It was a lovely day with a perfect mild summer's morning, a bracing breeze coming off the Dead Sea and deep blue skies with puffy white clouds — the kind that are more decorative than rain-bearing.
I walked down to the Dead Sea in Jordan, dressed in my swimming trunks, only to recall a vaguely similar scene from “Slumdog Millionaire” — my co-travellers slapped gooey black stuff onto my bare skin. It felt slimy and clayey, and I braced myself for the odour that must follow, but was very pleasantly surprised to find there was none. In fact, the mud started to feel quite refreshing and rejuvenating — all that talk I'd heard about the Dead Sea mud was true!
After it had dried (and I was beginning to look like a mud mummy!), I plunged into the Dead Sea. And, lay there on the surface, as if I were on a rocking chair; the saturation of the salt makes it almost impossible to sink.
Slowly, the water washed off the mud. It was the best bath ever — never mind the soap was nothing but black mud, my skin felt smooth and soft.
I was only one of the huge numbers of visitors that have realised the soothing properties of the Dead Sea.
We drove down from Jordan's capital Amman to Dead Sea in about 90 minutes, and followed it with a visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan — the very place where John the Baptist is said to have baptised Jesus. It was also here that Jesus is beleived to have first prayed to God, and gathered his first disciples.
The Lord's garden
The river Jordan flows here and in the book of Genesis, the Jordan River Valley around the Dead Sea is referred to as the ‘Garden of the Lord', and I realised I was probably standing in what was the Garden of Eden, and where Adam, Eve and the apple happened!
In the next few days, Jordan continued to awe me across myriad sites and locations as I drove from the North to the South — Mt. Nebo where God spoke to Moses; Petra — the legacy of the Nabataeans, industrious Arab people who settled in Jordan over 2,000 years ago; Wadi Rum where Englishman T.E. Lawrence befriended Bedouins and dodged the Turks; Aquaba with its pulsating nightlife, sumptuous sea food; and the Red Sea.
But, I shall tell you about Jerash, the ancient city of the Romans boasting an unbroken chain of habitation that dates back to over 6,500 years ago. Today Jerash stands unbelievably well-preserved (thanks to having been hidden for centuries in the sand); it was excavated only 70 years ago!
Lost within the ruins
I liked Jerash even better than Petra because it still has that ancient aura about it. You can get lost within the ruins and actually feel transported back in time.
In fact, I was sitting in solitude looking at gigantic pillars and wondering about the lathe that must have turned them, when I was surprised to see Judah Ben-Hur come clattering in his carriage across the cobbled road. It was actually a dressed-up actor!
The Jerash Heritage Company has started daily ticketed performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience at the Hippodrome in Jerash.
Thanks to this, the Hippodrome sees the glory of its past even today.
Then there's the Hadrian's Arch built to commemorate Emperor Hadrian's visit in 129 AD. I've met Hadrian before through another of his constructions — the Hadrian's Wall in the U.K.!
Jerash, an hour's drive from Amman, is best visited early morning or just as dusk is falling. The soft light falling on those beautifully-sculpted colonnades, temples and theatres turn this ancient city magical. It makes you wonder about the perseverance and ingenuity of the human mind and the determination of human spirit. And, about the time when people built magnificent cities with their bare hands, and built them so well they still stand tall and proud.
For me, visiting Jordan was like tripping on a timeline that stretches from the present to back into hallowed antiquity.
For more, go to www.visitjordan.com