Often, when spring departs in hurry and the travel bug inches closer to bite me again, I pick up a dart to find my next destination on the world map. I looked at the calendar. Easter lay a few weeks away and this season I was tempted to give the itinerary a biblical tinge.
As if on cue, the dart fell on Jordan - fervent piety nudged cliched adventure off the trip. Jordan? I flinched. Wasn't the land where Jesus was baptized, Moses died and Elijah ascended to heaven on a whirlwind trapped in a volatile neighborhood? Isn't discontent simmering in the Middle East?
Questions popped amidst images of ricocheting guns and raucous protestors that of late have cluttered newspapers and television screens. Was it wise to head to a smouldering region? Before I could erase Jordan off the journey, the church bell clanged, the hymns resonated and piety quickly took over. I made my choice. For Easter, I would go where the gods had gone before. Risk could standby.
On way to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, risk was all but forgotten even at 35,000 ft up in the air. Brawny marshalls ensured safety and pretty stewardesses in embroidered robes generously served toasted jordan almond on the Royal Jordanian flight.
From the aircraft, Jordan looked like a colossal brown canvas with squiggles of green and the blue Dead Sea as a hasty scribble. Petra, one of the world wonders, was hidden behind cumulous clouds and the path that Jesus took untraceable in the arid landscape.
Somewhere in the Jordan River Valley around the Dead Sea was the Garden of Eden (Garden of the Lord as mentioned in the Book of Genesis) , and somewhere in the windswept promontory of Mount Nebo Moses died. I had not yet stepped into Amman airport, but my school catechism lessons sure were coming handy in the land which has been continuously inhabited since 9500 BC .
Rule 1: Follow me. Rule 2: Follow me. Rule 3: Listen to me. Rule 4: Follow me.
On the Dead Sea Highway, Khalid, the guide, began like a martinet. I was heading to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized and Khalidis stern instructions got addled with the real Ten Commandments of repentance and righteousness.
The mud track flanked by shrubs led to the site of John the Baptist's settlement where Jesus was baptized. The actual baptism site has been identified between Tell al Kharrar and John the Baptist Church area on the east bank of Jordan River, a place mentioned not only in The Bible (John 10:40), but also in Byzantine and medieval texts.
My stilettos had gathered dust, but I travelled back in time to those three days that Jesus stayed in Bethany? it was here that Jesus was anointed by God, first prayed to God and gathered his first disciples.
I looked at the arid terrain and the trickle that River Jordan is and thought of Elijah who is believed to have ascended to heaven in a whirlwind o n a chariot of fire. I stood mesmerized, the golden church dome gleamed like jewels against the cobalt sky and the priest in black robe blessed me with a beatific smile.
Bethany formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage between Jerusalem, the Jordan River and Mount Nebo. I was no devout pilgrim, I was not caught in a celestial whirlwind either, but I still wanted to look at the 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, often touted as the earliest religious map of the Holy Land in any form to survive from antiquity.
My tryst with divinity and my curiosity took me to Madaba, mentioned as Medeba in The Old Testament. Madaba recurs in narratives related to Moses and the Exodus. The present-day Madaba is a squat town whose pride lies, well, in its mosaics.
Once upon a time the prosperous ecclesiastical hub produced the best Byzantine mosaics; its crown jewel being the religious map housed in the Orthodox Church of Saint George. The mosaics have chipped, the colours have paled, but the map still remains a pilgrimis delight.
There was so much waiting in Jordan, I wanted to scoot to Petra, one of the wonders of the world, but before that I decided to walk up Mount Nebo, the final station in Mosesi flight from Egypt to the Holy Land. It is believed that Moses and his men camped in the valley near Bethpeor, a small lush valley northeast of Mount Nebo. The walk up Mount Nebo is steep, I huffed up with my large camera bag.
To catch breath, I stood at the windswept promontory overlooking the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the distant hills of Jerusalem. The panoramic view was so spectacular that I lost my breath again. Hurriedly. I looked at the land where Moses delivered God's Law to Mankind and where he died; I viewed the same scene that Moses saw more than 3000 years ago. Faraway in the sky, the Serpent Cross glistened, the cross symbolic of the brass serpent that Moses took to the desert and the cross upon which Christ was crucified.
Four days in Jordan I had toed the pilgrim's path. Piety was getting under my skin and I still had so much more on the biblical route ? righteous Job's shrine in As Salt, the fort of Herod Antipas, the Roman Emperor during the life of Jesus Christ, in Mukawir, the cave in Anjara where Jesus and his mother rested, Pella, Umm Qays. Cities and names were spilling beyond my itinerary; I could have spent a lifetime being a pilgrim.
I, unfortunately, had just another day. I chose to be in Jerash, the region of Garasenes as mentioned in The Bible. Colonnaded streets, plazas, churches, an amphitheatre, cobbled pathway, Jerash, the best preserved Graeco-Roman city in the Middle East, looks straight out of a dog-eared history book, statuesque in its antiquity, elegant in its aesthetics and poised in its ruins. Tired, I leaned on a fat limestone column. Then, I heard a whisper in the wind. Was it a Roman gladiator? Where the angels talking? Or was it the Lord himself? I donit know. I closed my eyes and muttered hosannas. In Jordan, I felt safe. I felt blessed.