A Holy, Off-Road Odyssey: Jordan

A spiritual leader once said “The essence of religion is to fear and obey God and the essence of spirituality is to experience the Divine consciousnessand my first internal Guru, Sri Auribondo  saidTruth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion.” I agree with both and I have faith only in a belief system that is based on what is
experientially true for me. Hence I am still trying to fathom the conspiracy of the cosmos behind making a SBNR guy like me (see my intro to know about SBNR) end up at a location where all of the three Abrahamic religions took roots and walk on the same trail that Jesus and Moses had walked thousands of years ago; the country of Jordan.

All the three great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam accept one patriarch and prophet as a divine personality that existed before their religions were fully formed. Known as Abraham in Christianity, Ibrahim in Islam and Avraham in Judaism, he is one patriarchal figure that all the three religions unanimously accept as a prophet who existed much before Moses, Jesus or the Prophet Mohammad were born. That is the reason why these three religions are called “Abrahamic religions”. I find it extremely intriguing that Abraham, Ibrahim, Avraham sounds similar to Brahman;but experts dismiss any relation between Brahman and Abraham or Ibrahim dismissing it as mere coincidence. Three religions that make up for over 50% of the world population took birth in the middle of the most violent place on earth currently; Around Syria in the middle east around the Jordan-Syria-Jerusalem region.

Six weeks had passed since our return from the Himalayas and Mamatha started to feel the effects of her domestic incarceration and the punishment of the inevitable domestic chores. “Mohan, there is a company called AOL that specialises in arranging tours to challenging destinations. They have a self-driving road trip in November end across Jordan. My friend Suma’s husband was there last year and was saying that it was an incredible experience.Your niece Sudha’s husband Shashi took the same tour last year with him and he was very thrilled with the whole experience.They charge only US$ 4000 per person. Do you feel like going?” my soul mate asked me. I wondered for a while as to why she said “you” instead of “us”. Then better sense prevailed upon me. If Mamatha suggested a travel plan or a tour and if more than 6 weeks had passed since our last outing, it only meant that the decision was already taken on behalf of the two of us and I had to express my elation at her suggestion, clap my hands for her forethought, be grateful to her inventiveness and initiative and of course transfer funds to the agent. But ‘Jordan?’, I wondered inside.

As usual I browsed through my personal God of Knowledge, Google and this one search result about what the famous actor Matt Damon said about Jordan made me jump up and confirm my booking to the trip; “I was in awe of that place. It was really, really special. One of the most spectacular and beautiful places I have ever seen, and like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else on Earth”, he said about Wadi Rum desert Valley in Jordan where his film ‘the martian’ was shot. 

The week long self driven tour across Jordan was commencing on the 23rd November and organised by a New Delhi based Organisation called ‘Adventures Overland’.

My niece Sudha decided to join us for the tour. We left a day earlier than the group to visit Jerash, an archaeological site of Roman ruins about which I knew nothing till I visited it. I transferred the initial advance of 25% and booked a vehicle for just the two of us. My niece Sudha said she would also join us and hence we three of us were supposed to share a 4 X 4 LandCruiser.  It was one of my dreams to drive a Land Cruiser on a challenging off roads terrain and our drive in Jordan included two days of off road driving on Sand Dunes in the desert of Wadi Rum.

It was a murky dark cloudy and gloomy eveningin Mysore when we left in our Taxi after driver Krishna had removed his slippers and bowed to his God hanging down from his rear view mirror. God fearing drivers in India always say a prayer before starting the engine. He put a red Tilak  placing it exactly at the centre between his to eye brows.

It was 10:30 at night by the time we reached the airport and our flight was at 4:25 in the morning.  We went directly to the check-in counter of Etihad and there were already nine people in line in front of us. The handsome young Hindu priest (Pujari) passenger with his tonsured head with only his pony tail in front of us had only a silk shawl on top bearing his two arms, back and shoulders. I wondered why a Hindu priest was going to middle east.

The flight took off exactly at 04:25 a.m. The tall slightly hefty but very beautifulJordanian flight attendant had her jet black hair made into a bun. She spoke English rolling her tongue a little more than necessary while pronouncing English words. Her eyes were as black as my South Indian eyes and her complexion milk white very much unlike mine. “Etihad means united in Arabic” she said when I asked her what Etihad meant.

The flight to Abu Dhabi took about four hours and we had a Six-hour layover before our onward flight to Amman. Abu Dhabi is a smaller airport than Dubai but the WIFI signal was pretty good. I took a 60-minute whole body massage that was exceptionally good and cost me 75US$. The flight to Amman was half full and the flying time was around three hours and twenty minutes.

Mahmood wearing grey suite and looking clean received us at the airport and took care of the emigration formalities by interpreting our answers to Jordanian. He put us in a Toyota Corolla and banged his hand twice on the fender. 

Sheraton Amman is situated in an area that is surrounded by American hotels and the US embassy. The hotel room was impeccably clean and my niece had already checked in with an extra bed. They serve one of the best Croissants that I have tasted,crisp and fresh,just like they are in Paris.

The tour that we had specially arranged for the three of us to Jerash the next day was supposed to be a great historical place with Roman architectural ruins. We spent the evening taking a walking tour on one of the Main Streets of Amman called Rainbow street. The street was like another city street with nothing in particular standing out. We had our dinner at a restaurant called “Sufra” serving authentic Jordanian Food. The chicken grill kebab was very tasty but the absence of Beer brought down my satisfaction by a couple of notches.

Jerash is a city in Jordan that was made a part of the Roman empire in 106 A.D.and was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia, modern day Amman.  It is one of the most complete examples of a provincial Roman city to be seen anywhere. To me, Roman city ruins always remind me of scenes from ‘Benhur’ and ‘Gladiator’.

I loved everything about Jerash particularly the almost 1000 fett long and 150 feet wide hippodrome at Gerash(A hippodrome was an ancient Grecian stadium for horse racing and chariot racing), once home to up to 15,000 sport loving spectators for chariot races, gladiator battles, was a thrilling and exciting sight and that took my mind back to what life as a Gladiator might have been. We walked along the Main Street with 260 columns on either side that was the main thoroughfare and was the proverbial “high street”, and it is The street of columns served as the city’s and it is believed that it served as one of the city’s primary centres of commerce due to the tracks or deep cuts left by numerous chariots that still remain carved deeply in he great paving blocks.

The Yogin Mamatha posing at Hercules Temple

The main street of Jerash 2000 years old;the chariot marks are still seen

We checked out of Sheraton and joined the group staying at Kempinski. We had a get together in the evening where we met all the members participating in the tour. There were 39 members in the entire group 4 of whom were British and two were tour leaders. The tour leaders were also the owners and promoters of the Organisation conducting the tour, Adventures Over Land(AOL). We were briefed about the trip, safety issues and a nominal deposit was collected towards possible vehicle damage from each vehicle group. Some vehicles had four members and some two. We had three, Mamatha, my niece Sudha and me. Totally there were 14 cars in the Convoy with a number allotted to each.

“We will be starting from Amman tomorrow and driving all the way to the Dead Sea over a period of five days. We will return to Amman from Dead Sea in a bus” said Tushar, one of the two partners of AOL addressing the group having arrived almost a day late due to delay in Kuwait.

“We will go to Madaba,  Wadi rum, lost city of Petra and finally to Dead Sea where we drop off our cars and return to Amman” announced Sanjay the other partner of AOL. We will stay at four different places including two nights at Space Village resort in the middle of Wadi Rum desert. The meeting concluded after we swiped all our credit cards for the vehicle deposit amounts.

I skipped dinner and retired early to hear my Missus’s way of wishing me good night me as soon as she entered the room “You should have at least Checked out the Spread; You and your high and mighty attitude”.

After a terrible breakfast with the typical constraints of a buffet spread of a group booking, we gathered at 9 in the morning the next day 14 Land cruisers with left hand drive that looked exactly the same were lined up in front of the hotel the next day with cars numbered from 1 to 14. Car Keys were handed over number wise and my car number was 5 with the group of 4 British behind me in Car no. 6 and a family of three from Pune in Car no. 4 in front of me.

With my m Land Cruiser, my dream ‘off road’ VehicleW

The 4 x 4 was huge and though I had driven a left hand drive in the U S it was only for short distances it took a while for me to get the hang of left hand drive. But on more than a few occasions my rear view driver Bryan had to come to my car and tell me that I was drifting to the right.

To be continued…….

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