It all started in May last year when Shibani posted a sneak preview of Wonderful World’s inaugural trip to Jordan, online. The trip planned for November 2016 sounded different so we enthusiastically signed up for it. And we weren’t disappointed! Our Jordan holiday turned out to be a memorable Middle Eastern sojourn that packed in everything from city sightseeing to walking in the desert, from climbing steep rock-cut steps to swimming in the sea. As the Wonderful World itinerary claimed, within two hours we were able to travel by road in Jordan from a mountainous region to the expansive desert, and finally to the lowest point on the Earth’s surface—the Dead Sea. The highlight of our Jordan holiday of course, was our visit to the stunning ancient city of Petra, a world heritage site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
We landed at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman on a Saturday afternoon after a 10-hour flight from Delhi, which included a short stopover in Abu Dhabi. Despite our early morning start in Delhi, we were rearing to explore Amman, a relaxed city atop a hill surrounded by the desert and the Jordan valley. In the evening, we embarked on a walk to the souk in the city centre with our 12-member group. That strenuous but enjoyable walk, during which we had to climb hundreds of steep steps cut in the rock face, set the tone for the rest of our holiday. The route we took was a shortcut to the souk and proved to be very challenging indeed. But the sense of achievement and fulfillment we felt at the end of it was worth every bit of extra effort we put in.
Our first taste of local food was the delicious falafel wrap we had from Al Quds, a small stall that apparently has been serving its popular falafel and shawarma wraps since 1966. For dinner that day, we visited one of the many quaint restaurants on Rainbow Street, the charming location of our hotel, and enjoyed shish taouk, mansaf, kunafe, and other local dishes. We washed our food down with Arabic tea which became a must-have during the trip.
Mansaf, known as the national dish of Jordan, is a flavourful concoction of rice, lamb and rehydrated yogurt which has its roots in the culture of the nomadic Bedouin tribe. Cooked with a blend of spices called ‘baharat’, it is eaten at weddings, religious festivals and other special occasions. Kunafe is a popular Jordanian sweet that consists of soft cheese with a crumbly orange semolina crust that is soaked in sugar syrup. Both mansaf and kunafe are definitely worth a taste despite their high fat content!
The next day we visited the Roman city of Jerash and walked through its colonnaded streets and public plazas, imagining what life must have been like for its inhabitants in ancient times. Jerash reminded us of the Colosseum in Rome. Afterwards, we had lunch with a very hospitable Jordanian family, and were served a sumptuous meal that included a local delicacy called ‘magluba’ which we learnt is an upside-down chicken or vegetable pulao!
The following day found us in Madaba, called the ‘City of Mosaics’ for its remarkable Byzantine mosaics well preserved in its numerous churches and museums. The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba houses a rare 6th century mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites.
From Madaba, we drove up winding hill roads to the revered site of Mount Nebo, where Moses is believed to be buried. For this reason the site is of historical importance to Christians. The first church at Mount Nebo was built in the late 4th century to mark the place of Moses’ death. At Mount Nebo, we saw for ourselves the breathtaking view of the Holy Land encompassing the Jordan valley, Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem. Both the strong chilly winds and the magnificent views at Mount Nebo nearly swept us off our feet!
Our next stop was Karak castle, a sprawling stone structure with a dry moat, caves, halls and passageways. We ended the day with an overnight stay at the Feynan Eco Lodge in the Dana Biosphere. At this electricity-free lodge, we ate by candlelight and lay down on mattresses on the terrace to gaze at the stars twinkling magically in the night sky!
And then we spent two memorable days in Petra, a city which was carved into the rock face by the Nabatean civilization about 2,000 years ago, and was an important site on trade routes. With its well-developed water channels and impressive rock carvings, this ‘lost city’ was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss traveller. We explored all there was to see in Petra, from the Treasury to the 1st century Monastery. We had to climb 900 steps cut in the rose-coloured rock to reach the Monastery, certainly an experience to remember! We even experienced Petra by night, walking along a path through the Siq that was lit by 1,800 candles. The winding path culminated at the Treasury where we sat down on mats laid out on the ground to listen to Bedouin music. It was a cold and chilly but mystical night for all of us!
In terms of gastronomical delights, we had great fun at Petra Kitchen, where we cooked dinner with the locals and then enjoyed the meal together. It felt like being on the TV show Masterchef! From chopping ingredients to mashing vegetables, we did it all, and we left with a wad of interesting recipes inspiring us to introduce Jordanian cuisine in our homes.
Our holiday ended with a one night stay at the Dead Sea where all of us excitedly posed for photographs, especially the stereotypical one of lying down in the water and reading a book! We also made sure we applied the famous Dead Sea mud on our faces, arms and legs. We really felt refreshed and rejuvenated afterwards!
A special word of commendation for Wonderful World—the hotels were well located, the ubiquitous guides named Mohammed made the sites we visited come alive, the logistics and transport arrangements were smooth and safe; the group was fun. From cave bars to restaurants to hiking, we did it all under the considerate guidance of Shibani and her team!
We really enjoyed this trip with Wonderful World and look forward to travelling with them again and again!