Jordan is proving to be a trip of wonders, and today was my trip to Petra Caves. I had been waiting to see this world heritage site for years and was finally on my way. My taxi driver, a local Jordanian man named Issam, was at my hotel early as the incredible caves of Petra were more than three hours away from the city center.
Wadi Musa Drive is one of the stops on the way to Petra; the scenery was breathtaking, as I could see the vast brown landmass of Jordon; the highway is well constructed, and the drive was pretty smooth. Bollywood films, especially Shah Rukh Khan, are viral here, and my driver made it a point to keep playing the songs from the Bollywood Film Pathan on the way, “ Jhoome re Pathan mere Jaan.” I was pleasantly surprised that he was playing the Arabic version of the song, which sounded even better than the original. I enjoyed the ride across the vast expanse of the desert.
Petra was built by the Nabataeans, who were Arab nomads and traders. These people constructed Petra and carved its ancient monuments from the substantial sandstone rocks. The Nabateans emerged as a distinct civilization and political entity between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE,[cantered around a loosely controlled trading network that brought considerable wealth and influence across the ancient world.
After buying an entry ticket for ten dinars, I was welcomed by a plump Arab lady who introduced herself as Amal Betra.” I can eat you around the Petra Caves, and you can also have dinner at my house; I am a great cook.” She smiled and told me. I took her up on the offer and showed her some of my videos where I had worked with Shah Rukh Khan in a film. We meandered through the pink and red stone rocks of Petra. I was especially intrigued by the drainage system that the Nabataeans had built to tarp rainwater, which would provide water for the inhabitants of this ancient city.
Petra was a trading route used by the Arabs as they rode around the mammoth sandstone rocks on camels and donkeys. Tourists use camels and donkeys to cover the Petra caves; some find the long walks exhausting. I, however, decided to walk along with my guide, Amal Betra, and see this spectacular civilization. The Nabataeans used it as a trade route to carry incense and spices to Sirya, Egypt, Arabian, and the Mediterranean in the 6th century BC.
I also met the Bedouins, the local nomads living in the Petra caves for generations. They survive entirely on tourism, eating with their hands. They keep many wives but are very friendly; the typical greeting is kissing each other on the cheeks. The Swiss explorer John Louis Bogart discovered the Petra caves in 1812 after the Nabataeans had abandoned them due to a series of earthquakes.
I was also intrigued to see the sandstones that depict Dushara, the supreme god of the Nabateans, also known as the lord of the mountains, who was worshipped by the nomadic tribes that lived in Petra.
But the most beautiful site is Al Khazenh, which means the treasure. These are the most elaborate rock-cut tombs of Petra. I managed to meander through the site on the back of a large camel. This was my first camel ride in Jordan, and it was so much fun.
The Khazneh was the tomb of Aritas, the fourth, who ruled the region in 1st BC. It was used as the backdrop for Steven Spielberg’s film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Roman theatre is another wonder carved out of sandstone with a seating capacity of over five thousand. It was where people would sing and dance and was used for mass entertainment.
But the most fascinating is the tomb of Jebel Haroon, where the brother of Moses named Aron was buried.
Sun Rise and sunset are when Petra truly glows, and one can see the various colors of the sandstone. In the evening, I was invited by my guide Amal to her home for dinner. She was a middle-aged Arab woman who was divorced and lived near the site of Petra with her mother and a seven-year-old son. I enjoyed a meal of mutton and rice along with vegetables. Sitting on the floor, we tucked into our food, eating from one plate with our hands like a family. The TV was showing a Bollywood film which was dubbed into Arabic. Bollywood Films are very popular here and are dubbed in the local language. This was my first experience eating and chatting with a regular Jordanian Family.
The drive back was three hours long, and we reached Amman through the desert of Wadi Mosa. I was totally exhausted by the end of the trip, but the knowledge I gained about the region was immense.