Reflections on travel to the Middle and Near East

As a certified travel agent for four decades, an international airline employee, researcher, writer, teacher, and photographer, travel, whether for business or pleasure, has always been an important and integral part of my life. Some 400 voyages to all parts of the world, by road, rail, sea, and air, involved destinations both mundane and exotic. This article focuses on those in the Middle and Near East.

Turkey:

Found in both Europe and Asia, Turkey offered a glimpse of its rich antiquity with a tour of Ephesus, the ancient Greek city located on the Ionian coast. Built in the X century BC. On the site of the earlier capital of Arzawan by Attic and Ionian Greek settlers, it became one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era and flourished under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC.

Extensively covered on foot, it progressively revealed aspects of its past, including the House of the Virgin Mary, the Temple of Hadrian, the Library of Celsus and the Commercial Agora in its old section.

The Live Ephesus with the Ephesians show brought their past to life in the present.

A buffet lunch at Le Wagon restaurant, an A-frame wooden building with tree branch support beams, brick and timber walls and a red-tiled roof, featured potato and bean salad, aubergines, stuffed vine, black olives, pickles, puff pastry cheese dough rolls, grilled meatballs with tomato sauce, grilled chicken, yellow rice and baklava.

Post-meal attractions included the Ephesus Museum and the Saint John Monument, and an immersion into Turkey’s ancient past culminated in a Turkish rug-making demonstration in Kusadasi.

Jordan:

Surrounded by Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, Jordan, the home country of another of my airlines, offered the opportunity to experience and understand the history, culture, cuisine, and people behind the airline I represented. partially. initially through its modern capital, Amman, built on seven hills or “Jebels”.

Mohammed, a colleague I met by chance upon arrival at Queen Alia International Airport, immediately displayed characteristic Jordanian hospitality by volunteering to meet me at my hotel every day and escort me to major sights.

When I was offered local sweets at bakeries, such as delicate cookies or Kanafa filled with cream and cheese, I walked under their shadow as I entered the Golden Souk, perusing local products and handicrafts, and then visited Citadel Hill, located 850 meters above sea level. from the sea at Jebel Al Qala’a and one of the original seven that served as the foundation of Amman.

The Roman Amphitheatre, at the foot of Jabal Al-Jofah on a hill facing the Citadel, was a 6,000-seat 2nd-century Roman theater dating from the time Amman was known as Philadelphia.

Other sights included the four-minaret, single-domed King Hussein Mosque, the largest in the country.

To the north of the city was Jerash, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, where the splendor of Rome’s border provinces was preserved through theaters, colonnaded streets, baths, and temples. A knife, which rotated up and down when inserted between the column joints, showed that no cement or other binding substance had been used in their joint.

“Jerash is perhaps the best preserved and most complete provincial Roman city in the world,” according to its description. “To wander through the ancient city is to step back into the world of the second century along the southeastern frontier of the Roman Empire. It is the most spectacular of these cities, ten of which were loosely allied in an association of cities called the ‘Decapolis.

“Called ‘Gerasa’ in Roman times, it was important not only for its individual monuments, but also for its strict and well-preserved urban plan, built around the colonnaded main street and several intersecting side streets. Among its most prominent monuments there is the Cardo, the South Theatre, the Temple of Zeus, the Oval Square or Forum, the Arch of Hadrian, the Nymphaeum, the Complex of the Temple of Artemis and the smaller North Theatre, or Odeon.

“The city’s 14 churches with their fine mosaics date from the Byzantine era, when the Eastern Roman Empire looked to Constantinople for political and religious authority.”

The wheel tracks of stone carts were visible, pockets preserved frozen in time.

Jordanian cuisine typically consisted of the always-available hummus, regardless of the time of day; mensaf, their national dish made from roast lamb with yogurt sauce and served on a bed of rice; and cakes covered in honey.

Jordan’s rich topographical tapestry passed under the wing of my plane several days later during a short domestic flight to Aqaba, the Red Sea resort; the King’s Road, which had been in continuous use as a trade and transit route for some 5,000 years; the semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes, who still roamed the desert with their sheep, goats and camels, cooking in the open air during the day and sleeping in tents at night; the mysterious desert castles of the 8th century; Wadi Rum, whose topography of the lunar landscape was from another planet; the eastern shore of the Dead Sea; and, beyond, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The reflections of the craggy red mountains in the Gulf of Aqaba were the origin of its name Red Sea, location of Aqaba, which itself offered almost perfect weather for nine months of the year. But the prevailing northerly winds ensured crystal clear water for the full twelve months. A paradise for divers, it offered an underworld of coral and color, as well as a surface one for swimming, snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing, pedal boats, and kayaking.

The mesmerizing vista of sand and sea, overlooking the Sinai Peninsula, served as the nature painting viewed during al fresco breakfasts at umbrella tables in the warm sun, while the candlelit Aquarius Restaurant on the top floor offered views of the crescent-shaped beach. that arched toward Israel in the distance.

Jordanian hospitality blossomed in unexpected ways. While traveling to Petra one morning, I offered the driver a piece of fruit from the breakfast buffet and five minutes later he stopped at a local store and bought me a gift back.

Protected and hidden by the surrounding mountains, and accessible only through a kilometer-long fissure canyon on horseback, Petra, the lost city of the Nabataeans carved out of red rock 2,000 years ago, was captured by the Romans in the year 106 AD The Treasury, perhaps its very symbol, was the first building to be glimpsed as the canyon passage ended in the city. Its other major sights included the Monastery, the huge temple on a hillside; the Roman Theatre, carved into the hillside in the center of the city; the Royal Tombs, which still sported their row of six similarly carved monuments from the 1st to 5th centuries AD along the inner face of Petra’s eastern mountains; and the High Place of Sacrifice, with its altar and the drains for the blood of the sacrificed animals.

United Arab Emirates:

As I approached Dubai, the city of the sovereign state at the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia and characterized by its ultra-modern architecture and lively nightlife, I regretted not being able to spend more than the few hours allotted to continue the flight. to malaysia

India:

Delhi, both New and Old, served as the gateway to the country, a reality that somewhat struck me when the flight attendant announced shortly after landing: “We are on the ground at Indira Gandhi International Airport, India.”

The new section of the city, marked by wide boulevards and modern buildings reflecting the influence of the British Empire, offered opportunities to visit the Birla Mandir Hindu temple; the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Temple; the President’s House, his official residence; the Mughal architecture of Humayun’s Tomb, whose double dome later served as the model for the Taj Mahal; the Qutub Minar, the tapered five-tiered Victory Memorial minaret; and the 42.3-metre-tall India Gate, the WWI Soldiers’ Memorial Arch.

Characterized by narrow streets lined with tricycles, bazaars, mosques, temples, shops and restaurants, Old Delhi offered equally interesting tourist opportunities, such as those of the Red Fort, which was built in 1648 and was located along the eastern edge of the city. Walled city on the west bank of the Yamuna River. The imposing Jama Masjid structure, built between 1651 and 1656, was one of the largest mosques in India. The Chandni Chowk, or silver square, was a bustling market. And the Raj Ghat was a monument dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi

Curious about the local curry, I found it mild, spicy and rich, whether in vegetarian or meat dishes.

A Sikh driver overcame a four-hour, 233-kilometre-long obstacle course, made up of a narrow road crisscrossed continuously with pedestrians, donkey carts and motorized traffic, during a day trip back to Agra, described as “That cloud Of marble”. Anchored by a sacred river it is a magnificent end to so many other splendours.”

The Taj Mahal, its centerpiece, took 22 years to complete and was meant to convey a Mughal emperor’s love for his queen immortalized in marble.

The Agra, or Red Fort, the very symbol of the city, marks the citadel that was once the flourishing center of the Moghul dynasty. A fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture, it was the main residence of its emperors until 1638 when the capital was moved to Delhi.

A carpet-making demonstration preceded the obligatory shopping spree, in this case, marquetry, jewelery and handicrafts.

Nepal:

Neighboring Nepal was another fascinating dive into ancient culture, Buddhist mountain temples and its imposing topography, introduced from the first “Namaste” after landing.

Kathmandu, whose exotic setting consisted of row upon row of mountain walls above which soared towering snow-capped peaks, offered opportunities for sightseeing at the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, Akash Bhairab Temple, Durbar Square, Kuman Temple , the Martyrs’ Memorial Gate and the neoclassical Singha Durbar palace.

Hardly a mountain climber, I chose to see the majestic peaks of Nepal, the epitome of which, of course, was Mount Everest, from the comfort of an airplane during a scenic flight.

“Royal Nepal’s Daily Mountain Flight allows you to enjoy a unique experience to admire the impressive range of the eastern Himalayas from a distance of less than 14 miles, while being comfortably seated on board a pressurized aircraft,” its brochure describes. “On the outward leg of the journey (to the east), the mountain range will, of course, crumble on the left side of the plane. But on the return journey (to the west), it will be the same distance away and perfectly clear. again, visible to passengers seated on the right side”

He described Mount Everest, the crown jewel of the range, as “the generally black pyramid-shaped rock,” which, rising to a height of 29,032 feet, was the highest point in the world.” However, others 20 snow-capped peaks floated outside the window, including Lhotse, which was the second highest at 27,940 feet.

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