Jordan is a country that surprises the traveller at every step .A little bit of the Romans, a little bit of the Bedouins, a journey into Biblical era, a trip down the ages into the world of Nabataeans – Jordan is a fusion of many ancient cultures. As a traveller, you want to soak into every aspect of it . Our journey takes us from the capital town of Amman into Jerash, a Roman town and then onwards into the spectacular Petra, into the deserts of Wadi Rum and of course the Dead Sea .
I am spoilt for choices when it comes to buying souvenirs from here. There is jewellery, scarves, mosaics, ceramics and of course the usual fridge magnets and T shirts at every shop. But I am fascinated by a few colourful bottles.
As we walk through the mountains of Petra, we stop by at some of the Bedouin tents and chat with the locals. And that is when our guide Abdul gives us a moment to breathe and look around. We see more tents filled with colourful glass bottles in different sizes and learn about bottled sand art.
Petra with its rose red hues is known for the multi coloured sands and these are collected in large cups and are diligently arranged in layers inside a bottle, while the artist literally paints the motif . Some say the art started in the 1920s but the main design of silhouetted camels in a caravan plodding through a desert of colourful sands came up much later , almost 60 years ago. Layers of multi- hued sands in a desert, birds in a sky, a caravan ploughing its way through the desert, the palm trees in an oasis – they almost look like delicate paintings inside a glass bottle.
I am told that the colours are real, as the sands are actually scraped from various rock faces in Petra. I pick up a few bottles , one of them brightly painted with a combination of yellows and light browns as the camels take me to a lovely oasis in the desert. We are in a hurry, else I would have got my name etched in the bottles in the sands of time.
Another souvenir that fascinates me are the mosaics of Madaba. A town steeped in the Biblical era, Madaba holds the clues for many sites mentioned in the Old Testament, including Jerusalem, Bethany among others. Mosaics in the form of maps marked with these sites are unearthed below many monuments here and these mosaics have now become a veritable art form and a souvenir to pick up from here.
We walk inside a workshop right outside Madaba near Mt Nebo. Here we see several artisans working on creating replicas of the original designs that were etched on the maps. The mosaics are all hand –made. The ancient symbols, monuments, trees, birds, scenes out of Biblical tales , scenery, geographic maps with rivers and mountains compete with contemporary designs and popular political and film personalities. There is Marlin Monroe for instance staring at us from her mosaic tile. And a replica of ancient Jerusalem is in our midst.
I learn that there is a school that teaches locals to learn the art of preserving and conserve the original mosaics as more such maps are unearthed below every monument in Madaba.
Some of the artisans are even taught the art of making these mosaics which are sold virtually in every souvenir shop in Jordan. I pick up a small wooden box with mosaics on the lid and a couple of mosaics depicting the tree of life before leaving Madaba before journeying towards the Dead Sea.