I have been to a few countries in Middle East but it was my first visit to Jordan. As a human nature, I tend to compare them involuntarily. Like everyone else, I too had my expectations and apprehensions. I am always excited to know how a new place surprises me.
Jordan was no different. I ponder upon what is my first impression of Jordan, a country similar to its neighbors, yet so different. Here are my observations as a first time visitor to Jordan.
Beyond Petra and Wadi Rum
I had heard about and seen so many pictures of Petra & Wadi Rum that I couldn’t imagine Jordan beyond them. I was so wrong! Jordan has so much more than that. From north to south, Jordan is a book of surprises with every page telling us a new story, a new character of the country. Citadel, Roman theater of Amman, ruins of Jerash, Aqaba, mosaic work in Madaba and what not. The ever popular Petra is not about clicking a few shots in front of Treasury and crossing it out from your list; you can stay there for a full week and still explore new things every day.
Whether it is the Biblical route, or long, meandering squiggle of a trade route called King’s highway or staying in a tent in Wadi Rum, you’ll find the Jordanian experience as exotic as it can be.
Safe to Travel?
Last year when I flew in to one of the neighboring countries, I not only enjoyed the stay but extended my trip and returned home hale & hearty, and contended. For all of us safety is a primary concern while traveling to any place. People asked me the same about Jordan. Fortunately, Jordan doesn’t fall in the same category as some of its neighbors and is as safe or unsafe as any other country.
I walked down a few kilometers with a female friend, to our hotel in Petra with no one in sight except the tall rocks and occasional camel and mule riders. We gave our expensive cameras to a local guy to click a few shots of us. Never did it occur to us that he may run away or show us a knife to threaten us. 🙂 I would call it as a tourist friendly environment. I am told that crime rate in Jordan is also very low. Having said that, I must state that I travelled in a group that was invited by Jordan Tourism Board, and we were well taken care of.
I would like to travel solo in Jordan and see how it treats a single woman traversing its paths.
Food in Jordan
Whoever said you won’t get good food besides Falafel, salads and some non-vegetarian dishes, has never been to Jordan. To tell you the truth, in my week’s stay in the country, I did not have a single Falafel a single time! There is so much variety of food, especially vegetarian food that I wonder about the choices non-vegetarians have.
Baba Ghanoush, Hummus, Fatoosh, Tahina, Shourbat are a few dishes you cannot simply ignore for two reasons. One, the mouthwatering taste, two, the super tangy lemony flavor. In fact, you’ll find a dash (or sometimes more) of lemon in every dish. Apparently they use it to keep cool in the hot weather. The super delicious Halwa is to die for. It made its way to my plate every single time it was on the menu. And yes, don’t forget to order the ever popular local drink mint lemonade on your visit Jordan trip.
Dress code in Jordan
While packing my clothes, I searched on the net about the dress code for women in Jordan. Almost everywhere it was mentioned that I can’t wear skirts, shorts, no off shoulder or deep neck dresses. In the end I packed jeans, thick cotton trousers and shirts & tops which had long sleeves or at least half sleeves, and scarves to cover my head.
Jordan laughed at me!
Not only were the women seen in skirts, capris and sleeveless tops, they had no qualms about smoking cigarettes and Sheesha in public. And these were local women, not tourists. I saw only very traditional local Bedouin men & women were covered from head to toe. Probably for a reason …. The hot and dusty weather does not allow them to show their skin to harsh sun.
Education and Internet
School education, including English as a language, is mandatory for everyone to study till grade 12, even for those nomadic Bedouins who live in caves. After that, it is a personal choice. I met at least three persons who studied archeology at college level. Most of the people can speak good English and they are internet savvy. More than us. I could not find a single person, I repeat, a single person who did not have a Facebook account. The roadside vendors, the tea seller, camel rider, driver, security person, cabbie, waiter; each one of them is active on Facebook. That says a lot about the country.
And how is it possible?
Network availability throughout the country…. to its remotest place. Be it Red Sea, Dead Sea, desert of Wadi Rum, or top of Mt Nebo, there is excellent network to connect with the world. Our SIM card was 4G compatible and it worked like a breeze.
On the long road trips I could see electrical poles running along us till my eyes went, telling me there is, perhaps, no shortage of electricity as well.
People of Jordan are friendly, warm and hospitable. They very well know how to be a great host. It was their hospitality that fed us till we dropped contented, it was their affection and warmth that left us smiling. Whether it was a city or tents in the middle of deserts of Wadi Rum or the rocky Petra, they offered us endless cups of tea without expecting anything in return.
People of Jordan are very fond of India and anything Indian. They can never get bored talking about us. They danced with us on Bollywood songs. The favorite actors are Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Katrina Kaif.
The currency of Jordan is Jordanian Dinars and is stronger than US dollars! One JD (Jordanian Dinar) is approximately INR 100. Having said that, US dollars are easily tradable and available. Even if you do not have JDs in your pocket, USD will work equally fine and at most of the places you’ll get the balance returned in US dollars. Unlike many other countries, you can withdraw in four currencies from ATM machines.
If I say, the entire country is a landscape, it will not be a wrong statement. The deserts, the sand dunes, the water bodies, the sandstones, the mountains and the Dead Sea. They all make beautiful landscapes which can only be appreciated and admired by physically being there.
Let me admit it. Prior to visiting Jordan, I thought the only activity they would have was the camel ride. Jordan thumbed a nose at my perception! Camel ride is just a small part of all other activities that you can indulge in. You can go for rock climbing, horse riding, cycling, hiking, Jeep safari, snorkeling, desert trekking, canyoning, scuba diving, sand arts, cooking, off roading and lots more.
I am still smitten by the magical Jordan. Will show you more of it in the coming days.