Magical Petra: Backpacking the Middle East (A Photographic Guide)
Two Perfect Days in Petra
"Would you like some tea?" she asked, as her doe-eyed children sold postcards and scampered among the promontories near Al-Deir. To the west lay the eastern border of Israel, dotted with crumbling, weathered mountain tops. Behind us, spread among every high place, low place, and in between, lay the ancient city of Petra, stoically waiting here for millennia, giving testament to the ingenious, flawless hands of its creators.
The Bedouin people spend their days here, among rose-red temples and towering, craggy peaks, selling anything and everything that may carry some minute worth among tourists . . . even rocks. One Bedouin child, a boy who must have been about eight, approached me with a box of these (albeit pretty ones) pleadingly delivering his most repeated English phrase—"One dinar!" (about $1.20). I immediately picked up the nearest rock I could find and vainly tried to sell it to him. First a look of confusion, then a sly smile spread across his face as if to imply, "Yes. I know. I'm trying to sell rocks at Petra."
One may have better luck trying to sell a glass of salt water on a Tahitian Island. There are rocks everywhere, as this is an extremely barren and harsh landscape. Think of the Badlands and the Grand Canyon mixed into one, packed with ancient ruins. This is Petra.
After two full days of hiking, I barely grasped the scope of this city. There are remnants of the Nabataeans everywhere, on cliff-tops, in valleys, even in five-foot-wide slot canyons. All throughout this once grand trading epicenter, there exist temple facades, arches, tunnels hewn through the sides of mountains and stairways reaching impossible heights. And impossible is a word that occurs often in the minds of those who visit here.
The temple facades at Petra were carved into the sides of cliff walls out of sandstone, and are flawless—absolutely smooth, symmetrical and stunningly perfect. Once a temple was begun, there was little room for error, and to my eye, no errors were made.
My love for hiking was fully satisfied here, from Al-Kazneh to the High Place of Sacrifice, from the Street of Facades to the Royal tombs. The high places offer fabulous, sweeping views of the landscape below. Amber-colored temples surrounded by canyon walls of copper, rose, and burnt sienna give way to a blazing-blue expanse of sky. Truly magnificent. This place may rival the pyramids.
A Photo Tour of My Time in Petra
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© 2008 Jason Reuter