Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
The High Place of Sacrifice is hidden in the mountains above Wasi Musa in Jordon. Whole chunks of the top of the hill have been removed leaving obelisks, temples and a flat summit with a table for sacrificial ceremonies. This sacred area is reached up a few hundred steps working through the cliffs and ravines of the hill. These steps rise from a fabulous ruined street hidden in the Shara mountains.
In the street are the remains of the capital of the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe from western Arabia two thousand years ago. They carved their buildings out of solid rock; temples, theatres, fountains, colonnaded walkways and courtyards. This special place is now called Petra, the Rock.
In early January, we had family expedition to Petra. This is a place that must be on many peoples must visit list, and certainly was on Alison’s. All those iconic pictures of the narrow canyon, confronted by the sunlight Treasury building, are just so inciting. And lets not forget Indiana Jones visit there back in 1938. So family plans were made to hop across to Jordon during our Christmas and New Year stay in Dubai.
One arrives at Amman airport to be confronted by a demand for £50 to get into the country, the most expensive visa I have in my passport. From the airport, the Desert Highway heads south through the country, heading to Aqaba and the Red Sea. This highway takes one to within 50km of Petra, crossing the western edges of the Arabian Desert. Our excitement at being in another country and driving across the desert was soon spoiled though. I explained the geography to the family; this is the road between Iraq and Syria; this wasn’t England. We were waved through the first police checkpoint on the highway. We also soon learnt to spot the sleeping policemen, rather large humps in the road to slow down the many lorries and tankers. But we had trouble with the second checkpoint. Emma was driving and mistook the friendly wave from the policeman, taking it to mean “On your way”. Instead he was waving us to pull into the roadside. We realised our mistake just in time and pulled up just past him. However, he was friendly, happy to see English tourists and wanted to engage Emma in a friendly Arabic banter when she said she lived in the UAE! Lots of smiles and laughs later we were on our way again.
This highway was a grim road, no scenery. Really the desert is pretty boring, the road falling to bits from lots of lorries and tankers hammering up and down to Egypt. Only as we pulled onto the turnoff to Petra did we find scenic highlands, villages and some greenery.
Our hotel in Wadi Musa had the most spectacular view over the valley to the hills and crags of Petra itself. From this distance the narrow entrance into the old city was difficult to spot. It needed the practiced eye of our waiter to point out the narrow crack in the Shara mountains in front of us that was the narrow way into the old city.
Next day was cold and cloudy. We put on most of the clothes we had and entered Petra. Another steep entrance charge cleared my wallet of Jordain Dinar – this place costs more than Disney (£50, but with only an extra £5 for two days).
Most tourists arriving at the entrance will take one of the many forms of transport available, more likely on the way back. Our plan was to walk, so politely declined the offers of rides on horses, horse-drawn carriages, camels and donkeys that were on offer.
The path approaches the Siq, an narrow mile long canyon, past carved square Djinn blocks. They are God guards, the Arabic word Djinn a predecessor of Genie. The canyon, up to 200 metres high in places has a smooth floor, and in some places paved with 2,000 year old paving blocks.
This was very much low season in Petra, so we had much of this walk to ourselves. One can imagine being shoulder to shoulder with coach parties down this lovely path in springtime. So we strolled down the Siq, looking out for carvings in the walls and side valleys. We spotted eroded shapes of soldiers tombs, gods and a camel train with the lower half of the caravan leader still very clear.
It just kept on getting better. We let a couple of other visitors walk past so we could approach the canyon exit and have the first view of the Treasury building on our own. The daylight illuminates the carved columns and roofs giving it a golden glow. It contrasts against the narrow slit of the end of the Siq. Just spectacular. Considering it is one of the famous views in the world, there were few people around. More local Bedouins selling trinkets and camel rides than visitors. I did buy a couple of probably fake Alexandrian and Roman coins from one local. Some heavy haggling was involved….
The canyon widened and the high walls were now filled with tombs, temples and holes all carved out of rock, not built. Our path to the sacrificial place headed away from the main street up the side of a small valley. The many steps were mostly the original carved processional route. There had been very little erosion since the city was abandoned 18 centuries ago. We were passed by a couple of donkeys and guides making their way up looking for custom, otherwise we had this path to ourselves. Even the small stalls were without their shop keepers. As the path reached the top, the wadi opened up to reveal two 6m obelisks stood on top of the cliff side. It takes a while to realise these large columns were carved and not built, an epic work of construction. Glowing a warm sandy hue, they are dedicated to Nabataean gods.
We found a sunny spot for lunch behind the highest obelisk. It was close to the Geocache so the family challenge was on, Sarah won.
Climbing up the remaining steps took us to the High Place of Sacrifice on the flattened summit. Various holes in the ground used to be water tanks or part of the high table with a drain to channel away the blood of sacrifices, (probably animals). I couldn’t leave this fabulous place without offering my own sacrifice. It is usually the eldest that is sacrificed, but Emma was holding the camera so my youngest, Sarah, had to be offered. In the end I decided there had already been too much blood spread there, so she got away with it, this time.
The hike continued down the other side of the mountain, down into Wadi Farasa (Butterfly valley). This descends more 2,000 year-old steps and along paths winding down a cliff face. We passed a large Lion Monument, stone altars, a Garden Tomb, and striated stone cliffs, with a few isolated trees growing from the cliff walls. This walk is so full of interest and places to explore we took a long time getting down. The path split before we reached the wadi floor. After checking with a passing Bedouin donkey taxi drivers (“Air conditioned taxi sir?”) we took a short cut back to the Royal Tombs. As is often the case with my short cuts, the path disappeared, leaving us at the top of the cliff above the Roman Theatre. A camel owner spotted our problem and waved us to the safe way down. So friendly!
We returned back along the main road and through the Siq to the car park. That was a walk to remember, and it was great all the family were there enjoying the sights and adventure.
As I write this, the news came out of ISIS murdering the Jordanian pilot captured in Syria. I do hope it does not lead to further tensions in this lovely country with such a spectacular heritage.