You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Petra is rose-red and awe inspiring

AAP logoAAP 14/11/2016 Rebekah Ison

Petra was immortalised by poet John William Burgon as the "rose-red city half as old as time".

But the morning I visit this southern Jordan town, which dates back to around 300BC, it seems time has come to a standstill.

Lying in their shops set among the colourful cliffs, Bedouin women look bored.

"Please come look," they beg in English. "Every day no business."

I was expecting to be squished into the sprawling site with a million other tourists. But at 7:30 am, hardly anyone but the Bedouins who work there are around.

Still, the city unknown to the West until the 1800s is nothing like I've ever seen.

Petra, with its unique buildings carved out of red, white and orange stone, was declared one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007.

And as the numbers start picking up by mid morning, I see more visitors pass through the site's dramatic entry.

The Siq, a 1.2 km-long gorge between towering cliffs, is the only way in and out of the city.

Horse carriages driven by Bedouin men send loud echoes of "clip clop" off the winding rock faces. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Petra's most famous building emerges.

The Treasury, featured in Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, is intricately designed and remarkably preserved. It is actually a royal tomb, but was once thought to be where loot was stashed.

Here you meet eyeliner-wearing men, who try to sell you a ride on their camel or donkey.

You should also be prepared for their flirting. Many a western woman, including a New Zealand-born nurse who still lives with the Bedouin, have found love in Petra.

"I love your smile," a young bandana-wearing man says to an Australian woman trying to photograph camels.

Though the Treasury is the most visited site in Petra, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Days could be spent in the city, assuming you've got the tolerance for history.

The 850-stair climb to the Monastery, with its views over the desert and rugged peaks, is an attraction alone. When you see the enormity of the building, the sweat lost becomes worthwhile. It's so much more majestic than the Treasury and the mind boggles at to how it could have been carved.

Ignore your burning legs and follow a sign promising the "best view in Jordan" up another hill. It's only then you can fully appreciate the size of the building set against the valley beyond.

I feel pleased with myself as I start to make my way back down the stairs.

Back on the street, more women plead with me to look at their shops. Over a cup of tea, one lady tells me business has been bad since the conflict broke out in Syria, to Jordan's north.

Her family have had their power cut over recent years and life in her nearby village has become harder, she says.

It's a shame to think many thousands of people might miss out on seeing Jordan's biggest draw card because of neighbouring conflicts.

I reflect on Burgon's awed closing line: "Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose-red city half as old as time".

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: A number of airlines fly from Sydney to Amman (a three-hour drive to Petra) through connecting destinations. Qantas (www.qantas.com) flies through Dubai in partnership with Emirates (www.emirates.com). Their sale fares in November start from $AUD773 one way.

STAYING THERE: The five-star Movenpick Petra resort (www.movenpick.com/Jordan/Petra) is beside the entry to the site. Prices depend on room type and availability. Except to pay more than $AUD200 for a classic twin room.

PLAYING THERE: One-day entry to Petra is about $AU90 for people who have spent at least a night in the country. Two days is about $AU100 and three days is about $AU110. It will cost you about $165 for a one-day pass if you're not going to spend a night in Jordan. People who visit Petra on their first day in the country pay the $165 but can return to get a partial refund the next day once they've stayed a night. You can find more information about costs at:http://visitpetra.jo

* The writer was a guest of Movenpick, Qantas, Emirates and Visit Jordan.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon