Road Trip – Amman to Petra

Is there anyone who isn’t excited to see the Nabatean wonder of the world? The destination is beautiful, but its journey makes it more memorable. Here is your guide to a road trip from Amman to Petra via the charming countryside of Jordan.

Index

Road trip Options

There are two routes to reach Petra from Amman.

 Optn A – 256km via Dead sea

 Optn B  -232km via King’s highway. 

Both are spectacular, so it is best if you explore both routes – One while going and the other while returning to Amman. Since you have to walk a lot in Petra, you may want to keep it light while returning. Plus, after seeing magnificent Petra or Wadi Rum, the little things on the way, like Kerak castle, may disappoint you. Therefore, it is best to choose Option B: Amman – Madaba – Mount Nebo – Karak Castle- Petra for onward journey.

Option A is through the desert and broccoli fields and rewards you with stunning views of the dead sea. There is also a fantastic hiking trail – Ibex Trail at Wadi Mujib on the way. But, our driver Yusuf said, we freeze to death walking in the valley with water in winter. So in summer, this must be on your Amman-Petra road trip list.

Why is a private Amman- Petra road trip the best?

Definitely, the private road trip is costlier. But it is worth it when you are curious about Jordan’s connection among the world’s three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The journey through the countryside shows the other side of Jordan. The shortstops at villages like Madaba changed our perspective on the nation. When standing on Mount Nebo and gazing at the endless desert – History pops up more than you knew. History, stories, art and landscape is the reward for your hard-earned money spent on a private road trip from Amman-Petra.

Madaba

MOSAIC CITY OF JORDAN is 38km away from Amman. A small but densely populated town is famous for the Greek and Roman time structures. The orthodox church – St. George, houses the beautiful Mosaic map that depicts major Biblical sites in the Middle East, mainly from Egypt to Palestine. If you are looking for a fantastic piece of architecture – you will be disappointed, but the mosaic map is sure to astound you. Since this is an active church, there are regular prayers at a specific time. So dressing modestly is much essential.

We regret not staying here. Amman was great and comfy. But Madaba has a hipster kind of a vibe. Those streets with graffiti, small cafes, cheaper rooms save backpackers from expensive Amman. If you are a person who loves to wander in a small town, Madaba is the best place for you. Another regret is – missing the view of the town from above where you can see a golden dome Mosque! By the time we came out of this church, it was so windy that we could not walk to our car easily! A few days before, it was snowing in Madaba, apparently! So you can imagine the freezing weather we were facing.

Mount Nebo

I always find prayer songs and chants most soothing – regardless of religion and language. A group of south-east Asians stood and sang prayers for 5 minutes looking over the Promised Land.

According to Bible, this is the place where Moses spent his last days and saw the promised land. It is believed that his body is buried here. It is a beautiful cliff with views of a dry landscape. The “Memorial of Moses” church has got walls and floors of great mosaics. The church is under restoration, so all you can see are ruins of stone walls, but the mosaics are well preserved. We could spend more time if it were not that cold and less windy!

More than the church, I loved sitting on the road sidewall for sunshine in the breeze while Yusuf narrated the stories of Moses, Abraham and Prophet – Which we never knew!

The best of the road trip – A hidden gem in “Jordan’s Tuscany.”

Madaba and Mount Nebo was part of our plan. But from Mount Nebo, Yusuf took a deviation that took us further up. The narrow road was lined with Juniper trees and made us feel as if we were in Tuscany! This is something that we never thought could exist in Jordan. There was no sight of any other tourists. All we could see was tall grass waving with wind and brown desert on the horizon. This is the kind of road I wish that never ends.

But the irony is, it ended in less than 15 minutes from Mount Nebo. At a hilltop, there was an old house. The house was little better than a hut. The surrounding landscape was enchanting, with grass with some stones that appeared arranged by someone. The wind continued to whizz, and juniper tree leaves danced along.

A man came out wearing a white Thoub. We saw a woman sitting outside who ran inside when she saw us. Yusuf asked us to follow him without telling any story this time. We entered a big hall with nothing impressive on the walls. “Why are we here,” I asked Yusuf. Look down, he said. The mosaic floor, like a highly ornate carpet!

A poor Muslim family owns the house on a hilltop. Long ago, when the owner’s grandmother was boiling milk on the wood fire, milk from the vessels spilt on the floor. She began to rub the floor after the milk was cooled down with a cloth. It was already sticky by then, so she had to rub it harder. By mistake, a flank of the mud floor got chipped out and what she saw underneath was something that she was unaware of. She could see a part of the floor with some kind of tiny coloured stones arranged artistically. She called her entire family and began to rub the floor carefully to not damage anything underneath. After rubbing a bit, they realised – they were living in a house built on another ancient building, probably 1000s of years old. 

A few days later, archaeologists started excavating- There was a whole new floor made of mosaics! That was more detailed than any other mosaic floor ever found in Jordan. The tree of life, the deers, the mountains – like a whole ecological system made with mosaics. There stood a stone podium at the one end of Mosaic flooring- so it could have been an Orthodox Church or a Chapel!

The owner is maintaining the entire building with the help of the government. Here are no entry fees for tourists. Hardly anybody knows about it. They are not a wealthy family but trying to preserve the place until the Archaeology department takes over to rebuild it. So if you wish you can give him some amount as per your wish. Those stones that we mentioned as if someone arranged is part of the ancient church. All you can find there now are sheep and goats grazing.

How would you feel if you knew that you lived in a house built in an ancient church! We were stunned – The real hidden gem in Jordan.

After returning home, Sahana wanted to know more about this place and read more of the story. Nothing was available online! That’s why locals know the best.  Getting to this particular location: It is not marked clearly on google map. It is not well documented also! Somehow, with our iPhone’s help, we tried to get an inaccurate location here for you to visit the place.

Mosaic Workshop

The height of craftsmanship and result of extreme patience is Mosaicss – That is what we understood after visiting Madaba and Mount Nebo. It is nice to see a finished product, but seeing it in the making at Jordan’s workshop is startling.

There are many handmade Mosaic craft shops between Madaba and Mount Nebo. Few of them are government approved and funded. So Yusuf took us to one such workshop. They had mosaic tabletops, vases, plates, wall hangings, and lamps. THEY ARE FEAST TO THE EYES & THREAT TO THE POCKETS. The store manager took us around to explain how the mosaics are laid even after letting them know that we would not buy anything.

The patterns are drawn on the canvas or paper first. Then it is copied onto the real background on which these tiny (as small as 3mm, some are as big as 1cm) pieces must be arranged following the pattern. The famous motif is – Tree of Life. This motif has enormous significance, starting from Mesopotamian to Egyptian, Persian, and even in the Biblical era. Some explain that it explains a fruitful life of a tree that rises in the heart of a harsh desert. Others relate it to how strongly one’s life connected to their root becomes fruitful. Adam+Eve, there are many more reasoning behind this motif. Deeper you dig, the more meanings you find.

King’s HIghway

The strange thing about Jordan is its geographical features- If you are near the Dead sea, you are at the lowest point on earth. Then if you travel North 50km, you are in Amman (altitude 810m). Mount Nebo and the surrounding area filled with Juniper trees felt like Tuscan. Once we left this region, it started turning brown – Brown mountains with fewer trees and at last barren mountains. Along the sides of this varying landscape, the road opens up to the view of Black winding asphalt roads carved into the barren brown mountains – King’s Highway.

Our driver Yusuf was a fantastic storyteller. So he explained –

 “King’s Highway:” As per Bible old testament, it is the road that connected Syria and Old Aqaba (Jordan now). Later, Nabateans used this road to extend their trading beyond Petra. So Romans understood the importance of this road and developed it further. Pilgrims on Hajj used this road constantly to reach Mecca. So with all this, it is called King’s highway!.

A small tea kiosk here might be open if you are lucky. Usually, every tourist stops here for the view and the loo break. We saw a few gorgeous Jordan carpets hanging but found no owner!

Kerak Castle

The landscape kept on changing still. Most of the barren flatlands, but a patch of green where hundreds of sheep were grazing. This was a total contrast to Amman. After travelling for almost two hours on straight roads, we saw a huge castle on the hilltop.

That view from the main is way bigger than those. The road was gripping. We had seen smaller Castles in Brugges; this was way bigger than those. The empty streets, fewer tourists, few cafes fueled our enthusiasm.

But after the ticket counter, whatever we saw was the opposite of our excitement. What we saw from the road was the best part of the castle; everything else inside was ruined and in rubbles. Rubbles and ruins are usually storytellers. But the poorly maintained castle doesn’t have much information written anywhere. It felt like we roamed in a ghost castle that nobody wanted. “Wow, what a blunder; we must have wandered in Madaba more instead of coming here”, I said, thinking Sahana liked this place. She replied, “well, we should have sat on the windy hilltop under the Juniper trees more instead of coming here.”

The best part (rater, the only good part) of coming to Kerak was having real Jordan food without tearing our wallets. The restaurant is called “Kit Heres.” – It was a chilling sunny afternoon, so sitting outside seemed to be the best option for fun. The ambience was great, and the food was cheaper and tasty! Finally, some AUTHENTIC JORDAN FOOD – Baked spicy mushrooms with hummus kind sauce, fresh Orange juice, Tomato soup and chicken fried wings for around 7 JD (770 INR) for two of us. The cheapest meal ever we had in Jordan was this.

The journey matters most

After lunch, we left for Petra. Crossing villages, shepherds and their sheep We always feel, unless you travel to or at least pass through the countryside of a country, you can not get the essence of the place. Good music, farmland views, snacks ( Yusuf is extremely good at picking nice stuff from the store, and he had a big pile of Jordan snacks and soda in the car for us). The facts and stories by Yusuf kept the journey more alive – How Abraham started monotheism, who did he sacrifice? Isac or Ishmael? How did Ishmael’s mother Hagar run around between two hills of water? Why do Muslims circle Kaaba (the big black stone in the Holy Mecca)- This journey was indeed a learning session by the sides of a beautiful landscape.

The Islamic and Jewish learning sessions turned into Roman stories -Are we driving on the old King’s highway or next to it? Can we see the ancient road somewhere? Have they built a new asphalt road above it? Maybe 45 minutes before reaching Wadi Musa, a series of windmills on the flat land appeared. Yusuf took us to the roadside to show us the leftovers of ancient Basalt stone roads! Again, this is not proven or decoded by any scientists. Once Yusuf was driving with an Archeologist from England, who happened to be interested and knew a lot about this road. So while these two were looking for hints, they found a series of black stones only near these windmills. So Yusuf suggests that the modern-day asphalt road is built on ancient King’s roads except for near windmills.

Crossing the apple fields near Wadi Musa during non-season, we realised how fertile the land of Jordan is even after being one of the top 5 water-scarce countries. Who has all been on this land – Jews to Ottomans. – All we were bothered about was Nabateans and their magical Petra. We were like horses running to Petra wearing blinders. This road trip was an actual eye-opener and expanded our horizons greatly.

We had heard Drake saying, “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” On this journey, we experienced it.

Would you consider a road trip between Amman-Petra with pitstops like this? Let us know in the comment section below.

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