By Melissa Moubarak
For the Easter holidays, Melissa Moubarak travels back in time to the preserved sandcastle city of Petra, Jordan.
For many, the visit to Petra starts with a rushed scuttle down the narrow gorge of Al-Siq. Not really looking around, throwing a sideways glance here or there at the 80m high cliffs of marbled rock which narrow as they rise until only a sliver of light makes its way into the tunnel. On their minds is one thing “How quickly can we get through this and reach the city? Are we there yet?”
But I decided to keep the best for last. Instead of following the hordes of visitors to the right of the Royal Tombs, I sought out a Bedouin guide sipping his tea under the rising morning sun. Tanned into the colour of sand, his skin weathered by the wind, tiny dunes carved out at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He would have no problem blending into the scenery, I thought. Yazan was his name, and he offered his hand as I climbed onto the horse; which was heavily tapestried with Arab kaftans, with a double decorative and protective purpose. I was taking the long-cut, through Wadi Muthlim, affectionately known as the Indiana Jones trail, in reference to Harrison Ford’s treasure hunting action blockbuster, filmed on the premises.
This route would take me about 3 or 4 hours, as opposed to the 20min walk down the Siq tunnel. But while the ascent was a little slow-going, the mountain of Jebel Al Khubtha is fairly steep, soon my sure-footed horse was gaining ground amidst the thorny bushes that glistened under the dewdrops in the early morn. Scaling the edge of the mountain was an exercise in faith and trust as the horses would wander too close to the cliff, or as loose stones rolled under their hooves, sending my heart tumbling down with them. We sought momentary shade under fig trees and pink oleanders as the horses watered in the pools of spring rain. Eventually however, we emerged atop a plateau, where the complex revealed itself to us. Sprawled in shades of gold and rose was this sand swept city standing the test of time and various civilisations. Baking under the midday sun, emitting a languorous energy that spoke of a vibrant past but a dormant present.
After catching our breath, we continued inching our way down. This is where the horses turned back, and we continued afoot. Finding grips on a smooth rock and over-extending to reach a secure footing on another momentarily distracted us from our surroundings. Upon hitting the ground though, we looked up to find ourselves no longer passive bird’s eye observers to the scene. There is so much to see that the eye flutters around from one edifice to the next. The Roman Colonnades form a crescent around a Coliseum. Royal Tombs in the distance look like dark freckles on the sand’s smooth caramel surface. Atop 850 steps, scattered like breadcrumbs, stands the Monastery.
By then, Petra had softened in the light, the rose hues accentuated by the setting sun. The boulder’s multi-coloured seams rippled as sand blew across them. That’s when Petra’s Al Khaznah emerges in all its glory. Five stories high, the tomb is striking in its sheer grandeur. None of the pictures prepare your for the sight. You cannot help but feel dwarfed by the enormous weight of history it holds. The details, preserved by the façade’s indentation in the rock wall are inspired by Hellenistic and Middle Eastern influences. Its intricate patterns carved and polished with thousands of firm, repetitive strokes. How we would have liked to hear it’s story, but
The Treasury holds firmly onto its secret. Obscure history is part of its magnetic charm, and continues to fuel our collective imaginations.
Emirates Airlines flies daily to Amman starting AED 2,071- trip duration of 2hours.
Frequent buses and tours transport you from the capital to Petra, a 2-hour journey.
In addition to various guesthouses, The Movenpick and Marriott hotels provide higher end accommodation close to main City of Petra. Starting AED 1,000 per night.
Please be a responsible traveller. Petra is a World UNESCO Heritage Site, which is already suffering from the impact of weather and visits.
Do not litter, do not touch or remove any parts of the monuments. Do not purchase ‘authentic’ Bedouin artifacts from hawkers, as these are pillaged.
If you are renting a horse or mule for part of your journey, then please consider making a donation to the Princess Alia Clinic, Brooke Hospital for Animals. These animals are not always treated in the best of conditions. The clinic runs education on animal welfare for working animals and treats them for free.