My Trip to Petra


You’ll probably know Petra for THIS. But
just around the corner from that is THIS. And THIS. And THIS. And walk to the next mountain
range along, climb up through a canyon and you’ll eventually reach THIS, which looks
a bit like the first one but is actually bigger. It’s just it’s harder to get to and isn’t
set in a canyon so perhaps isn’t quite so impressive.
That’s Petra! It’s over 2000 years old. It was originally made by the Nabataeans,
but since then has had to endure earthquakes and the Romans coming along and knocking down
lots of stuff to make room for an amphitheatre, which looks decidedly amateur in comparison.
Also, about 100 years ago, Bedouin tribes shot up the treasury in the hope that it contained
-you guessed it- treasure. It did not. It turns out the true treasure IS the treasury’s
façade, which has somehow remained in excellent condition, despite everything it’s had to
go through. I’m not going to spend this video talking
about stuff that can be found about it online because that’s a waste. This is my own experience
of the place which will hopefully prepare you should YOU want to visit.
So where is Petra? It’s easy to believe it’s in the middle of nowhere, hidden in
the desert somewhere. That’s what Indiana Jones wants you to believe! But it’s actually
right next door to the city of Wadi Musa. There are many things in this video which
you might think would detract from Petra, but I can assure you that not the town, nor
the thousands of tourists, nor hundreds of gift shops littering the place, can ruin Petra.
As a tourist visiting Petra, I think you’ve got to accept some of these things as a fact
of life. This was the view from our hotel. The ruins
of Petra are amongst these mountains, in a clearing behind it, and in the mountains beyond
as well. Even though it’s right next door to a city, once you’re in Petra itself you
wouldn’t know that. It still feels like an adventure!
I’m always bad at visualising a place before I’ve been there, but I can assure you that
Petra isn’t a maze. You can see it all on a single path that goes from start to finish.
Here is the big open walk down. Here is the canyon you walk along. Here is the Treasury,
which is what everybody goes to see. But go just around the corner and the canyon opens
up to reveal dozens of huge buildings, carved into the cliffs. There’s a large open bit
with more traditional looking ruins either side and a few restaurants at the end. Then
beyond there is the walk up to the monastery which is definitely worth doing. That’s
Petra in a nutshell. Now to go over it again, but in more detail.
From our hotel, we walked down to the entrance to Petra. There’s a road you can take down,
but Google Maps said the road the other side was a minute shorter, so we foolishly went
down that one instead. This one appears new, and is perhaps underused because it’s amusingly
steep. Petra’s expensive. For entry I think it’s
something like 90 dollars a person, but my girlfriend was sensible and pre-booked and
got 2 day’s entry for 55 dollars. Do that instead.
Once you enter Petra, you start down a long, exposed desert path towards the rocky… mountain…
bit. There’s no cover along here and it can get very hot, though you can get a horse
ride down. But maybe you shouldn’t, for reasons I’ll talk about in a bit. You might
want to take pictures of the ruins you see along this bit, but save your batteries for
what is yet to come. You finally reach the mountain and follow
a windy path through a canyon that gets increasingly tall and spectacular. I am not a fan of vertical
filming, but even with my wide-angled lens, I soon had no other way to capture the sheer
scale of this canyon! It puts Cheddar Gorge to shame. It goes on for longer than you’d
expect, and it’s more impressive than you’d expect. I think this build-up is part of the
reason why people hype up the Treasury so much more than the other parts of Petra. There
are regular echoey sounds of horses running back and forth, which you’ll have to get
out of the way for. And then the famous treasury comes into sight.
And it is spectacular. It’s 40 m tall, and there are bits you can climb for a better
view. Once you’re up there I think it makes you appreciate just how big it is even more-
though I’m somewhat thankful to other tourists for helping show the scale in these clips.
What’s inside? Who knows. Probably not much- and certainly no Holy Grail, as Indiana Jones
led me to believe as a child. You’re not allowed in. Which is probably for the best!
You’re free to go inside a number of the tombs further into Petra, but aside from some
nice rock colours, I didn’t get excited about their interiors- Petra really is about
the outside. Though these places are a good chance to escape from the sun for a while.
The Treasury does have a basement of some sort, which can be seen through the grids
here. I didn’t even bother going up to it to look – the reactions of people who did
was enough to know there wasn’t much worth seeing down there. I think it’s safe to
say that the sight of the Treasury is the main appeal. There’s a café right opposite
it, but luckily, it’s far enough away to be out of sight of the pictures you’ll be
taking of it. So what if you want a picture in front of
the Treasury, with nobody else around? We found it was surprisingly easy. We got there
for 6 in the morning and, by virtue of our speed-walking past all of the Asian tourists,
were the second group down there. But you needn’t rush – we found that until about
8 in the morning it was still easy to get a picture alone down there. People were respectful
of others and would wait their turn to stand in front of it. Plus, people are happy to
take pictures of you if you offer to take pictures of them. It also gets quiet after
about 5 in the evening. But it’s worth coming back to several times
throughout the day because it’s forever changing in colour as the sun travels across
the sky. In early afternoon the sandy floor is lit up and it gives the entire canyon a
warm, sunny glow to it. I don’t think we got to see the Treasury in the sun at all,
but it doesn’t matter. It looks great at all times of the day. Also, it takes longer
than you’d expect for the sun to reach into the canyon. You’re probably talking about
10 in the morning or later- so don’t sit there waiting for it! You have time to see
the rest of Petra first. Just around the corner from the Treasury,
it opens out to the main bit of Petra, where there are dozens of huge buildings carved
into the cliff walls. They’re all impressive, if not so perfectly preserved as the Treasury.
You’ll also see the rubbishy old amphitheatre and its shoddy edges. Seriously, the Romans
need to up their game! You can then walk down this path, in a straight
line to the next mountain. Although all of Petra is great, this is the least ‘great’
bit. There are more traditional looking ruins either side. It amazes me that you’re free
to climb all over them and to touch artwork that must be millennia old- if you really
wanted to. There’s not a lot of health and safety in Petra and apparently people do occasionally
die by falling off stuff while taking selfies, so just… be sensible. Along this stretch,
you also get some great views looking back at the bits of Petra you’ve already seen.
There’s just one bit of Petra left to see- and that’s the Monastery. It’s an hour
climb from the foot of the mountain, through a canyon-like area. I certainly suggest you
do it! You have to make your way through a lot of gift-shops along the way. It gets rather
tiring to continually turn down the same trinkets and stuff. Once you’ve seen one you’ve
seen them all, but they obviously all want your business. Also you’ll have to dodge
regular donkeys carrying rather voluptuous human specimens up and down the path. The
path can be slippery, but not scarily so if you take care and aren’t a donkey carrying
a person. Eventually you’ll come out at the Monastery,
which looks very much like the Treasury, only it’s BIGGER and sits atop a mountain, rather
than inside a canyon. I think it’s equally impressive, and it’s a lot less busy up
here because of how far it is to reach, so you’re in a much better position to get
a picture in front of it alone. I can imagine sunsets here would look great,
though you’ll have to wait until the last moment to see it here since the place closes
around that time… and the walk back down the valley would become extremely dark. It’s
worth walking a little bit further for this beautiful panoramic view. The end of Petra
is just as impressive as the beginning, with a view across some beautiful mountains and
a misty drop into the haze below. And that’s Petra!
It’s worth talking about the animal welfare here. There’s a sign at the start saying
that if you see any abuse that you should notify them about it. Apparently, they have
taken steps to improve conditions for the animals. And although there wasn’t a stand-out
case of mistreatment that I felt I could report, let’s just say the general standard is not
up to UK standards just yet. The animals in Petra have a tough life. I saw donkeys with
cuts. I saw horses foaming at the mouth. They clearly work long, hot days, carrying weights
that would not be permitted in England. It was sad to see horses barely bigger than
ponies being forced to gallop whilst pulling heavy loads, or poor donkeys carrying fat
tourists up mountains, whipped and beaten if they stumbled or faltered. It was sadder
still to hear tourists joke about it. And of course, it was always the heaviest people
who rode them. One of them claimed to be from the Rockies and was loudly bragging about
how she was used to traversing much bigger and tougher mountains than these! Which begs
the question: why did she need a donkey ride in the first place?
I understand that these animals are here because of tourists. Who am I as a wealthy foreigner
to come here and to deal out judgement on the people here trying to make a living? The
way I see it, the best way to make a difference is to not ride these animals… which we didn’t.
And we were offered dozens of lifts during our visit.
Also, I would suggest spending 2 days in Petra. Time-wise I think it’s possible to do it
all in one, but I certainly appreciated (half) a night’s rest as there’s a lot of walking,
a lot of it up mountains and across uneven terrain. You’ll be hot and drenched in sweat
the whole time, which is made slightly more bearable if you can break up the walks with
short stops. What we did worked kind of well. The first
day, we did the walk straight through Petra from one side to the monastery and then back
again, which took us about 4 hours- obviously we weren’t beasting it, we were taking our
time to stop and to look at everything along the way. To our surprise, when we arrived
at about 2 in the afternoon, it seemed like most people were leaving at about that time.
I don’t know if there’s a strict closing time- just make sure you’re out before sunset,
as the canyon near the entrance can get pretty dark.
The second day, we got there at 6 in the morning and spent until midday there. Having already
done the monastery, we didn’t bother going beyond the open area- instead there are 2
routes up to the tops of the mountains that we did. The first is this one, where you walk
up a very impressive carved-out route around the ‘back’ of Petra, up to the top, into
a few dead ends before reaching a look-out high above the Treasury. This one really is
impressive, and quite terrifying. This person here was lying on a pillow that I think was
half off the side. You wouldn’t see me there. As you can see, one of the locals has set
up his camp here and demands that people who enter buy something. Clearly, you have no
choice to enter if you want the famous view of the Treasury. Jury’s out on whether he
should be allowed to monetize the view in this way, when elsewhere in Petra locals have
to make do with setting up shop alongside the routes.
And the second was to the High Palace of Sacrifice. If anywhere in Jordan is to be impressive,
it’s got to be somewhere named like that, right?
WRONG! It’s just a stone altar where they used to sacrifice animals… making it the
least interesting place in Petra. Nice views though. And it must have been a real pain
to get the animals up there. The bottom bit of the climb looks kind of like this… then
you go up through a narrow canyon, which can at points look a bit scary as you approach
them, but it’s actually fine. And then it flattens off and you simply head for the highest
point, which ends with a bit of a scramble. By this point, our water was running low and
we did feel we had seen Petra. I got a moment of sadness, knowing that I’d
probably never return, so had to see the Treasury for the last time. As I headed out through
the canyon, I did look back a few times. And that’s Petra. Definitely worth doing.
The magnets there are pretty cheap, being 2 JD for 7, which as long as you don’t tell
any one how cheap they are should pass as a nice little gift for friends and the like.
If you want those famous jars of sand, you can get them in Petra but similar replicas
can be had for a fraction of the price up by the coach station at the entrance, and
in several of the shops along the main road leading away.
As a child, I remember seeing this in Indiana Jones. I think when you see it in a movie,
you take it for granted. Of course, it’s going to be great if they can go anywhere
in the world to get some footage- there are probably places like this all over the world!
Maybe it was just a set. I even remember thinking that, if they were allowed to blow it up at
the end then it couldn’t have been anything too special.
But it is! Petra is one of a kind. It may look impressive in this wide-angled, 4K footage,
but it’s no substitute for being there in person. So many times, I took out my camera
and was disappointed that it wasn’t capturing the true scale, unique smells, or panoramic
nature that makes this place so spectacular.

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