Petra by Night

Bedouin music wavers with the candlelight

The land is dark and dry. The air thick with desert scents and sounds. Although there are people ahead on the path, I can only hear them faintly. It’s that dark. There is a little light shed by the moon, but beyond that, the only light comes from candles in paper bags that line the way. Beyond that, pitch dark, broken only by changes in depth as rock turns to sky and back again.

The path leads into the distance
The path leads off into the distance

The path slopes gently down, until it takes a sharp left, narrowing into a crack between two towering walls of rock, that blend almost seamlessly with the dark night sky. The candles cast pockets of light and dancing shadows on the canyon walls. People are weirdly stretched and flicker on the opposite wall as they walk past. Some bend over tripods, cameras clicking away in the dark trying to capture some vestige of a scene that is almost impossible to describe, let alone capture in a single photograph.

Photographers in the Siq
Photographers in the Siq

The path winds between the rocks, the only landmarks the candles that light the way. Otherwise it’s just blank rock walls. After some minutes, the faintest sounds of music and singing can be heard. Not in a language I understand, but that doesn’t matter. As I draw closer, the light grows stronger, the sound louder and then finally, I am disgorged into a wide open space full of light, sound and people, raftered by a vast sky, dotted with stars.

Cameras flash in the night
Cameras flash pointlessly in the night

Before me is a scintillating sea of light and towering above it an edifice once described as ‘half as old as time’. Between the Treasury and me is a mass of people, each huddled in as small a spot as possible, whispering in hushed tones, if at all, while the Bedouin play their music and sing gently, as if we were taking part in some secret religious ceremony.

The Treasury by Night
The Treasury by Night

The music drones on for a while, the lights flicker and hushed conversations wind down before the appointed Bedouin representative says a few words and wishes us all welcome. Cameras flash pointlessly, memories are etched into brains and before long it all comes to an end. We wander back through the Siq and into the 21st century again, but not before we all marvel in shared silence at the place and the event we have just witnessed. It may happen twice a week, but somehow that doesn’t dilute or sully it. If anything, I am glad that more people get to share such an extraordinary place and treasure it as much as I do. It’s rare to find something that unites people nowadays.

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