Journey to Petra
The sky is a dusty blue as I make my way along the rather ominous sounding Desert Highway from Jordan’s shimmering Red Sea coast. Even at this early hour, I can feel the searing Middle Eastern sun radiating through the bus window. Ahead, the sun dances and gleams off the jet black tarmac, like reflections on a fast-flowing river. All around, mountains rise up dramatically, their sheer sides and craggy outcrops menacing and imposing at the same time. This lonesome, inhospitable landscape, seems ill-suited to all but the hardiest of souls.
My reverie is broken by the sharp turn of the bus, as it turns off the main highway and towards my ultimate destination, the fabled ancient civilization of Petra.
Nothing fills me with more excitement but also nervous trepidation at the thought of venturing into this almost mythical place. My nervousness stems from an inner fear that my idealized view of Petra will be compromised by the reality of mass tourism, tour groups and tacky souvenirs. I feel somewhat apprehensive as the bus draws closer.
The highway slowly ascends as we near our destination. Down below, hidden amongst the valleys and canyons lies Petra. The bus meanders its way through countless low rise buildings and chaotic streets, vibrant with life. Here, everyday life carries on, side by side with the remains of this ancient civilization.
Before long, the modern entrance to Petra is within sight; advertising boards in multiple languages reflecting the international appeal of this iconic site. Beyond the ticketed entrance, there is an assortment of souvenir stalls, eateries and energetic sellers brandishing the finest of Petra related kitsch – stuffed camel anyone?
Beginning the descent, local Bedouin approach offering camel rides and horse and cart excursions. It is an unassuming start as the path gently descends. Before long however, the small outcrops of rock became larger and more dramatic and the path meanders its way around these towering natural phenomena.
The Nabateans as a civilization are cloaked in mystery and intrigue. No one is sure from where they originated, some say from the area now known as Yemen, others the eastern regions of the Arabian peninsula.
What is widely accepted however, is the ingenuity and engineering feat of these people who created a sophisticated water run-off management system in this most arid of locations.
Even today, one can make out the intricate water channels they cut into the rock, testament to how advanced they really were. The mystery of their subsequent disappearance and abandonment of Petra is therefore the more intriguing.