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Where past and present co-exist

Jayanti Jha |

It was Christmas and I was in Jordan! The hotel was located in the capital Amman, which is about a 40-minute drive from Queen Alia International Airport in Zizya. Amman is breathtakingly beautiful with red roofed, beige stone-walled houses and wide roads. It was originally built on seven hills or jabals and the city is divided on the basis of those.

And what does one say about the food! That night I sampled authentic Middle Eastern fare complete with thick hummus, juicy kebabs, warm freshly baked bread, grilled fish and lamb. Everything was drizzled with generous amounts of olive oil of course. Kanafeh, which is a white cheese pastry topped with syrup, was the lip-smacking dessert.

From Amman, I started for Jerash, which is famous for its Roman ruins. Once there, it felt as if I had been transported to Italy —our only connection with reality was the view of the city, which reflected Jordanian architecture. But to be transported back to Rome, all one had to do was look away. All the monuments boasting exquisite Roman architecture are must-visits. There was the Arch of Hadrian, Nymphaeum, Temple of Zeus, Oval Forum, Temple of Artemis and the amphitheatre. Even though I had gone to look at ruins, it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

It goes without saying that food was a very important part of the trip and I decided to go local for most meals. I ended up ordering shawarma (grilled meat shavings wrapped in bread) and hummus with pita the most. But the dish one should not leave Jordan without having is the mansaf (rice, lamb, and yoghurt served on bread with a kind of gravy on the side), which is a traditional Arab dish. Words fail in its wake! One should ask around for recommendations as only the local people can say where one can find the best mansaf.

Petra — one of the new Seven Wonders of the World cannot be missed on a trip to Jordan, which is three hour drive from Amman. The hefty price for the tickets reflected the hype around the place as each cost a whopping 50 Jordanian dinars. And that made me wonder whether it would be worth it. But 20-minutes into the walk, my doubts were dispelled.

A local tribesman, born in one of the Petra caves, doubled as a guide. We walked through meandering canyons and saw some wonderful rock carvings and architecture. I marvelled at the advanced water system they had in place and how intricate their designs were.

Through the trek, the temperatures were really low — barely a degree and it was almost snowing. However, that only added to our experience. The local people gave some tea to warm me up but the weather refused to show the same hospitality and I had to cut the trip a little short.

Back in Amman, I drove to the citadel and the Roman theatre. Al Balad —the oldest commercial area in Amman is situated at walking distance from the theatre. The souks there offered local goods for low prices and they had everything from sweets, spices, fresh juices, fruits, restaurants, clothes, jewellery to electronic goods. The shopkeepers were friendly and always ready to haggle.

For the last part of the journey, I drove down to the Dead Sea —the lowest point on Earth. I stayed at the Movenpick Resort, which offered a beautiful view of the sea and had its private beach. One could see all the way to Israel and the West Bank. Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist at “Bethany beyond the Jordan” and it now is a pilgrimage site for Christians. There is a point at the site where a narrow tributary of the Jordan River is the only thing separating Jordan from Israel. There, one can be standing in Jordan while holding hands with someone in Israel. Such instances make one contemplate — why do humans love creating boundaries with each other?

By afternoon it was warm enough to enter the Dead Sea. I have always been scared of large spaces, and bodies of water always invoke a sense fear. But the 15 minutes there, made for a memorable experience. After coming out of the water, the hotel staff proceeded to paste the famous Dead Sea mud all over me.

I waited leisurely for the mud to dry and again entered the water. It was relaxing to just lay back and let the waters gently push one around.

After the dip, I watched the sunset and it was a gorgeous sight. The clouds parted to let the weak rays of the setting sun fall onto the surface of the water.

It looked like the heavens were shining a light on Earth. I was to leave the next day but as they say, the best was saved for the last. Most holidays leave one wanting more, especially the shorter ones. I could have lived in that paradise forever but one must come back home at some point.