‘The train had been making good progress, and towards half-past twelve it reached the northwest border of the Great Salt Lake. Thence the passengers could observe the vast extent of this interior sea, which is also called the Dead Sea, and into which flows an American Jordan.’An excerpt from Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
I must have been twelve when I first read Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and accordingly heard about the Dead Sea. A water body so saline that even the heaviest of objects float in it. A water body christened ‘dead’ because not a single living creature can survive in it owing to the extreme salinity. It is at the age of twelve that I dreamt a little dream, and hoped that I’d get to float in the magical waters of the Dead Sea someday.
Last month, my mother and I took off for a vacation that was going to mark a major milestone in our lives. We were off to the mysterious and mythical country of Jordan to experience Middle Eastern culture, history and to soak in the Dead Sea, of course. Little did I know that our recent holiday to Jordan would help me strike three major items off my bucket list, including this dream that has been harboring inside of me since the past sixteen odd years.
1. Float in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea appears like an oasis out of nowhere, as you drive through miles and miles of barren, desert like highway on either side. I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the sea – calm, still and serene. As of today, the Dead Sea is 420 meters below sea level, making it the lowest point on earth. (And a pretty iconic spot to click a picture at!) If you’re planning a vacation to Jordan, make sure you book yourself at one of the many resorts around the Dead Sea. All of these resorts have private access to the Dead Sea which is safer than jumping right into the sea like the locals do!
I’d seen a gazillion images of the dead sea on the internet but nothing prepares you for the real experience up close. I’d read dozens of articles describing the Dead sea floating experience but no words are good enough. The ‘sea’ – actually a land locked, hypersaline lake – pushes you upwards, forcing you to float due to the extreme salinity. The body turns buoyant and light, akin to floating on a cloud.
I slathered on some of the Dead Sea mud before I entered – the mud soothes, cleanses and exfoliates the skin. And then I lay down to relax on a water bed that the ocean has specially created for me, with the gorgeous crystal blue sky for company.
Pro-Tip: DO NOT attempt to put your head in the water. Keep the water out of your eyes and mouth, unless you want everything you taste for the next three days to taste of salt. Dead Sea mud is extremely beneficial for the skin, so don’t forget to bring some back home. You’ll find the mud products at various tourist shops, but it’s cheaper to buy it from a chemist, where the locals buy it from.
2. Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World
(No I haven’t been to the Taj Mahal yet. Not something I’m very proud of. Let’s move on.)
An ancient city. An ancient city carved entirely out of pink sandstone mountains. An ancient city that existed more than two thousand years ago, the exact year still remains unknown. An ancient city with dams, temples, amphitheaters, cobbled streets, intricate water ways, and a treasury. An ancient city that remained hidden from the rest of the world till the year 1812 when a Swiss explorer posed as an Arab and tricked himself into this civilization. Well, that’s Petra in a nutshell. Mysterious, and full of character. Listen closely and the sandstone walls, whisper out their secrets to you.
I was squirming with excitement during the entire drive to Petra. The drive progressed from plains with Bedouin tents propped up randomly, to barren mountains that were crumbling, fragile and blackish pink. Pink – a sign that we were nearing Petra. Petra amazes even before you enter, when you catch a glimpses of obelisks and entrance ways carved into mountains.
We walked through the Siq – a narrow, natural pathway that emerged between two mountains – full of traditional relics, carvings, and water channels on either side. Nothing prepares you for what you’re about to see when you emerge from the other side of the Siq. The Treasury is Petra’s most iconic structure, and stands tall and majestic housing a number of deep, dark secrets in it’s belly. Further on you’ll find an Amphitheater – carved out of rock, and not stacked unlike it’s Roman counterpart. There are trails that take you to the five Royal Tombs, the Church and the Monastery – each an iconic and integral representation of the nomadic Bedouin life of Petra’s original inhabitants.
What makes Petra more special is that the Bedouin way of life is still exists here. There are musicians, souvenir stall owners, horse cart riders, and children who wave at you when you walk past. And then there are the felines – majestic, nonchalant, and catty!
Pro-Tip: Petra can get scorching hot during the day – heat unlike anything else I had experienced previously. Sun block, tons of water, comfortable clothes and sneakers are key! The trek is mildly difficult, though there are horse carts, donkeys and camels that one can ride. Make sure the animal handler is registered and official, though.
3. Embark on a solo mother daughter vacation
This is something both mom and I have always wanted to do. Two women setting off to an unknown, uncharted destination. What made it tougher for us was people reacting to our choice of destination. ‘Jordan! Why Jordan? Is it safe? Only two women? Will you’ll be all right alone without any male company?’
Jordan is safe, secure, and impregnable. It’s position in the Middle East does not imply that it is in any way a risky country to travel to. Yes, you do see the armed forces patrolling the street occasionally, and a random military check point here and there – but that only added to how safe we felt in Jordan as two solo women travelers. As women tourists we were treated as equals, treated with respect, and treated well.
What makes any country beautiful, are the people that reside in it. We returned having made wonderful friends from different walks of life. Our tourist guide at Petra who was also pursuing his PhD in Archaeology alongside. Our jovial driver – fluent in Spanish and master of Arabic pop songs. A friendly chemist at the airport store whose wife got hooked onto Hindi soaps during her pregnancy. And the rest of the people we met during our stay who broke into huge smiles and exclaimed, ‘India’ when they saw us. I’d return to Jordan in a heartbeat only for you!