Jordan and Israel
It was a journey through history and through civilizations. My son Franav planned this visit to Jordan and Israel from 16th – 25th May, 2018. It was a trip which nearly got cancelled on account of the media spouting news of the violence in Israel where 58 people were killed on the Gaza strip. But before taking the decision to cancel, I called up my friend Mayah Penkar who has family residing in Israel asking him about the political turbulence in the region. He promptly called back 10 minutes later to say that his brother who resides in Israel was driving to work in peaceful environs. The locals know the situation best and so we zipped up our suitcases and off we went.
Our first stop was Jordan. The immigration process was smooth. We had a visa waiver done through ‘Jordan Select Tours’ through whom we had booked our travel. A luxury car with a very pleasant accommodating driver Khalil was kept at our disposal for 5 days. Jordan’s tourist attractions lie not only in its rich history, but also in its equally rich geography. History abounds with relics of the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras, whereas some of their great geographical attractions are the Dead Sea, the lowest point of the earth’s dry land, the River Jordan of Biblical fame and Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon.
We walked in the scorching sun through the ruins of Petra, a living museum embracing 10,000 years of human history, had a walking tour of Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman classical sites in the world, visited the castles of Ajloun with its Arab military architecture and even got lost in the winding tunnels of Kerark. There had to be a way out, my husband Vasu told me and l followed him at a distance panting and short of breath. We found our way back through another set of passages leading to the exit and freedom. Sitting for nearly 10 minutes trying to get my breath back, I marveled at my own mobility. Yes, I was able to do it. At Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon where the films ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Martian’ were filmed, we had a jeep drive through the valley, and saw first hand how the Bedouins live. Wadi Rum’s magic is in its amazing geology with its sandstone strata and its granite rock formations created two billion years ago.
The Dead Sea offered its own magical aura. While both Vasu and Franav had a dip in the Sea, floating in the mineral rich and buoyant waters, I could only go knee deep. But it was a heavenly experience just sitting there, watching the waters with its gentle ripples, while the sun set amidst this spectacular geological backdrop. A Bedouin dinner was another fascinating experience. Sitting on low chairs in a Bedouin tent, we partook of the delicious Middle Eastern food of meat and rice beneath a crescent moon.
Although our Biblical experience started with a visit to Mt. Nebo where Moses first had a glimpse of the Promised Land, the journey to the Holy Land started the next day. The nervousness set in as we had to cross the border from Jordan into Israel at the King Hussein Bridge at Allenby. Our Jordanian guide’s narration of his experiences at the immigration in Israel filled me with unease. He said that the Israeli authorities would look at your passport picture, then look you in the eye penetratingly, then look at the picture again and then speak on the phone to another person. While they were speaking on the phone, they would keep the passport in their back pockets. He was speaking totally of his experience. Being frequent travellers and having travelled worldwide, we are accustomed to passport control / immigration procedures as they are practised in different countries. But what was different here was when we said that we had come as tourists, the officer asked us whether we were Christians. I said that I was Christian, but my husband and son said that they were Hindu. I don’t think he was familiar with the word Hindu and he asked again whether Hindu meant Muslim. But we glided through the experience; it was so smooth and easy.
We took a taxi and headed for Jerusalem and stayed there for 4 days in a hotel in the heart of Jerusalem and just next to the Jaffa gate. We were at last at the land of milk and honey. The four hour long walking tour of Jerusalem on Day 1 took us to Mt. Zion, the place of the Lord’s Supper, up several Stations of the Cross and ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the tomb of Jesus lies. Thousands of pilgrims flock to pay homage to their Saviour here. The Mount of Olives, the Sycamore tree, the tomb of David, the tomb of Joseph of Arimithea, the Western Wall were other Biblical sites that we visited and which made the Holy Book come alive for us. At Bethlehem we had the joy of visiting the Church of the Annunciation, the Basilica of the Nativity, Shepherds’ Field, and the quarters of Joseph the carpenter who was married to Mary the mother of Jesus. Stepping into the River Jordan brought back vivid reflections of Jesus’s Baptism by John the Baptist. It was like breathing new life again.
Room of the Last Supper
Baptism at the River Jordan
Basilica of the Annunciation
I also got to visit Jericho, a city steeped in lengthy history, with layer upon layer of human habitation and civilizations dating to 9000 BCE. When we were young our friend Neville Monteiro would sing the song ‘Jericho’ at parties. I remember the words of the song went like this “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down” When Neville sang in his bass voice, we actually felt the walls quake, so powerful was his voice. I now learnt that ‘Joshua’ in the song was the biblical warrior who fought against the Cananites and won the battle of Jericho. Once again it was re-living the days gone by.
We passed peacefully to and from the territories of Israel and Palestine. There was no border check, nor we were asked for identifications. The drivers and guides on both sides were at ease with each other in the so-called conflict ridden terrain that is has become known for. There was peaceful co-existence between the Jews and the Arabs. And to think that we had actually thought of cancelling our trip to Israel because of the wild media hype.
Two beautiful countries Jordan and Israel, both soaked in Biblical history from Moses to Jesus. A must visit for travellers.