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Petra by horse, mule, and donkey

It is early morning and the sun is casting shadows on the monumental canyon walls leading into the Siq, a half-mile narrow passage used to enter and exit the “rose city” of Petra in the Kingdom of Jordan. Except for our Bedouin guide Zaid and the horses we are riding, we are here alone at this lovely time of day. The tourists have not yet arrived and we have Petra to ourselves, at least for a short while.

The horses’ footsteps echo off the walls of the red sandstone cliffs towering above us. The path is only a few feet wide between these sheer canyon walls which get higher and closer as you approach the Siq. The sun does not shine here and not much grows. High up you may see some fig trees or oleander clinging to the brown, white, red, and ochre walls. It seems almost sacrilegious to break the silence with spoken words.

After fifteen minutes, we get off the horses and start our walk along the gritty road, admiring the incredible sights on both sides of us. Petra is more than 2,000 years old and has some magnificent and amazingly well-preserved buildings that were hand-carved by the Nabataean people, an Arab tribe who ruled this area for hundreds of years starting as early as the sixth century BC. The Nabataeans were also known for their water management systems which channeled in a water supply for the inhabitants. We pass the dam that they built and which was rebuilt and reinforced in 1964 to divert the flash floods that sometimes hit the canyons. We pass some hand-carved ancient script and the weathered figure of a camel caravan, the method of moving goods along the trade routes running east to west from Yemen to the Mediterranean Sea. The best is yet to come.

The Siq becomes narrower and then opens up slowly to reveal the crowning jewel of Petra, the famous al-Khazneh, or Treasury. The pathway we are on and the canyon walls towering over us are in dark shade, but through the narrow opening we can see the morning sun brilliantly shining off the pink sandstone of al-Khazneh. It is an awe-inspiring moment of revelation and mid-morning is the perfect time of day to experience it.

Extracted from Traveling with Elizabeth – EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES AROUND  THE WORLD. Now available from Amazon.

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