Jerash | Ajloun | Umm Quais

CONTINUED FROM: Exploring Amman

Backpacking Jordan: Day 005 (19-April-2024)

You Too Shall Be Gone


Jose had booked a Citroen online but at the car rental office in Amman airport, he was offered a Suzuki Alto. While this is a super compact car for a 6.2ft tall European man, I on the other hand, felt at home. We loaded the trunk with our backpacks and left the hostel around 8:45AM. Since Jose had no time to explore the city of Amman on this trip, we decided to make a quick stop at the Citadel. The Jordan pass lets you only one entry to a sight. However, when I requested the guard to let me in for a quick visit with my friend, he obliged and let me pass. 

When we hit the highway and headed north, I observed more similarities between India and Jordan. There were restaurants and shops by the highway. Some locals sold vegetables and fruits by the road that perhaps came from their farms. There were also outdoor stalls selling mud pots and ceramic items. There were also several plant nurseries just outside of the capital.

Along the way, I spotted a huge crowd on my right. It appeared to be a Friday market. I requested Jose to stop so that we could go visit. Local men were driving up a small raised platform where farmers had gathered to sell sheep, goats, hens, turkeys, vegetables, and fruits. Trucks full of muskmelons and watermelons were pouring in, and jeeps packed with sheep and goats were heading out. It was chaotic but interesting. The rising clamour of the men, the bleating of sheep and the roaring vehicles contributed to the cacophony. 

Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to purchase what they wanted and leave. I do not recollect seeing any woman there. They were all mostly men, quickly buying supplies in bulk from the farmers and heading back to their shops. Some jeeps struggled to climb the mud path up to the raised platform and needed assistance. We took a quick walk around and headed back to our car. It was a good start to this journey – A perfect introduction to the countryside.

Both Jose and I discussed about how we had a different image of the middle east or particularly Jordan. We had imagined deserts and dry landscape. But as we drove towards the North, the landscape was green, filled with olive farms and spring flowers. Villagers were tilling the land with horses. Here and there, we saw the limestone quarries from where the stones are supplied for the construction in the major cities. 

Jerash is located 50km away from Amman and it took us around an hour to reach there. We headed directly to the hotel we had selected from a booking website – Hadrian’s arch hotel. It was actually an apartment complex. The hotel is located right behind the Jerash archaeological sight. Some of the Roman stone pillars were visible from the hotel. 

An old man received us at the entrance. For a room he said it would cost us 22JD per night. I told him that the online booking price was showing only 16JD. “Is it?” he said and continued – “16JD then.” That was the easiest and the quickest negotiation I have ever had for a deal. It is hard to tell if my negotiation skills are awesome, or his, terrible. 

There were no tourists, so, they were okay to offer the room for any price. He informed his wife to set up the bed for us. An old woman from the opposite apartment walked with some blankets. We remembered then that we needed a room with two beds. She seemed unhappy about the change. With a grumpy face, she muttered something in Arabic to her husband and went back to get a new set of blankets. 

Leaving our backpacks there, we headed out to explore the archaeological sight of Jerash. The sight is huge and the ruins of the Roman era architecture are impressive. I will let these pictures speak for themselves.

Hadrian's Arch

After a tiring walk around the sight, we headed back to the car and decided to enter the town for some quick lunch. Since it was a Friday, the roads were empty and most of the shops were closed. I found a Falafel place where I got myself a wrap made. The man making the wrap for me asked if Jose too would like one. Jose was concerned about the paunch that had begun to grow. He wanted to reduce it during this trip by eating less and walking more. So, he chose to eat an ice cream for lunch. 

I also walked into a fruit store to buy some bananas. The middle-aged man did not speak a word of English but he gave me 2 for .50JD. The price was a little more than that but he said it was fine and the extra was on him. He told that in Arabic as he smiled and patted my shoulder. The people in smaller towns and villages are always kind in all the countries that I have visited. Most of them are not consumed by the thought of profit-making or exploiting the tourists or customers. The bananas were delicious. 

Next, we headed to Ajloun which is 22km from Jerash and took us 30mins to reach there. The road leading up to the hill-top castle was crowded. There was a traffic jam and a traffic police reluctantly volunteered to help. The reason was that people were driving on the wrong side of the road and parking by the side of the narrow road. The situation was very much like in India but  thanks to less population here, the magnitude of the problem was smaller and was easily managed.  

Luckily, we got a good spot fairly quickly, before the climb, and did not have to go through the pain of waiting. We walked up to the castle entrance. Outside the entrance, people were selling fresh fruit juice, coffee and some snacks. At the entry, we had a quick security check. 

Friday being a holiday, the place was filled with Jordanians who were visiting the castle with their family and friends. It was a lively atmosphere out there and everyone who recognised us as foreigners, welcomed us to Jordan with a broad smile. The 12th century castle though is not in the best of its state. Except for the outer structure and few chambers below, nothing much is left of it. 

A Gondola lift has been introduced in Jordan for the first time here which runs from somewhere in town to a hill next to the castle. People from all parts of the country were pouring in to experience this new attraction. 

We next drove to Umm Quais (60km/1.15H from Ajloun). Inside the archeological sight, a stage was being set for some event. We straightaway headed towards the roman structures. The pillars and the arena were built of black rock instead of the limestone seen elsewhere.

At the end of the sight is a viewpoint from where one could see the sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias, Israel). As per the New Testament it was here that Jesus sent his disciples by ship to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he remained behind, alone, to pray. Night fell and the sea arose as the ship became caught in a wind storm. The disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. After Jesus entered the ship, the wind ceased and they arrived at land. 

This lake is situated at the border of Jordan, Syria and Israel. It was interesting to note that my cellphone location was jammed and was locating me in Beirut, Lebanon. 

Umm Quais came as a surprise to me. The roman theatre here is impressive for sure but it was the general atmosphere of the place that attracted me the most. The location was away from the busy cities or any human settlement and therefore, the nature remained undisturbed. It felt fresh there. Spring had brought back fresh green grass on the surface of the earth and beautiful yellow flowers had bloomed everywhere. A few locals plucked these flowers, made a crown out of it by tying them together and sold them to tourists. Little boys and girls adorned them on their head and ran around like it might have been, I imagine, in the medieval times. Jose and I regretted not having spent the night here. 

At the viewpoint, I met a Jordanian family. The father was curious to know if I was “Hind” (India). When I nodded, he wanted a picture of me with his two little sons. The older one readily obeyed his father’s order while the younger one was too shy and reluctantly joined us. 

While returning, I noticed that some young boys were dancing in the roman theatre for an engaging Arabic music. I ran to join them but by then the guards arrived and asked them to stop. I was eager to dance along with them as the steps looked easy to be replicated. 

On our way back to Jerash, we took a different route with narrow roads, passing through olive farms. Jose was feeling uncomfortable driving here but I enjoyed this offbeat route and the views. Jose was also very tired driving all day and walking under the hot sun in Jerash. Unfortunately, I could not drive the car as my name was not included in the insurance.

I made a quick stop at a coffee shop in a small village. The shop owner did not understand or speak a single word of English other than “Coffee”. Slowly, with hand gestures, he asked me – “With or Without sugar?” “For here or Take away?”. I simply repeated him to confirm my preference. This allowed me to instantly learn a few new words in Arabic. The authentic way of learning languages, like a child does, by imitating the elders, is the most effective method. 

The coffee was flavoured with cardamom and simmered until a gentle foam was formed. The mix of flavour tasted good for a change. 

As we drove back during the golden hour, it was a beautiful sight. The setting sun gave the dry grass a golden tint. Locals had gathered by the road. They had parked their cars by the road, had pulled out foldable chairs and were enjoying some food and drink along with their family and friends. 

We headed back to the Hadrian’s arch in Jerash to view the sunset. 

For dinner, I chose to head to the sweet store in town that I had seen during my lunch stop. Here, an old man helped me identify some of the sweets. He was making a fresh Knafeh for another customer. After that, he pulled a plate and gave me 2 of each sweet that Jose and I requested. 

This long day was engaging but also tiring. After uploading the day’s events on my Instagram story, I hit the bed. 

The images of Umm Quais came to my mind as I closed my eyes and I was reminded of the quote that I had read there. Inscribed on a stone, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, there was an epitaph cut in the tombstone of philosopher Arabiouss (355AD). It read -  

"Whoever is passing through here... the way you are now I was…the way I am now you shall be…enjoy life because you shall be gone."

Jordan Roadtrip Day 01:  Amman –> Jerash -> Ajloun -> Umm quais -> Jerash (150KM)

CONTINUED HERE: Mount Nebo | Wadi Mujib | Dead Sea