Petra By Night : A Fairy Tale In Arabian Nights
As I start my second walk to the Monastery in Petra during the day I was wondering how different can Petra by night would be from Petra during the day ?
I am trying to pace myself to the Al Khazneh (Treasury ) not to rush as there is no light on the path, that is if you do not count the countless candles, flickering inside brown paper bags that caress the Siq, the natural creek in the rugged mountain that has hidden the city of Petra in its bowels for more than 2000 years.
Before you read further may I suggest you first read my post about visiting the UNESCO Heritage site Petra in Jordan first.
I was raised on a staple diet of fairy tales from Arabian Nights. But then who wasn’t when growing in the pre-internet world? My grandfather an avid reader and even better story-teller would narrate me tales from distant lands about lost cities, hidden treasures, magic carpets and Djinns in Lamps. Sometimes I loved the stories, at other time I would be too scared to sleep the whole night trying to figure out ways to slay the monsters in my mind. It is difficult to say how many times I would have dreamed about the mysterious happenings Arabian Sands but even in my dreams I had not imagined that one day I will become a stone listening to the haunting song in the heart of the lost city of Petra in Night.
At every turn, the shadows change shape and tremble as if they could see the ghosts in the darkness. The magnificent march moon is unable to compete with the glowing path and escapes behind dark cliffs only to lurk from the meandering sky.
As my eyes get adjusted to the light escaping from candles I start noticing the shapes and shadows I missed during the day. Every turn in the path is a mystery you don’t know what lies on the other side of the narrow crack in the rock, your only way to go to the other side. No wonder Petra was never captured by anybody as it was easy to ambush even the mightiest army in the narrow creek and cut them to pieces, must have been easy for the Nabatean architects who carved out a complete city with waterways, dams, monasteries, temples from the rock.
But the piece de resistance The treasury is still some distance and I force myself to stop clicking and move towards the masterpiece of the Nabateans , a UNESCO Word heritage site and one of the 7 wonders of the world and one of the most visited places on earth.
But if you have not been to Petra in the night you would have missed the magic that Petra stands for. Unfortunately in my shortsightedness to click pictures on the way all the front seats are taken and I find only a corner away from the action to park myself along with my tripod.
But Petra by night is not only about the magic sprinkled by the candles it is also about standing in front of the magnificent facade that was carved out of stone with simple tools, but also about the show that will take you back to the time before time.
A shadow emerges from nowhere and greets us, on settling on a stool, the shadow surrounded by 100s of candles multiplies into hundreds of shadows, each witness to the legend of Petra. I am trying to click some pictures and miss some of the words that the shadow speaks and then the magic of Petra happens. The shadow pulls out a Rebab from nowhere and starts singing a song that he inherited from his Bedouin ancestors.
I remember that song in the story in a fairy tale where if you look back to see who is singing you are turned into a stone statue. But it is too late the spell has been cast, taking photographs is forgotten and I don’t know what the Bedouin and his Rebab are saying, but it must have meant “STATUE“– for I am frozen in my place like a stone as the music awakens my soul while freezes my limbs. I don’t understand a word of the song, but I am carried away to the campfires in the desert as the camels settle near the Bedouin tents and the wind carries the aromas of the meals being prepared, and invites a weary traveler to come and relish the hospitality of a harsh land but generous folks.
The song of Bedouin rises above Petra, bounces backs from the steep walls, and slowly forms a song storm in the desert. Every single person around me is frozen and unaware of their situation. As for me, who was raised on tales of Arabian Nights, here I was in Petra by Night, listening to a story that I will tell again and again for the years to come, just like my Grandfather told me when I was a child.
As soon as the song ends the magic spell is broken and the motionless statues come back to life and there is a commotion to click and pose for pictures of Petra By Night. A hundred flashes flare simultaneously but still are no match for the countless candles that decorate the ground around us. As people move around in the candles they pose for pictures, take selfies and admire the moving shadows around them.
Slowly the crowd starts dispersing as it is a long walk back through the Siq to the hotels around Petra, there are no cars, camels or hard working donkeys of Petra at night to take you back. But the path is still illuminated by the moon above and the candles on the ground.
Yes, Petra is great during the day, but Petra by night is pure magic.
A slightly different version of this post first appeared in the August 2015 issue of JetWings International, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. You can read the pdf here
How To Reach Petra: Petra is about 247 KM from Amman, the capital of Jordan. It takes about 3.5 hours by road to reach there. The Petra by night show is conducted every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday only and the tickets are 17 JD for the show.
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