6 February 2011
Staying in Petra
Petra means one thing - ancient rock-hewn buildings. And as said yesterday, Petra was made famous and recognisable to many people by the Harrison Ford movie, Raiders of the Lost Arc. Is it as amazing as people say it is? No. In fact it is a thousand times better. One only sees a snippet of Petra. First of all we are at an altitude of 1600m we are in a surprisingly mountainous area. Actually not unlike the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia with off course less mountains yet plenty of layers. Within these a whole city was built by carving caves, facades, churches, homes, tombs into the solid sandstone rock. And the area of the city is massive - over 60 square kilometre! One sees only a fraction within a day and many people visit it over a period of 3 days. The city was created by the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab tribe more than 2200 years ago. Because they lived in a area which was close to the cross-roads of the ancient Arabian trade routelinking China and India to the Mediterranean coastal cities, they got ideas from many different worlds and thus drew their architecture from these international ideas. Because of the location they became the undisputed masters of the regions trade route and this enabled them to organise a powerful kingdom. Eventually they were annexed by the Roman Empire who added their architecture touch but as the trade routes changed and Christianity replaced pagan religion the city fell to ruins until 're-discovered' by a European in 1812.
One starts the exploration by walking down a very impressive 1200m long, deep and narrow gorge of stunning natural beauty. It is called the Siq. The walls go literally straight up into the sky for over 80m on both sides of the bottom floor which is varying from about 8m to as narrow as 3 meters. It is if a giant finger was dragged through solid rock in a near straight line. Suddenly one gets close to the end of this gorge and in front of you, you come face to face with the so-called Treasury, Petra's most famous and arguably most beautiful monument. The façade cut into the mountain face is 30m wide and 43m high. One is completely dwarfed by the sculpture which reflects different shades of yellow to pink. The walls are perfectly smooth and sharply edged and we were in amazement of the ability to craft something with such precision. But this is just the beginning. At this point one turns right and walk down a small valley which opens up between two rows of mountains on both sides. On the left side a number of caves are carved into the rock-face where people actually lived and on the right side, the mountain face has a number of tombs and churches called the Royal Tombs where dignities were buried. The buildings here are roughly 20m in height and cover a stretch of at least 200 meters! There is also in this valley an amphitheatre with the seats knocked from solid rock, remains of Roman temples. This valley then narrows down into yet another gorge. To the right of this gorge 820 steps have been built leading slowly up the mountain to another highlight - the Monastery. Similar to the Treasury it is just as jaw-dropping. This though is even higher and reaching 50 meters from base to roof. Half way up I was invited by a 2 Bedouin ladies selling crafts to join them for tea. Free. The daughter spoke perfect English and she eventually told me she will take me to the top. She did more than actually as she took me on a side track and the next moment I realised we are standing on the 'roof' of the Monastery looking 50 meters straight down into faces of tourists who could not believe what they saw. Soon the bellow of a policeman from the bottom made us scramble back down again. She fortunately knows this man and after a few smiles all was forgotten except an experience very few people have. From here one has the most panoramic views to the desert below and apparently one can see all the way to Jerusalem on a clear day!
Afterwards I was invited to have more tea and lunch with them at their stall which was basically set up on the rocks next to the staircase. Their hospitality was unpretentious and genuine. The daughter, Manal, give me a great insight into the lifestyle of the Bedouin people and then invited me and Arina (who decided not to venture up the 820 stairs) to come to their house in a village near Petra to have dinner with them. Her father is married to 4 women and has a total of 29 brothers and sisters!!! Busy man. We met 2 of the wives and the room in the house was very simple with only carpets and mattresses to sit on. Some 12 people were gathered for a dinner and shortly after 7pm Manal brought in a very large pot of yellow rice which she tipped onto 2 massive trays each nearly 1m in diameter. On top she placed pieces of chicken and then she added chopped tomatoes and cucumber. The rice was coloured by a spice not too different from turmeric and in it was also fried green peppers and aubergine. They also add a bit of natural yoghurt on the rice in order to make it juicy. The family is then divided into 2 groups and they sit around this large dish and eat all together from the same bowl with their right hands. Manal was thoughtful to give us spoons.
Afterwards more tea followed and then to our surprise Manal's mother, who can't put 2 English words together, gave Arina two golden bracelets from her own wrists. These bracelets are beautifully decorated and Manal said her mother got it as presents when her mother got married. Once again we were humbled in the presence of hospitality who did not ask for anything in return. We left home with a sense that in this Western world where time is money, there are places where happiness is in sharing. It reminded me of a something I read in Herta and Werner's vehicle (we met them in Sudan) and it is an observation which rings so true of our so-called Western civilisation:
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways , but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life.
We've added years to life not life to years.
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait.
We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.
These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.
These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.