Backpacking Jordan

Backpacking Jordan: Day 001 (15-April-2024)

Road To Jordan

My friend Gargee always tells me - “You do not find places; the places find you.” And that is how, one day, Jordan found me. Sometime late last year, Kabir, one of my traveller friends, visited Jordan and the images of the country that he posted on his Instagram stories left me enchanted. It also suited my requirement of exploring a new culture. Since, Indians can avail visa on arrival, I found Jordan to be a convenient destination. I had to buy a Jordan pass that waives of the visa fee and allows entry to many historic sites, including Petra. This pass also acts as an e-visa to the country.  

I do not like to research too much about the places to visit in a country as that kills the excitement of discovering things. But I surely wanted to get some insight into the history of Jordan - a country I do not recollect ever hearing of before. 

As always, I created a public event on Couchsurfing website (A site for travellers). I was contacted by a few locals and travellers. Some travellers who intended to hire a car and drive around the country had posted requests for travel companions to split the fare. Since, I had planned a long 3 weeks in the country, I was in no rush to visit places and tick off a checklist like some other travellers did. So, I refrained from committing to anyone. However, I did interact with some travellers regarding the planning. Harsh from Mumbai was helpful in providing me some information about the visa on arrival. My friend Kabir gave me a few travel tips. Mr. Hegde, a kind gentleman from Sirsi, contacted me on Couchsurfing and offered to send me his SIM card. He was then traveling in Jordan and had two weeks of subscription left. Upon return to India, he diligently sent me the SIM card by post. I was impressed by his kind gesture. 

I also connected with two other travellers who were planning to visit the country around the same time as me - Jose from Madrid and another traveller from Iceland. They shared their itinerary with me. Again, since, I was not in a hurry to see places in a week like them, I refrained from committing to anything and left the options open. 

Apart from travellers, I also received messages from a few locals. Almost everyone welcomed me to their country and offered to host me. I do not prefer to surf (stay with the locals) and use the website mostly to hangout with travellers or locals in a given location. But everything wasn’t as happy as it sounds. There were a few unpleasant experiences too. 

There was a lot of confusion about the “visa on arrival” process for Indians. Many complained that though they did get the visa, they had to undergo a long waiting time and some scrutiny by the police. This was mainly done to Indians. Though I have better understanding of the process now, the ambiguity before travel created some stress and doubt regarding my preparedness. 

I had booked a hostel in Amman for the first two nights. Within a week, I started getting some emails from a random account, claiming to represent the hostel and demanding an advance payment. I soon realised that it was a spam and got it verified by the hostel incharge who had been thankfully sending me updates through WhatsApp. The spammers had created a payment portal resembling the “Hostleworld” - website through which I had made my reservation. When I asked the man to write to me with the hostel official email id and threatened them by telling I am reporting to cyber cell, they backed off and stopped messaging me. 

The tension in the neighbouring country of Israel and Gaza Strip was also a point of concern. It was not very clear on how all this impacted life in Jordan. Though, I was sure that there was minimal effect of this on the day-to-day life of the country, occasional incidents and news made me consider this seriously. Though most of the messages I received from the Jordanians were kind and welcoming, I received one unhealthy message. 

One of the users had asked me not to come to Jordan as he believed that Indians were not welcome there at the moment. According to him the reason for this was UK president Rishi Sunak’s support to Israel and Indian troops being sent to Israel. All this could be debated easily but I chose not to respond to this message at that moment. However, it did affect me slightly as one has a lot of ambiguity in mind before visiting a foreign land. But, as it is the case often, my optimism and my undying trust in human goodness took over soon and I was thrilled about the adventure. Risks if there were any, only existed me further to explore. The reader will have to wait for the last post in this series to know what I replied back to this gentleman upon my return to India. After all, it is not in my nature to ignore the opportunity to clear such misconceptions or misinformation. 

But everything took a drastic turn, the day I was meant to travel. My friend Jonah messaged me on the morning of April 14th asking me if I had already left. The previous night, Iran attacked Israel with 300 drones and missiles. Some of them were intercepted and brought down by Jordan as they entered its air space. This action was in response to Israel’s attack on Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria that killed 12 people a few weeks back. Iran warned Israel of severe consequences if it retaliated. Jordan was also under the radar for bringing down the drones flying over its air space. Jordan closed its airspace the following day. I contacted Abed, the hostel incharge who had been interacting with me through WhatsApp. He told me that the airspace was closed only for a few hours to ensure safety. He added that life was normal there and I did not have to worry. I had few hours to decide and I thought it was too late to change my plans. On the contrary, these new developments encouraged me take up the risk and go ahead with my plan. My tribulations did not end there though. 

I had chosen Gulf air during my onward journey, a mistake I shall never again repeat. At the check-in counter, the officials stopped me from flying. They told me that I had to book my return ticket also with Gulf air. This was apparently some new rule. When I asked the man to show me the circular stating this new regulation, he kept searching for a document he never ever found. He directed me to another official and he to another. I told them that I have travelled to several countries before and I have never come across such a requirement. I asked them to give me in writing, the reason for the denial. Now they changed their rhetoric and told me that since there was some tension in the Middle East, they had to verify with their team in Amman. I was asked to forward my Jordan pass, the e-tickets, my valid US visa etc. While I was waiting, another passenger had similar issue. He was traveling to Dubai and he, like every other time, had not booked a return ticket. He was forced to book one before flying. He told me that the airline was overbooked by 4 seats and they were finding ways to sort out the mess. Anyways, my issue was settled and I was allowed to fly with the condition that if I was asked by the Jordanian immigration to change my flight, I would do so. To which, I agreed and commented - “This is like a full immigration process happening in India rather than in Jordan.” The lady coordinating with me smiled and told - “Sir, it is because of the tension in the Middle East.” I smiled back, took my boarding pass and left, vowing never again to book a ticket with this airline. 

My flight was uneventful. I reached Bahrain and took a connecting flight to Amman. As I approached Amman, I could see the vast eastern deserts of Jordan below. Here and there, there were some man-made ponds. I learnt later that Jordan collects rain water and this serves as the main water supply to the city of Amman. It was also interesting to see the pockets of white clouds and the dark shadow they cast on the ground below. Almost all houses had a tone of yellow ochre and looked like they were covered in dust. From the top, they resembled sand castles. 

The immigration process in Amman was the smoothest ever. Thanks to my valid US visa, I had to go throw minimal enquiries. The lady officer dealing with my passport was inexperienced. She looked at her senior for help. He looked at me and smiled before saying - “Hi”. I replied the same with a broader smile. The lady then asked me a few questions about why and for how long I was there. She asked me about my profession. I was soon given a month-long entry to the country. I understand that most Indians who travel to Jordan are people from villages or small towns looking for work. Indians traveling here for tourism are a minority. Perhaps, this is the reason why the authorities scrutinise Indian travellers. Having a valid US or Schengen visa speeds up the process. The Gulf air employees in Bangalore had done more (unnecessary) Investigation on my travel than the immigration officers here. So, finally after all those confusions, I was finally in Jordan. 

It is strongly advised not to exchange money at the airport. For emergency, you can exchange about 10 or 20 JD. Their exchange rates are terribly low. You can find several money exchange offices in almost every town of Jordan. I got some quick change for my travel to the city centre. As I was walking out of the airport, the azaan (Call for prayer) began to play loudly on the speakers. I was thus reminded of stepping into an Islamic nation - a first for me. 

I stepped out of the airport and as directed by Abed (from hostel), headed directly to the Airport shuttle bus counter and bought a ticket to town for 3.30JD. On the way, the trunk of the bus opened and a suitcase fell off. The passengers altered the driver who stopped to collect it. By then someone who had seen it fall off was walking towards the bus to hand it over. On the way to the town, I noticed that some locals had pulled over their jeep by the road and were sitting on the ground, under the shade of a tree and enjoying a meal. Even on the highways, one could spot some trash by the road. There were men selling freshly sand-roasted peanuts by the road. 

All these images and incidents affirmed a strong similarity between the Indians and Jordanians. Yes, the infrastructure, with wide roads and tall buildings, is very western in its appearance, but the people seemed to behave just like us - of course a scaled down version due to the population difference between us. 

At the North bus station, I tried to book a taxi through Uber but had some difficulty with the app as it wasn’t taking my payment. Therefore, I had to accept the offer of one of the taxi drivers who approached me as soon as I got off the bus. I knew he would over charge me (which he did), but I had no other option. I took the taxi to the hostel. 

At the hostel, I met Abed (Abdul Rehman). He is a friendly young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties. He is half Palestinian and half Jordanian. He showed me around the hostel and directed me to the dormitory. Carob hostel, I must say, made me feel at home. Situated in old Amman, very close to the Citadel and Downtown, this beautiful building was once a school. The interiors are so beautifully done by the owner - a young man who was there around my visit. My favourite spot in the hostel is this sitting area under the bougainvillea vines. 

I quickly freshened up and went out to grab some food. On the road behind the hostel, I found a food joint that sells Falafel wraps. I went in and tried to communicate with the boys serving there. It was a Subway like fast-food joint. With some sign language and basic English, the boys helped me select my first meal in the country - A hummus-falafel wrap. He opened up a pita bread and added a generous amount of hummus on to one side. Then, three falafels were mashed over it. After that, I had to pick the vegetables and pickles of my choice to be stuffed in. It cost me 0.40JD. 

Around this time, the school kids were heading back home. Two little boys walked into the cafeteria and said something to the server. He offered them a falafel each for free. They quickly stuffed it in their mouth and ran out happily. I was therefore introduced to the kindness of the Jordanian people. Urban India, as it progresses, is slowly forgetting such kind gestures. People are becoming more and more selfish in bigger cities. Of course, such behaviours can still be widely found in our villages and small towns.

I decided to walk around and found myself in a suburban area. With packed houses and shops, it looked like a street in old Bangalore. I could see jeeps selling onions and fruits with a price tag and a speaker screaming out the offers. Locals were hanging out by the street. Cleanliness did not seem like a priority here. Trash was carelessly thrown by the road. School kids were returning back home, sipping on an ice candy or munching some food. 

During my return, I walked into a sweet shop, opposite to the fast-food joint. I was impressed by the collection they had. I expressed my desire to try some Harissa pistachio. I was told that I could take four of them for 1JD. That was the minimum amount for which they could sell anything. I thought it was too much but bought them anyways. The delicious sweets did not even last until I turned around the corner of the street. All four were gone within a minute. I had found my favourite dessert in Jordan - Harissa Pistachio. It is made of sugar, coarse semolina, milk, butter/ghee and rich flavour of pistachios. This is sweetened using Attar - a sweet syrup. 


Happy with a good meal, I headed back to Carob hostel and sat in my favourite spot, sketching and recording the events of the first day. I have chosen a new way to express myself this time - a melange of texts and sketches. 

After such a long journey, I merited a sound sleep. So, I went to bed early that night.

The view from the hostel.