Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jordan - Amman, Petra, Dead Sea and..... Snow !!!

As the end of the year approached, it was time for our annual leisure trip - the only criteria being that the location needs to be an offbeat one.

A number of options were discussed and we zeroed in on Jordan. The reasons being
1. Fulfilling the criteria mentioned above
2. My wish (and my friend Tauseef's) of visiting Petra and Dead Sea
3. Very importantly, availability of Visa-on-arrival

Both of us were to reach on Monday evening and leave by the Saturday evening flight - so in all we had about 5 full days - or so we thought.

The first advice to everyone for obtaining visa on arrival. There are not too many requirements - just have your flight tickets and hotel bookings in place and carry USD 1000 in cash (you may get a visa with lesser cash as we did, but it becomes a hassle)

After completing the visa formalities, we took the airport shuttle which drops you to the city bus station (for 3 JD a person) and took a taxi from there to our hostel situated in the busy Downtown area of the city.

We reached around 6 pm and after checking in, we decided to explore the nearby areas with Rida, out hostel caretaker.

We visited the Rainbow street, the most happening street with its great cafes and shisha joints. Since it was a Monday night, the crowd was sparse and we were told that Thursday and Friday nights are more happening. So, we left to come back another day.

There were three distinct phases that we can divide our trip into:

Phase 1: Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea - The day of the sun 

We had booked a cab to take us to Mardaba (Mount Nebo) and the Dead Sea for 40 JD.

Mardaba is famous for its mosaics so we entered into a handicraft shop as soon as we reached Mardaba. For the people interested in some handicradts, this is a good option, though one can get almost everything at a lower rate in Amman.

Just crossing Mardaba, one can reach Mount Nebo, which is the burial place of Moses and hence a very important Christian pilgrimage. The entry to the place is 1 JD there is also a provision for guides there.

One can see ancient tools and artifacts there but for the less inclined such as us, there was an awesome view that awaited us. There was one board that showed us how close we were to so many important places in the history of the earth - Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jericho, all less than 50 kms away. Moses had come there from Jerusalem looking for the promised land and died at the top of the mountain.

A plaque at Mount Nebo showing how far the important places in world history are

There is also a symbolic serpentine cross there symbolic of the serpent that guided Moses.

The famous serpentine cross at Mount Nebo
After spending some time at the place, we proceeded to the Dead Sea - the lowest point on land anywhere in the world.

So we went from the highest point in near vicinity (600m above sea level) to the lowest point on earth (400m below sea level) crossing some great landscape along the way.

The amazing Jordanian landscape
We went to Amman Beach resort, paid the entry fee of 20 JD and proceeded to the Dead Sea. It was time to test what we had read since our childhood - that one can easily float in the dead sea due to the high density of the water. The water is also supposed to be great for the skin due to the high concentration of salts like phosphates in the water.

So, we changed into our beach wear and entered the Dead Sea. And we were not disappointed, we could float very easily. It was just an amazing feeling, just chilling out in the sea.

Floating in the Dead Sea
We returned to Amman and spent our evening in Jafra cafe in the Downtown area, a place which was to become our hangout spot for the duration of the trip.

It was then that we started learning of the imminent snowstorm that was expected to hit Jordan during the latter half of the week. But more on that later.

Phase 2: Petra - The day when perseverance paid 

Jordan was already cold when we had arrived, but the morning we had to leave for Petra, we were greeted by heavy rains. But since, we had limited number of days, we left anyways hoping it would not be raining in Petra. The cost of a cab to Petra is about 100-120 JD.

Petra is a 3-hour drive from Amman and the rain followed us for the first hour and a half, post which we were greeted by clear skies and due to the recent rainstorms, we witnessed a double rainbow - including one which was the clearest I have seen till date.

The double rainbow on the way - look closely for the second one 
Soon, we also ran into a sandstorm - something that someone could more easily accept being in Jordan.

Which gave way to a sandstorm
But as soon as we took a turn from the main highway towards Petra, not only did the rains return , we were presented with yet another challenge in the form of a thick blanket of fog.

That also did not deter us from proceeding further and after a slow drive through the fog, we reached the gates of Petra.

Though the rains had subsided, as soon as we reached the ticket counter, we were told that Petra had been closed for the day due to bad weather and fears of flash floods. Though thoroughly disappointed, we decided to visit atleast the entrance of Petra - with the so near yet so far feeling.

When we reached the gates, one of the police officers there told us that they were thinking of reopening Petra as the rains had subsided. We rushed towards the ticket counter and got our tickets (50 JD for one day and 60 JD for two days).

It was still very cold and weather was still foggy, but finally we entered Petra. We started walking along the narrow lanes - a scene reminded us of the narrow lanes in the movie 127 hours. After we walked for about 30 mins, it started to rain again and soon police officials started coming over telling us to return to the main gate as they were planning to close the place again.

The beautiful mountains at Petra

and the narrow lanes
However, we were too close to the main building, the Treasury, to return back to the main gate. Us and another group of tourists negotiated for the permission to visit the treasury. As soon as they relented, we walked very fast towards our destination. The path in the meantime had been replaced by a river of ankle deep water.

The most famous image of Petra- The treasury
We reached the treasury and as soon as we got a couple of photos clicked, a police car came upto us. They asked us to get in as the place had become dangerous due to excessive water flowing through the area. We were given a ride back to the entrance by the police.

Though we wanted to see a lot more of Petra (and frankly we had probably seen only 20% of it), we were atleast happy we could see something.

After having a nice late lunch at Wadi Musa (the city outside Petra), we decided to leave for Amman. The weather gods decided that we had not had enough for the day and pounded the way with a hailstorm.

So, in one day we had seen - a rainstorm, clear skies, a sandstorm, double rainbow, fog and and a hailstorm.

This was the beginning of the snowstorm that would plague the rest of our visit.

Phase 3: Amman and the snowstorm

The next day was reserved for going around Amman. The best part about staying in Downtown was that all the monuments were at a walk-able distance.

By this time, there was a snowstorm alert in the country. Still, we decided to go out and check out the different spots.

We walked past the King Hussain mosque to reach the Roman Theater. Few people know that Jordan was a huge Roman center as well. Once you reach the Roman Theater, you could be mistaken that you have suddenly reached Rome - reminded me of the Colosseum for some reason. It is a colossus structure and you could just picture performances taking place at the venue during the ancient times.

The Roman Theater
The Citadel, situated on the top of a hill, another famous monument was a 10 minute walk from the Roman Theater. After the steel climb to the top, we were told that the Citadel was closed due to the snowstorm warning.

A bird's eye view of Amman and the Roman Theater from top of the hill
By the time we returned from the Citadel, it had started to snow and we decided to enjoy it as none of us had witnessed proper snowfall before.

The next day, we had planned to go to Jerash, the city of a thousand columns, another of Jordan's famous Roman ruins. It was when we reached the highway that we truly realised the amount of snow that had befallen the country.

The snow-covered Jordan landscape
.....and the snow-covered city
The road was completely covered by snow and it was not safe to proceed, and hence we decided to return rather than risk it.

So, we were left with no option than to spend our last 2 days in Amman, which we did visiting cafes in Downtown (Jafra and Limana cafe) and the Paris square, an upmarket area in Amman.

During all this free time, we were reading up on the storm. It was during this time that we realised that the storm, named Alexa, was one of the worst snowstorms to hit the area in history and also led to the first snowfall in Egypt in the last 100 years.

So, in a way we witnessed history - and we enjoyed the snow as well.

Getting back to the airport in all the snow as another task. Once we reached the bus station, we saw it covered in snow and learnt that the airport bus services had been cancelled.

So, we took a taxi back to the airport and on the way, we were just amazed to see how a desert landscape that we had witnessed when we were coming into the country had been replaced by a thick cover of snow.

Useful Tips
1. Bargain hard, especially in taxis as very few taxi drivers use the meter to ply
2. Try the local cuisine and the shisha at the cafes - which is a constant presence across the country.
    Jafra Cafe in the Downtown area is definitely recommended
3. Take some time out to chill out in Amman as well

Must see places
1. Petra - people interested in history can easily spend a day and a half there
2. Dead Sea - Floating there is the experience of a lifetime
3. The Wadi Rum desert
4. Jerash - The city of a thousand columns

Photo Gallery


ashwinbahulkar said...

That's a brilliant post, I too am planning a trip to Jordan this year, so bookmarking this.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic photos and a great report.