VISIT JORDAN: MUST NOT MISS THESE TRAVEL TIPS AND A 7 DAY ITINERARY!

Jordan Overview

Located in West Asia, Jordan is bordered by Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the east and south, and Israel and Palestine to the west. Tourists can access the Red Sea through the southern port city of Aqaba. Amman, capital of Jordan is located in the northwest part of the country. While the majority of Jordan is desert, the northwest area is quite fertile and is part of the Levant region of the Fertile Crescent, which has been referred to as the “cradle of civilization”.

Etiquette Tips For Jordan:

Etiquette is very important in Jordanian culture. While Jordanians graciously tolerate behaviors from visitors that may not necessarily conform to their own standards of etiquette, you can show respect for Jordanian customs by following a few basic rules:

  • Stand when someone important, or another guest, enters the room.
  • Shake hands with everyone, but only with a Jordanian woman if she offers her hand first.
  • Don’t engage in any conversation about sensitive or personal topics unless you know the person you’re talking to well.
  • Most women don’t like to be clicked. Ask permission or avoid altogether.
  • Remove your shoes when visiting a mosque or a private house (unless you’re specifically told to keep them on).
  • Never interrupt someone praying.

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What to wear in Jordan:

I found Jordan to be a liberal country. However some religious places may have clothes restrictions. Here are my packing tips based upon my trip in May:

  • Smart Casuals
  • Casual trousers / jeans and T-shirts.
  • A warm but light jacket/and or a shawl for nights.
  • Walking shoes – You will be walking a lot in Jordan. Comfortable shoes are recommended. Flip Flops advised for the nights and the beach.
  • Some places like Wadi Rum are remote. It is advised that the travelers must carry basic medications along. You might waste time finding the brand you need. Worse still, you may not be able to find the same brand in Jordan.
  • Jordan is a heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. Sunscreen and Sun glasses are must!
  • It is a picture perfect location. Do carry a good camera and enough memory cards!

Pics above: Mars Like Wadi Rum was my favourite in Jordan

More Soul Window Tips for Jordan:

  • The water is safe to drink here but if you are still unsure you can buy bottled water
  • Take these things back home– Dead Sea products, Local Souvenirs, Mugs, Mosaics from Madaba, Different kinds of nuts, olives, spices to name few.
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Click to read why I ran out of Dead Sea as soon as I entered it!

Food Tips For Jordan:

Healthy food is available all over Jordan. The cooking standards are good. Most restaurants and take away outlets maintain hygiene and quality. It is a paradise for vegans as most of the mezzes and deserts are 100 % vegetarian and healthy.

Time Zone : Jordan

From the beginning of October to the end of March, Jordan is two hours ahead of Greenwich

Mean Time (GMT) and seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Jordan switches to Daylight Saving Time in the summer, when it is three hours ahead of GMT between South Africa and its neighboring countries, or between the 9 provinces of South Africa.

Currency of Jordan:

The local currency is the Jordanian Dinar, commonly called JD. 1 JD = $1.41 USD (as on January 2017)

Denominations– 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 JD notes are in circulation. The Dinar is equal to 100 piasters (pronounced “peeaster”) of 1,000 fils. The piaster is the unit most commonly used. If you see prices written as 4,750, it means the price is 4.75JD. Currency can be exchanged at major banks, exchange agencies, and most hotels. Indians can withdraw JD at ATMs with their Indian Debit cards. My advice: Withdraw whatever amount you want to withdraw in Amman. It has more numbers of ATMs.

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Aqaba : The only coastal city of Jordan which borders Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel!

Best Time To Go To Jordan:

Jordan boasts almost year-round sunshine with temperate weather.

  • The Spring and Fall seasons: Mild and temperatures range from 60-70°F/15-21°C, with rain being more common in the Spring.
  • Summers are sunny with temperatures averaging 90°F/32°C in the day with cool evenings.
  • July and August are the sunniest and driest months of the year, especially in Amman and the Jordan Valley. In the desert areas, temperatures can reach 100°F/38°C.
  • The winter months from November to April can be cold, but snow is rare. Aqaba is an especially pleasant wintertime resort with the colder temperatures staying in the north. About 75%of the country can be described as having a moderate climate with very little annual rainfall.

I went in May. It was a pleasant time to be in Jordan. The days were breezy and conducive to walking. The nights were cooler (Just a shawl or light sweater is fine). Below is a lowdown on what weather is like in May in Jordan:

– Amman – 26°C – 32°C

– Petra – 22° – 26°C

– Aqaba – 31° – 35°C

– Dead Sea – 23° – 26°C

– Wadi Rum- 26° – 30°C

Average temperatures in Jordan by season:

Month Lowest Highest

January 40°F/5°C 60°F/15°C

April 54°F/12°C 77°F/25°C

July 66°F/19°C 97°F/36°C

October 55°F/13°C 84°F/28°C

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Amman Citadel : Click the link to read why this place is the cradle of civilizations.

Immunizations advice for Jordan:

 No vaccinations are required to enter Jordan, although preventive shots for hepatitis, polio, tetanus, and typhoid are recommended. Travelers with personal health issues should consult their physicians before traveling. Medications should be carried in hand luggage along with passport, tickets, money, and other important belongings. Carry a small carry-on case with change and other essential for the layover in Sharjah. Don’t check this piece in.

Electric Outlets available in Jordan:

The electrical system in Jordan is based on 220 AC volts/50 cycles and requires two-pronged wall plugs, similar to ones found in parts of Europe.

Religion in Jordan:

The main religion in Jordan is Islam with 92% of the population being Muslim, but all religions are free to practice. 6% of the population is Christian, with the remaining 2% being a mix of other religions including Druze and Baha’i.

Smoking advice for Jordan:

Smoking is much more common in Jordan than in Europe or the United States, and smoke-free accommodation is relatively unusual (with the exception of larger hotels). Smoking the traditional water pipe or nargileh, also known as hubbly bubbly, is an interesting experience that visitors can try in any coffeehouse and many restaurants. The tobacco flavor is mild and mostly fruit-flavored. Most restaurants have smoking and non smoking areas. When smoking on road, pls drop the ash tray attached to the poles (Yes, it is for real!)

Tipping Tips for Jordan:

As a tourism based economy, Tipping is always appreciated. A 10% service charge is often added in hotels and restaurants, and extra tips are discretionary. In restaurants, for example, tipping an extra dinar for breakfast and two extra dinars for lunch and dinner is customary.

In general, you should plan to tip guides, drivers, and anyone else who performs a service for you in the amount you deem appropriate for the service rendered. Having small bills on hand makes tipping more convenient.

How To Reach: Air Arabia runs economic yet comfortable flights from India via U.A.E. Check my review of Air Arabia Flight.

Skyscanner offers cheap rates and you can even turn on a price alert for the same. Book using this link

You can download the Skyscanner app. Links below:

IOS app Download

Android App Download

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The view from the Amman Citadel in Jordan

Below is a 7 day itinerary for Jordan. It is more suitable for luxury but adaptable for budget too:

DAY 1

  • Arrive at Q.A.I. Airport on Air Arabia
  • Check in at hotel in Amman Crowne Plaza Amman Hotel
  • Lunch inside the hotel Al Halabi Restaurant
  • Visit the site of Jerash
  • Visit Citadel
  • Visit Down Town Local Markets
  • Rainbow Street
  • Dinner Sufra Restaurant
  • Overnight Crowne Plaza Amman Hotel

DAY 2

  • Visit Royal Automobile in the morning
  • Carry Shawerma & Falafel as take away lunch
  • Drive down South to Petra
  • 5:30 PM Early dinner with cooking class Petra Kitchen Rest.
  • 8:30 PM Petra by night event
  • Overnight Petra Guest House Hotel

DAY 3

  • Half day visit to the site of Petra
  • Lunch at Al Qantarah Restaurant near Petra
  • Visit Little Petra
  • Afternoon Drive to Wadi Rum
  • Jeep tour in the desert. Visit the sun set point.
  • Overnight Dinner and music program at Al Captain Camp

DAY 4

  • Morning drive to Aqaba
  • Lunch cruise with Yasmina Boat
  • Check in Moevenpick Resort &Residences Aqaba
  • Dinner Royal Yacht Club
  • Shopping in the streets near the hotel
  • Overnight Moevenpick Resort & residences Aqaba

DAY 5

  • Morning drive from Aqaba to Dead Sea
  • Check in Jordan Valley Marriott
  • Lunch in the in house restaurant
  • Time at Leisure
  • Floating in Dead Sea
  • Dinner inside hotel Italian Restaurant
  • Overnight Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa

DAY 6

  • Visit Baptism Site
  • Visit Mount Nebo
  • Lunch at Haret Jdoudna, Madaba
  • Continue the trip to visit Evason Mai’n Hot Springs
  • Time at Leisure
  • Dinner & overnight Evason Mai’n Hot Springs

DAY 7

  • Transfer to Q.A.I. Airport to depart

Jordan Tourism Details:

VISIT JORDAN WEBSITE

E-mail: info@visitjordan.com

P.O.Box 830688 Amman 11183 – Jordan Tel. (962 6) 5678294 Fax (962 6) 5678295

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Petra at Night is magical: Please click the link to read how it feels there at night. And of course for exclusive pictures!

YOU WILL LOVE READING THESE BLOGS ON JORDAN (EXCLUSIVE PICS AND TEXT):

DEAD SEA: WHY I RAN OUT SCREAMING AS SOON AS I ENTERED THE DEAD SEA

PETRA: THE SECRET OF THE CITY OF DEAD REVEALED

PETRA IN NIGHT: IS IT WORTH IT (EXCLUSIVE PICTURES)

AQABA- THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN WHICH BORDERS EGYPT, ISRAEL AND SAUDI ARABIA

WADI RUM- MARS ON EARTH?

AMMAN CITADEL- THE CONTINUALLY HABITATED WALLED CITY

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

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Click on the link to know all that you wanted to know about Petra – a UNESCO World heritage site and one of the 7 wonders of the world.

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Got any question/comments, ask in the comment section below so that it can benefit other readers.

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NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

 

 

PETRA- THE SECRETS OF THE CITY OF THE DEAD EXPLAINED: ONE OF THE 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD!

After enjoying the Little Petra and Petra by night, I was curious to see the prehistoric Petra by the day. The rose red city of Petra was listed as the modern 7 wonders of the world in 2007. Petra, declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 was long on my radar. It is always more fun to see a destination at different times of the day. The place whispers different things to you. I passed the same rocks and boulders which looked like a monster in the night. First remarkable stop is the Bab el-Siq (Gateway to the Siq) as named by Petra’s Bedouin inhabitants. Siq means a passage. The rocks which I interpreted as monsters in the night are in fact called God Rocks. They stand tall, 6 to 8 metres high as if guarding the scarce water source for Petra’s inhabitants. The river bed that begins at Ain Musa and ends at Petra provided the water to its original inhabitants. The path follows the course of the Wadi Musa. Bedouin folklore has it that the spring gushed when Moses struck a rock in Biblical times.

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Me admiring the Siq (Pic: Arka Das)

Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium (25 to 75 A.D.)

I walked the pathway, neatly divided for the pedestrian and the horse carriages (Only these 2 modes are allowed) to discover more gems. In the opposite direction is Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium Two monuments carved into sandstone cliffs sit one upon the other, vying for my attention. The most striking feature of the upper one, Obelisk Tomb, are the 4 pyramid like structures representing Nephesh (A Biblical Hebrew word which refers to the soul of higher animals and human beings). It is a Nabataean sign commemorating the departed souls. Below the tomb is a triclinium (A dining room with a dining table and seats on 3 sides, prevalent in ancient Rome). In the funerary dining hall, wine was served in the banquet held in the honor of God or the ancestor. In the opposite cliff it is mentioned in Nabataean and Greek that the burial monument was built by Admanku. The Greek inscription indicates towards the influence of Hellenic culture in the polyglot Petra.

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Upper part- Obelisk Tomb; Lower part- Bab el-Siq Triclinium

Water Management by Nabataeans

We walked further admiring the awe inspiring valley. The credit for sculpting the dramatic lunar landscape goes to not only the floodwater erosion but also to the Nabataeans who carved water cisterns and water channels which diverted the water into Petra for everyday use.  The rugged desert canyon has a mysterious aura to it. A little ahead is Wadi Al Mudhlim, a dry gorge widened by the flow of water. These days, water flows here only during flash floods. In those times, to protect themselves from the flash floods, the Nabataeans built a dam in 1st century B.C. in the area. It also helped them secure water round the year.

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The Gorgeous Gorges!

An 82 meters long rock cut tunnel redirected water through Wadi Mudhlim to reservoirs, water cisterns and dams. Baetyls (Sacred stones/God blocks) were placed in niches towards the end of the Wadi Mudhlim. Nabataeans valued the water and it was their symbolic way to ensure that the Gods were keeping an eye on the water source. Today a modern dam (1964) stands on the same site, built for the same reason, i.e., to protect Petra’s Siqs from Flash Floods.

Sabinos Alexandros Station (2nd or 3rd Century A.D.)

I observe many of the remnants from the past are still intact such as the paved roads (1st century B.C.), Baetyls and Sabinos Alexandros Station. One of the famous niche in the Siq was carved by Sabinos Alexandros, a religious head from modern day Dara’a (Dusares at Adra’a), Syria. The station is notable for the many baetyls, the domed one depicting the God Dushara (the main Nabataean God) from Adra’a and the one on left is deity Atargatis on 2 lions. (See picture). It was carved by him when he visited Petra along with other masters to honor God Dushara in 2nd or 3rd Century A.D.

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Sabinos Alexandros Station. Deity Atargatis and her lions (left), God Dushara (Domed structure on left)

Camel Caravan Reliefs (100-50 B.C.).

A little ahead are Camel Caravan Reliefs. The colossal human forms are at least a third larger than life.  It depicts the life in those times, viz, a caravan of camels and men entering Petra. Ten meters above is an eroded carving showing the caravan leaving Petra. The economy of the place which was based on caravan trade saw much traffic in those times. The high hump on one of the camel suggests that the camel is carrying goods. Notice the pleated woolen garment worn by one of the men. In his left arm he is holding a stick.

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Remaining sculpture at the Camel Caravan Relief. Notice the dress of the man and the stick.

Treasury aka Al Khazneh (1st century A.D.)

Within minutes, I approach the end of the narrow Siq. It must be the most photographed part of the Siq as it offers a dramatic glimpse of the Treasury aka Al Khazneh. The most recognizable face of Petra, Treasury was built by Nabateans around 1st century A.D. Carved out of a sandstone rock face, it originally served as a mausoleum or crypt (Burial place).

What makes Treasury and other monument of Petra special is the fact that they were not built but carved out of rock with simple chisel. It was sculpted top down. 60,000 cubic feet of rock was chiseled out. Indeed a great feat! 2,000 years later, it is still in great shape today except the erosion of small details and the bullet marks near the urn. It is believed that the local Bedouins shot at the urn in early 20th century, assuming that the bandits have hidden treasure in the urn. It, of course, is just a solid sandstone embellishment.

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The first glimpse of Treasury!

Did You Know About The Mysterious Burial Chamber Under Treasury?

Historians have concluded that the rich carvings on Treasury’s façade depict mythological characters representing afterlife. During the recent excavations, a subterranean burial chamber (accessed by a staircase) was found right under the treasury. The archeologists found the treasure of a different kind. 13 skeletons along with pottery were found in one of the chambers. It is believed that the skeletons belonged to the Royal Nabataean family. The treasury was possibly built to honor the Royal family and was a mausoleum.  Visitors are not allowed to enter the underground chamber. In fact mausoleums of many size and shape dominate the landscape of Petra. Their size depended upon the stature of the person in Nabataean society. Ground penetrating radar is used to find many more such gems.

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The most photographed face of Petra- The Treasury!

Thanks to the Hellenistic and Roman influence, the architecture of Treasury reflects Greek styles. Corinthian style pillars, eagles and Statues of Castor and Pollux grab the attention. The entire campus of Petra is dominated by tombs and other structures built in Nabataean, Assyrian, Helenistic and Greco-Roman style, indicating the cosmopolitan nature of the ancient city. The overlapping and merging of different styles speaks volumes about those times.

Street of Façades (50 BC- 50 A.D.)

I passed an old man playing Arabic tunes for the amusement of the tourists and reached the Street of Façades. The many rock cut tombs arranged neatly in street like rows grabbed my attention. Built one stop the other, the homogeneous tombs stand out due to their concentration and visually pleasing pattern. The Assyrian architecture style makes the tombs of Petra identical to the stepped design of Mesopotamium architecture (6th and 7th B.C.). Much of the outstanding labyrinth of tombs, burial niches and Tricliniums (funerary dining halls) has been plundered over time. The tomb of Unayshu (1st century A.D.) is remarkable here.

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The visually delightful Street of facades!

Roman style amphitheater (1st century A.D.)

Opposite the Street of Façades is an impressive Roman style amphitheater. Surrounded by huge mountains on 3 sides, it indicates the Roman influence on the area even before the Romans annexed Petra in A.D. 106. Built in classical Hellenistic style, it seated approximately 8500 people at a time. Carved out of the rock face, the existing tombs were destroyed to create the amphitheater, the evidences of which are still visible at places.

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Tombs, small and large dot the landscape. Seen here is the street of facades. Notice the large tomb!

Roman colonnaded street and Nymphaeum (100-200 A.D.)

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Just as I entered the colonnaded street I came across the remains of a Nymphaeum. A common feature of most Graeco-Roman cities, it was a public drinking fountain named after the nymphs (female nature spirits). Not much of it remains today. However, it once served as a lively place for socializing for the people who frequented Petra.  The source of the water was the water tunnels which began at the Siq (See beginning of the story)

The remains of the colonnaded street will transport you to the Roman Era. Built upon an existing dirt and gravel Nabataean street, it ran through the main city center of Petra. The Romans narrowed, paved and straightened the road. It is concluded by the historians that the street may have served as a market place for trading spices, semi precious stones and textiles from India, frankincense from Southern Arabia and East Africa. The colonnades and buildings were destroyed in the severe earthquake of 363 A.D. At present, only 9 columns are standing, thanks to the restoration work. It was a socializing nerve centre of the city, like any other Roman city. There was even a tavern nearby which people frequented for dining and recreation.

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The ruins of the Colonnaded Street. See how it looked like in the picture above (Sourced from a signboard at the actual site)

The ‘Great Temple’ Complex (25 B.C.- 100 A.D.)

The largest building in Petra yet uncovered is the ‘Great Temple’ Complex. I climbed a propylaeum (entrance) to arrive at the wide lower precinct of the temple. Everything else except the floor has been destroyed. I imagined a paved courtyard sandwiched by triple colonnades (column/pillar) on either side. 60 columns were lined in each row. Built of carved domes, each column had carved elephant heads, a power of symbol.

The upper precincts, was accessed through a stairway. It had a small open air theater. The semi circular theater was used as a council chamber or judicial assembly hall or perhaps for the entertainment of the elite. A workshop for construction work, subterranean drainage system and bath were some of its other features.

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The Great Temple Complex!

Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex (25 B.C.- 25 A.D.)

The presence of Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex few meters away from the Great temple Complex suggests the secular nature of Petra. It was built around the same time. Possibly a pilgrim destination, it is Petra’s oldest temple complex. There is an interesting story behind Qasr Bint Far’un (Palace of the Pharaoh’s daughter) Legend has it that the Pharaoh promised that any engineer who is successful in building a water channel emptying in the temple will be married to his daughter. During excavations, many water channels were unearthed near the temple complex. Said to be dedicated to God Dushara, it stands out due to its sheer size (23 m tall) and unusual square shape. It is a Hellenistic temple which means that only priests were allowed to go inside while the commoners worshipped from open air termenos. The stairs lead upto the stucco covered Corinthian columns which marked the entrance.

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Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex

Monastery aka Ad Deir/El Deir (85 B.C. to 110 A.D.)

After exploring the plains at my pace, it was time for me to hike upto the mysterious Monastery aka Ad Deir/El Deir on higher grounds. We passed a board which indicated The Lion Triclinium was nearby. Short on time, we skipped it only to end up indulging in long conversation with a Bedouin woman Firouz Mousa who served us Jordanian Tea as we sat on stairs and talk to her. Small interactions like these are as important as seeing the important edifices. Due to an elevated height and twists and turns, the landscapes were even more dramatic as we kept hiking. Donkeys jostled for space throughout the stairs. One hour later (includes stops), we arrived at the Monastery. Archeologists from western countries were busy in excavating more remains. Much of Petra is still unexcavated. Over the next few decades, I hope to see some exciting new additions in the Petra landscape.

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The Monastery as seen from Wadi Araba Viewpoint.

Wadi Araba Viewpoint (As old as time)

We hiked further up to the Wadi Araba Viewpoint. Wadi Araba Crossing is popular with tourists who want to cross the border. (Aqaba in Jordan to Eilat in Israel). As I reached on top of the view point, I was treated with incredible views of Monastery on one side and the mammoth mineral mountains on the other. Miles of colorful (due to minerals) mountains dominated the landscape. Many people return from Monastery. I suggest burn some calories more and see the views from the top. A Jack Sparrow (Pirates Of Caribbean) lookalike sold us tea at the only shop on the top.

We descended to study the Monastery in detail. One of the largest monument in Petra, at first glance it looks identical to the Treasury. However, on close inspection, you realize that instead of the bas reliefs, there are niches to display sculptors. An Alter and the two side benches inside the edifice suggests that it was probably a biclinium and used for holding religious meeting and performing certain rituals. There was a columned portico in front to the façade. It is popularly known as Monastery because it was later used as a Christian Chapel as suggested by the crosses marked in the rear wall.

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The mineral mountains as seen from Wadi Araba Viewpoint.

The Decline Of Petra:

What was once a center of power and wealth, started showing signs of decay once the Romans took over. Nabataean paid a heavy price by establishing trade links with Romans.  The Romans annexed Petra in 106 A.D. triggering its downfall. The popularity of trade via sea and severe earthquakes thinned Petra’s fortunes further. Eventually the Byzantine empire took over resulting in doom for Petra. There is also a Byzantine Church in the premises. The only documentation from Petra was found in this Church in the form of burnt scrolls written in Greek. It is under analysis right now. It is believed that the Nabataean co existed with Romans and once all was lost they left the place with whatever fortunes they still possessed. The rest was looted. In its heydays, it is believed that upto 30,000 Nabataeans lived in the protected canyon. 5,00,000 foreign travelers lived outside the Petra in tents. That explains the sophisticated cisterns, tunnels and fountains built to meet the demand for water. Once a powerful kingdom, it is an uninhabited land, visited only by tourists and local sellers.

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The remains just before the Colonnaded Street begins. Notice the local men dressed as ancient warriors.

Soul Window Tips:

  • Keep at least 2 days to see the monuments. Though one day is also OK, but if you want a deeper experience 2 days are good. That includes time for Little Petra nearby.
  • Carry water bottles at all times. The region is dry.
  • Hiking upto the monastery is not advised for the elderly or if you have knee or joint issues. Judge for yourself once you are there.
  • Beware of the shopkeepers. They will sweet talk you into buying overpriced artefacts.
  • Hiking to monastery takes 1 hour with detours and tea stops. Don’t forget water bottles in case you are starting early. Most shops will be shut.
  • Clean loos are available throughout.
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This was the tunnel which supplied water to the Roman Fountain (Please read text above)

MY MORAL POLICING:

  • I personally don’t take animal rides due to ethical reasons. Also Petra is meant to be savoured at slow pace. You will MISS A LOT if you chose to take a horse carriage ride instead of walking.
  • If you are fit, please do not hire a donkey to reach the Monastery. The steps are uneven and it will not be a pleasant experience for either you or the poor donkey.
  • Please don’t touch the monuments, especially the Treasury and Monastery. Every time you do that you erode the façade.
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The man who regaled the tourists with local music!

RELATED BLOGS:

PETRA IN NIGHT: IS IT WORTH IT (EXCLUSIVE PICTURES)

AQABA- THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN WHICH BORDERS EGYPT, ISRAEL AND SAUDI ARABIA

WADI RUM- MARS ON EARTH?

AMMAN CITADEL- THE CONTINUALLY HABITATED WALLED CITY

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

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Me at the Street of Facades (Pic: Arka Das)

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Got any question/comments, ask in the comment section below so that it can benefit other readers.

Email me for collaboration: abhinav21@yahoo.com

Be a part of my journey on social media. The travel content I create there is different from this blog.

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NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

IS PETRA BY NIGHT WORTH IT? ONE OF THE 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD!

It was pitch dark! Me and my co travelers walked towards the Al Khazneh Treasury guided by the thousands of lamps lit in the pathway. I had yet not seen Petra in the daylight so it was even more exciting for me to see a Petra, veiled by darkness.  The huge boulders and mountains seemed like monsters who would swallow you alive at the slightest of provocation. I imagined the life in 4th century B.C. when it became the capital of the Nabataeans. I imagined the caravans of camels which plied on these ‘roads’, bereft of fancy lamps. I imagined the sounds and smells of those times. I imagined what would it be like to walk the uneven path in the daylight the next day? The lamps gave a magical touch to the sometimes narrow, sometimes broad siq (passage). The natural gorges or siq lend a mysterious aura to the place.

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When the siq finally ended at the treasury, the most recognizable feature of Petra, it made for an awe inspiring sight! Hundreds of lamps were lit in front of the treasury. The collective glow from the lamps bathed the treasury in yellow. We were made to sit on the mats on ground.  Hot Jordanian tea warmed our palms as we sit with bated breath anticipating the next event.

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Suddenly for me the novelty of the moment wore off. I decided to lie down on the mat for few minutes admiring the dark sky and the gorgeous head of the Treasury. The whispers of other tourists filled my ear. In the crowd, I found my ‘me time’. A soft feathery touch on my arm made me jolt out of my stupor. A cat had decided to make friends with me. I am not too fond of cats and have hardly touched any cats. But I liked the touch, soft as a fur ball, lighter than air, the cat won’t leave me. For me that moment was even more precious than viewing Petra by the night.

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As soon as everybody settled on the mat, a man started playing Arabic music from behind a rock. He would do that for few minutes, sending the crowd in deep meditative silence. Then he emerged dramatically and continued playing the tunes, this time negotiating the narrow passages between the lamps. The act lasted for few more minutes and ended with the man narrating in imperfect English. It was followed by selfie sessions.

During the night, visitors are not allowed to move beyond this point. I spent some more time and decided to leave alone for my hotel, walking distance from Treasury. It was eerie and at times scary to walk in those dark pathways alone. I started to replay the ‘Petra by Night’ in my mind to distract myself from imagining the monsters who would eat me alive.

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IS PETRA BY NIGHT WORTH IT?

It is no doubt that Petra By Night is a touristy frill. However, it might appeal to some and might not appeal to others. I would suggest if you have the money and time, do give a chance to Petra by Night. In case you have to choose (due to money or time issues) between Petra by Night and Petra in Day, go for the latter. Daylight gives you a better understanding of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also, you can walk to the famous monastery and explore other tombs and ruins in the day time. Personally, I preferred Petra in daytime but if I had not seen Petra by night, it would have bothered me for a long time.

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RELATED BLOGS:

PETRA BY DAY- THE SECRETS OF THE CITY OF THE DEAD EXPLAINED

AQABA- THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN WHICH BORDERS EGYPT, ISRAEL AND SAUDI ARABIA

WADI RUM- MARS ON EARTH?

AMMAN CITADEL- THE CONTINUALLY HABITATED WALLED CITY

AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

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NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

TAJ BALLOON FESTIVAL: HAVE YOU SEEN TAJ MAHAL FROM TOP?

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This is how we landed. Clicked immediately after our landing by Baadshah!

img_9261THE BALLOON LANDED WITH A THUD in the middle of nowhere. It first hit the floor, our balloon tips over, rested briefly on the ground, dragged a little and finally stopped. A storm of dust enveloped my face, hair and camera.  I tried to find my balance as I was lying on the wooden basket on ground, my back facing the ground, my legs up in the air. Kind of 90 degrees! My co travelers, who were the next door neighbors a while ago, were now occupying the first floor of the ‘apartment’.  A group of villagers, young, old, kids came rushing to us as the balloon stopped and inflated, like a giant monster destroyed by a superhero. Windy landings are common if the weather is not favourable. It is safe even if the basket tips over. All you need to do is follow the instructions of pilot diligently.

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Local village kids running from one balloon to another in excitement. Adults were excited too but showed restraint.

Richard (from Sri Lanka, in pic below), our pilot said, “I have piloted Hot Air balloon in one of the most exotic locations in the world but I enjoy flying in India the most. The reason is nothing else but the sheer warmth of people and the excitement it builds at the landing place. Every single time!”

I couldn’t agree more with him. The moment we took off from the P.A.C ground in Agra, we were constantly accompanied by a strange cacophimg_9411ony. Nothing like I have heard before. As I looked down from the balloon, I saw small dots waving at us, screaming with joy and abandon. Each one of them was looking up; the kids playing on rooftop of their houses, the ‘ghoonghat’ (veil) clad women on the streets, the shopkeepers and vendors. It was the first balloon ride for all the 6 journalists and bloggers, including me. While we were ecstatic to participate in our first ride ever, the people below were excited just to see us fly.

As we floated lyrically in the air, our happiness found an extension in their happiness. The constant bird’s eye view of the iconic Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the world made it memorable; once-in-a-lifetime thing. The early morning ride made it amusing for me to see people start their daily routine viz. women drying clothes, school kids readying for school, shopkeepers opening their shops, a group of unruly monkeys jumping across rooftop boundaries of adjoining homes.

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View of balloon from our balloon!

We covered a distance of 10 kilometres in 17 minutes. Another balloon had landed near our landing spot. It was a scandalous site. The balloon stood tall, its fabric poetically waving in the air. Before it collapsed, it attracted the attention of villagers, young and old alike. Young kids ran from all directions, initiating little dust storms. Senior citizens from the villages showed restraint and yet found it hard to hide their excitement! They looked at the balloon in awe, agape mouthed, cracking jokes and sharing good cheer. I sensed that they would perhaps discuss it all day, maybe even all week. This is how a sleepy village comes to life in India.

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The other balloon which attracted much attention. It landed on a stage like hillock making it all the more dramatic.

It was one of the most memorable mornings of my life. I value it even more because I was unable to fly the previous morning. Owing to bad weather (strong winds), I was supposed to be in one of the 5 balloon rides which were cancelled out of 15. Our lady pilot from Malaysia apologized for cancelling the ride. “I am sorry, I shouldn’t be flying today. The winds are too strong. It is my first time in India and I can’t take the risk. You can still hop in the balloon and take selfies though.” Me and my co traveler, were disappointed but understood that it’s better not to fly than to risk it all. Never mind, the sumptuous breakfast (delicious South Indian) at The Grand Imperial was still waiting for us.

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The view of Taj from our Balloon!

I was supposed to leave Agra the same day but I extended my trip for one more day, to give it a shot the next day! I decided to relax the entire day at my comfortable room in Samovar hotel Agra, sometimes sleeping, sometimes gazing at the Taj Mahal from my room. I just happened to get lucky the next day despite the warnings of strong winds again!

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The bird’s eye view of Taj was clear this time, unlike a hazy one during 1st edition in 2015.

My extended stay was a blessing in disguise as I got an opportunity to be witness to the special Night Glow Show of hot air balloons dancing to the tunes of western music. In this event, all the 15 balloons were tethered to the ground and visitors were given a taste of what the real ride would be like. The constant firing gave it a dramatic look especially to those balloons shaped like a cartoon character, Smurf being the most popular one.

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Ballons shaped like cartoon characters ruled!

Kudos to the Uttar Pradesh government for coming up with such initiative. Despite such diverse landscapes and important sites, a Hot Air Balloon scene is conspicuously missing in India. Thanks to companies like E factor and Sky waltz, one can have such experiences in places like Jaipur, Agra etc. Samit Garg, the CEO of E factor told us, “I had a memorable Hot Air Balloon experience in Germany. I wondered why it is not happening in India. So, I decided to introduce it in some destinations in India with much success. Taj Hot Air Balloon festival is a seasonal event and we hope to make it a permanent activity, increasing the present count of 15 to 100 in coming years. We have already grown from 3 days event last year to a six day event this year.”

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Night Glow event!

Tushar, the energetic marketing personnel from E factor told us, “It is a safe activity. Indians now get a chance to explore the world class aviation and adventure sport right in their backyard. It’s really rare that anything goes wrong up in the air. In our history, we have not had any such issues. The visibility is much better this time. Last year, due to smog the view of Taj Mahal from top was cloudy.”  E-factor Adventure Tourism  Pvt. Ltd. runs commercial hot air ballooning flights in India. It promotes and hosts Hot Air Ballooning events in other destinations too.

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Smurf clearly walked away (or is it flew away) with all the attention!

Accomplished pilots from India and countries like Malaysia (female pilot), Sri Lanka (Richard, our pilot), USA, UK, UAE, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Netherland, Switzerland, Belgium helped make the dream come true for many.

CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF THE FESTIVAL. CLICK HERE

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Our Malaysian Pilot on day 1. It was her first time in India.

YOU CAN DO IT TOO:

If you are lucky, you might end up winning a lucky draw and do the ride for free. Those interested may submit a form to the tourism office. A lucky draw will be held each evening based upon which winners will be finalized. There is a fixed quota for domestic and international tourists.

When to go: The second edition of Annual Taj Balloon Festival is a 6 day event commencing from 25th November and ends at 30th November. If you missed this year, do give it a try next year!

How to reach: make a 3 to 4 hour long road trip/train ride from Delhi. Agra has an airport. Feel free to book it via Sky Scanner.

One can fly to Delhi and make a trip to Agra or fly to Agra Airport.

When: The 2nd edition is from 25th Novmber to 30th November. In case you miss this event, keep an eye for the dates on UP Tourism website for next year, mostly in November.

Where to Stay: Samovar Hotel is comfortable, luxurious and in cenimg_9221tral location. The meals (I sampled Veg Burger and Stuffed Parathas) are good. There were some issues in TV which was sorted immediately by the maintenance person. Best part: You get view of Taj Mahal all day from your (soul) window. I often lazed around eating and gazing at the Taj from the comfort of the room.  Much like how Shah Jahan must have longingly stared at Taj Mahal when he was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Red Fort. If only Shah Jahan had an option to view Taj from top. I stayed in room number 412.

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This is where we took off from. I clicked this from my balloon up in the air.

Moral Policing:

  • In case your ride is cancelled, please do not argue with the organizers and nag them for a ride. Safety is most important and the weather condition is in nobody’s hand!
  • If you have taken a ride already, don’t ask for another one. There are people waiting for same since the number of people who can ride is limited. This year it was just 400 people.
  • Strictly follow the instructions of your pilot. If he says keep the camera in your bag and sit on the floor of basket, then do it. It is for your own safety.
  • Don’t bend from the basket when it is up in the air.
  • Don’t walk over the deflated balloon. Some of them cost more than Rs. 90 lakhs.
  • Don’t demand a flight over the Taj. No flights are allowed till a certain distance from Taj.
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It was heartening to see locals help trained pilots with packing of balloon. Deflating it is much harder than your think! And they did it 2 times in a day!

The view from my #SoulWindow makes me speechless!

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Bird’s eye view of Taj from the Hot Air balloon. Clicked using an 18-135 mm lens

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A local amused by the unexpected landing!

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

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Pool Side buffet at Grand Imperial Hotel, Agra. Loved their South Indian fare.
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Locals gathered near our balloon as soon as we landed near the village.

15 Reasons Why Jordan Should Be Your Next Destination!

A childhood friend Mitali recently asked me for suggestions for a foreign destination for her brother’s honeymoon. I got usual suspects when I asked her which destinations have already been zeroed in on. I suggested to her that for the same budget you will get more value and variety in Jordan. She asked me details and here they are, for her and for other discerning honeymooners or any travelers rather:

1 – VIBRANT CITY LIFE

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The vibrant Rainbow Street at Amman

The cities of Jordan are lively. While the ancient ruins of capital Amman co exists with its more modern counterparts, the port city of Aqaba exudes a charm of its own. I enjoyed walking through the streets of city of Amman with my eyes peeled constantly. The streets of Madaba oozes old world, small town charm. The amenities are good, roads clean and people have a great civic sense. A co traveler Kaushal even showed me ash trays attached to street poles.

2 – VARYING LANDSCAPES

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Me at a siq which leads to Treasury, Petra (This pic and featured image by : Arka Das )

Almost every day, I saw a new landscape in Jordan. While Amman was more about buildings, old and new, Petra had other worldly canyons and mountains. Wadi Rum gave me the illusion of being on Mars, Aqaba had crystal clear blue waters. Dead Sea was surrounded with salt deposits and the next stop Madaba and Mount Nebo had dry, arid landscapes. Wait, there is a secluded Hot Spring too! All these destinations are within few hours of driving distance from each other!

3 – BORDER JUNKIE PARADISE

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Spot the Israeli Flag! This is Israel side we could not cross. The water in foreground belongs to Jordan though!

I am a border junkie. I love to be around borders even if I can’t cross it. During a cruise on the very blue ‘red sea’ (in Aqaba), the attendant pointed out Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine to me. This meant I could see 4 countries from my cruise none of which I could cross. Later also I came across many places which gave me a glimpse of other country without entering it. Most memorable moment  was seeing the Israel side up, close and personal at the Baptism Site.

4 – MARS ON EARTH, ANYONE?

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Me at Wadi Rum (Shot by : Arnab Maity)

Wadi Rum was my personal favorite of all the places I visited. I climbed up a high rock only to be rendered speechless. I watched in wonder as the sun cast its orange glow on Mars like landscape dotted with massive rock formations on sand. I am not going to forget what I saw, in a lifetime.

6 – ROAD TRIP FRIENDLY

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We took this path to reach Mount Nebo, the important biblical site

The roads in Jordan are baby bottom smooth. Most of the important places and cities are within a few hours distance. One can reach the Capital city Amman in 4 hours from anywhere in Jordan. Got the drift, eh?

6 – One of the 7 Modern Wonders Of The World!

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The Treasury, Petra and its caretakers!

You sure want to see all the 7 modern wonders of the world. Jordan houses Petra ruins (which includes The Treasury, Monastery, and Little Petra ). For some extra bucks you can also see Petra by night. On every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, the treasury is lit with hundreds of paper lanterns at its base.

7 – JAW DROPPING HISTORY AND ANCIENT ARCHITECHTURE

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The ancient ruins of Citadel. behind is the city of Amman perched on hills!

Everywhere you go in Petra you will see a mix of architecture styles and history so ancient, it will make your jaws drop. From Nabatean to Roman and Greek, you will see many influences on the architecture of Jordan. It’s an intriguing mix of western and eastern sensibilities. The many historical sites still standing tall after being exposed to the elements for thousands of years. They speak volumes about its culturally rich past.

8 – AMAZING PEOPLE

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A local woman making mural art pieces at Madaba

The people are friendly, cheerful and very welcoming. I have been offered help by random people on the road. The help always came with a smile. Perhaps, what helped further was that most were Bollywood fans and they made out that I was an Indian. Be it sitting with a Bedouin (a nomadic tribe) over a cuppa in his tent or interacting with a random person, each experience was friendly. It is also a very safe country to visit.

9 – MUSIC THAT STAYS WITH YOU

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He sung Arabic tunes in the ruins of Petra, adding atmosphere to it!

My mind still keeps racing back to the evening spent in the desert of Wadi Rum. It was made memorable with live music by a visually impaired magician, err, musician who played ‘Oud’ with aplomb. Next was belly dancing in the lap of luxury at Jordan Valley, Marriott near dead sea. And then there were Bedouins (Nomadic tribes) who would break in to a song and dance in the ruins of Petra, Little Petra, Jerash. These music experiences were the highlights of my trips.

10 – LUXURIOUS HOTELS, RESORTS AND SPAS

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View of Red Sea from Movenpick Resort. And oh that’s a jacuzzi above the road!

There is no dearth of luxurious stay options in Jordan. My favourite picks are the stay at the simple Evason mai’n Hot Springs done in earthy tones and Movenpick Resort and residences, Aqaba, thanks to its inimitable staff and the sweeping views of Red Sea from here.

11 – ART GALORE

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Mural wall pieces at Madaba!

Jordan is full of art. Most noticeable is the ubiquitous bottle filled with colorful sand. It is no ordinary bottle, the artist will write your name in sand through a meticulous process. The background will almost always be a camel against a setting sun. Then there is the centuries old tradition of mosaic paintings and wall hangings. These are the highlights, though the list is longer.

12 – FOLLOW THE BIBLE TRAIL

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Al Maghtas, Jesus was baptized here!

Did you know Jordan boasts of one of the most important Biblical sites? I didn’t know until I reached here. Al Maghtas, the site where Jesus was baptized is in Jordan, near the border of Israel. People from across the world come here to get baptized even today. Mount Nebo is another important site where Moses had a view of the Promised Land

13 – RED SEA TO DEAD SEA

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Me aboard a cruise on Red Sea, Aqaba. (Pic : Stuti Shrimali)

The seas of Jordan offer variety. While Red Sea had one of the bluest water I have ever seen, Dead Sea not only is visually stunning but also lets you float on water due to its high salt levels. I had a great time cruising over Red Sea and cheering my co travelers as they plunged in water for a snorkeling session or just a swim. Why did I not jump? Simply because the food cooked on board was too delicious!

14 – VEGETARIAN FOOD HEAVEN

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Mutabel with chilli paste; who needs non vegetarian food?

I am a vegetarian and sometimes dread going to foreign shores because you know why? It’s very easy in Jordan to remain a vegetarian, even a vegan! The mezzes like baba ganoush, mutable, hummus etc are not only vegetarian but are high on nutrition and low on calories. The breads are delicious, especially those topped with zattar powder. The deserts are sinfully delicious. I even tried to replicate some back home.

15  – SHOP TILL YOU DROP!

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Arabic dolls on sale!

The view from my #SoulWIndow exceeded my expectations!

NOTE : I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

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Dead Sea; notice the salt deposits and blue – green water!

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Me Floating at Dead Sea (Pic by : Stuti Shrimali )