Thursday, September 20, 2012

Riding Horses into Petra

Anticipation is mounting to a level never experienced before.  I know what is at the end of the narrow siq, but the horses are going too slow.  The baby on my back dozes and finally falls into a heavy sleep.  I adjust the pack so he doesn't fall out.  Will we ever get there?

 Such eager anticipation of an event can often lead to disappointment.  I try to calm down.  I count to ten in Arabic.  Again and again.  When at last, I glimpse a sliver of the red rock Khazneh through the narrow opening ahead, I gasp.  No photograph, no movie, no story can prepare me for the kingdom of splendor that enfolds.  This is the reason I travel.  This is magic.

The carved Nabataean Kingdom of Petra is as old as the Bible.  It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Jordan's most popular tourist destination.
Because of abundant water, fertile soil and the defensive cliffs surrounding this rock city, Petra grew to become a prominent stopping point among the caravans plying the two major trade routes:  The Silk Road to the East and the Spice Road to the South. It linked China, India and Arabia to Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.  Two thousand years ago, the entire world knew about this magical place.  Its importance declined with the fall of the Roman empire.  Unbelievably, it remained hidden until a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, rediscovered it in 1812.

We dismounted from the horses and began our tour with the Khazneh, which means "treasury" in Arabic.  It is believed to be the tomb of King Aretas II (86-62 BCE) who expanded the Nabataean kingdom to include Syria, but no one knows for certain.  With its Corinthian capitals, complex carvings of humans and animals, it is an Hellenistic masterpiece.

But there are a hundred more tombs to explore, so we move on.  We choose to walk rather than hire a camel, and we proceed to spend one of the most enjoyable days I have ever had.  We read aloud from our guidebook as we go.  We climb ruins, poke inside, sit and stare, play with the baby (and change a few diapers).  This red rock city carved into the mountains is as surreal as it is breathtakingly beautiful.
One day is not enough.  We return the next day for more.

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