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Petra revisited

By Nickunj Malik - May 13,2015 - Last updated at May 13,2015

In the last four years of living in Jordan I have visited Petra endlessly. There is something about the — ‘rose-red city half as old as time’ — described by the English poet John William Burgon in 1845, that fascinates me. I never get tired of escorting my guests to this amazing place and have often wondered if Burgon could write such an inspiring poem without ever visiting Petra, imagine how moving his poetry would have been had he indeed been there. And seen that! 

My travel agent tells me that I have made so many trips to Petra that even the camels and donkeys recognise me as soon as I step out of the narrow 1.6km long, twisting and turning gorge called, ‘the Siq’. I don’t know that for sure, but the little Bedouin children who usually run after me to sell square bits of candy and postcards, definitely do. They have become friendlier and now offer to barter my handbag or sunglasses for a packet of extra sugary lollipop. If I refuse the bargain they give me a sickly sweet one anyway and show me how to eat it correctly so that the pink food colour spreads on my lips, without the need for me to apply lipstick. 

Last week Sir V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad born Nobel Prize winning British writer, and his beautiful wife, Lady Nadira, came to the Kingdom on a private visit. Two of their very good friends also accompanied them. Akel Biltaji, the mayor of Amman, extended a cordial welcome and from the moment they landed at the Queen Alia International airport, he made sure they experienced firsthand, the warm hospitality that the Jordanians are famous for, throughout the world.

I had the good fortune of taking the tourists around the country and got a chance to view the ancient monuments with fresh eyes. What really impressed them, other than the historical and biblical sites, was how clean the place was, especially Amman. The neatly swept roads, the tidied trash cans, the carefully groomed trees, the houses constructed of the same cream limestone with red roofs that gives the city its unique homogenous character, all added to the scenic beauty. And they could not stop praising it. 

The mayor’s claim that he keeps extremely busy because he personally has to sweep the streets to keep them this clean might not be exaggerated. I have not witnessed him doing so but the moment I do, I will be the first to report it, rest assured. 

In Petra, Ramzi the guide found our small group and insisted on giving us a guided tour. This being my twentieth trip, I fancied myself as better equipped at guiding but Ramzi would not hear of it. I knew most of his spiel and kept cramping his style by pre-empting his prepared speech. 

At the entrance of the Siq I saw two actors dressed in the uniform of Roman guards, holding iron shields and spears. Ramzi asked us if we wanted to get pictures taken with them. 

“Where are you from?” one of the actors asked. 

“India but have lived in Amman for four years,” I admitted.

“England,” said Lady Nadira handing him a handsome tip. 

“I want a picture with you,” he told me, pocketing the money. 

“But she tipped you,” I pointed at Lady Nadira. 

“However you are Jordanian now,” Ramzi interrupted.

“La habibi,” I protested in Arabic.

“Naam habibti,” he stressed laughingly.

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