24th September 2015
While travelling every now and again you have one of those days that is pretty much perfect; when, from sun up to sun down, you are constantly being surprised and amazed by the world in which we live. Yesterday was just such a day.
Leaving Dana early we arrived at the main entrance to Petra in the town of Wadi Musa at around 9.30am. Even here there was barely a tourist to be seen, just two middle-aged travellers strolling languidly towards the turnstiles. Having bought our ticket we jumped back in the car and drove another 10km to the small Bedouin village of Um Saehoun, picked up our local guide – an 18-year-old lad called Achmed – and started our two-hour hike. This is a brilliant way to reach Petra, as not only is it a stunning walk, through the rugged hills that surround the so-called Pink City, it also means you arrive into the extraordinary Nabatean capital through its rear entrance, thus avoiding any crowds there might be.
Not that that was a worry today. Achmed explained that a couple of years ago he would often do the hike twice a day; now he’s lucky to do it three times a month. When we arrived at the imposing monastery, which is 900 steps above the rest of the city, we were once again the only tourists there. A small group of Spanish tourists did arrive soon after us, sweating profusely from their mammoth climb, and we passed a few more random travellers as we journeyed down the ancient stairway to the main city area. But there were many less than normal.
Anyway, it didn’t matter to us. Petra, like so many of the world’s great sites certainly lives up to the hype; it’s simply extraordinary. As most photos you see of Petra are of the Treasury, it’s easy to assume that that is all there is to it. What staggered me was just how big the site is. Walking down from the Monastery, onto the Roman Road, past the magnificent Grand Temple, up to the colonnade of staggering rock-hewn temples and tombs, I really got the sense of a city; I remarked to Osama it was like walking from the top of Shaftesbury Avenue, past Piccadilly Circus and out to St James Park, such were the distance and the things to see along the way. It’s thought 30,000 people lived here during the town’s zenith around the time of Christ; it was easy to imagine.
One of the other advantages of walking in the back route is that you save the Treasury till last, and it really is one of the wonders of the world. The tall columns, the central portals, the intricate carvings, the giant urn – and the stories around it – all hewn from one piece of sandstone rock and glowing in the reflected evening sun, is pure magic and defies belief.
And the day got even better when, having driven south to Wadi Rum, we arrived at a camp that sat at almost the exact spot from which David Lean filmed part of his epic film 'Lawrence of Arabia' and watched the most special sunset I have seen in years.
The best travel days are the ones that surprise you the most. Perhaps through my own ignorance I really hadn’t been expecting the beauty and isolation of the morning walk, the scale and grandeur of greater Petra or the serene majesty and abundant colour of the desert and sky at Wadi Rum. It all made for a perfect day.