Destinations

Jordan: A journey through the promised land

Petra may not be a wonder of the world, but it is just one of the sites in Jordan that is genuinely, jaw-droppingly photogenic – and the 33,000 British tourists who journeyed to the hidden city last year aren’t the only ones to think so.

Getting to the city requires an arduous walk along a dusty and twisted path between partially eroded sandstone cliffs.

Nothing prepares you for the sight of the 2,000-year-old Treasury as you emerge from the Siq gorge, a small crack between two overhanging cliffs known as Wadi al-Jarra or Urn Valley.

Nothing, that is, except a strange sense of déjà vu. We’ve all seen the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, filmed at the entrance to the iconic building. But don’t think that detracts from its impact, however The majestic monument towers ahead, a huge tomb-facade chiselled out of the rock face telling the story of its architects, the Nabataeans, who ruled the region before the Romans and created Petra as their capital.

Ten tour operators have added Jordan to their 2006 programmes, including Travel 2, Gold Medal, Panorama and Tradewinds. Thomas Cook Signature now offers Jordan as a stand-alone product, and this year Thomson Spirit calls at the port city of Aqaba, from where Petra is an easy excursion.

While many British tourists come on day trips from holidays in Egypt and the Red Sea, more are staying in Jordan for at least one night, or dedicating their entire holiday to the country. And it’s not without reason. After an exhausting 800-step climb, I discovered Petra has an even more awe-inspiring monument than the Treasury: the mountain-top Monastery, the walls of which are etched with crosses. I was met with sweeping views of the Petra basin and gigantic façades carved from the mountain.

Although the Monastery is less ornate than the Treasury, the sheer size of it – the doorway is as big as a house – is incredible.

Just an hour-and-a-half south of Petra through the desert is another site that will be familiar to movie-goers. The epic film Lawrence of Arabia, about the British hero who lead the Arab revolt in World War I, was filmed at Wadi Rum in the early 1960s.

The wadi is one of many parallel faults forming valleys in the desert just below the Shara mountains, which have been transformed by age and the elements into different shapes and sizes that rise 2,625ft above the desert. Here clients can rock-climb in a tranquil environment or drive a jeep through the desert, taking in the sheer size of the mountains, red sand dunes and huge, silent panoramas.

Just 16 miles further south is the lowest land point on earth. The buoyant waters of the Dead Sea are popular with families who enjoy the novelty factor. It is impossible to sink or swim in this water because the salt pushes you to the surface – legs and all. The only thing to do is give in, lie back and float effortlessly while looking up at the clear blue sky.

It is believed Herod the Great and King David used to relax on the shores of the Dead Sea, and even the ancient Egyptians came here to source materials for mummification.

Back in the capital, the mountains surrounding downtown Amman shelter a number of magnificent sights such as the ruins of the Roman Forum in the east, once the main focus of Roman Philadelphia.

Between the sites, visitors can lose themselves in the city’s souks, before one last trip to Mount Nebo, a 40-minute drive from the city. This is believed to be the final resting place of Moses and from where he is said to have first glimpsed the promised land. Now if that’s not pretty wondrous, what is?

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