The Rose Red City
This post is hard to write…because I am speechless. Petra is absolutely, breathtakingly, stunning. It is beyond words. The natural scenery is beautiful and indescribable…and then the carving on top of it all…amazing!!
The approach to the famed Treasury building has got to be one of the best reveals on the planet. First we walk along a wide valley on a non-descript gravel path past red rocks with some niches and square blocks carved out. Then we enter what is called ‘The Siq’…a fault line in a red sandstone mountain that opened up millennia ago forming a narrow twisting gorge with high, high walls that have been smoothed over time by both wind and water. I can see how the walls were once formed together – a niche here matching an outcropping there…some closer together than others as the width of the Siq ebbs and flows.
The colors are red and pink and yellow and brown and layered and suffused together everywhere. The sky above contrasts blue, blue, blue and the sun shines down creating shadows and ripples throughout.
We crane our necks gazing upwards at the natural beauty, but are quickly reminded to also watch underfoot to avoid spraining an ankle on the uneven, cobbled, paving stones that line the walkway – a quick reminder that we are also here to see what the Nabatean culture left behind from the first century B.C.
Soon, evidence of carving starts to appear on the Siq walls. Small niches are carved, a shrine can be seen and, a little further on, the large remains of two figures leading camels can be discerned also.
I saw almost none of this. I was so in awe of the Siq itself and so excited to see the Treasury that I could not focus on anything else. I kept peering around every corner, unable to wait for the first glimpse. I was so excited I thought I would blow up. And then, suddenly, it came into view.
The pictures of the Treasury are iconic, but the reality is truly breathtaking…tears stung my eyes as I gazed at the magnificence of the artistry and craftsmanship. This has never happened to me before..I was absolutely awe-struck by the imagery.
The whole of Petra is like this. We walked around the massive site for seven hours the first day (upwards of 25KM we estimated we walked) shaking our heads in awe at the amazing buildings, tombs and shrines that are carved in the rock faces. How a society from so long ago managed to carve such structures is unimaginable to me.
The second day we hiked into the site along an alternate route. Bypassing the Siq, we hiked up the almost deserted Wadi Muthlim route. It followed another, narrower gorge that lacked the carvings of the Siq and the rest of Petra but was naturally stunning.
The guidebooks warn not to take this route during rainy season due to the danger of flash floods and the guards were hesitant to let us through that day as it was cloudy and there was threat of rain but we were persistent and gained entry. It soon became apparent as to why there was concern. The gorge walls quickly rose and closed in forming a chute of sorts that would channel water very efficiently. There was evidence of water all around, from the riverbed like surface of the walkway to the water eroded sediment on the sides and, in the narrowest of places, we could see a soil, tree and debris plug high up in canyon…water had obviously rushed through here more than once and caused catastrophic damage. The skies were clearing though and we felt safe enough to continue.
The hike was amazing. The rock faces were brilliantly colored and shaped by water and wind to incredible shapes. The gorge opened up and narrowed again a number of times and, at the very end, it became extremely narrow and twisty and curvy necessitating some scrambling and climbing to reach the end. Very cool.
As we exited the narrow gorge we found ourselves in a wide rocky valley with a small Bedouin camp at the entrance. Two children, Rasheed (9) and Haman (6), quickly attached themselves to us and proclaimed themselves our guide back to Petra. Although barefoot and a little shabby looking,they were funny and enjoyable and so we walked together chatting and racing and holding hands for the half hour walk back.
Rasheed explained that her mom was working at Petra (many Bedouin woman have ‘jewelry’ stalls in the site) and that we should come for tea. We arrived at the stall and greeted her mom before being led to some straw mats to sit on. Her mom went off and I wondered where she had gone before I saw her in the distance gathering branches to make a small fire. She returned shortly and set to making the tea.
While the tea was brewing we were more than entertained by Rasheed’s younger brothers and sisters (4 in total) as they tried on our hats, carried our packs around and climbed all over us as if we were new toys.
We enjoyed our tea chatting, as best we could, to Rasheeds mother and watching the kids do what kids do…chase each other around, wrestling and playing until one of them starts crying. It was fun and interesting – I wish we had some pictures but it just didn’t feel right to bring out the camera and so we will just remember it in our heads.
It is often difficult for a place to live up to expectations, especially in this age with so many images and stories already existing, but Petra more than lived up to my expectations. It, alone, has made adding Jordan to our itinerary worth it…and we haven’t even hit the desert and the Dead Sea yet.