A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Month: May 2018

A week in fascinating Jordan

How is Jordan different from other countries in the Middle East ?

  • It has no OIL
  • A liberal modern country with no dress regulations. That is credit to the royal family.
  • Diverse landscape – from the depths of the Dead Sea to the highlands of Petra & Amman where it snows in winter. The country is blessed with lovely mediterranenan climate

We had a perfect one week holiday. My first experience with a travel company Byond Travel – and they scored 10/10. Jordan has lots to see. We covered 1500 Kms in 6 days with 4 hops across the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum & the capital Amman. A small group of 9, a dedicated bus to us and a wonderful guide all added up to make this a memorable trip. Jordan is waiting to be explored – we had nice weather (In May) , almost no Q’s (thanks to Ramadan) – and we covered a lot – thanks to the wonderful planning of Byond Travel. When you travel with a good agency it takes a lot of your head – my earlier self planned family holidays were a project , this one was relaxed. I just followed the guide. Since all payments were made in advance we hardly had any expenses right thru the week – barring our lunch bills and  stuff we bought to carry back home.

Detailed Notes 

Day – 1 

There are no direct flights to Jordan from India and we took Etihad from Bangalore to Amman Via Abu Dhabi. An early morning flight on Sat at 4.30 AM from Bangalore got us to Amman by 12 noon with a 3 hr stop over at Abu Dhabi. Etihad is good – better than Emirates and you get Jet Airways miles. Leg space is comfortable, food is decent. At Amman we were received at the gate and whisked past immigration (Jordan has Visa on arrival) and in less than 30 minutes after landing we were in the bus with our luggage headed to the Dead Sea – Holiday Inn Resort. A nice property located on the Dead Sea. A 1 hr drive – past barren land and olive trees ( Jordan is full of olive trees) we reached the lowest elevation on earth – 1400 feet blow MSL . It was warm but bearable. The Dead Sea is shrinking and the locals say it may not last beyond 2050. The salinity of water is almost 10X that of the normal sea so you float. And there is no life on the Dead Sea.

The Holiday Inn resort is one of the many resorts on the Dead Sea – and many come here for the curative power of the water and the Dead Sea salts. After a few hrs at the beach we had a lovely dinner and hit the bed. A long day that started at 2 AM on Sat morning finally ending. Note that Jordan has a 2 1/2 hr lag with India – so when we slept at 9 PM it was 11.30 PM India time.

Day – 2

A 1 night stop at Dead Sea the next day morning we headed out to Petra and on the way stopped by a few interesting sights

Close to the resort was the Bethany church where Jesus was baptised by John the baptist. Thats a famous biblical location and borders Israel. All thru the tour we were almost touching the Israel border and at the Bethany church we could see Israel across the Jordan river a few feet away.

From Bethany we visited Mount Nebo – a famous place from where Moses is said to have pointed towards the promised land before he passed away. We travelled Via Madaba visiting one more church famous for its mosaic paintings and reached the historic city of Petra by 4 PM.

Petra is an iconic city almost 2000 years old – its a city of sandstone mountains. We stayed at a lovely property The Old Village Resort at Wadi Musa for 2 nights. Nice rooms , good food. 

Day – 3

After a sumptuous breakfast we left at 8 AM to Petra. The visitors centre was a few km from our property and we started the trek thru the maze of mountains by 8.30 AM. There is a lot of walking. 2 Km to the Khazana , 2 Km to the base point of the Monastery and then a trek of over 1000 steps to the top of the Monastery – all in all about 6 Km each way. It was hot – but the history and the stories of the Nabateans the rulers of Petra kept us motivated.

We were back in the hotel by 3 PM and most of the team went back at 8 PM to see candle lit Petra by night. To my consolation they came back and said that I did not miss anything great.

A lot of walking had tired us out – and the next day was relaxed

Day – 4

We woke late, had a relaxed breakfast and left by 12 noon to Wadi Rum. A 800 sq km desert with craggy sandstone mountains – the landscape is martian and this is where many of the movies Lawrence of Arabia , Transformer , Martian etc were shot. Its barren sand dune desert and houses about 30 camps.

We stayed in one such camp in tents for a night. Its hot during the day but gets cold at night. Tents are basic – we had a family tent with 3 beds and an attached modern bathroom – no fans. Electricity and Wi Fi from 4 PM onwards.

The set up and kitchen here is like that of a North Indian Dhaba- I did venture to the kitchen to make some potato curry and dal – as by now we were tired of Pita Bread, Hummus and Olives. The evening would have been alive in a starlit sky with belly dancing – but being the month of Ramadan we had to entertain ourselves with the dance of one of our colleagues. – who did an outstanding job.

Day – 5 

We departed Wadi Rum at 8 AM and after a 4 hr drive reached Wadi Mujib. This is a 2 km river trek. Its not open all the time as the water currents can get risky. We were lucky that it opened a week after being shut. But the water levels were high. This is fun but risky. You are neck deep in water at many places and the current is strong. The river bed is full of poky rocks and even with aqua shoes it can hurt. But this was the high point of the trip and we thoroughly enjoyed it. (Note only Children above 17 are allowed) – the trek took us about 3 hrs and we were back in the bus at 3.30 PM.

The drive from Wadi Mujib to Amman was less than 2 hrs and we drove by the Dead Sea crossing the Holiday Inn resort where we had stayed the 1st night. So we had almost done a round trip of Jordan.

We stayed in central Amman at the Millennium Hotel a nice property. Amman is a modern city with an active night life – but again the Ramadan period limited activities. Our guide took us for dinner to a beautiful local restaurant – buzzing with people.

Day – 6 

On our last day at Amman we covered the Citadel – an ancient Roman site and the Roman Theatre – sights we covered between 8 AM and 11 AM . Amman has a history that dates back to 6500 BC – Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians – all this culture blends into this ancient arabic city which is now ruled by the Hashemite dynasty – direct descendants of the prophet.

We shopped for dates, baklava, olive oil in Downtown and were back in our hotel for lunch.

We had an early dinner at our guide Salah’s house – and his wife had cooked us a delicious spread. It was a wonderful gesture on his part to invite us home. 

Post dinner we walked around downtown and were back in our rooms by 9 PM. Again being Ramadan the streets were deserted and most shops closed.

Day – 7

The last day of the trip – we were free. Being a Fri and the Independence Day of Jordan – all the malls , parks etc were closed in the morning. We walked around Paris square and saw the famous Rumi restaurant before heading back to hotel to depart at 12.30 for our flight.

A week flew by and we enjoyed every minute of it. A big thanks to Byond Travel for planning and executing the trip to perfection. They are a good company – a little pricey but you get excellent service. When on a holiday you want the best. I don’t think we would have seen Jordan so well in 1 week on our own. So thank you Byond for a great trip – and looking forward to more. And a big thanks to the team of co travellers – thanks guys you were great travel mates.

Useful Tips

  • Jordan has pleasant weather all thru the year – winters are cold
  • 1 JD ( Jordan Dinar ) = 95 Rs
  • Veg food is available all thru the trip – though the focus is on Non Veg.
  • Free Wifi is everywhere including in our bus.

Some more Views

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Nothing is Everything, Shunya – A Review of Sri M’s 1st Novel

Om Sri Gurubhyo Namah

An interesting book is one that you can’t let off your hand once you start reading. All of Sri M’s books (Referred to as Sir later in the blog) fall in this category. That includes “Shunya” – his latest book. This is his first novel – but it reads like a real life story. A fascinating story set in the suburbs of ” Tiru – Anantha – Puram” (Trivandrum), Kerala.  its the story of an “Avadhuta” called Shunya – A sage free of all social norms who a common man may describe as eccentric or a Schizophrenic.

There are many commentaries on the Upanishads that talk of how you can achieve the ultimate truth by making yourself empty. Being empty is cleaning yourself of all the impurities that you accumulate in this life , it gets you to the core where divinity exists in its purest form. And in this purest form you are merged with the ultimate. The Universe in all its bounty is trying to give you ultimate joy and happiness – but our cup is so full that there is no place.

This concept may be difficult to understand through commentaries and talks , but it is explained beautifully in this book. The lead character Shunya – who the locals call Shunya Saami keeps repeating that he is “Nothing” – but he is “Everything” – he knows all, reads the mind of people, helps them identify their deepest desires and his grace brings happiness and prosperity to all he touches. he breaks all the rules – lives in a tavern , eats fish and berates people. And he has his share of opponents – organised religion , the priests and the quacks – see him as a threat, but all their acts to get the better of him are in vain – for who can crush the Ultimate Truth.

In one of his encounters Shunya advises a monk running a monastery to run away from establishments – to empty yourself of his ego. I found this narrative an interesting takeaway.

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The monk asks “What else should do I do to grasp the ultimate truth , the Brahman wherein lies eternal peace and freedom ? can you help me Saami ?”

‘Fool, said Shunya – “I” Must Go’.

‘But Saami you told me to come. Don’t go away please.’

‘The ‘I’ must go. I,I,I, aren’t you tired of saying “I”? That “I”is the problem – throw it off. That “I” is to pushed off like shit. All your insides are constipated with ego. Take an enema, break your image , get that shit out ‘. First stop chattering – “I did that, did, did, did.” Can you sit quiet for a moment doing nothing. Sit Quiet – be silent . Stop Doing. Shunya , nothing, clean slate , unalloyed joy!’

His guidance helps the monk to ascend  the last few steps to attain the ultimate truth.

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As a child I have heard from my father about the “Yakshas” of Kerala – the hideous demons who are disguised as charming damsels, of the “Kutti Chatans” and the Tantriks who control them – Sir touches upon all of them in Shunya. Everyone will love reading this – but a Keralite would connect exceedingly well with the local lore.

The story is so well written that it actually feels like a real life narration of an Avadhuta who lived in Kerala. Sir has had such fascinating experiences in life and I have a strong feeling that this is more than a novel – there is a wealth of meaning and learnings hidden in every passage of this book.

A few more interesting takeaways. The one lesson that Shunya reiterates is the need for a guru to help you in your path. There are correlation with Sir’s first book ” Apprenticed to a Himalayan master – A Yogi’s autobiography”. The young American girl Sri M meets in Rishikesh with stomach cancer – Jenny comes in the form of Diana in Shunya. The good news is that Diana recovers from her cancer by the grace of Shunya and gets happily married and works as a teacher in Pine Grove School at Sheffield, UK. That reminds us of PGS at Madanapalli. The last chapter also talks of a young girl the daughter of Bhavani & Sadasivan ( Couple who host Shunya Saami in their house) who was born thanks to the blessing of Shunya Saami – who left home as a teenager and roamed around like a free bird with her band of mongrels – that sounded very much like “Mai Mai” the divine lady who blessed Sir when he was a young boy.

Overall a fascinating read – get your copy at the earliest and do share the word around.

पूर्णमदःपूर्णमिदंपूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्यपूर्णमादायपूर्णमेवावशिष्यते
शान्तिःशान्तिःशान्तिः

For more details on Sri M – please visit http://satsang-foundation.org

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