Jordan’s Slam Dunk: A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring the Modern-day Kingdom

Home to World Heritage Sites, dramatic deserts and towns that exude oodles of old-world charm, Jordan offers much to justify the curiosity of today’s discerning traveller.

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Children raging on roller skates, Segway and cycles, men smoking shisha, women enjoying tornado fries—Amman’s Roman Amphitheatre is where locals throng to for some inexpensive recreation. Photo by Abhishek Hajela.

The desert and Dead Sea apart, Jordan offers key lessons in history, none of which are boring. Nothing here is monotonous, neither the food nor the landscape. Despite the country’s proximity to Syria, Israel, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, it remains a safe haven for both tourists and locals, and locals here are extremely kind and super-friendly.

Capital Amman is as hip as it’s historic. It’s Rainbow Street, a stone’s throw away from the city’s bustling downtown, is where Amman’s youngsters congregate, sporting Gerard Butler beards, Zayn Malik’s hairstyle, and clothes that are immaculate and on point. Women here are fashion-forward, with or without hijab. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” can be heard blaring alongside Arabic music inside artsy coffee shops. As for the restaurants, there are plenty, and each of them knows how to grill their meats and rustle up that delectable mezze.

Madaba, 35 kilometres southwest of Amman, is a city of immense Biblical significance, and is home to artists who create some of the world’s most mind-blowing mosaic masterpieces. It is inside a Greek Orthodox church in Madaba where lies a 560 A.D. Byzantine-era map made of 1.5 million mosaic pieces. Within Petra’s pinkish-red sandstone cliffs are trapped traces of Nabatean life. Walking in this ‘lost city’, marvelling at relics of tombs, temples, life-sized camel sculptures and what was possibly a flower-rimmed pool, it isn’t hard to imagine why Petra has been crowned as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Wadi Rum’s sweeping desert-scape both dazzles and intimidates. Its textured rocks and sand dunes serve as the perfect setting for many Hollywood films. Matt Damon in The Martian probably comes to mind? Aqaba, Jordan’s only port city, is a haven for scuba divers and shopaholics; from booze to consumer and household electronics everything is cheaper in this customs-free zone, making it most Jordanians’ favourite weekend jaunt. Last but most important, no trip to Jordan is complete without slathering yourself with some charcoal mud from the Dead Sea, followed by a dip in its mineral-rich waters. It stings, but it’s worth it. The sea is therapeutic, for both your skin and your soul.

To find out what to do when in Amman, go here. For a glimpse into all the lovely secrets Madaba holds, go here. A Bedouin man bears his heart and soul about Wadi Rum in this interview. How much does the Dead Sea really sting? Find out here. Take a peek into the Nabatean powerhouse of Petra here. If you have no time to scuba-dive in Aqaba’s crystal clear waters, at least take a stroll in its market. Here’s how you can spend an evening in Aqaba, savouring seafood and smoking shisha. 

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T

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  • Humaira Ansari is a certified nihari-lover who travels with an open mind and lots of earbuds. She invests a lot of time and Wi-Fi in planning her itineraries. She loves neighbourhood walks, meals at a local’s home, and discovering a city's nightlife. She is former Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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