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Monday, 16 May, 2016, 10 : 30 AM [IST]

Jordan: The Road less Travelled

Time is ripe for the travel trade to create an appetite for the unexplored destination of Jordan among Indian travellers. With its historic past, the therapeutic Dead Sea, UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra, and cosmopolitan culture, Jordan is sure to leave one wanting to explore more. Disha Shah Ghosh recalls the time spent in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Following an off the beaten path, can sometimes work wonders. Despite the uncertainty which surrounds the region, Jordan turned out to be a wise choice to opt for a destination, which is yet to make it to the must-visit list of many. After landing at the Amman Airport, I was pleasantly surprised that the nightmare of never-ending queues at immigration counters is still a distant reality. This could be an advantage for large groups from India looking to organise an overseas off-site or a film crew in search of breathtaking locales or a family looking to host a destination wedding in Jordan. With group and individual visas being issued on arrival to Indians, the process is quite hassle-free, despite the language barrier.

Lowest point on Earth
Crossing the rugged terrains, we were on the path leading to the natural wonder of Jordan, the Dead Sea. After an hour and half drive from the airport, the Dead Sea gave its viewers a magical glimpse of a sight which was to play hide and seek for the next six days.

Having read about the magical prowess of the Dead Sea, I was at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea for a first-hand experience. My inability to swim wasn’t a shortcoming as the Dead Sea is unique; within minutes I was floating in its waters, while the texture of my skin turned smooth, like a holy dip in the Ganga would purify the soul. It was now time to play Holi, albeit with mud. I was curious if the mud bath would bring back the shine that my skin adorned before dark circles took over. While it acted as a cleanser to the blemishes on my skin, the mountains of Israel played the perfect spectator to the sudden transformation. Congregation of tourists at the mineral-rich Dead Sea is a common sight to naturally treat their skin for ailments.

Fact File

Visa on Arrival
Jordan offers Visa on Arrival to Indians. The single-entry visa costs JD 40.

Jordan Pass
The Jordan Pass purchased before arrival provides single-entry to over 40 attractions, museums and castles. Also, one gets a waiver on the visa fees, with a minimum stay requirement of 3 consecutive nights.

Qatar Airways, Emirates & Air Arabia operate flights from Delhi & Mumbai via Doha, Dubai & Sharjah.

Jordan offers a good mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes & Jain meals can be arranged upon request.

The calm waters of the Dead Sea and the gazing view of the mountains of Israel as the backdrop turned out to be an ideal location to unwind. As the day progresses, one witnesses a serene calmness with high level of oxygen pumping energy into the lungs. Offering such a natural setting at the lowest point on earth, the hotels dotting the Dead Sea are slowly and steadily emerging as preferred choices to host events ranging from 150 to 400 pax. Besides, the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre managed by Hilton, the largest stand-alone convention centre in the Middle East, has been the venue for many international congresses. The convention centre is massive enough to organise a grand Indian wedding or cater to a business group of over 1,000 pax, with variety of conference and meeting rooms, open areas, theatre-style seating, and state-of-the art technology.

Biblical Link
Half-an hour drive from the Dead Sea, we were at Bethany Beyond the Jordan in Madaba, where decades of animosity between neighbours is evident. A popular Biblical site, it offers a sneak peek into the earlier records of Christianity. The Jordan River that divides Israel and Jordan is also the sight which unites, with Christians, tourists and refugees seeking a holy dip. Priests Baptizing individuals and groups with army men playing guard on both sides, is a common sight here, reminding one of how humans have not left a stone unturned to divide nature. Despite the harsh and rugged landscape, the Jordan River is adorned with sporadic vegetation, a rare image of reality.

The road leading to Bethany is a narrow pathway which opens to a perennial riverbed ‘Wadi Al-Kharrar’ where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. Visitors need a guide or army personnel to escort them to the site. The walk towards the Jordan River is almost like a pilgrimage with visitors and refugees, both seeking some solace. Today the Baptism site is spot covered with shelter, like a fortress stood still in time. Besides the river and the Baptism site, the orthodox church dedicated to St. John the Baptist is known for its Mosaic of Madaba.

Hidden Treasure
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra enjoys dual magnificence – a string of lighted candles adorning both sides of the pathway in the night, while the city turns into a mystical civilization at dawn.

The view of Petra by night is sure to leave you spellbound, with a walk towards the main temple ‘Al-Khazneh’ resembling a scene of brightly lit diyas during Diwali, to celebrate the homecoming of Lord Rama after his victory over evil.

During day, the road to the Al-Khazneh is surrounded by high cliffs and semi-carved rocks. The first glimpse of the Al-Khazneh through an aperture between the carved stones is like an edifice holding on to the secrets of Jordan. The entire city of Petra, the capital of the ancient Arab Nabataean Kingdom, is carved out of a stand stone, an example of how human life used to simple yet classy! The imposing natural beauty of Petra shares stories of the Abate Arabs who traded spice and silk to countries as far as China and India, 2000 years ago.

It is impossible to explore this vast and magical city in a day. Each stone is intricately carved and has a story to tell. Petra also houses an auditorium, which could seat 3,000 people at a time, besides two museums. Excavation process at Petra is still underway, with more man-made wonders of the bygone era yet to be discovered. Another epic of Petra is the ancient Ad-Deir Monastery, which is an 800 steps climb away. Considering the massive area that Petra is spread over, a visit to the monastery needs sheer enthusiasm for discovery.

Preserving the raw feel of Petra, vehicles are kept at bay and the one needs to be discover its beauty on foot. An option to hire a horse or horse-drawn carriage is available, which is equally fascinating.

While a song from the Bollywood movie Krrish 3 was shot here, Petra is famous for the Hollywood blockbuster, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade being filmed on its soil. A perfect opportunity for the travel trade to pitch Petra to Indian film-makers, who are always looking to showcase picturesque and new locations.

In conclusion, while the fondness for colour drives human choices, the rustic beauty of Jordan needs to seen to be believed. While it is steeped in history, it is also a destination that is largely untouched. Herein lies the opportunity to position Jordan as the next big Middle-Eastern destination for Indian MICE, luxury and leisure travel. What is currently required for the Indian market is definitely more awareness about Jordan and its offerings to the Indian traveller, and a little more initiative on both sides can make a huge difference in the number of Indians travelling to Jordan in the near future.
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