Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1

We signed up for a 9-day all-inclusive Holyland package tour in early April this year (2011) at a local tour-company (Royal Omania). The timing was based on the kid’s summer holidays (April-May) rather than on any particular touring season. June through September is the peak season with the three months on either side labeled the “shoulder season”. Pricing was Rs 60.5K (~$1350) for an adult with a Rs 5K (~$110) discount for children between 5 and 12. Compared to similar tours from the Western US and UK priced in the $3K range, this is less than half, but then so is the distance (below 3K miles compared to around 8K miles). Tour companies offering similar tours galore in Kerala, so competition probably helped.


The day before the trip, a Royal Omania representative reminded us to carry umbrellas as light rain was expected during our trip. The rep mentioned to meet at the airport three-hours before the flight time but was unable to provide a contact number. A kit handed out at the airport included electronic ticket docs, a name-badge, and a baseball cap. Group check-in worked well at Nedumbassery Airport and that too with individual bag tags. It took nine hours to get to Jordan and the service level of our carrier, Gulf Air was OK. The wing to Bahrain took 4.5 hours and from there to Amman was another 2.5 hours with a two-hour break. Breakfast was served on both the flights and the Amman flight had the interesting option of fol – refried fava beans with no meat.


The flights were on time and we reached Queen Alia Airport in the southern outskirts of Amman on time at around 11:30 AM. The visa procedure went smooth – group visa with an arrival stamp in the passport. We had to while away 90-minutes at the airport before the group from Chennai could join us. A tour guide from Al Thuraya Travel and Tours escorted us to the tour bus (Volvo type low rise with AC). First stop after departure was at the Assa Mosa restaurant near Mount Nebo – Middle Eastern Buffett lunch with chicken, lemon rice, salads, pita bread, and dessert. Adjacent to the restaurant is a curio store (Uyun Musa Hand Craft) where good mosaic art pieces were upwards of $25. The view across from the restaurant is fantastic - the Promised Land, Moses Springs (Uyun Musa), and the Dead Sea.


After lunch, we proceeded to Mount Nebo, ten minutes west of Madaba (the city of Mosaics – Roman Byzantian Town). Mount Nebo is where the Hebrew Prophet Moses was shown the view of the Promised Land, God was giving the Israelites as mentioned in the Bible (Deuternomy 34:1):

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho.

Jews and Christians believe Moses was buried on Mount Nebo by God Himself although the location of his final resting place is unknown. The site is also revered as where the Prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in a cave as mentioned in the Bible (2 Maccabees 2:4-7). A 2009 book named the “The Temple at the Center of Time” by David Flynn claimed evidence had been found that the Ark is hidden at Mount Nebo. We stopped by the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Mount Nebo. The church houses the 6th century original mosaic map of the Promised Land. The Map was originally around 90 square meters but only about a quarter survived. The current church was built in 1896 AD, following the discovery of the Map. A church was first constructed here in the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death. The mosaic contains the earliest extant representation of Byzantine Jerusalem and provides important details of the 6th century landmarks with the central colomnaded street and the Holy Sepulchre. At the far corner of the church, there is a vantage viewing area with a large structure featuring the serpentine cross sculpture atop Mount Nebo (Brazen Serpent Statue - Serpentine Cross – metal decoration designed by Giovanni Fantoni). It symbolizes the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness, as mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 21:4-9):


The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road that leads to the Gulf of Aqaba, in order to go round the territory of Edom. But on the way the people lost their patience and spoke against God and Moses. They complained “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert where there is no food or water? We can’t stand anymore of this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many Israelites were bitten and died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Now pray to the Lord to take these snakes away.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed.


A new church was being built in the area at the time of our visit (April 2011). Pope John Paul II visited the place in 2000 AD – he planted an olive tree near the Byzantine church as a symbol of peace. A small museum in the property features mosaics from the Kayanos Church from the Byzantine period along with other mosaics. Abu Badd, the rolling stone used as a fortified door of a Byzantine monastery, a memorial stone for Moses, and a large stone with carvings remembering Pope’s visit are other sites of interest within this property.


Our next stop was the Virgin Mary Church and the Archaeological Park of Madaba. A large number of mosaic monuments were rediscovered in the northern part of the city, giving it the name “City of Mosaics”. The area crossed by the colomnaded Roman road (cardo) has the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Church of Prophet Elijah with its crypt, the Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir), the Burnt Palace, and the Church of the Sunna’ family. Some mosaics found in the Church of the Virgin and the Apostles depict an assortment of flora and fauna and general life scenes – one that really caught our eye was the progressive depiction of people from all races (whites, blacks, etc) killing wild animals followed by their domestication, and finally using them in transportation. A short walk took us through several shops selling mosaics and other curios where we took a 10-minute shopping break.


Our first night's stay was at the Amaken Plaza Hotel, a 3-star hotel at the end of Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Street. It is located on a busy street – rooms facing the road can be quite noisy while the inside ones are fine. Welcome drink and bell service went flawless. Buffet dinner had a good selection (chicken, pasta, salads, soufflé, jello, etc.) although service was a bit indifferent. Buffet breakfast the following morning also had a varied selection (mashed potato, gravy, pita bread, egg, ham, cheese, olives, oj/coffee/tea, cake, sour cream, etc.).


The following day started with a 2-hour journey to the Israeli border crossing Jordan River at Sheikh Hussein Bridge. The process of crossing the border was smooth but time consuming – as one has to remove all baggage and go through security twice (Jordan and Israel) - it took additional time on the Israeli side for some people when they did some extra checking for people with US passports living in India but working outside India. A new tour bus and guide was waiting on the Israeli side of the border and we proceeded with the next item in our itinerary. All in all, the Jordan portion of the tour was lovely although we felt it was much too short.

 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
  9. Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.  
  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

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