Most times, high expectations lead to an anticlimactic downfall. I can safely say that a visit to Petra is not one of those. Infact, it surpasses your expectations and quite literally takes your breath away. Whenever I saw pictures of the famous treasury, I assumed that Petra started and ended there. I did not realize that it is an actual city whose ruins are quite well preserved and akin to Hampi. It showcases the glorious civilization of Nabatheans and their mastery in carving out huge monoliths out of rockfaces.
Apart from feasting my eyes on beautiful haunting canyons and gorges, huge stark stone tombs, and the multi hued desert landscapes, it was there that I realized that I was an ignoramus in the history department and a snob about twenty first century state of the art life style.
The Nabateans seem to have enjoyed the same pleasures that we do as far back the First century BCE on a much grander scale! I can only imagine the sense of awe that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the Swiss explorer felt, when he first laid his sights on the magnificence of Petra.
Petra was founded in the first century BCE by an Arabian tribe called the Nabateans, who made Raqmu (an older name for today’s Petra) their capital.
The entrance to Petra is through a two kilometer long trek through a canyon. Apparently the canyon was formed by a geological fault, split by tectonic forces and then later on smoothed by water. The Nabatheans made canals through these formations for the flow of water into the city. They also built a dam!
The treasury or the ‘Al Khazneh’ is undoubtedly one of the best sites of Petra. At the end of the trek, when you are getting slightly tired of seeing endless bends in the canyon, you suddenly get a glimpse of the treasury. And it is massive. There are a lot of stories about why the treasury was built. Some say that it was used by the bandits to store looted treasure, some others believe that it was a mausoleum, a few feel it depict the calendar, some more believe that the Egyptian Pharaoh used it to store his treasure and the last one goes that it was built for its wow value. The Nabateans apparently wanted to stun anyone who entered Petra with their brilliance and grandeur. They sure did succeed on that one.
There are multiple trails through which one can explore the city, and we chose one which led to the monastery. For this we walked into the city which was home to more than 20000 people. The city starts with multiple tombs. Each family had a tomb where in the dead could be preserved. Like a home for the dead family members!
Beyond these are the royal tombs, which are more intricate and carved in detail.
Then on is the royal street with buildings and palaces on both sides (most of which were ruined during the earthquakes).
Then comes the climb to the monastery. Winding stone steps with canyons as far as the eye can see. Each boulder with a character of its own, tall, bent and moulded by natural forces for more than 2000 years. They appear to be silently witnessing our ordeal of huffing and puffing through the climb!
The monastery at the top is the highest point in Petra. A café, a chill breeze and an almost replica of the treasury welcome us to the top. It almost seemed like the ostentaniousness got replaced by piousness as the Nabateans trekked upwards!
After a cup of sweet mint tea, we trek back, taking with us the memories of what we saw, and wondering how we could possibly explain all that we saw to our family and do justice to its beauty.
I remembered reading a quote by Ibn Batuta which goes “Travelling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story teller”. Petra does that to you!