At 5.45, at the hotel’s breakfast area, we sat and wondered -“Wow, hundreds of us are going to hit the road to this mysterious city today! It is just one hotel, and already we are a herd of tourists, imagine the crowd there! “
Once we began wandering in Petra, I thanked God for so many people; else, I would have felt as if I was walking in a Ghost town – Petra wasn’t what I thought. It was magical and a perfect place to be lost and found.
Let me tell you our Hiking stories on the ancient Nabatean trails of Petra.
DAY 1 – 20km of hiking in Petra
We began time travel (5th century BC) once our guide Omar joined us at the visitor centre. The ancient Nabateans were trimming the rose sandstone, making them fit for carrying on camels. We could hear them speaking in Arabic, talking about western traders staying there that night. Roman merchants were happy to stay in that exotic location built with much Roman influence – they said they felt at home.
We could hear them all while we walked on the paved footpath surrounded by rose-coloured stone mountains. The pathway was getting narrower with every foot, getting shaded by tall rocks on either side. We heard the sound of water flowing beside the stones. The Nabateans had made channels 1′ wide and 1.5′ deep at an angle of 4 degrees to get water inside their Caravan Serai.
The Roman chatting and stone chiselling sound faded when the clip-clop sound got louder. “Hello, good morning – Horse ride? Full Siq. Fast ride. You walking tiring. Ten Dinar” – A bedouin with his horse carriage brought us back to January 2019 from the 5th century BC.
There was no herd of tourists. Few of us were walking on the main trail. The bedouins on mules were carrying a big box of snacks and fruits to their shacks – Petra was waking up still.” How far is the Treasury” Ashrith asked.” I won’t tell you that. I want to see how you react when you first see it, so I will tell you more of Nabatean stories but not what you asked,”- Omar replied.
I spotted an elephant! ( well, only I felt it, Omar and Ashrith laughed at me.)
When you walk on the Siq trail beside Pinkish-Orange rocks, you realise why they call it Rose city. That feeling you get when you walk in the dark narrow alleys without knowing what is ahead, with only a few sun rays touching the path, is mysterious. The stories of Nabateans & Indiana Jones continued. Suddenly Omar stopped talking and smiled. I understood his smile and looked straight to get the first glimpse -“The Treasury”, a wonder of the world that hid behind the alleyways. Fortunately, there were no tourists around us in a 5m radius. They would have had a heart attack hearing my screams. So, with blood rushing in my veins and chills in my nerves, I ran ahead, leaving behind everyone.
The Treasury plays hide and seek behind the rocks.
That moment when we exited the alleyway, we saw the magnificent, tucked inside the stone mountain kissed by the first set of sun rays left us speechless. That was the moment I fell in love with Jordan. The last two days were good, but I had not fallen in love yet. That was when I realised why Petra is unique, different from the rest of the stone-carved temples in the world – That worry of spending money on Jordan vanished, and a sense of satisfaction enclosed our minds. Oh ya, this is where Indiana Jones finds the Holy Grail!
Calming down after seeing the wonder
Omar came back to us while we stared at this beauty, grinning. We thanked him for not telling us when this world’s wonder gets revealed. Mr Omar knew a lot about Nabateans and little about us Indians! After explaining the hike trails and other things, he asked us if we ride on elephants daily to work in India! “Nope, I don’t own elephants, and Indians commute like anyone else in the world.
Saying “La Shukran” to every nagging camel owner, we sat on a boulder sipping water to calm us down and stared at the beauty surrounded by rocky mountains, getting kissed by the sun for the next 30 minutes.
Warm sunshine and the cold breeze were a perfect start to the day. When we walked towards the west of Treasury that opened to a long and broad mud road with stoned carved structures on either side, we saw Theatre!
When you imitate Roman architecture, you can’t miss the theatre.
Unlike Roman theatre, each step is carved into the rock. They chiselled an entire mountain to bring it down to the form of a theatre. That is why the steps are not sophisticated; you do see undulations. Hammering must have continued for months together back then.
Before the sun gets too harsh on us, we wanted to reach the hilltop of the Monastery trail. Walking further west, we took up random deviations on and off the road. The Petra was awake by then – Mules were coming out of the caves with men dressed like Jack Sparrow. Locals set up their tent shops full of artefacts, clothes and some juices.
The Bedouin man on a horse in Petra
It is to lose track of time and your walking track when the land is this beautiful – The Royal tombs with fine carvings of the cliff face were calling us – But we stayed focused on the Ad-Deir trial.
Above the marketplace, we saw a vehicle moving! We thought that must be the road to people who work inside the Petra site. Making our way through smelly camels, we reached the restaurant Basin for a few minutes’ rest. We had already walked 4+km. Most tourists go back from the marketplace. Some come to the restaurant Basin, but only those who want to hike further go beyond. So we were back to not being surrounded by camels and people at 9 AM when we began our uphill walk.
Ancient Petra Caves turned to changing rooms
It was probably after the first fifty steps; we started to feel the heat. I was wearing a long cotton gown, with top and bottom thermal wear inside. “An essential” of the morning had become a “nuisance” by now. Ashrith wanted to remove his thermal wear, especially the thermal shirt. If Nabateans could live inside a cave, we can use it as a changing room. We sneaked inside a nearby cave, that had a pungent odour and hoped not to step on any mules shit. Successfully we got rid of the thermal wear and stuffed it inside the backpack!
Lighter and fresher, the climbing continued. Every 30 minutes, we spotted tent shops selling ancient coins and artefacts. Some even ask you if you want to live inside in one of their caves. It is excellent from an adventurer’s point of view, but I am not sure of the security. After sipping a cup of tea made by the lady for 0.5 JD, we climbed the narrow paths, often turning around for the fantastic cliff view.
Petra hiking trails were never dull
A bedouin lady’s shop + seeing a tourist on a mule struggling to balance + handsome Bedouin men riding their mules downhill like pros + stone-carved steps at times – walking on the Stoney rugged terrain was fun. Sun beaming over our heads for a while suddenly hides behind the pink rocks. A play of sun and shadow throughout the trail ridge makes it even more exciting.
When the trail got steeper, worriedly, we asked tourists coming down. “Is the trail ahead is steeper or flatter? How far is the Monastery from here?” –” It is just 30 minutes of easy climbing ahead. Not too far from here,” they said. The steeper trail felt never-ending. After 30 minutes, I spotted a bigger shop with a glass roof in the distance. “One more Bedouin shop,” I thought and continued with the cliff to my left and the rocky mountain to the right.
The climb ended and opened up a broad field that had some wooden seats on the other end. When I turned right, I saw something that’s a beauty must be weighed in gold. There stood the Treasury, a rock-cut structure that was more beautiful than the Treasury. I screamed yet again. Ashrith heard me and understood when he saw me jumping and screaming. He came running and grinned along, saying, “The Magic walls of Petra are beyond what we had imagined them to be.”
We were not tired anymore. The goosebump moment rejuvenated us, but the body was dehydrated. A cup of fresh Orange Juice for 1 JD in the cafe rejuvenated minds and bodies both. It made us appreciate the not-so-easy hike and marvellous Monastery even more sitting on that bench. We first saw a signboard near the Monastery, “Best view: End of the world ahead” Who doesn’t get excited to see the end of the world, tell me? I am not sure why, but no tourists were going in that direction.
The scenes on the way are way different from the Treasury.
It felt like we had entered a Bedouin village!. Young boys on mules herding their goats, playing pebbles with each other – a village scene entirely without houses! “Do they live in caves still? It is not allowed, and if all Bedouins are relocated, then why are they here. How did those goats come up all the way here? It is a barren land, no green patch – what do goats eat then? “
The Petra valley to infinity
Babbling all these, we came to the cliff’s end that opened up to a valley. You see nothing other than the brown rocky mountains and one tea shop near the cliff. If something like a Zombie apocalypse is happening, this could be the best hiding place. Otherwise, it is a perfect place to have a cup of chai listen to the winds and watch over the endless mountains. The cloudy weather made the ambience even more “End of the world.”
“How lucky we are to be here in Petra” – was the topic of our talk here.. With one last glance at the Monastery, the two gruntled minds with growling stomachs began the downhill hike. After reaching the foothill., we ended up having that 17JD/person buffet tearing our wallets apart – Because we had no other food option. With a broken wallet and content mind, we went wandering again. This time we followed no trail, going wherever the wind blew. Making our way through the crowd, we arrived at the most crowded and disappointing place in all of Petra – A Byzantine church. Except for a few stone blocks on the ground, there is nothing.
The beautiful palace facade
The Bedouins, camels and tired legs at the Treasury
By 4 PM, our legs wanted to sleep; the heart wanted to wander more. This time, the legs won-We needed it for tomorrow too. The sunlight was splashing a different colour on the Treasury & Bedouins with camels were waiting for their last bit of the day to make some quick buck. One guy approached us, showing a picture on his phone. That beautiful frame tempted us, and we ended up bargaining for the camel ride of 5 minutes to 7JD.
I think this is the best picture of ours ever taken!
After a hot water bath and a strong nap at the hotel, we wore all possible warmer clothes to hit the Siq again. The four-kilometre-long Siq was lit with Candles inside Chinese lamps from the visitor centre to the Treasury. The path was lit enough to guide us the way and cosy enough to make it a most beautiful walk until a few brainless tourists switched on the spotlights from their phones! At the end of the trial, Siq is the most dramatic, but a Few morons ruin it with their phone flashlight.
Why is Petra’s treasury magical?
This was the third different shade of the Treasury we saw. Admiring the beauty and annoyed by the flashlight tourists, the organisers asked to choose seats. There were mats on the ground, and Chinese lamps filled the front of the Treasury. After serving a hot cup of Hibiscus tea, the show began. An introduction about Nabateans and then the soothing flute music filled the atmosphere. The lights glowed, music continued, and annoying tourists kept their flashlights inside throughout. A night couldn’t get any more impressive – Petra by night was enchanting.
Petra By night
Day 2 – 8km hiking
On the second day, the plan was to let us lose & get lost in the “Lost City of Petra.” We hit the main trail recollecting everything from yesterday with no particular goal in mind. The mystic alleyways took us back in time again and brought us in front of the Treasury again. This place kept us captivated every time. The large open land, tall structure with taller mountains surrounding it – Mystic is the word for the vibe. A Bedouin who clicked our picture last day came to say hi. This time he wasn’t nagging but conversing. He is the one who suggested we take the Al-Kubtha trail instead of the High Place of Sacrifice. The locals know better so, we obeyed his words.
They weren’t waiting for Roman Merchants
Following the map and that Bedouin man’s direction, we took a right opposite the Theatre. Though now we had a plan to go on the Al-Kubtha trail, we lost our way wandering. Hopping on boulders, and making our way through dried bushes, we ended up in many caves. The view of Petra from those gaps in the cave showed us a whole new Petra.
Some of the cave floors were smoothened, making it evident the place where ancient people lived. The colours and patterns inside were spectacular.
Lost and found in Jordan
The best way to get back on track when lost in Petra is to follow the crowd. So did we, and we ended up in front of the marketplace. After a walk back to the Theatre and a left turn, we were on the Al-Kubtha trail again. The path seemed to be easier than Ad-Deir in the beginning. But felt harder halfway through. With less shade, more open areas, and the brimming sunshine, I was almost about to give up. While Ashrith tried to motivate me as I sat under the shade, a man on a mule stopped by us if I wanted a ride.
When he said no, he said, “You are near. Almost there. Only 10 minutes. Come on, follow me.”
The sun was merciless, and the Bedouin man’s song was entertaining. Taking heavy steps, we reached a flat land that was covered with some green bush. The man pointed his finger in a direction and went in another direction waving back at us. Typical of Jordan, we saw a signboard “World’s best view – The Treasury from the above.” Walking briskly, we followed the sign and entered a hut that had a board” If you want to enjoy the view of Petra from above, pay 1JD for orange juice or cold drinks. Help the Bedouins” “right before I had sunstroke.
Forth shade of the Treasury that too from a bird’s eye view was at the edge of the hut!
It isn’t a place for acrophobia like Ashrith. But the astonishing view and the Jordan carpet laid out there can make anyone push their limits and go to the edge.
The fresh orange juice, the best view, and Red Jordan carpets lay down on our backs – Like heaven came down to earth. Not only do we see the view “One of most Instagrammed pictures” of Petra, but a Bedouin who looks like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. The view was stunning, but this guy was more interesting.
In that small hut, almost ten of us were there. So the casual “Hi. Hello -where are you from” happened. That charming Bedouin guy was with a lady from Bulgaria. The conversation between them spiced up the entire vibe.
Petra’s prince charming
The Bedouin spoke good English and was super friendly ( or flirty). He knew in and out of every trail in Petra. While he was talking to us, the Bulgarian lady opened her lunch box to have sandwiches.
HE -Oh dear, let me feed you.”
SHE – Oh, come on, stop doing this. I am hungry; I will eat it by myself. Do you want some? Are you hungry?”
HE –” No. You are my hunger, and you are my food.”
SHE –” Oh, you can’t get me like that. I have had enough with you. If you continue talking to me like this, I am going to leave you.”
HE –” Dear, my life is all for you. If you go away, I am going to jump off this cliff right here.”
SHE – “Oh. That is good. Please do it. Let me live in peace.”
HE – Laughingly,” If I die now, how will I find another girl for myself after you go back to Bulgaria.”
Bedouin men are charmers! The way he walked, dressed and spoke everything reminded us of Jack Sparrow.
The hut was so comfortable that we never wanted to leave, even after 2nd round of orange juice. But we were supposed to meet our driver Yusuf at the back gate at 3 PM. So with no escaping of glare, we started to walk down. Halfway through, the growling stomach begged for some food. By the steps, there was a platform that was shaded by surrounding mountains. That place was one of the most exotic ambiences we ever had for eating our meals. So many guests kept coming and going for their shares from our sandwiches, cucumber and juices – Squirrels and birds.
An unplanned power nap for 15 minutes with a backpack and jacket as a pillow we lived like Nabateans for those 15 minutes – sleeping under the sky. Walking down brisk, we reached royal tombs. We walked towards the back gate off the main trail one last walk around the area. There were tens of Bedouin tents selling coins and jewels there. With very few tourists on that day no much business in their shop, Bedouins were restless.
The sad Bedouin state
A young girl came to us with some colour stones saying they are precious. Even after 10s of “La-Shukran”, she was reluctant to give up. So I offered her the fresh orange I had in the bag. “No fruit, Only chocolate”, she said furiously. Luckily we had two packs of chips and some candy bars. The moment I took it out, we were swamped by kids. So we took out all possible snacks from the bag and gave them away. The girl still wanted more. She pointed at my butterfly clip clinging to my sleeves. After giving away that, our path was clear, and we walked ahead.
Leaving Petra was sorrowful. The rose rocks and the alleyways kept calling us back. With our rooms booked at Wadi Rum on the next day, we had to exit Petra. Still, the silver lining was that Yusuf had a surprise for us once we left Petra from the back gate. Hardly any tourists use this gate; it is more of a service entry/exit point. After the gate, the gatekeeper and a few older men were having their afternoon dose of chit-chats.
Jordan’s unforgiving sun at Petra
The asphalt road looked steeper than any other trail had taken. We could feel the heat rising from the road. Yusuf had mentioned it is an easy walk of 20 minutes on that road. In the scorching heat on the steep hill, we couldn’t have done it unless we had a camel or a mule. Luckily on that day, because very few tourists, mule owners were going back home earlier. So we hired two mules paying 5JD each for our first ever mule ride in our life.
Every time we use an animal for our use, I am always in a dilemma.
That is their livelihood, nothing wrong with supporting them. But what about that poor animal? Was it fed well? Do they treat her well?
I must have looked too funny on the mule. Ashrith kept on laughing throughout the ride, looking at me. Yusuf, at the hilltop, burst into laughter seeing us on the mules.
The laughing session continued while we wore our jackets back as it was getting cold again. Then, the short journey to a surprise location began. There was a slight change in landscape – A bit of green farmland behind brown mountains. On that Friday evening, locals enjoyed weekend barbecuing on the farm by the roadside with some shisha.
The car stopped in front of a metal gate with a board “Little Petra / Al-Beidha.” The mud road led us to this settlement which is older than Petra. There were caves and rocks similar to Petra but of a different colour. This Neolithic time site is one of the oldest in Jordan and became a suburban area of Petra.
Weirdly Unique- Little Petra
A strange-looking facade (that reminded me of Cobra’s hood opened) welcomed us in the front along with domestic tourists who were chilling by the shades. The walk is hardly 500m one way with smaller structures that are multi-storeyed, unlike Petra. Some of these cave dwellings even have stains of black smoke on the ceiling – A thriving Nabatean village then is an abandoned cave now for selling Jordanian carpets by locals. Aesthetically, it is no match to Petra, but it is a fine place to end your trip at Petra on a narrow passage shaded by mountains and local travellers for an hour peacefully.
We thought we had ended the day. But Yusuf smilingly said – you have one last surprise from my side! So he drove on the road from where we could see green on one side and some bubble hotels on the hilltop. The ten-minute journey contrasted the dry landscape we had seen past two days.
Mount Rushmore in the middle east?
He stopped the car by the roadside where locals were posing and clicking pictures. We didn’t spot anything unique until Yusuf showed us a small rocky mountain that had tall and thick rocks popping out with features of faces on them! – The mother nature’s Mount Rushmore of Jordan.
Dear Petra, you were truly blissful;- I apologise for underestimating you, thinking you aren’t worth our hard-earned money – You gave us one of the most beautiful hiking days of our life. We love you with all our hearts 🙂