the 5 untold treasures of northern israel

Welcome back to my Israel series. One of my favourite countries in the world.

Jerusalem and the West Bank are the crux of most travels to the Holy Land. Which is completely understandable. It’s tough to compete with sites related to the religions of over half the global population and the multifaceted catch 22 political situation between Palestine and Israel. But the outcome is that one often neglects the extreme north and south of the country. Why, oh why, are the most stunning treasures often missed out on tourist loops?

I did not get to explore the Negev Desert and Eilat when I went to Israel for two weeks in November last year—this is now scheduled as my first post-COVID 19 travels—but I did make it to the north, all the way to the Lebanese and yes, Syrian borders. And it is what I encountered on the way that makes travel in Israel so darned addictive. Every 25-odd kilometres was a new experience, unlike anything else.

In prettiness personified multi-cultural Haifa, I gazed in wonder at one of Israel’s most photographed views, the picture-perfect symmetrical Baha’i Gardens from the top of Mount Carmel. Did you know when the Baha’i pray, they face Northern Israel? Aah, but more of that later in this post. In Crusader Akko, I witnessed the reckless courage of a movement determined to bring Jerusalem back into the Christian fold. And if not Jerusalem, oh, then Akko would do. 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