adventure travel & photography
I have travelled to Petra several times, including as a leader of a small group. The first few times, the archaeological remains were the most exciting part of these trips. The last time I was there, I started paying more attention to the locals - the men, women and children who hung out in front of the ancient caves and monuments, selling souvenirs or riding back and forth on their donkeys. These were the people of the B'doul tribe.
Although I wanted to learn more about them, I was more interested in the photographic aspect of these people - their faces, activities and clothing, their presence amidst the ruins as a whole. I realised that Petra wouldn't be the same without them; it would just be a museum, exciting and beautiful, but dead.
The B'doul tribe inhabited the caves of Petra until the 1980s. They claim descent from the Nabataeans who lived in the region towards the end of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, scientists cannot prove their relationship with the Nabataeans due to insufficient research and unreliable information.
After World War I, Emir Abdullah (who ruled Transjordan after the war) met with Bedouin sheikhs in 1923. He asked them to officially register their territorial claims to Petra and the surrounding area, which accordingly involved paying taxes. Since the Bedouins, of course, had no money, they agreed to cede the land to the state in exchange for a guarantee of their livelihood. Thus, the land around Petra no longer belonged to them.
After Petra was added to the World Heritage List UNESCO in the mid-1980s, many B'doul bedouins were forced to abandon their semi-nomadic lives and move to the newly built settlement next to Petra, Um Saihun, where they now live. They go to Petra every day to guide or provide local flair - from music and entertainment to transport by camel and donkey. It seems they feel a strong connection to the place, and some still hold on to Bedouin life and customs in the ancient valley.
Some of the Bedouins are incredibly knowledgeable and speak excellent English. I was surprised by one of our local guides, whose English was really impressive.
Unfortunately, there are also working children in Petra, mostly selling souvenirs along the ancient paths. Many of them leave school to help their parents.
If tourists wanted to see in the B'doul people the incarnation of the Nabataeans, they probably accepted that role. Propagating that identity was a strategy to gain recognition, and that's perfectly fine. If that helps them now, who cares if the Nabatean genes are still there or not.
I think that the B'doul people make a visit to Petra such a fascinating experience, a real adventure, a journey into the past and the present at the same time.
Here is an interesting article about the B'doul tribe if you want to learn a bit more about them.
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Petra is an easy place to visit independently. For travellers flying to Queen Alia International Airport, which is 30 minutes from Amman, you can reach Petra in about three hours by car. If you choose to use public transportation, you can take a JETT bus directly to Petra. There is a minibus that departs from Aqaba, although there is no schedule - it departs early in the morning from Wadi Musa towards Aqaba, and then returns from Aqaba when it is full, and so on. Some other options:
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