By Bonnie, Contributor
Mysterious. Mesmerizing. Majestic. Those are the words that come to mind when I think of Petra. The alliteration is just a bonus.
The opportunity for me to visit Petra came up sooner than I imagined. One of my best friends, Mike, won a free trip to “anywhere in Asia” at his work holiday party (I know, right?). Lucky for me, Mike brought his two best friends (Tom and I), along for the epic ride.
On the Road to Petra
Our driver picked us up in Amman for the 4-hour drive to Petra. There are two routes to Petra from Amman: The highway is the faster route, but we chose to take the scenic route. Our driver told us that the roads along this route were paved according to the path of donkeys. Since donkeys are lazy, they would instinctively know the most direct path home.
Being the only car on the road for hours, with nothing around except for a lone coffee shop along the road was pretty surreal (to put it into perspective: I live in bustling Hong Kong). We arrived around noon, which was a little behind our schedule; incidentally, this worked to our advantage. The morning group tours had already finished, and afternoon tours had not yet started. It was the perfect pocket of time to see Petra without the hordes of people. WINNING.
Welcome to Petra
Starting at the Visitor’s Centre, the trail at Petra is a leisurely 4.5 km path along a dirt road with cliffs and gorges on either side of you. Along the trail are 12 different attraction points, including the Obelisk Tomb, Street of Facades, The Treasury (Al Khazneh), Royal Tombs, and The Colonnaded Street. The other famed monument, The Monastery (Ad Deir) is located further down the path. There is no “exit” at the end of the trek, so you have to double back to leave through the entrance.
Petra undoubtedly lives up to its UNESCO world heritage recognition. We marvelled in incredulity at how well-preserved the structures were and how they were carved by hand in 312 BC.
We walked along the Siq, which is a narrow gorge that stretches about a kilometre from the entrance to the Treasury. I’m not easily impressed, but when the Siq opened up to my first glimpse of the Treasury, I stopped dead in my tracks. The view Literally. Took. My. Breath. Away.
The treasury stands about 40 meters tall and the facade features carvings of eagles, two winged victories, and lions, among other Nabatean cultural symbolism. It’s unfortunate that you can’t access the inside of the Treasury, but if you take a peek, all you’ll see is an empty chamber.
Off the Beaten Path
By this point, we were ready to go off the beaten path to get a vantage of the Treasury from above. This spot, of course, is not marked on the tourist map from the Visitor’s Centre. So we asked a bedouin man with his flock of camels: “How do we go up THERE?”, pointing to the top of a cliff directly opposite the Treasury. After a few minutes of haggling, and pretending to walk away, we settled on paying 50 USD for 3 camels to take us to the base of steps. We would need to figure out the rest of the way to the lookout point.
I’ll never forget how I screamed when I thought my camel was about to fling me off, or how Tom’s camel got caught in the chain of my camel, causing his camel to fling HIM off. Luckily, no camels or humans were harmed.
The camels walked us along a path towards the Royal Tombs where there was a staircase. We dismounted our camels and trekked 470 steps to the top of a cliff (donkey ride up the stairs sold separately). Be forewarned that there is ZERO signage that points you to the Treasury viewpoint.
Still finding our way blindly, we kept following the general direction of the Treasury.
We found out later that we had taken the Al Kubtha Trail and had walked through the Al Kubtha Mountain through a hidden path, past the High Place to view the Siq from the top. The stairs up this mountain are located between the Palace Tomb and Sextius Florentinus Tomb.
Petra may have taken my breath away, but what makes it unforgettable was that I got to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with once-in-a-lifetime people, and that makes the trip incomparable, incredible, and invaluable. Alliteration is just a bonus.
Bonnie is an expat living in Hong Kong. Originally from Toronto, Bonnie spends her time dragon boating, doing Muay Thai, & has completed the Spartan Race Course. Her next destinations are Guilin, Dublin & Osaka.