Amman, Jordan

Our day started out early, we had been forewarned by Bindu that this will be the trend for most of the days, the idea being to keep to the itinerary with some of the places that we need to visit being far apart. After breakfast, which was opened by 6 or 6:30 am  at the hotel restaurant, again, the menu would be repeated throughout the trip, with slight variations. There would be a choice of eggs, bread, fruit, maybe even some meat such as chicken or beef in the form of sandwich slices or sausages, of course never any pork. We were in a Muslim country and later on in Israel too, the Jews consider pork as unclean. By 7 or 7:30 am we all got on the bus to start our first trip that  would take us an hour plus before we reached Madaba to a Greek Orthodox church, St.George’s. We were introduced to our Jordanian guide, Talal who looked to be in his middle age – when later I had an opportunity to talk to him, he impressed me that in spite of being a Muslim he was knowledgeable about Christianity and its origins, being a tour guide for over 17 years he had all his facts well researched. During the bus ride we were encouraged to join in the morning prayer and song which was led by our good friends John Isaac & Mini – their wealth of knowledge in prayer and song especially, Orthodox(Malankara) can rarely be matched. We came to realize that we had by default two prayer leaders. We reached Madaba, the church but in fact the whole town is  famous for its mosaics and what was special about that church was the map, made out of mosaics depicting the entire Holy Land and ancient Palestine with all the biblical sites – this particular piece is dated as far back as 5th century after Christ. Christianity had spread to the Roman empire, Egypt, Byzantine and beyond, even to India according to several traditions within Kerala Christians. Christianity is one of the first, like Judaism where people have been documenting and archiving it’s spread. It is the religion of the book and is revealing of it’s global reach, that it had spread as far as India, not too long after it’s inception. When we had all gathered on the bus, Bindu posed the question as to whether we wanted to have lunch before embarking on our next stop, the consensus was to proceed to the next stop which was Mecharus. Again on our journey there were prayers and song, this meant a lot to creating a mood of piety for some especially on such a trip where the goal was akin to a pilgrimage.

Arriving at Mecharus, the site of ruins of a fortress of Herod evoked feelings of the ancient with the sight of the hills. Access was via a steep path to the actual ruins of the fortress where John the Baptist was beheaded, and where Salome did her famous dance, made even more famous by writers in later times who called it the “Dance of the Seven Veils”. A few of us decided to climb to the top of that hill, a steep climb aided by roughly hewn steps, at an elevation of 1500 feet or 500 meters, or so the sign said. At the top were a few ruins of the columns where the fortress stood and if you looked around surrounded by hills of sandstone and rock with no vegetation, just native shrubs and bushes. This lack of greenery is something that we would get used to while traveling through the 4 countries that constituted the Holy land tour.

After lunch, again typical Middle Eastern food with bread, salads, chicken or beef shawarma, the desserts are less sweet than Indian gulab jamun or jilebi. Next stop was Mount Nebo, where it is said God showed Moses the promised land – and yes, it was a view from atop of the mountain a wide sweep of the lands as far as the eye can see, with the sliver of the River Jordan and the West Bank city of Jericho.  The Byzantine church or monastery which is built there was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. For centuries it had been neglected, even though it was supposed to be the burial place of Moses. One of the sights that comes to mind was the rolling stone that was a gate to the monastery, though there are Christians who take it to the next level, with little historical proof, of it being the same stone that was rolled over to display the empty tomb of Jesus.

We returned to Amman and our hotel, tired and hungry – a good shower helped in giving us the necessary energy to go and shop at the nearby mall. Shyni & I were looking for an power adapter since we had not come prepared for the various plug point sizes and shapes we would need to use on the trip. We spent the second night in the same hotel – our last in Amman.

On top of Mecharus – the site of St.John the Baptist’s beheading.

The group at St.George’s Orthodox Church – Madaba

Mount Nebo – the monastery.

The rolling stone

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