It is time to hit the road again……….in this case the King’s Highway.Now I know that Jordan is a monarchy but this particular road has nothing to do with the present day King or his predecessors from the Hashemite dynasty. We used this road from the time we were heading for Mount Nebo till Petra. This highway is the world’s oldest continuously used communication route (as per the tourism brochure that I have)! Abraham, a common patriarch of Jews, Christians and the Muslims who passed through northern,central and southern Jordan would certainly have used this route on hs journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan.

   In the Bible ,The King’s Highway is first mentioned by name in Genesis 20:17, when Moses led the Exodus through southern Jordan.He asked the King of Edom if his people could “go along the King’s Highway” during their journey to Canaan but his request was denied.Infact there is another earlier mention of this ancient road in Genesis 14;5-8 in relation to the four kings from the north who attacked Soddom and Gomorrah and took Lot’s(Abraham’s nephew) wife hostage (but were chased away by Abraham). Today this road is a smooth, tarred road but travelling it one can still imagine in the mind how it must have been in the times of Abraham and Moses.

1) A lone black mountain in a land of brown makes for a spectacular sight.

2) The sight of water in such dry and brown landscape feels almost like a mirage.

3) The sign for Petra comes into sight.

 

 

4) But before we head that way Abid takes a short detour to show us another Crusader Castle.It is not as popular on the tourist trail as Kerak but is no less magnificient a sight. This is the 12th century Shobak Castle
 

 

 

We arrive at our hotel to find that here too there is a slice of history.There is a spring here where Moses is said to have struck a rock to get water for his people.This is a slightly contested piece of history as that spring is supposed to be in Sinai. The way I look at it, Moses led his people through such harsh terrain for such a long time that he must havehad to perform the miracle many times during the journey.This must be one of those  many springs known as Ain Musa in Arabic.

 

While one member of the family tried taking a sip of the blessed spring……. 

I preferred to have the “blessed chai” .The local tea stall wala routinely fills his kettle from here!! 
Musa wali chai 
The spring flows out of this little room and goes past the local shops and homes. I love this shot.Where else will you get to see waters of an ancient spring, associated with Moses, right next to Cola and Fanta  and mineral water bottles?  

This is it for now folks but tomorrow is going to be a very long day at the Nebatean city of Petra.See you there.

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Leaving the spiritual ambience of Mount Nebo we head towards the small town of Madaba some ten minutes away. This small town and its surrounding areas are repeatedly mentioned in Old Testament as Medeba.It features in the narratives related to Moses and the exodus,David’s war against the Moabites,Isiah’s oracle against the Moab and the rebellion of the King of Moab (Mesha) against Israel.Phew, endless history here!

We stop first at a workshop showcasing the art of mosaic making.Most of the artists/craftspersons here are disbaled (hard of hearing or mute). The large shop attached to the workshop is a virtual treasure trove.

We are spellbound by the exquisite detailing,especially in the portraits.The stone used is all from around Jordan and the shades in the mosaic work are exactly the same as those in the ancient mosaics (like the one I showed in the earlier post). I have so many pictures from around the place that it is hard to choose just one(but if I don’t you will still be getting Postcards from Jordan till the end of the year!) But the one below is my favorite for its sheer chutzpah and I have to share it . A modern use for a very ancient art.

We reluctantly leave the place empty handed( expensive stuff) and head towards the Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba that houses the most famous ancient mosaic.This little church is mesmerising in its explosion of colors,its artworks and the devotion of those praying inside.The mosaic here is actually a map of the Christian Holy Lands from the 6th century A.D

The 6th century A.D Mosaic map of Christian Holy Lands

 

Soon its time to leave the church and head for the famous Crusader castle of Kerak. We simply do not have enough time to go see the Madaba Archeological park that houses some of the finest pieces of early Christian art,especially mosaics. 

As we wind our way towards the famous castle (shooting of the film ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ was done around here) we pass Biblical pastoral scenes again. Sheep grazing on this hills, bedouin tent camps along the hillsides…..scenes straight out of the past. We come then to the spectacular Wadi Mujib (Valley Mujib) and spend a good 15 minutes soaking in the sheer rugged beauty of these hills,the valley and the dam below.


 
It is hard to tear ourselves away from the scene but we have some more distance to go before we arrive at the Crusader castle. I juggle between using my binoculars and taking pictures. There is just so much to take in.Ancient ruins from Roman (or even earlier) eras come into view quite often as we pass through small villages. Finally our car curves around a bend and there in its full glory is Kerak Catle.It is a huge one and the present day town is nestled within it.You see the castle walls punctuated by new houses and then the old walls continue.The people live within the ramparts of the castle just as they do in Jaisalmer fort,I believe.

I was planning to write about Kerak Castle in this post itself but I think it is too interesting a place and I have too many spectacular photos for me to share here.So, the next postcard shall come your way from Kerak Castle.Brush up on  the Crusader-Muslim conflicts in the meantime.

We got up the next morning and I could just feel it in my bones that this would be a wonderful holiday.The sky was blue and I looked out of the room window at a city that is a quaint mix of many styles.Though much of Amman consists of apartments,here there is a touch of the Mediterranean style in the red tiled roofs and the olive trees that people plant everywhere,even on the roadside. Throw in an odd Roman style column, a Corianthian pillar or a Hellenistic portico and you have Jordan’s entire history and culture on view in the city’s architecture.

Abid arrives dot on time and we join him as soon we have had a go at the breakfast buffet.I buy a map of Amman and a book about Jordan’s ancient sites from the hotel lobby and we set off for a long day of sightseeing.The moment we are in the car,Abid presents us an excellent map of Jordan and a booklet giving historical details of the sights we are about to visit.

The clouds begin to close in as we drive out of the city towards the first destination, Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo, Abid tells us, was the last station in Moses’ historic flight from Egypt to the Holy Land. He and his people are thought to have camped  in a lush valley northeast of Mount Nebo.Forgive me if I get some of my Biblical information and facts askew but such is the magic of this ancient place that you believe everything that you are told.Most of is true anyway.

“And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,to the top of Pisgah (Arabic name Syagah) which is opposite of Jericho”. (Deuteronomy 34:1)

Before going up Mount Nebo, a brief history of Jordan would be in place though.This is an ancient land with many layers of history. Along with the period of the Old Testament, the Greeks,the Romans and many others have been here.  Christianity arrived here early followed by Islam. The present day country is an Arab country that is nearly 90% Muslim and is named The Hashemite Kingdon of Jordan.The following paragraph from Wikipedia gives the these details of who has been here before the Arabs:

“During its history, Jordan has seen numerous civilizations, including such ancient eastern civilizations as the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, and Persian empires. Jordan was for a time part of Pharaonic Egypt, and spawned the native Nabatean civilization who left rich archaeological remains at Petra. Cultures from the west also left their mark, such as the Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Turkish empires. Since the seventh century the area has been under Muslim and Arab cultures, with the exception of a brief period under British rule.”

This picture is from the internet.I did not have a helicopter to be able to take such a fine shot !! The road on the side leads straight down to Dead Sea.

We drive through breathtaking country side and wind our way up to Mount Nebo.It is drier now and the hills are brown as far as the eye can see.We come to this memorial that was erected to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s millenium visit to this site in 2000 A.D.

We climb upto the promontory and from here we can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho, and the distant hills of Jerusalem. It is from here that Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan that he would never enter.He died somewhere in this region and the site of his burial has never been located but this place was a place of pilgrimage for early Christians from Jerusalem and a church was built here in the 4th century A.D. to commemorate the end of Moses’ life.

I am not a Christian but I get goose pimples when I stand at the place where Pope John Paul had stood in 2000 A.D. to survey the same scene that Moses saw more than 3000 years ago. The houses that I can see on the horizon are Israeli settlements.Other than those this landscape is still much the same as it was in Moses’ time.
The present day church was closed for renovation work but we toured the rest of the surrounding area, taking in the views and visiting the small museum.

                                        Remnants of times gone by are all around the hillside.

                                                Some historical details about this ancient site.

                            A portion of one of the many beautiful mosaics preserved here on Mount Nebo.

                                                      The area closed off for excavation and restoration work.

Those interested in learning more about this lovely site and in seeing pictures of the church interiors can click on the link below.
www.atlastours.net/jordan/mountnebo.html

The plane landed at Queen Alia International airport and I got my first glimpse of Jordan. At first glance it looked not too different from Bahrain except that it was a lot greener. We quickly got through the immigration formalities and were met by a young man, Ahmed, (from the travel agency) at the baggage carousel. He apologised for being late and not being there to assist with immigration facilities. Since we had sailed through the formalities we ‘forgave’ easily! He led us out of the airport and we were met with a blast of cold air.Although it is spring time for Jordan, some days can be excessivley cold and blustery. We were glad that A L (Abid) our chauffer and guide for the trip arrived within minutes with the car.

 As the car moves towards Amman city the word  ‘Biblcal’ comes to my mind.There is something about the hills outside the window that makes me thing of all those stories from the Bible that we  read in the catholic school I went to. I had not had the time to research much on Jordan,except the weather and the hotels, before I left for my holiday but the coming days would reveal why the word Bibilcal came to my mind on seeing the bare hills and the olive groves on the outskirts of the city.

The hotel was alright, not the 4 Star that the travel agent said it was and we went walking soon afterwards to have a look at the neighbourhood.We were in the area of Shamsesani of Amman and the uphill,downhill terrain ensured that we did not go too far and settled for eating in an unpretentious local eatery that went by the name Aqel Resturant. We were unsure of the fare we would get but once the Arabic mezza (starters) arrived all doubts were dispelled as we tucked into absolutely the best Hommous we have ever had along with mutabal,cucumber and mint ‘raita’ with other assorted stuff. Then it was back to the hotel and we tucked in for an early night because our real travels were to start the next day.