This was my first visit to Jordan, in fact, the first visit to the Arab World. Even during all my Europe / America travels I never used an airline that passed through the Middle East. So I was excited to explore a new region. And add to it the fact that I would get to see two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I came back happier than I had expected. Here are my First Impressions of the country.
Visit Jordan First Impressions
Emptiness – the First Emotion!
As we drove into the Amman city from Queen Alia International Airport on a bright afternoon, all I saw was the monotone all around me. All the buildings had the pale color of sandstone with the tones differing only in nuances. It was surreal for someone coming from colorful India and if I may add hyper-colored Goa. From my room on the 21st floor of Le Royal Hotel, I got a lovely view of the city of Amman. But it took me some time to adjust to the monotone. I would later learn that the color scheme is by design. Everyone is expected to follow it, though some ghastly glass and steel buildings have made their way into the perfect setting.
The emotion that I felt was – ‘Veerana’ – emptiness that moves from around you to inside you.
Is Jordan Safe?
Safety is the first concern when you are traveling to the region that the country is located in. The concern is justified as countries that are going through some turbulent times surround it. Having said that the country has managed to insulate itself from the security concerns. Traveling within the country is as safe or unsafe as any other country. It is not impacted by the regional disturbances. It is, in general, a peaceful country – try recalling any bad news you heard about the nation in recent past, I could not recall any. We did not see any security challenges. Although I must admit I traveled as part of a group that was invited by the Jordan Tourism Board, so we were well taken care of by them.
As a woman, there were only a few walks that I did on my own. There I faced the same challenges that I would face in Delhi or Mumbai like people commenting on you, or people chasing you to buy their products or services. That I would classify under irritants rather than safety concerns. However, as always take your precautions.
Tangy Lemon to beat the Heat
Thankfully, Jordanian or rather middle eastern cuisine has some options for vegetarians like me. However, all the options are sour – or let’s say carry a strong lemon flavor. Day 1 we enjoyed it, Day 2 we noticed it, Day 3 we wondered and discussed it, Day 4 we joked about it. And Day 5 onwards we expected it as part of every dish and drink. When we asked about it, locals said we love the lemony taste. It helps us keep cool in this hot weather. The lemonade used to be so full of lemon that we could make 4 glasses of Indian lemonade from a single glass. Salads used to be dipped in lemon juice. Hummus and Baba Ghanoush has different levels of lemon in different places but never without it.
A dish made of hung curd was so sour that none of us could take a second bite of it and that became our benchmark for the height of lemon in a dish.
My tongue would always remember my visit Jordan trip for its dominant lemon flavors.
Forget Serving Spoons – Eat together!
All the food that was served in a common dish never had serving spoons, though we did have spoons with our individual plates. Initially, we thought they forgot to put the serving spoons – it is not easy to manage tables for large groups but we soon realized this is a norm. Most of the times when we asked for serving spoons we got the blank stares. We, of course, switched to using a part of our cutlery for serving ourselves.
They probably expect the group to eat from the same plate. Sometimes even the larger bread was also served together – probably to make us learn the meaning of ‘Breaking Bread’.
Woman – Cover yourself head to Toe?
Now our popular media image of women in the Middle East is covered in a Black Burqa from head to Toe or at least wearing a headscarf. So I and most other women in the group read up on the Internet before packing our bags and it seems we all read the same stuff. We packed our clothes conservatively only to discover how the wrong Internet can be sometimes. Yes, there is not much skin showing but then the weather does not even permit that. At a high-end hotel in Amman, we saw the wedding guests dressed up as they would do for a cocktail party in LA. At Rainbow Street in Amman, we saw women wearing normal clothes and enjoying themselves in restaurants – smoking cigarettes and Shisha. These were mostly local woman, not tourists.
When you Visit Jordan, especially its tourist places like Petra and Aqaba, women are dressed like any other tourist place. There were spaghetti tops and shorts without anyone intimidating them. And without them feeling awkward being dressed like that. Yes, the traditional women like Bedouins in Petra did cover themselves head to toe. But let me tell you that is what anyone would do in that hot and dusty environment.
This experience told me to take what the Internet tells me with a pinch of salt.
Don’t ask Me my religion!
It is primarily an Islamic country with >90% population following this religion. However, our guide kept repeating that it is considered impolite to ask someone’s religion, as everyone is free to follow whatever religion they want. Everyone is treated equally by the law and no one judges the other on the basis of his or her religion. He went on to defend the popular perceptions of Islam like polygamy and non-acceptance of idol worship. He kept repeating that what is attributed to Islam existed pretty much before the advent of Islam.
I could see the peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in places like Madaba. I would reserve my opinion on this till I get to speak to a few Jordanian people about it – that incidentally did not happen on this trip.
The Hashemite Kingdom
Jordan is a kingdom ruled by the Hashemite dynasty since 1921, but more prominently since 1946. The portraits of the present King Abdullah II, his father and predecessor King Hussein and his successor and son crown prince Hussein can be seen everywhere. At the airport, as a backdrop of a Roman theater in the city or just about anywhere. The palace of the royal family is nice but not really out of the world. Our guide kept repeating that the family lives in the poorer quarters of the city of Amman. And not in the posh western side of it. He quoted many incidences where the king comes out as someone who worked hard for his people and earns their respect and love. It seems people can get in touch with him for anything.
The nation has a parliament that is elected by the people every 4 years and that must give its concurrence on all matters of importance. The King nominates the council of ministers, but they must have the support of the parliament to continue in the position.
We had the opportunity to briefly interact with the minister of tourism. And I must say we were quite impressed by his personality. Later our tour guide called him for what we thought was a minor issue and we were surprised when the minister called him back to resolve the issue. We wondered, when would we get that kind of accessibility to our ministers.
Visit Jordan to explore History
Jordan is a treasure chest for history enthusiasts. Everyone knows about Petra, but Jerash – a Roman town that can be seen in its entirety even though it is in ruins, enthralled me. So did Aqaba, where I accidentally met the ruins of the 7th CE city of Ayla that incidentally had trade connections with India back then. In fact, this piece of information made me think that both Jordan and India are old countries. And there is no way there would be no connections between the two. How exciting it would be to explore and find those connections! Our common past would help us come together in the present and future.
In their current political status, this country is only a year older to India as it became independent in 1946 while we got our independence in 1947.
Hospitality – the Classic way
We all loved the hospitality extended to us by Jordan Tourism board – including all the participating hotels that graciously hosted us in Amman, Petra, Aqaba, and the Dead Sea. It was the hospitality on the street that stole my heart. We stopped by many tents during our Jeep Safari in Wadi Rum and everyone offered us tea that was being made on a wood fire, without expecting anything from us. They were shop owners selling things, but they would let us sit in their places to relax and offer tea without asking. And no they did not even take money for that.
In the streets of Madaba when we were shopping and looking at artists working with mosaic, we were offered fruits and tea just like we offer it to a guest at home. This offering was never linked to the purchase being made. And was always offered with a lot of affection and respect.
Almost everyone began the conversation by saying ‘Welcome to Jordan’. And would switch to Bollywood as soon as they figured out we were Indians. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini seem to be hot favorites followed by the Khans. The power of Bollywood to take India to the world was all out there for us to see.
How we wish the whole world was like that!
We were provided with a SIM card that was 4G compatible. The speed and availability of the network made me wonder throughout the trip. We got the same level of the network in the middle of the Red Sea – that also shares waters with neighboring countries Egypt and Israel. We got an excellent network in the middle of the desert of Wadi Rum. In fact, all the Bedouin tribals were on Facebook. And so well connected with the world from their red and black tents in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. This is when I realized that if we can give our youth the power of the Internet, they might do the rest to better their lives.
Now, just imagine me writing this on a BSNL provided network that is so last century!
6 days went in a jiffy. And I think I was just about introduced to the nation. But I have a long list of destinations to see next time when I visit the country.
Plan to Visit Jordan? recommend you to read the following tourist attractions on my travel blog.