle.

Our 4x4 transportation in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
Our 4×4 transportation in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan

1) Mushroom Rock: This was our first stop in the desert. Our Bedouin guide has a small shop of his own and a place for tea and coffee (only open after dark) inside a tent. There is a natural rock formation close to the tent, looks much like a mushroom in a way.

Mushroom rock in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Mushroom rock in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

2) Seven Pillars of Wisdom: We saw this bold rock formation almost right after we entered the valley. The name came from T. E. Lawrence’s book although name has nothing to do with the valley.

This amazing columns of rock is known as Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum, Jordan
This amazing columns of rock is known as Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

3) Caves and Lifestyle: Many natural and hand-cut caves can be found in Wadi Rum. Some of them are from the time of Nabataeans. We stopped at two of these caves (one from Nabataean period) where no one lives anymore.

One of many natural caves of Wadi Rum, Jordan
One of many natural caves of Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

Another interesting thing he showed us was how Bedouins used to wash their hands or body in the old times before soaps were available. I don’t know the name of the plant, but he took some branches, tore them in small pieces, smashed with rock, added some water, and started to rub in his hands then bubble started to form…a natural anti-bacterial soap.

Our Bedouin friend is showing how they used to use plants to clean their hands in the old time - Wadi Rum, Jordan
Our Bedouin friend is showing how they used to use plants to clean their hands in the old time – Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

4) Castle from “Lawrence of Arabia”: There was a castle built in Wadi Rum during the shooting of the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. The sandstone castle is still standing in one part of the valley. We just drove by the castle without stopping.

Castle that was built for the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1962 in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Castle that was built for the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962 in Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

5) Inscriptions on rocks: There are many sites in Wadi Rum where you can find etched inscriptions, paintings, graffiti, and petroglyphs. They are usually from Nabataean or Thamudic periods. We stopped at 2 places and climbed up small hills to see them.

Etched inscription on mountain walls in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Etched inscription on mountain walls in Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

6) Natural rock bridges: Natural rock bridges are also very common in this Wadi. We saw total of 4 of these bridges in the middle of the valleys. These arches are absolutely sexy and can be climbed to the top to get a view from high above.

A natural rock bridge in Wadi Rum, Jordan
A natural rock bridge in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   
    
Another natural bridge of Wadi Rum
Another natural bridge of Wadi Rum
     
A stone arch in Wadi Rum
A stone arch in Wadi Rum
      

7) Our Lunch: After about 2 hours ride in the SUV with our guide and the Bedouin driver, we stopped at a nice picnic spot with awesome “backyard” view for lunch. The Bedouin had our lunch marinated and foiled beforehand.

Our Bedouin guide is trying to lit the fire up to cook our lunch
Our Bedouin guide is trying to light the fire up to cook our lunch
     

Both of them collected some dry branches to cook the food on. Then lit up fire and placed foiled meal on it. It took about an hour to cook that chicken. In the mean time he put some Bedouin music in his radio-looking machine, placed small mattresses on the sand for us to sit or lay down, and put a pot of water on fire to have some tea after lunch.

Lunch is cooking on hot sand and ashes
Lunch is cooking on hot sand and ashes
     

It was about 4 pm when the food was ready. He had everything very well planned …brought some breads, yogurt, even a bottle of coke, and some disposable utensils for lunch. The smell and look of our lunch looked oh-so-good. The dish is called Madfouna…a chicken dish with potatoes, carrots, peppers, lots of lemon with salt and pepper. We sat on the mattress with our food in our hands and some sand on our food (couldn’t help it, there were some whirling sand around us, they kept flying on our plate). But either way, that food was delicious. After lunch, it was time for some hot tea. I never had sage tea before. Usually people here drink lots of mint tea. But he made some sage tea for us…tasted very refreshing in the hot desert.

Our lunch in Wadi Rum, called Madfouna
Our lunch in Wadi Rum, called Madfouna
     

By the time we were done with our lunch it was about 5 pm and very close to sunset. On the SUV again and to the unknown…

8) Panoramic Site: This was the best part of the tour for me. The color of desert started to change its shades near the sunset time. Nature looked more mystical and astounding. Our Bedouin friend took us to a panoramic spot where we were amazed by the beautiful atmosphere. We were on top of a small hill surrounded by some sand dunes, a lower valley view, and uniquely cut rocks and hills. It was immense and boundless.

Sunset in a panoramic spot in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Sunset in a panoramic spot in Wadi Rum, Jordan
       

After all the traveling I did in my little life, Wadi Rum is the only place where I truly left my heart. I kept going back to its enormous and ageless place of beauty in my thoughts every now and then…thinking about miles after miles of its gratifying look. It truly felt like I was on the moon for the first time in my life.

Best sunset I have ever seen in my life was in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Best sunset I have ever seen in my life was in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

The Rose-Red City of Petra, Jordan

PETRA, JORDAN: Without any doubt Petra is a world of wonder and the greatest tourist attraction in Jordan. Also known as “Rose-Red City”, this unique city was carved from sheer rock faces by the Nabataeans more than 2000 years ago. This Kingdom existed for centuries before the Romans annexed it. By the 14th century, Petra was completely lost to the West, until in 1812 a Swiss traveler, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it and noted on his diary “It seems very probably that the ruins at Wadi Musa are those of the ancient Petra.”

Entering Rose-Red City of Petra in Jordan
Entering Rose-Red City of Petra in Jordan
   

Petra, also known as Wadi Musa or Valley of Moses, is like an open-air museum and the main attraction is the ruins itself. You need at least one day (or few days) to explore the major sites of it. Petra enchants travelers with its revealing appearance and bold history. It never fails to impress them. There is no place like this on earth and its beauty is beyond any expressions. I saw many images of Petra before traveling there, but they come nowhere close to what we experienced.

Little piece of sky that you can see while walking thru Siq in Petra, Jordan
Little piece of sky that you can see while walking thru Siq in Petra, Jordan
   

For the history of Petra, I will copy the information from the information board that I saw near the visitor center…I think that sums it up very well. “Petra, as the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, thrived as an important trading post on the international Spice Route, serving as a crossroad between Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria-Phoenicia, India, China, and the Mediterranean Basin. Nestled within intricate geological formation of mountains and gorges are the impressive tombs that the Nabataeans carved out of the sandstone rock faces. Nabataeans, Romans, and Byzantines built the city of Petra from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. Whilst the architectural facades of the tombs are a harmonious blend of ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Roman styles, archaeological excavation in Petra have brought to light that the city itself survived well into the Byzantine period.” — From information board of Visitors Center in Petra, Jordan.

Hundreds of caves and tombs of Nabataean Kingdom in Petra, Jordan
Hundreds of caves and tombs of Nabataean Kingdom in Petra, Jordan. The picture came a bit out of focus because I was on a mule.
   

TIME of TRAVELING: We stayed in Jordan all together about a week. Out of that, we spent 2 nights in Petra and one full day exploring the valley and its ancient history. It was mid-February of 2013. Although we were prepared with our jackets the day we were in Petra (all the visitors were actually carrying jackets/sweaters) but when you have to walk few miles those jackets eventually end up either in your backpack or tied to your waist. That’s what happened to us too, but it did get a bit chilly in late afternoon when we were walking back to our hotel. Other than that it was a perfect day to do some outdoor hiking with kids.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Movenpick Resort in Petra, right outside the Visitors’ Center. I don’t think I need to say much about Movenpick, it’s a 5-star hotel…very luxurious rooms with excellent customer service. Wi-Fi wasn’t free but breakfast buffet, with variety of different items to choose from, was free for its customers.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch after 4 pm the day we spent in Petra. We were dead tired and just went to the first place we saw, which was luckily next to our hotel. It was nothing fancy, but had some good soups and pizzas. There are many restaurants and cheaper places if you are willing to walk 10-15 minutes from the entrance of Petra. If you are hungry inside Petra, few restaurants/cafes are available after crossing Khazana and Roman Theater.

My glass of lemonade with a hint of mint on top of the mountain on our way to the monastery in Petra, Jordan
My glass of lemonade with a hint of mint on top of the mountain on our way to the monastery in Petra, Jordan
  

I didn’t see much of shops there, I guess I wasn’t looking at the right directions. I saw a souvenir shop on top of the mountains when we arrived there with our donkeys, and a mule to go to the monastery. Oh and also saw many Bedouin ladies selling local trinkets in the valley and on the mountains.

A souvenir shop on the mountains selling local trinkets in Petra, Jordan
A souvenir shop on the mountains selling local trinkets in Petra, Jordan
  

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: I tried to break our visit of Petra in few different segments to make it easy on me and my readers. We did rent 2 donkeys and a mule to help us climb more than 900 stairs to go to the monastery and then later a horse-drawn carriage from Khazana to the main entrance of Petra thru Siq. It just made it a whole lot easier on the kids and us…can you imagine climbing 900 stairs (they are not even stairs either) with a 7-yrs. and a 3- yrs. and then walk another 15-20 minutes to the monastery? By the way, both of my girls were still sick from our previous day-trips in other parts of Jordan, I truly appreciate their courage and support on this trip.

Man playing a very old instrument, called Rebabh, near Khazana in Petra, Jordan
Man playing a very old instrument, called Rebabh, near Khazana in Petra, Jordan
  

Here are the price information for our rides if any travelers find it useful:

Rent for 2 donkeys and 1 mule (with 2 guides) – From Khazana to Monastery and return is 60 JD + my husband gave them 20 JD tips. 60 JD rent was bargained before we rode on the animals…very important that you do it. This portion of tour took only 2 hours…thanks to those lovely animals for doing the hard work.

Our guides and rides to the monastery in Petra, Jordan
Our guides and rides to the monastery in Petra, Jordan
   

Horse carriage ride for our whole family from Khazana to Visitors’ Center was 20 JD (no tipping). Disable visitors can rent horse carriage at the entry point for free, but be sure to decide on how much tip you are going to pay them beforehand to avoid any trouble. Right after entering the site, many people will try to get you to rent their horse or donkey and will tell you that it’s free. But remember, legally, it’s only free for disable, sick, or elderly people. Don’t fall for what they say…it’s just a way of making money. Here is the entry fees information: (Guided tour is available in the visitor center)

a) Overnight visitors to Jordan:

1 day – 50 JD

2 days – 55 JD

3 days – 60 JD

b) Day visitors to Jordan:

1 day – 90 JD

Tourists often come from Israel on day trips and hence the ticket category is different for them. You may have either to show your passports or your hotel keys (if staying overnight in Petra) to prove that you are not a day visitor in Jordan.

Okay, so here are some highlights from our Petra tour:

1) FROM VISITORS’ CENTER to BAB AL-SIQ: This walk was about 1 km long until we reached the entry point of Siq. This is just the appetizer for the main beauty of Petra…if appetizer is this good, you can only imagine what the main course would be like!!  Both sides of the walkway are guarded by large and small hills and interesting natural rock-formations. We saw many natural and hand-cut caves on this stretch. This area also contains several rock-hewn monuments and memorials, including the distinctive tower tombs known as the Djinn Blocks, the rock-cut funerary complex of the “Obelisk Tomb” and the “Bab Al-Siq Triclinium.”

Walking from Visitors' Center to Bab Al-Siq in Petra, Jordan
Walking from Visitors’ Center to Bab Al-Siq in Petra, Jordan. You can see some Djinn Blocks (the square rocks) here
   

Djinn Blocks (Djinn is a type of spirit in Arab folklore) are free-standing cube-shaped monuments which served as tombs and memorials to the dead. There are only 3 or 4 of them near Bab Al-Siq but a total of 25 Djinn Blocks can be seen in whole Petra. These are some of the earliest tombs carved in Petra in around 2nd to beginning of 1st century BC. Obelisk Tomb and Bab Al-Siq Triclinium were carved from sandstone cliffs around 25 – 75 AD. Petra’s Bedouin inhabitants named the entrance of Siq “Bab Al-Siq” meaning Gate to the Siq in Arabic.

A rock-cut funerary complex "Obelisk Tower" before entering Siq in Petra, Jordan
A rock-cut funerary complex “Obelisk Tower” before entering Siq in Petra, Jordan
    

2) THE SIQ: The real beauty of Petra begins as soon as you enter Siq. You can’t imagine its grandness without being here physically. This narrow 2 km passageway takes you right in front of the most popular attraction of Petra, the Khazana (Treasury).

The Siq - a natural gorge and main entrance to the City of Petra, Jordan
The Siq – a natural gorge and main entrance to the City of Petra, Jordan
   

Siq is a natural sandstone gorge that gently winds towards the ancient city of Petra. This was once the main entrance to the city. In its day, Petra was a bustling city that witnessed a constant procession of travelers, visitors, and pilgrims, who passed along this same path. Many carved blocks and petroglyphs can be seen throughout the Siq. Different shades of colors of the canyon and fascinatingly beautiful shaped rocks give this place a different charm. I have never seen anything like this before. This is where natural wonders collide with ancient world.

A 2000 years old statue carved from stone by Nabataean inside Siq in Petra, Jordan
A 2000 years old statue carved from stone by Nabataean inside Siq in Petra, Jordan
  

Many remnants of Nabataean history can be seen inside the Siq. Among these are the paved road and Nabataean sacred stone blocks. The paved road in the Siq was originally constructed by the Nabataeans, possibly towards the end of the 1st century BC. Limestone was used for the paving and portions of that road still exist in some areas of Siq.

Amazing colors and rock formations of Siq in Petra, Jordan
Amazing colors and rock formations of Siq in Petra, Jordan

3) Al-KHAZANA (THE TREASURY): After 3 km of walk, Siq dramatically opens up to a magnificent view of the Khazana. This towering façade is the most spectacular monument carved by the Nabataeans from 60 BC – 50 AD. It was impressively carved out of a single block. The name, Khazana, comes from a local Bedouin legend that Pharaoh hid a treasure in the urn at the top. But in reality, it is a mausoleum and would have been used for funerary purposes.

Tourists are not allowed to go inside Khazana. So we rested in front of it for about half an hour while enjoying and appreciating the talented Nabataeans for Khazana’s imposing appearance. By the way, this is where Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was filmed starring Harrison Ford.

Al-Khazana (The Treasury) in Petra, Jordan
Al-Khazana (The Treasury) in Petra, Jordan
   

Most of visitors of Petra end their journey here, especially if they are with groups or on a day-trip from Amman or other cities. But this is just the half of Petra’s ancient secret. I would highly recommend travelers to pass this point and start going towards the monastery, otherwise you will miss out a lot of scenic sites that Petra has to offer to its guests.

4) ROYAL TOMBS, CAVES, and RUINS: Leaving Khazana behind to our left, we walked thru another small natural passageway and came in front of a large valley. Some of the tombs here dates back to 200 BC. There is also a 3000-seat Roman Theater from the early 1st century AD in one side of the valley, a Roman style Palace Tomb, and many royal tombs to your right up on the hills. These caves, tombs, and carvings on mountains look like paintings of nature. The beauty doesn’t end anywhere…every corner has surprise, every rock of this valley has some uniqueness. Various walks and climbs reveal hundreds of rock carved tombs and temple façades, funerary halls, and rock reliefs…enough to keep your eyes busy for hours and days.

Royal tombs and memorials of Nabataeans in Petra, Jordan
Royal tombs and memorials of Nabataeans in Petra, Jordan
     

We rented our 2 donkeys and a mule from here. Now I was exploring Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) riding on my mule. This was much easier than riding a camel (we rode on camels in our trip to Pyramids of Giza in Egypt). I felt much comfortable and was actually able to take pictures using my both hands…it felt so cool.

Many other Roman ruins can still be seen in this part of Petra. Massive columns and old limestone walls will take you back to those bygone days.  This was a long way from Khazana before we actually started climbing the stairs to monastery.

From my mule - riding thru the Roman ruins of Petra
From my mule – riding thru the Roman ruins of Petra
    

5) WAY to MONASTERY: I think there are hundreds and thousands of caves and tombs in Petra, they are almost everywhere you look. Some of them are natural and some are hand-cut. Our guide with the animals were two Bedouins who reside in some nearby caves in Petra. They were saying in hot summer days these caves become very cool and pleasant while in winter they become very warm and cozy.

Jabel Petra, mountains of Petra - on our way to the Monastery
Jabel Petra, mountains of Petra – on our way to the Monastery
   

So, after all the ruins and royal tombs the climbing began. There are more than 900 unevenly cut steps to go all the way top to the monastery. The donkeys were very fast climbing although at times I thought he would drop me from his back to the deep down gorge. It was thrilling no doubt but kind of scary too. I scratched my one knee at one point since my mule decided to walk so close to the wall that it had forgotten my legs needed some space. But I would have done it again if I had to.

A picture perfect place - Petra, Jordan
A picture perfect place – Petra, Jordan
  

These animals can go up to a certain point of these mountains with tourists. After that the Bedouins and the animals stayed behind and we walked little bit and climbed another 50 steps before some more great views of the valley opened up to us.

6) THE MONASTERY: Deeply carved into a cliff face of a mountain, known as Jabal ad-Dayr, the façade is traditionally known as “the Monastery”. Built in 85 BC, this is one of the largest monuments in Petra. It looks very similar to Khazana but bigger in size. There isn’t anything to see inside the monastery except for its 3 enclosed walls, but visitors are allowed to go in and take a look around.

Monastery in Petra, Jordan - carved by the Nabataeans in 85 BC
Monastery in Petra, Jordan – carved by the Nabataeans in 85 BC
  

This was the end of our tour basically. There is a panoramic hill where people hike to see 360 degree view of the Petra city. But all of us were too exhausted to take anymore extra steps. From monastery we head back to our guides, went down some 900 steps, and back to Khazana where they picked us up from. From there, we rented a horse-drawn carriage to take us back to Visitors’ Center to avoid that 3km walk again. We were hungry, tired, sleepy, but absolutely satisfied with this journey. Petra is the most valuable treasure of Jordan. Thanks to the local authority for keeping this place so organized, clean, and safe for visitors. Every traveler must visit Jordan to see Petra, the “Lost City’, and its endless forget-me-not beauty.

PETRA by NIGHT: This is the best way to experience Petra’s look at night, which I missed due to my high fever. My husband went with a big group. This can only be done as a guided tour with officials of Petra Visitors’ Center. Tourists first walk about 1 km from the Visitors’ Center to Siq, then 2 km from Siq all the way to Khazana following a candle-lit path. Here everyone sits down, rests, and drinks a cup of tea under the open sky, served by the Bedouins. As my husband said, while they were drinking tea, a man gave them some history on this place followed by musical performance by a Bedouin. This whole trip is magical because the whole Siq and in front of Khazana are decorated with hundreds of candles on both sides after dark. Although I didn’t go there, I can visualize the adventure of walking thru narrow passage of Siq at night surrounded by many many candles…must feel like you are in a different planet.

Petra by Night - man telling history of Petra
Petra by Night – man telling history of Petra
  

The charge is 12 JD per person to take this walking tour at night. My husband bought the ticket from our hotel reception and just showed up in front of the visitor center of Petra 10 minutes before the tour started. The event takes place Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays of every week. The tour started at 8:30 pm and took about 1 ½ hours to finish up.

Jordan Trip 2013 – Wadi Mujib, Karak, Dana, and Shobak

DAY TRIP to WADI MUJIB, KARAK, DANA, and SHOBAK: We took this trip on our way to Petra from Amman during our stay in Jordan in February, 2013. Our guide took King’s Way for this trip instead of regular highway although this takes little bit longer time. King’s Way is a beautiful scenic route that runs from Amman all the way near Petra. This long stretch of road crawls thru green fields, rugged terrains, majestic mountains, vast deserts, deep valleys, and steep canyons. You get to see many small villages up close and personal when driving thru local busy markets or neighborhoods. King’s Way is like U.S. Route 101 or Route 66, some portions are like fast high-ways while some are congested bustling streets.

People usually take this as a day-trip and include Petra along with it and go back to Amman the same day. But since it would be too much on the kids and we wanted to do it in a relaxed way, we paid more than double the price and did it in 2 days. We paid 120 JD for this trip and our driver showed us these 4 small towns, then left us in our hotel in Petra. The plan was to take all the time next day to visit Petra leisurely and go back to Amman via Wadi Rum on our last day in Jordan.

A small portion of King's Way in Jordan
A small portion of King’s Way in Jordan

OUR HOTEL: After leaving our hotel in Amman and getting on with the journey, we reached Movenpick Resort in Petra around 6 pm. Of course this is a 5-star hotel, so everything is perfect here, you can say. Although Wi-Fi is not free, the breakfast is included in the room-fare. The location was great too, since it’s just outside the visitor center of Petra.

EATING and SHOPPING: We started the day a bit late (my girls were sick and we were exhausted from previous day-trips) and were rushing thru the day to be able to see everything before the closing times. We ended up having lunch around 4:30 in a street-side kebab place in Shobak. You can say that was our dinner too.

For shopping, I really didn’t come across any souvenir shops in this trip, other than single individual Bedouins selling stuff right outside the 2 castles we’ve visited.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We left Amman around 10 am and were done with everything by 6 pm. This was a bit tight schedule since we barely made it to our last destination right before closing. May be leaving at 9 am would have given us some extra time. But unfortunately my kids and I fell sick after we reached Jordan, it’s a not that easy waking your toddlers who are suffering from fever and sore throat at 8 am and get them ready for a long day of journey. Anyways, good part is that we got to see everything we wanted to see and more and reached Petra safely at the end of the day. I think we all slept like babies that night, I know I did.

Driving by beautiful mountains of Jordan
Driving by beautiful mountains of Jordan

1) WADI MUJIB VIEWPOINT: After driving through some gigantic mountains and zigzagging roads of King’s Way we reached the viewpoint of Wadi Mujib. This is about 95 km from Amman. Although we didn’t go down to the valley, Mujib Nature Reserve is the lowest nature reserve in the world. The immense beauty from this point of Wadi Mujib is unforgettable. The deep valley looks breathtaking from up above. Dam Al-Mujib with its body of water surrounding looks like an oasis in the middle of the desert and stony mountains. The cliffs and the gorges of monstrous mountains and Bedouin settlements tucked away in the wadis make this place a picture perfect sight too. By the way, don’t forget to breathe fresh mountain air while you are up there…very refreshing.

View of Al Mujib Dam in Jordan
View of Al Mujib Dam in Jordan

2) KARAK CASTLE in KARAK: Karak is rather a big town and is about 65 km from Wadi Mujib on King’s Way. The castle reached its present form very gradually. The two main building phases were made by the Crusaders from 1142 – 1188 AD (later was occupied by Salahdin) and Mamluk from 1263 – 1517 AD. You can see typical Crusaders’ masonry here characterized by the use of large, roughly cut blocks of hard, dark limestone. On the other hand Mamluk builders used a soft limestone, neatly cut into rectangular blocks, but with a rough or rusticated outer face. Built on a ridge, the massive outer defense wall raises from the steep valleys of Karak isolating from the town and from nearby hills.

The outer defense wall of Karak Castle in Jordan
The outer defense wall of Karak Castle in Jordan

This is a humongous castle, I mean the whole perimeter is very big and open. This is one of the three largest castles in the region, the other two being in Syria. Standing by the outer walls gives a grand view of the whole town and afar. One of the adventurous parts is to walk inside the medieval cluster phobic tunnels and explore small bedrooms (some prisons). The main outer wall remains fairly intact but the buildings inside the boundary are somewhat in ruins.

One of the dark tunnels of Karak Castle in Jordan
One of the dark tunnels of Karak Castle in Jordan

Entrance to the castle is only 1 JD per person and it took us little more than hour and half to walk around its big open space on the hill. Visitors can spend more time exploring all the levels of this castle, walk thru the dark passages, and going inside its many small and big rooms.

3) DANA VIEWPOINT: Our 3rd stop Dana was simply a short break with some great views of Dana Village at the foothill of giant mountains. It’s about 120 km from Karak. The adjacent canyon in between two hills is also dangerously beautiful. We stopped here only for 10 minutes, took some pictures, ran fast towards Shobak before the castle closes at 4 pm.

View from Dana and its adjacent valley in Jordan
View from Dana and its adjacent valley in Jordan

4) SHOBAK CASTLE in SHOBAK: City of Shobak/Shawbak/Shoubak is about 60 km from Dana and about 40 km away from Petra. This is a much smaller castle than the one in Karak. This was our last destination of the day before reaching Petra. We made it to the Shobak Castle only 5 minutes before the closing time but the guard allowed us in and let us spend 15 minutes to walk around. There is no charge to enter the castle.

Ruins of Shobak Castle in Jordan
Ruins of Shobak Castle in Jordan

Shobak Castle, built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD, is located up on a high steep mountain…I was kind of scared when our car was going thru that narrow road by the cliff to the main entrance. There are many caves on the body of the mountains where some Bedouins still reside. Our driver was saying, there is one particular cave which is linked to the castle and can be hiked for 30 minutes to go on top of it. The only thing left of Shobak Castle is the dull skeleton of it. We walked by the old walls and some small rooms and tunnels made with sandstone. Ruins of its tower with Arabic calligraphy is visible from outside the castle. Looking out to the rocky and conical mountains was very appealing and glamorous.

Shobak Castle was built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD
Shobak Castle was built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD

Jordan Trip 2013 – Day Trip to Ashabul Kahf, Ajloun, and Jarash

DAY TRIP to ASHABUL KAHF, AJLOUN, and JARASH: This trip was not in our itinerary at first, but our guide/driver suggested that if we have a day to spare we should definitely go and visit these places. Thank God we took his advice and decided to take this trip. I don’t know which one would be my favorite site since each of these sites has different significance and mind-boggling history attached to them. This was arranged by our hotel Arab Tower Hotel in Amman. We paid 54 JD to our driver/guide which didn’t include entry fee to any sites.

On our way to Ajloun, Jordan...beautiful scenic drive
On our way to Ajloun, Jordan…beautiful scenic drive
    

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in a very nice restaurant (Jordanian House) right outside the ancient Roman city in Jarash. It’s a traditional Jordanian restaurant where you can eat all you want for 10 JD per person (kids eat free). Drinks aren’t included and it was weird that even the customers have to pay to use their restroom.

Lunch buffet in Jordanian House in Jarash
Lunch buffet in Jordanian House in Jarash
      

For shopping, the best place is in Jarash right before the ticket office to enter the Roman city. There are tons of small shops selling many local souvenirs, like paintings, colorful scene of desert in bottles made with sands, home decors, kuffiyeh (checkered scarves), religious gift items, and much more. We bought an oil painting for 35 JD and my husband bought 2 kuffiyehs for 5 JD each.

Souvenir shop in Jarash where we bought our painting from
Souvenir shop in Jarash where we bought our painting from
     

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We started our journey from Amman about 10 am, were done with all the places, and reached our hotel at 6:30pm in the evening. It was a pleasant weather during day but a bit chilly in the late afternoon.

Sunset in the mountains near Jarash, Jordan
Sunset in the mountains near Jarash, Jordan
      

1) ASHABUL KAHF (CAVE of 7 SLEEPERS): This is a historic cave for the Muslims which was mentioned in some verses of the Qur’an (Sura Al-Kahf). The story goes that some 7 young boys were not happy with their king, so they left their city and started to walk in the desert. After a while when they were tired, they stopped and decided to take some rest in a cave. When they woke up, not realizing that they were sleeping for hundreds of years, they went to the market to buy some food and saw their old coins were not usable.

The door of Ashabul Kahf, Jordan - the cave of 7 sleepers
The door of Ashabul Kahf, Jordan – the cave of 7 sleepers
        

There were 3 other of such caves were found around different places in Middle-East. But this was proven to be more authentic according to all the evidences given in another Surah of the Qur’an (Surah Yasin). You can still see the place where those 7 boys and their dog slept as well as their burial site inside the cave. There are some ruins of the old mosque that was built by the Umayyad dynasty right on top of this Quranic site. After it was destroyed, a new mosque was built beside the old one.

The cave is about 25 minutes’ drive from city center of Amman. There is no fee to enter but the visitors have to get someone from the gate to come and open the door of the cave.

2) AJLOUN CASTLE: This was our second stop after visiting the cave. City of Ajloun is located about 120 km north of Amman and took us about hour and half to reach. Visitors mainly come to this beautiful town situated on several hills to see an old castle built by the mighty Salahdin’s General in 1184. This castle aided in the defeat of the Crusaders 8 centuries ago. The castle is located on a high-top mountain and can be seen from very far distance. This sandstone castle is overlooking the valley and the city of Ajloun. There is a small museum displaying some potteries from Byzantine period and some ancient mosaic works, may be from 5th or 6th century. Inside the castle is like a small maze with many stairs and small rooms. Go all the way to the top of the terrace for an astonishing view of Ajloun settlements. The castle looked very well-preserved but I wish it was well-marked with more information boards.

Inside Ajloun Castle (from the 12th century) in Ajloun, Jordan
Inside Ajloun Castle (from the 12th century) in Ajloun, Jordan
     

Entrance to the castle is 1 JD for adults and free for the kids. Summer hours are 8 – 6 pm and for winter, is 8 – 4 pm. Roaming around the castle with a stroller is not a good idea since there are many stairs to climb but no ramps. It didn’t take us more than 30 minutes inside the castle. There are some pricey souvenir shops outside the castle selling local goods and gift items.

From the terrace of Ajloun Castle, looking over some ruins and the city
From the terrace of Ajloun Castle, looking over some ruins and the city
    

A Muslim Prophet Khidr’s (AS) shrine, from Moses’ time period, is also located in Ajloun. No one knows the exact location of his burial place, just a sign points towards the mountain nearby where he was buried.

Another important place which may interest to some people is that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples passed through and rested in a cave very close to Ajloun city. Now Church of Our Lady of the Mountain stands there to commemorate their journey.

3) ANCIENT ROMAN CITY in JARASH: Our third and final stop of this trip was Jarash and its ancient Roman city. Jarash is located about 35 km south of Ajloun. The history of this city dates back more than 6500 years. This Roman settlement is acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved one in the world.

A Roman city from the 2nd century  in Jerash, Jordan
A Roman city from the 2nd century in Jerash, Jordan
      

Tour of the city starts with the grand Hadrian’s Arch, which was built in 127 AD when Emperor Hadrian from Roma came to visit Jarash. We walked a little more and came across Hippodrome where horse chariot race once used to take place in the Roman times (the locals still enjoy horse race here few times a month). This is a stadium-like sitting arrangements with a big field in the front to entertain the crowd with the race. The ruins of old stable are still visible. Leaving behind some more ruins we saw the Oval Plaza which looked like a big oval-shaped square fenced with tall columns. Temple of Zeus and South Theater can be seen on your left hand side on a small hill. South Theater was an amphitheater where few locals were entertaining the tourists by playing some bag-pipes. Remaining of Temple of Zeus include few typical Roman-style columns and some walls made with sandstone. I did climb up to the temple and the picture-perfect view from up there was something no one should miss. Then  started walking again along a green meadow and saw some shepherds feeding their goats and lambs. The soaring Temple of Aramatis can be seen from afar. This is another very nice and well-preserved temple of the city. After passing the temple, comes the North Theater. Similarly structured like South Theater, this amphitheater looked more for like wealthy people. Take few steps further and you can see another entrance, North Gate, and couple other small arches on the sides to enter the city. One of the major highlights of this city is the Colonnade Street which was once the main road of the city. This majestic walkway guarded by many pillars on both sides runs from the North Gate to all the way to the South Gate.

The Colonnaded or the main street of Roman city in Jarash, Jordan...decorated with many columns
The Colonnaded or the main street of Roman city in Jarash, Jordan…decorated with many columns
        

Jarash is a city that should be included in everyone’s plan when visiting Jordan. Kudos to Jordanian authority for keeping this place so clean and organized. Unlike many other places we’ve visited in the Middle-East or even in the Western world, this Roman city definitely deserves appreciation for its talented past history and charming present day look. The view of the whole town from these ruins are heavenly. I am sure it never fails to impress its guests with its architectural and natural beauty.  Many events still take place in Jarash every year, including Jarash Festival, chariot race, gladiator fights, and etc.

The column fence of Oval Plaza in Roman city, Jarash
The column fence of Oval Plaza in Roman city, Jarash
  

Entrance is 8 JD per person and free for the kids. Visitors can stay here until 5 pm. It takes about 2 hours or little more to walk around leisurely among the ruins and go to all the main points of this historic town.

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