Let me start with a disclaimer – this blog covers a trip from about 10 years ago. I do have the full collection of pictures from the trip and a generally good memory, so the details on the trip will be accurate but I am sure a lot has changed since then and a lot of new infrastructures have come up. Global tourism has been increasing in these times and Jordan has been attracting more attention primarily due to Petra but also driven by access to the Dead Sea, Aqaba, and a lot of history around Amman. The perception of safety around Jordan has increased as well and the unique culture offers a keyhole view into some of the oldest civilizations of the world. I was lucky enough to make the trip when the experience was still that of a traveler and not diluted by tourist conveniences.
These were times when there was a direct flight from Delhi to Amman on Royal Jordanian Airlines. It was a comfortable red-eye and we were at the immigration desk right at the break of dawn. The immigration officer had never heard of a ‘Visa on Arrival’ for Indians – tourism was just picking up and they probably didn’t see many Indian passports. While that was worrying at first, they did sort things out and stamped my passport with a paper sticker and then an entry stamp. We soon walked into Amman city.
There was a chill in the December air – we had landed there on the day before Christmas and had 6 nights (1-Amman, 3- Petra, 2-Dead Sea) to enjoy the country. December is usually very cold in Amman but this was an unseasonably warm winter and it was good weather to be walking around. The trip was planned three-days ahead of the flight out, so there was a lot I learned on the way.
The cab ride to the hotel was uneventful though the currency conversion at the airport was a bit of an eye-opener – Jordanian Dinar was more valuable than a US Dollar. I did notice on the way how brown everything was – right from the ground to houses and everything that was covered by dust. We were at the Sheraton located in the business part of the city. Not exactly where I would have wanted to be, but this was just a one night halt and paid for by miles. They also allowed an early check-in, I was happy. After a quick shower, we were ready to head out an enjoy Amman. There is no better way to start a trip to Jordan with some Sheesha and Hummus.
We walked up to an area near the hotel lined with Shisha shops. They all looked the same, an outdoor area lined with tables and 4 chairs around each. A thick tablecloth, typically red on each table and shisha on the side, waiting to be loaded and lit. Several servers were gossiping among themselves – morning is not the rush hour at these cafes. I picked one at random, sat down, and ordered the two things I had come here to have.
Hunger satiated and feeling good about life, we took a cab to the Roman Theatre, a 15 min ride. It was built in the honor of Emperor Antoninus Pius in the second century. The 6000 seater theatre sits right in the middle of the city and is surrounded by residential areas. For its age, it is quite well preserved, though surrounding residential neighborhoods were hard to clip out of the pictures. There is a small museum next to it with some stone inlay work from the excavation site. Those are the only two spaces to explore in the area. It won’t take the whole day, but a few hours well spent.
The walking around and dust had drained us out and I was craving for more Shisha. We now looked up at a highly reviewed coffee shop and ended up there to watch the sun go down. Shisha and Pita/Hummus were now joined by a cup of black coffee. I was fascinated by how the servers rekindled the coal by swinging it around on a long-handled cup and then deftly putting one small piece on top of the Shisha.
Once back in the hotel, we started planning for dinner – living life from meal to meal. The hotel offered some suggestions but for some strange reason, we wanted to go to a mall. There were two options – the Mecca mall and the Amman mall. I can’t recall which one we picked, but it was just okay and we ended up eating some chicken shawarma in a food court.
The next day we reached Petra and I have of recollection on how we got there, though I guess it was a taxi. I do remember seeing more of the brown surroundings as we drove along but that could have been from a bus too. We were at the Edom hotel, a small place right next to the entrance to Petra – so as well located as any place could be. There was a Turkish Hammam inside and also quite decent food. What didn’t work well was that they didn’t offer any non-smoking rooms. Everyone around seemed to smoke and even the receptionist as the Hammam had a cigarette in his hand most of the time.
Petra entrance was pricey, as it should have been but we got 3-day tickets to make full use of the 3 nights we were going to be there. If I remember correctly we walked in and out of the 1.2 km Siq (the spectacular entrance to Petra) 5 times, including a night visit. Look out for the next blog on Petra.