Sunday, January 20, 2013

Israel Omnibus 1 to 3

All roads lead to Jerusalem.
We left the beautiful small seashore town of Sharm El Sheik (Egypt) in the morning by taxi to Taba that is 230 kilometers. Road goes along Red Sea in the deserts of Sinai Peninsula. At our left side were the rugged and dry deserts of Mount Sinai Mountains where God gave laws to Moses. To our right side Saudi Arabia was visible on the other side of Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia is visible across Red Sea in Egypt.

20 kilometers before Taba our driver pointed out a building at the other side of Red Sea that was the Durra Border Crossing between Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Sianai Desert
Then after 7 kilometers we could see 3 countries from the Egypt side. To our north was the City of Eliat in Israel, across the Red Sea was the Jordan’s famous city Aquaba, and in the south west was the Saudi Arabia. Road near Taba became very scenic but unfortunately we didn’t stop in Taba. Our taxi driver dropped us near Israel border right on the Red Sea. We walked and first got our passport stamped by Egyptian authorities and then walked in Israeli immigration building. Israeli immigrations and customs were managed by young aged boys and girls who looked like school children. They were professional and efficient. Since Israel is very vulnerable to attacks so each traveler and each luggage passes through extreme but very efficient scrutiny.
View of Aquaba (Jordan) from Israeli Immigration office.
We were asked if we want our passports stamped with Israel entry and we said no, they stamped our visa on a separate paper. Many Muslim countries deny entry in their country, it person is bearing Israel stamp on his/her passport. We walked out of the immigration building, into the Israel. Nearest city is Eilat.
Israel Egypt Crossing
Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city, a busy port as well as a popular resort, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Aqaba. It is in the Negev Desert. From the sea shore, Jordanian port city of Aqaba as well land of Saudi Arabia was visible.
In Israel
After some distance was a local bus and we sit on it. Israel is shockingly expansive due to high inflation because of high defense budget. We get our first shock when we pad the bus fare at this local bus. Bus brings us in the main downtown. Restaurants were also shockingly expansive, not just we are in a trauma but also other people who crossed into Israel and then took the same bus with us were in the same state. Israel is a developed country, in Eliat we were feeling as we were in Arizona.
After Israel Immigration
We meet a gentleman from India who somehow got Israel visa but then overstayed there and found work. He directed us to a supermarket and advised us to buy flavored breads and spiced hummus. We followed his advice and ate our lunch in the roadside small park under the date trees that turned out great. Eilat is a resort town, rich Israelite come here for their beach vacations.
In Israel after border crossing
We take another bus to get to main bus-stand. At this modern Main Bus-Stand so we get the bus for Jerusalem and we buy our tickets in such a way so we could spend 2 hours at Dead Sea.
View of Negrev Desert from the road.
Gradually we are overcoming the cost shock in Israel. We have a cup of coffee in a restaurant near Bus Stand. Bus moves at 1PM.
Bus Stand near Israel entrance.
Bus departs and enters in the deadly Negrev desert.
Negrev Desert in Israel
In the patches we can see the Israel agriculture revolution. Fully machinated farms were on the way that use drip irrigation. Bus has to travel about 200 kilometers distance in 2 hours.
Israel Flag at Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is in between Israel, West Bank and Jordan.
A Bedouin near Dead Sea.
Its surface and shores are 423 meters (1,388 ft) below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 377 m (1,237 ft) deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With 33.7% salinity, it is also one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. It is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 67 kilometres (42 mi) long and 18 kilometres (11 mi) wide at its widest point. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River. The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years.
Dead Sea
Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David.
It is the ancient health resort, and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers.
People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets. In 2009.
Dead Sea, other side is Jordan.
Dead Sea has saltwater has density of 1.240 kg/L, which makes swimming similar to floating. I read my book while floating in the Dead Sea. Water is honey like and very bitter in taste. I made a mistake of tasting the water. Whereas sea water is 97% Sodium but Dead Sea water sodium is just 30%, rest is other salts and chlorides of calcium, Potassium and magnesium etc. Israel erected a potash plant to extract potash and other chemicals and Jordan followed the example and erected its own plant. Unfortunately water in Dead Sea is drying up because Jordan River is drying up. Israel has planned to build a tunnel to bring sea water from Red Sea and generate power and also restore Dead Sea but this requires the cooperation with Jordan so idea has not been materialized yet.
Masada Fort near Dead Sea
When we came out of water, we were sticking with viscous like chemicals that begin drying instantly in the dry air of deadly desert. There were coin operated fresh water showers to take a shower that we used. Unfortunately I shaved in the morning so my face was brutally burning with the salt contact.
Two settlers doing on a Donkey near Jerusalem.
Two years ago I visited Dead Sea from Jordan side that was visible from Israel side. Israel side is more developed and user friendly. People form many countries come to Dead Sea for their skin ailment and osteoarthritis treatment. Psoriasis patients claim that each bathing brings them some relief.
Armenian Quarters near our Hotel.

Part 2:

We had 2 hours at Dead Sea in Israel and then our bus departed for Jerusalem. On the way it passed in front of Masada.
Herod the Great the cruelest King in the human history; fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. , Irony of the matter is that he was a Jew himself and a Roman Client King. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish extremists overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, additional members of the Sicarii and numerous Jewish families fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop.
In 72, the Roman governor of Judea laid siege to Masada.
Jerusalem Old City
The Roman legion surrounded Masada, and built a circumvallation wall and then a siege embankment against the western face of the plateau, moving thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth to do so. Refugee did not counterattack the besiegers during this process.
The rampart was complete in the spring of 73, after two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide.
From Dead Sea, our buses begin its climb to Jerusalem that is 2500 feet above mean sea level, hence road climbs about 4000 feet. Very fast desert vanished and greenery begun.
Jerusalem Old City
Near Jerusalem, juniper trees begin appearing. First trees were stunted and stress but as city came closer trees were tall and healthy. Terrain was now grassy and rock but green. It was evening when we arrived in Jerusalem. Other passengers directed us to get down at a stop that was at walking distance from Old Walled City.
We pass a market, things were very expansive but we were overcoming the shock and were now spending on food.
Jerusalem Old City
We had coffee and snacks and then entered in old city through the Jaffa Gate. To our right were Armenian quarters and to our left were Christian quarters. We saw the sign of our hotel and went inside to ask for room. We like the hotel, this was a historic building but then all structures here are historic. Later on we discovered that there were no windows in the tunnel, still we liked it. It had a modern bathroom with running hot water.
Jerusalem Old City
It was 7PM and dark in the Mediterranean winters and we are not familiar with the maze of old city streets so we retract our steps and return to the same market where we had tea. It feels like a market in the downtown of Brooklyn or Queens. We cannot find anything vegetarian to eat here but wander around and finally buy beers, salads, breads and hummus. We return to our room with provisions and enjoy beer and salad and hummus sandwiches. We are falling in love with hummus.
Hummus is a Middle Eastern and Arabic food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas (white grams or white chana) blended with sesame seed, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
Jerusalem Old City
It is popular throughout the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa, Morocco, and in Middle Eastern cuisine around the world. Now it is sold in America also on almost every supermarket. It is also sold in big supermarkets of India. I bought it in Bangalore.
After dinner we walk around the town in night. Security is extremely tight, very young Jewish security men with automatic weapons are stationed at various places but they don’t bother us or interfere in our walk this is very unlike in India.
Jerusalem Old City
They are very vigil and alert. In Srinagar in J&K we see such vigil but at night security people stop and interfere into everyone’s life.
Next day we get oriented with the maze of old town of Jerusalem which is like Darya Ganj area in Old Delhi (between Azmeri Gate and Jama Masjid)
Ancient maps show Jerusalem at the center and Europe, Asia and Africa in a circle. A city like Jerusalem does not exist anywhere else in the world. Jerusalem is a myriad of towering stone walls, ancient buildings, narrow alleyways, colorful markets, war and peace, love and hate. The Old City was originally built by King David in 1004 B.C.E
Jerusalem Old City
This is the holy city for three religions. This was the place where the Jews built the Temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Mohammed rose to Heaven. Pilgrims, beggars, convicts, merchants, scholars, warriors and slaves have all walked its streets, and have praised and revered Jerusalem.
This city is resting on the original hills of the City of David and surrounded by an ancient wall over four kilometers long with seven gates, 34 towers, and a citadel (the Tower of David).
Jerusalem Old City
Old city Jerusalem is divided in 4 parts also called quarters. The Armenian quarter is the smallest quarter of the Old City. Armenia was the first country to become Christian in 301 CE. In February 313, Constantine I, emperor of Rome controlling the west of the Roman Empire and Licinius, controlling the east, met in Milan and agreed to treat the Christians compassionately. Constantine I himself converted into Christianity. Then Armenians begin settling in Jerusalem in 4th century because Jerusalem was ruled by Romans.
Jerusalem Old City
We stayed in an ancient hotel in Armenian quarters. Our windowless room was in a tunnel like place made of heavy stones. History indicated that our room was where used to be a garrison in the bygone era. As we are staying in Armenian quarters so we begin exploring this area first. This is the most peaceful area of the old city.
Jerusalem Old City
Jerusalem Old City

Part 3

Facing our hotel was the Christian quarter; this quarter has more than 40 churches, monasteries and hostels. In the center is the Church of the Resurrection. Where, it is said that Jesus was crucified and buried following his final walk along the Via Dolorosa (Way of suffering). The famous Via Dolorosa begins at the courthouse near Lions’ Gate and ends at Calvary Hill or Golgotha. It is the tradition that all pilgrims walk along the Via Dolorosa.
Christian Quarters
We then enter in the maze of the streets of Christian quarters. First we find a small restaurant and we have breakfast of toasted bread and butter. Then we walk on this famous Via Dolorosa along with other pilgrims. Many pilgrims are walking with rented symbolic crosses.
Pilgrims retracing the path where Jesus carried the cross.
We enter in the Church of Resurrection and witness the religious activities going in there. Then we enter in several other churches. We again walk on the Via Delarosa; this is not just one street but a path that follows several streets.
The market – one of Jerusalem’s most popular tourist attractions, is located in the Christian quarter and is a noisy, colorful market where one can buy decorated pottery, candles, souvenirs etc.
Christian Quarter
The Jewish quarter is the main Jewish area in the old City. Temple Mount also touches this quarter.
The Temple Mount is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a religious site for thousands of years.
Church is built where Jesus was crucified.
At least four religions are known to have used the Temple Mount:Judaism, Christianity, Roman paganism, and Islam. First temple was built by Solomon the son of David in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by theRoman Empire in 70 CE. Jewish tradition maintains it is here the Third and final Temple will also be built.
Via Deloroas – path of suffering. Jesus walked on this way with his cross.
The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to rabbinical law, some aspect of the Divine Presenceis still present at the site. Among Sunni Muslims, the Mount is widely considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary (Bait-ul-Muqaddas) and the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, The Al Aqsa Mosque rests on the far southern side of the Mount, facing Mecca.
Christian Quarter
The Dome of the Rock currently sits in the middle, occupying or close to the area where the Bible mandates the Holy Temple be rebuilt. Due to the dual claims of both Judaism and Islam, it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over this site, which remains a major focal point of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Christian Quarters
In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors. Israeli police first asked us if we are Muslim when we said no they told us that we cannot go in there. But then we saw some other foreigners in the temple and this time we were adamant with police men. Many Palestinian onlookers gathered to watch our argument with the police and crowd was only growing and abruptly police asked us to proceed in the temple.
Pilgrims retracing the path where Jesus carried the cross.
But when we went to Wailing Wall, nobody prevented us along with other many pilgrims and tourists.
The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is located at the foot of the western side of theTemple Mount. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard, and is arguably the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself. Just over half the wall, including its 17 courses located below street level, dates from the end of the Second Temple period, commonly believed to have been constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great
The Western Wall refers not only to the exposed section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the sections concealed behind structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount, such as the Little Western Wall–a 25 ft (8 m) section in the Muslim Quarter.
Christian Quarters
It has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. Attempts to purchase rights to the wall and its immediate area were made by various Jews, but none were successful. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership, who were worried that the wall was being used to further Jewish nationalistic claims to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. Outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace and an international commission was convened in 1930 to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the wall.
Wailing Wall where Jews Pray and also they insert their prayers written on the paper in the cracks in the wall.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the wall came under Jordanian control and Israelis were barred from the site for 19 years until Israel captured the Old City in 1967.
Jews from all countries, and as well as tourists of other religious backgrounds, go to pray at the wall, where many people believe that one immediately has the “ear of God. ” People who cannot pray at the wall can send in prayers or ask for the Kaddish, a specific Jewish prayer, to be said for departed loved ones. Prayers that are sent in are placed into the cracks of the walls and are called kvitelach.
Pilgrims retracing the path where Jesus carried the cross.
There might be a small charge for this service, depending on the person or organization that is providing the service. When the small pieces of papers become too numerous — more than 1 million are placed each year — they are removed and buried.
The Wailing Wall can be visited at any time of the day. Visitors typically are thoroughly searched for security purposes.
Christian Quarters
Women of any religion, out of respect for Judaic law, should wear modest clothing. There are separate entrances for men and women, although they can regroup at the Wall. . .
Christian Quarters.


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