The Queen Of Jordan, that is! I’m just back from a press trip to write about the new Jordan Trail for the Telegraph, and on the last day we were unexpected (for security reasons) summoned to meet HM Queen Rania, who is a fantastic ambassador for for her country. She was glamorous and charming, spoke perfect English, and was genuinely interested in the Jordan Trail project, which has been almost thirty years in the making. Flying home from Jordan yesterday I picked up a copy of the Jordan Times to read on the flight, and found a report of Queen Rania’s visit, including a group photo (I’m in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, in the lilac scarf). All in all, I walked 60 kms through spectacular mountain scenery to Petra, before the royal visit. An amazing finale to an amazing trip!
In January I expressed the hope of returning to the Middle East to resume my travel journalism after a few years where this took a back seat due to the uncertain political situation, and the (quite understandable) reluctance for editors to commission travel features about the region. Well, it looks like my hopes have been realised, and I will be returning very soon: to write about a new hiking trail that runs the length of Jordan for the Telegraph. It will be fantastic to hike once more in that amazing country, some 10 years after I first led walking trips there, and good to meet again some of the kindest people I’ve ever come across in my travels (including, I hope, some old friends…).
On 1 May this year I was invited to address an audience at the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) in London on the theme ‘Discovering Jordan’, for potential travellers to that fascinating country. Founded in 1830, the RGS has funded some of Britain’s most intrepid explorers including Darwin, Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton and Hillary, so it was an honour to speak there, alongside Tony Howard who with his partner Di Taylor developed adventure tourism in Jordan. Here’s a photo of us both in action.
I will never forget my first view of Petra’s Treasury (el-Khazneh), glimpsed one early morning over seven years ago after a long, winding walk through the ancient city’s famous Siq (canyon). I have returned many times since, and the view never fails to swipe my breath away. This view of Petra is an iconic one, and has hardly changed since the Nabateans carved their city out of the sheer rockface of the spectacular Shara mountains of southern Jordan around the first century BC. Then, two hundred years ago this year, on 22 August 1812, young Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt also experienced the same breathtaking view when he entered Petra after it had been lost for many hundreds of years. The city is now celebrating its rediscovery, and my piece for TIME Magazine, giving Five Reasons to Visit Petra, was published to coincide with the events. (If you are not a TIME subscriber you can read the PDF version here).
Recently I was asked at short notice by Oryx, the excellent magazine of Qatar Airways, to write a little piece about visiting Petra for a weekend from Amman (and here it is in the May edition of the e-magazine, p. 22). I’ve visited Jordan many times, and travelled along the very ancient King’s Highway often, so was able to write it up from previous experience. It’s always nice to be asked to do a piece of work rather than have to pitch an idea, and always good to be able to oblige. And it reminded me why I love travel writing so much: it allows me to retrace a favourite journey in my imagination as vividly as if I were still there in real life.
Jordan is the first country in the Middle East I visited, and for a number of years I led hiking trips there. So when the editor of The Spectator’s new travel supplement asked me to write a piece on adventure travel, I was happy to oblige her with a piece on walking through Jordan.