Petra, from the Siq and beyond

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If you hear the word, “Petra”, the above photo comes to mind. In fact, until I went there early this month, I thought this iconic building was all there is to Petra.

The Treasury is one of the most elaborate temples in the ancient Arab Nabatean Kingdom city of Petra. The great facade of the Treasury (“Al Khazneh”), the most ornate and beautiful of Petra’s tombs, is the first structure seen by visitors as they exit the narrow confines of the Siq. In spite of its name (assigned by local legend) however, the monument is a royal tomb, not a treasury.

Before you can see the Treasury, you have to go through what is called the “Siq” – a narrow canyon that leads into the the once lost city of Petra. This is my FAVORITE part of the whole journey.

This is the entrance to the Siq.

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To reach the start of the Siq, visitors must first walk about half a mile along the wide valley known as the Bab as-Siq. It seems rather long but 2 things: (1) you can use a horse or donkey to carry you till the entrance of the Siq* (2) there are several interesting sights to see along the way.

* the cost to ride the horse and donkey is said to be included in the ticket but you need to give a tip.

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The first major monument to encounter in Petra – actually two separate monuments stacked on top of each other the Obelisk Tomb (upper) and Bab as-Siq Triclinium (lower). The four great obelisks of the Obelisk Tomb, with a figure in a niche in the center, guard a rock-hewn cave containing burials.

The lower half, the Bab as-Siq Triclinium functioned as a dining room where feasts were held in honor of the dead.

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Only a few minutes after we entered the Siq, it blew my mind. It is winding, mysterious and in the early morning light and silence, it is truly breathtaking.

We walked the next half-mile, marvelling at the towering canyon walls letting out deep breaths at the grandeur of this place.

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The Siq, meaning “gorge”, is Petra’s most dramatic natural feature.

The path twists and turns between bizarrely eroded cliffs for over a kilometre, sometimes widening to form sunlit piazzas in the echoing heart of the mountain; in other places, the looming walls (150 meters high) close in to little more than a couple of metres apart, blocking out sound, warmth and even daylight.

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The Siq is not technically a gorge, as it was formed not by erosion but tectonic forces, which caused the rock to split dramatically in half. The waters of Wadi Musa then flowed in and the winds blew through the newly formed gap, gradually rounding the sharp edges into smooth curves.

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Horses are prohibited from entering the Siq, but horse drawn carriages in Petra, first and foremost for elderly and handicapped visitors. If you are able to walk though, I would STRONGLY suggest to walk your way through the Siq rather than sit down in a carriage with a roof over your head.

Along the way are some small niches, shrines and carvings to investigate (this is why having a guide is a smarter choice) and running alongside the length of the Siq are water channels carved by the Nabateans to provide water to the city of Petra.

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The walk along the Siq is punctuated with curious carvings and friezes, all the while building up to that climax: the first sighting of the Treasury.

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I was holding my heart for a few minutes at this sight, just staring at it from all angles. (Special thanks to our guide who took this photo of us!)

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Most visitors will have seen the building in the famous Indiana Jones scene, but the initial view invariably leaves them momentarily staring in awe before reaching for the camera and reeling off several hundred pictures. I know I did!

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As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, before my trip to Jordan, I thought the Treasury was all there is to Petra. Boy, I was dead wrong and embarrassingly misinformed. The below photo was taken on the right side of the Treasury (right side when it’s in front of you).

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Walking around the bend, you’ll find there is more to Petra than just the Treasury. We leave behind the crowded Treasury area and head further into Petra. While the Treasury is the best-known part of this site, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Here is what you’ll see BEYOND the treasury!

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We walked a lot at Petra, exploring the sites, climbing on rocks and taking hundreds of pictures.

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We were already dog tired from all the walking and trekking (news flash – we live in Dubai when “trekking” and “walking a lot” isn’t exactly included in our daily lives…) but our guide took us to the Urn Tomb – when I was tempted to say no, my daughter was glad to drag her butt uphill again to see the Royal Tombs up close and go inside so, I had to go too.

I’m glad I made the climb. The view from up here is beautiful.

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TIP: When you’re inside this chamber, SING. Yes, you may get some strange stares but this chamber has eerily wonderful acoustics you’ll feel you’re a pro singer. No joke!

Note that the vendors on the way to the Royal Tombs are relentless and sometimes no polite ‘no thank you’ will keep them at bay. Remember, times are tough in Jordan. We are thankful we have our guide with us who dealt with this stuff (in the local language).

We started to make our exit around 2 pm, after spending nearly 6 hours in Petra . The difference was astounding. People and vendors were milling about everywhere, and it would’ve been impossible to get a photo in front of the Treasury without 10 people with a selfie stick in the background.

******

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All you said about Petra is rose coloured, any negative points and tips to offer?

My main complaint about Petra would probably be the steep entrance fee of JD50 (approx US$70 per person (as of this writing). While I would still say, it was worth our time, JD50 for a day makes Petra more expensive than any single tourist attraction I have ever been to, and it is exorbitantly higher than anything else in Jordan.

Petra is one of the most fantastic places I’ve ever been, so I’m not saying don’t go. Some tips you’ll find from other blogs would be to buy the 2 or 3 day pass as there’s not much difference in the cost with the 1 day pass. But personally, I don’t know if I have the energy to go again in a span of 24 hours. I may go back to Petra again but would like a considerable amount of time in between to reflect and miss it to explore it again. My wish is to take my parents there.

Next, I feel it’s unfortunate how local vendors have literally littered the place, some selling wares very aggressively up to the point I feel harassed sometimes. And I know I am not the first one to say or feel this – a simple Google search and you will find so many who can say the same thing.

While I understand it’s the only livelihood they know, if the current number of sellers increase, it could affect the visitor’s whole experience of Petra.

Ok to cap this really long post (thanks for sticking around!), if you do go to Petra, three quick tips.

1. Start your trip into Petra early – at 6 am there are no trinket sellers (I won’t lie – I find the hard selling of the locals a tad annoying), no horses or camels, and all the major sites are deserted.

2. Be prepared to walk, walk, walk so wear sturdy shoes/sandals.

3. Bring your own food and drink – Hiking the off beaten trails may take a couple of hours and into your meal times. It’s always good to have something to munch on and drink so you can spend more time exploring.

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Spending time exploring this massive red stone city is an experience you will always remember.

It starts with a walk through the kilometer long Siq, naturally carved rocks that shielded the city from prying eyes for centuries. The first glimpse every visitor has of the city is the famous Treasury building, highlighted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Petra is a lot more than just one building; numerous hiking paths allow guests to discover the full width and breadth of this beautiful complex.

Even with the recent unfortunate event in Jordan that threatened tourist security, I hope for peace and wish all of you reading this would still have the plans and chance to see this part of the world with your own eyes. It’s truly a wonder.

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