Jordan In A Week

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Personally, I believe that it is only longer trips (say ones that last for at least a month) that allow you to really get the feel of a place, to explore its back alleys and get to know its people. However, unfortunately, thats not a realistic option for most of us with jobs and families. So, here’s my guide to spending the perfect week in Jordan without missing any of the “must-dos”.

Sights:

1. Amman: Jordan’s incredibly charming capital city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Devote a day to exploring Eastern Amman which is the older part of Amman, a visit to the Roman Theatre and the Amman Citadel is a must. Amman Citadel houses ruins from the Hellenistic Period, the Roman Period and the Ummaiyad Period, in particular the remains of The Temple of Hercules. This is where many children come to fly their beautiful kites and people enjoy unparalleled views of the city and the third largest flag in the world. Climbing down from the Citadel to the Roman Theatre, I was particularly fascinated by the graffiti in the alleyways and since it was getting chilly (15 degrees in the evening in early October), we sampled the Turkish Cardamom Coffee from one of the street cafes. Even for people who dislike their coffee black, this is a must-try! The cardamom infused coffee which is prepared by boiling in a cezve (a brass pot) is simply divine!

Eastern Amman skyline and the third largest flag in the world.

Temple of Hercules

2. Umm Qais: Set out next morning (early) for Umm Qais which is a town in North Jordan near the site of the ancient town of Gadara. It is 378 metres above the sea level and overlooks the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), the Yarmuk Gorge and Golan Heights. From here, one can see Israel, Syria and even, Lebanon in the distance. The ruins of Hellenistic-Roman Gadara are very well preserved and include a theatre, a nymphaeum and a collonaded street surrounded by olive trees which overlook the Sea of Galilee. No tourist should keep Umm Qais out of their itinerary, it is a remarkably well preserved historical site with an incredible view (I could have sat and stared at the Sea of Galilee the entire day). There is one more, rather important reason no one should miss Umm Qais. On the way here, just out of Irbid, there is a bakery that bakes fresh arabic bread (saaj) with a falafel maker on the street outside. These falafels are incredibly fresh and probably the best I’ve ever had. With the fresh, hot bread and labneh (Greek Yogurt) from the dairy next door these falafels make an incredibly memorable meal (I still miss them)! Also, watching the falafels being made was an experience in itself, the guy could make 60 falafels in a minute (thats one per second which is pretty insane!!)

The Sea of Galilee and the collonaded street of Umm Qais

Falafel superman

3. Jerash: On the way back to Amman from Umm Qais, stop at Jerash which has been referred to as the Pompeii of the Middle-East. It was established by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas and later became one of the cities of the Roman Decapolis. Spend the rest of the day in the ruins, exploring the Temples of Zeus and Artemis, the hippodrome, the theatres, the Nymphaeum and the Byzantine Churches (which have lovely  mosaics). Don’t miss the lovely Corinthian Columns which are scattered all over Jerash! Head back to Amman to try more varieties of fresh Arabic bread with Hummus, Babaghanouj, Ful Moudammas (fava bean hummus) and pickles (I would recommend the restaurants Kalha and Abu Djbara most highly). Also, many sweet shops along side sell varieties of Kunafah and Baklava which concluded the meal excellently.

The North Theatre

Temple of Artemis

4. Madaba, Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea: Next morning, set out on a tour of Biblical Jordan. Madaba is a Governorate south-west of Amman and its popular attractions include the Dead Sea and the mosaics in the churches in Madaba City and on Mt. Nebo (more on these in https://shivanikhandekar.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/the-mosaics-of-madaba/). The Dead Sea is a hypersaline lake and Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It is reportedly 9.6 times as salty as the ocean which becomes pretty evident if you wade into the water with exposed cuts. It is literally like rubbing salt into a wound. The region is replete with spas focusing on the therapeutic properties of the mineral rich water of the Dead Sea and the Maa’in Hot Springs, which are also nearby. There is also an entire industry devoted to Dead Sea salt and mineral products. The salt scrubs are especially good but are priced ridiculously high for the unwary tourist. It is always a good idea to bargain, you’ll get a jar priced at 25 JD for 10-12 JD! The best place to buy these products is downtown Madaba city where you can also buy silver jewelry and the famous Jordanian sand art bottles.

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5. Petra: From the Dead Sea, make your way to Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses) which is the town nearest to Petra. Beautiful Petra, aptly called a “rose-red city half as old as time” by John Burgon, needs no introduction. This city of the Nabateans is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We’ve seen pictures of the mighty Al Khazeneh (the Treasury) all over, its where we’ve seen Indiana Jones find the Holy Grail and the Autobots battle it out with the Fallen. However, nothing can quite prepare one for the sheer magnificence of this city carved in rock. It sprawls over several kilometers in the mountains. Even though I was exhausted, sunburnt and starving by the end of the day, I never stopped being awe-struck. Its always a good idea to wear footwear comfortable for walking, a lot of sunscreen and to carry some food (such as chocolate bars) and bottles of water. For those who are not inclined to walk, the Bedouins have camels or donkeys. In fact, “you want a donkey?” is probably the most frequently asked question in Petra. The Bedouins of Petra are also extremely hospitable. Our friend Abdullah, treated us to some lovely refreshing mint tea at the summit of the mountain from where  we could see the Great Rift Valley. He spoke excellent English and when I asked where he learned, he responded saying “the tourists are our university”. They also offer to sell all sorts of junk jewelry and curios in little shops all over Petra (some of which are definitely procured by them from India) at good prices, if you’re up for some bargaining. The one day ticket for Petra is 50 JD, its a lot cheaper to buy a 2 day (55 JD) or 3 day (60 JD) ticket. It is impossible to see all of Petra in a single day, at least one unexplored trail will be left behind.

Al Khazaneh through the Siq

SONY DSCDonkey

6. Wadi Rum: There are very few experiences that match the thrill of driving an old land cruiser in the desert. Those experiences are rock climbing in canyons with ancient Petroglyphs and Nabatean temples, wandering amidst deep red sand dunes and camping out in the desert with the Bedouins. All of these are to be had in Wadi Rum (the Valley of the Moon) which is a couple of hours drive from Petra. This is where T.E. Lawrence spent time during the Arab Revolt and where Peter O’Toole starred as him in Lawrence of Arabia. Its almost mystical and the beauty of the sandstone mountains and gorges is dazzling. It is one of the most memorable desert experiences I’ve ever had and the splendour of the Valley of the Moon shall never leave me (the lovely red sand literally doesn’t seem to be, its refusing to get out of my shoes and is now trailing all over Delhi).

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Driving in the desert

7. Aqaba: From Wadi Rum, make your way to Aqaba, Jordan’s port on the Red Sea. From here, you can see the Israeli Port of Eilat and the sunset over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The Red Sea itself is a fraud, it is a lovely deep blue (not even a tinge of red) and a haven for snorkelling and scuba diving. Take a glass boat out on to the coral reefs off Aqaba and jump in with some snorkel gear, the jewel coloured corals and fish are mesmerising. Follow it up with lunch at a cafe overlooking the sea and a trip to Aqaba’s spice market. Here you can buy rosehip, sage, zaatar and all sorts of other spices. The zaatar is an essential for anyone who likes to cook Middle-Eastern food and the sage is wonderful to put in tea in cold winters.

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Sunken Tank

With Nabatean and Graeco-Roman cities, incredible food, desert safaris, snorkeling and diving, fascinating souks and very friendly people, Jordan has something to offer for each kind of tourist. Its much more than one week of sun, sea and lots of sand.

Getting Around: 

Renting a car and driving yourself around is a great option but its best to hire a car with a driver who knows the roads (and the roadside falafel places). We were driven all over the country by Mr. Hani Al-Turk who became our guide and friend and ensured that we were well looked after. He can be contacted at:

Hani Al-Turk
Tourism Transportation and Services
Tel: +962 79 5554857
Email: hani.alturk@yahoo.com

Where to Stay:

We got all of our hotels from Cleartrip and Trip Advisor and the hotel at Amman far exceeded our expectations. Crystal hotel is new with extremely clean and comfortable rooms (the bathrooms are really nice… excellent showers, much appreciated at the end of each day!). It is in a very good locality, there is wifi in every room and the breakfast is pretty decent. Their service does have some scope for improvement but for the price (which is quite reasonable), I’d say its a great place to stay.

Check out their website:

http://www.crystal.com.jo/hotel/internal.php?p=5

Or check it out on tripadvisor here:

http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g293986-d2615843-r185371267-Crystal_Hotel-Amman_Amman_Governorate.html#UR185371267

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