a self-guided walk through biblical mount of olives

Caution: This post is for travellers. Not tourists.

Whew. Now that I have got that out of the way, let me write on. Comforted by the thought you and I are on the same page.

Some of us like to wander. To immerse ourselves at a particular site just because, inexplicably, it touches a chord within us. To gaze at the details. Behind and under the obvious. To look at all versions of history and legends with an open mind.

The reason I bring it up particularly for my post on the Mount of Olives is because one cannot not visit the Mount of Olives while in Jerusalem. For that would be blasphemy. But you’d like to do it at your own pace.

Why? Because you are in the Holy Land. And Jesus Christ spent his last night before his crucifixion as well as ascended to heaven from here. Christian communities from around the globe have built a string of lovely churches down a near perpendicular street between these two key sites. Because you do not have to be believers of the Old or New Testament to believe in a higher sacred self. Or Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. But also, because the view from the top and the walk to the bottom is what memories, which make you all starry-eyed once back home, are made of. 🙂 Continue reading

36 hours in tel aviv

Flashback. 11 April, 1909. There are 66 Jewish families standing in a circle on a desolate sand dune, just north of Jaffa, the ancient Arab port-city on the Mediterranean coast. Inside the circle are two boxes. One contains 60 grey seashells with plot numbers and the other has 60 white seashells with names of the families. A girl randomly picks up a grey seashell while a boy picks up a white seashell.

And hence, the first 60 plots of Tel Aviv meaning the ‘hill of spring’ are assigned and Israel’s future city is born. Within one year all the homes are built along with the main streets.

Flashforward. November 2019. The Tel Aviv I am standing in is futuristic and forward-looking. It is an IT hub, gay capital of the Middle East, vegan capital of the world, secular, hedonistic, and has an all-night party scene and 15 kilometres of sun, sand and sea.

There are around 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups in the city, the highest outside Silicon Valley, to the extent Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas are called Silicon Wadi [Wadi is Arabic for valley]. The technology behind all chats, the world’s first anti-virus software, and USB stick were invented here.

I see lesbian couples indulging in heavy PDA and muscled men in leather briefs strut down the jogging paths on Rothschild Boulevard. Everyone seems to have a dog. According to statistics, Tel Aviv has a 17-to-1 people to dog ratio and 60 dog parks. And yes, it is also one of the top 10 cities for the most beautiful women … and men.

But Tel Aviv is not just all beauty and brains and their furry best friends, as I discovered. Continue reading

the three magnificent jewels of israel’s judaean desert

It was 2 am and I could not take my eyes off the exhilarating landscape in the travel documentary. I sat hunched over my computer with goose bumps on my arms, infatuated at the desert and oasis and sea which unfurled in front of me. I was leaving for Israel in a couple of weeks.

“This can’t be for real???” was all my cynical mind could muster at regular intervals. But numerous other media reiterated the same splendours with stubborn vendetta to my doubting self.

Not many places live up to their hype—except the Judaean Desert. As I discovered last year in November. Continue reading

nazareth, in search of jesus christ’s hometown

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Come and see.”

The above conversation took place between two of Jesus Christ’s would-be disciples, Nathanael and Philip, some 2,000 years ago and has been recounted many times over through the Bible.

Nazareth back then was a city steeped in vice. Against a backdrop of crime and derelict morals, a young innocent virgin was told she would give birth to the son of god. This son went on to spend his childhood and youth in Nazareth’s by-lanes and eventually lead a religion that has 2.4 billion followers today or almost one-third of the global population.

Though Bethlehem is more closely associated with Christ during Christmas, I thought I’d write about his hometown instead this festive season, and the sites connected with his home and family—for is that not what Christmas is about? A time for celebration with family. 😊 Continue reading

global travel shot: uninterrupted prayers at the wailing wall

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Welcome to my blog post series on Israel, a tiny country where world politics and religions converge, and it takes a mere five hours to drive across its entire length. 🙂

So, is Israel on your bucket list? It was on mine. For a very long time. But I was filled with doubts on how to go about it. It turned out that the one country I was most unsure and nervous about travelling to solo and independently was in fact the easiest to explore on my own. Israel is an independent traveller’s dream come true.

Don’t believe me?

Come along with me as I blog about Israel over the next few months, the land of Yhwh’s “Chosen Ones,” in a series which traverses three Abrahamic religions and countless natural sites of mind-boggling beauty over a 15-day voyage—at the epicentre of which is the “Wall.” Continue reading

the spectacular treasures of samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

~ James Elroy Flecker

One cannot claim to be a traveller, and not have made the journey to Samarkand. Or at least have thought of it, fantasised about it. It would be blasphemy.

Samarkand is everything the traveller searches for, within and outside of oneself. It reveals secrets about life held gently amidst its spectacular edifices in blue and gold. The romantic exotic tile-clad mosques, madrasahs, tombs, bazaars and squares transpose one back 500 years in time to a grand fairy-tale city, deep in arid windswept Central Asia. On a philosophical note, Samarkand is the semi-mythological place of “justice, fairness, and righteousness” in Islamic Classical literature.

Much like Flecker’s reference to it, a lust for knowing more about ourselves and these ideals, makes the passage to Samarkand one of those non-negotiable, mandatory journeys one just has to take. 🙂 Continue reading

why tashkent needs to be in your travel bucket list

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I bet you never thought of Tashkent as a candidate for your travel bucket list. Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand in Uzbekistan—of course. But Tashkent? It’s the administrative centre. Aren’t capital cities of historically rich countries drab and dry in comparison? Well, at least that is the assumption we most often live with. A fair enough one, for they often are so, serving as entry and exit points for air travel, or are confined to business and politics.

But some are a bit more. Tashkent is one of them. Now I am not saying it is steeped in history or burgeoning with attractions like the rest of the country. You may well be disappointed if you expect too much. You may even get cross with me for my recommendation. 🙂

Known as Tashkent or Toshkent, meaning ‘Stone City’ since the 11th Century, it is a showcase of ‘modern Uzbekistan’, a sparsely populated country proud of both its rich heritage and recent independence in 1991. Continue reading

shakhrisabz, warlord tamerlane aka temur the lame’s hometown

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The grandeur of the Ak-Saray Palace and the simplicity of his own intended tomb—both in Shakhrisabz—perhaps best describe Amir Temur the person, better known as Tamerlane [Temur, the lame]. Complex, multi-faceted, termed history’s most callous butcher, conqueror of southern, western and central Asia, he was the founder of the Timurid dynasty, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire in India. He lived from 1336 – 1405 AD.

Ahmad ibn Arabshah, Temur’s Arab biographer, had to say this of him when the latter was 70 years old:

“Steadfast in mind and robust in body, brave and fearless, firm as rock. He did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him … He loved bold and valiant soldiers, by whose aid he opened the locks of terror, tore men to pieces like lions, and overturned mountains. He was faultless in strategy, constant in fortune, firm of purpose and truthful in business.”

Continue reading

top 15 memorable things to do in bukhara

Bukhara is the third stop on my journey to Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

Whilst Khiva is a compact fairy-tale town enclosed in medieval walls, Bukhara is scattered, both geographically and thematically, as well as bigger: There is the marketplace, learning and spiritual hub, royal grounds, and necropolis. If one is not aware of its various facets, it is easy to give some of them a slip.

And hey, Bukhara does not come into our lives every day. So here are my top 15 things to do in Bukhara, a World Heritage Site, and why I chose to put them in this list. If you have any that you feel merit a place, please do share. 🙂

1. Get up close and personal with Nasreddin Hodja, the Islamic world and Bukhara’s most loved trickster

bukhara_nasreddinhodja Continue reading

khiva: pearl of the great silk road and khanate of khiva

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Khiva. The very word conjures up a vision of towering minarets and ancient mosques clustered together in a small, medieval, walled town in the midst of golden desert sands. Don’t you agree? The reality, even after centuries, is no different.

I arrived at this mystical city—tired, dusty, hungry—after a long day’s drive through the expanse of Khorezm, the Zoroastrian viloyet of Uzbekistan. As I opened my hotel bedroom window, distracted with memories of forts and dakhmas, a dusk-dappled Khodja Minaret, a mere stone’s throw away from my room, welcomed me to its home. It was one of those Aah-ah moments which I guess I will keep with me all my life. 🙂 The reason I had travelled miles to cover this journey washed over me. I smiled back at the minaret, and whispered “Rahmat [Thank you].” Continue reading

zoroastrian khorezm: the ancient viloyat of uzbekistan

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A journey to Samarkand is about medieval mythical cities and ancient forts going as far back as 500 years before Christ. First Zoroastrian, followed by Islamic, the sites still stand in all their glory today—many restored, others in ruins. But in spite of this, the journey is not just about geographies, edifices or time. It is to the grandeur within us. But that, I hope, will become clearer as my blog post series on Uzbekistan unfolds. 🙂

I started in Nukus. You may well ask why Nukus for it is not the usual starting point. Well, my answer is: It is the western most city, has the finest collection of historical and cultural artefacts at its State Art Museum Savitsky Collection thereby offering a splendid introduction to the country, and is the most low key in the circuit. Everything only gets more fantastical from here onwards.

Nukus also lies on the outskirts of Khorezm [or Khwarezm or Chorasmia (Persian)]—an oasis, the site of an ancient civilization by the same name, and now a province. Continue reading

the golden journey to samarkand

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[I traveled to Uzbekistan for 11 days in September 2015. My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here. The post remains a personal favourite, and I wanted to share it with you. 🙂 ]

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‘Ishani!’ I can feel scores of eyes bore into me. There is the blatant stare, the questioning glance, the shy surreptitious gaze. They are all invariably accompanied with the word ‘Ishani’ whispered in hushed tones. The wide-cheek-boned faces soon, thereafter, break into warm welcoming grins and I hear the magical word again, ‘Ishani’. Aah, I get it. It’s a greeting! Ishani to you too, my dear.

I have just arrived in Nukus, a remote, Russian-ised town in north-west Uzbekistan where I am to start my 11-day journey across a country I have dreamt about, bucket listed and hankered to visit since I read the poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker:

“We are the Pilgrims, master: we shall go
Always a little further …
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men are born.”

Continue reading