For thousands of years, the city of Amman has been built and rebuilt, layer upon layer, on a cluster of seven hills. In the old part of Amman, narrow, labyrinthine streets spread out like veins over the hilly terrain, so you are constantly ascending and descending steep slopes. The undulating topography creates a unique driving environment that demands a car with exceptional torque and strong brakes. Thankfully, the Mercedes E-Class I am driving for the next week across Jordan, has both.
I am advised by my guide to take a bus to the historical sites like most tourists do. But for me, driving anything and anywhere in a foreign land is part of the experience. Besides, if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world right? Right.
My first stop is the Citadel, the ruins of an ancient fortress perched on top of one of Amman’s many hills that takes you back 3,500 years to the Bronze Age. From my elevated vantage point, I get a fabulous view of glass-wrapped skyscrapers glinting in the sun and proudly symbolising a modern Jordan. To my right are smaller, older structures that represent a quintessentially 19th century Amman. The piece of rock I am standing on is a couple of thousand years old!
There’s a strong Roman influence in Amman, and its empire’s enduring legacy can be seen in the 2nd century AD amphitheatre in the heart of Jordan. But it’s Jerash that gives you a good idea of how the Romans lived.
Entering Jerash through the triumphal Hadrian’s Arch (a great backdrop to shoot the E-Class) and walking through the ruins, along fluted columns and on streets still paved with original stones, you feel like a Roman, teleported back some 2,000 years when this prosperous Roman provincial capital once thrived. Wherever they went and whoever they conquered, the Romans left behind a lasting impression (and some magnificent selfie spots, too).
After an action-packed two days in Amman, I point the E-Class south to Wadi Rum some 320km away. The E-Class finally has a chance to stretch its legs and settle into a nice rhythm, cruising close to the 100kph speed limit. Highways in Jordan are by and large smooth but sprinkled with rough patches and some nasty potholes, which the E-Class stoically soaks up.
Approaching Wadi Rum, the landscape undergoes a mesmerising transformation. Driving deep into the desert, you are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes adorned with towering sandstone cliffs, freaky rock formations, deep canyons, and rusty red sand. Wadi Rum is like no place on Earth. It seems more like Mars. Not surprising, then, that the Hollywood blockbuster The Martian was shot here.
After soaking in Wadi Ram’s alien landscape, the next stop is Jordan’s top tourist destination and what many consider the greatest archaeological site in the world: The ancient city of Petra.
Just the walk to the Siq, the gateway to Petra is something you’ll never experience anywhere. Meandering down this narrow gorge that cuts through incredibly dramatic rock formations of different colours and hues is an adventure in itself. Every turn, which may have once hidden treasures of the Nabateans who once lived here, is now a great photo-op spot. To get around Petra, there’s no driving, only walking, and lots of it. This is the place to set your personal Fitbit record.
Leaving Petra is as dramatic as entering it. The 150km road to the Dead Sea drops from around 800 metres above sea level to 430 metres below.
Swimming in the Dead Sea itself is a bucket-list experience. The extreme buoyancy in the water gives you an extraordinary weightlessness. It’s a magical feeling and ending my Jordan drive at the lowest point on Earth was actually a big high.
From HT Brunch, June 24, 2023
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