Travel Changes you. You never come back from a trip the same as you were before you started. Similar is the story of my Israel trip.
I got back from a week-long Israel trip just a day back, and I can already tell that something in me has changed. Ever since I sat on the flight that took me from Mumbai International Airport to Tel Aviv’s famous Ben Gurion International Airport, I have been thinking about what to write about the Israel trip, about how to start telling my Israel story. All through the week, between stunning landscapes and mind-blowing adventure activities that I tried, I found no answer on how to begin.
I kept running ideas about articles and posts in my mind, and also discussed a few of them with my guide and fellow travellers. Nothing helped. Sooner than I liked, it was time to head back home and I still had no clue on how do I start to write about this trip. Where to begin? If you read my articles often, you know that having nothing to say is a rare thing for me. So, it was overwhelming and exhausting at the same time that I had nothing, Nada, zilch. A week full of experiences later, I didn’t know where to start on Israel!
Then this morning, I read a comment on one of my Israel pictures on Facebook.
‘Brilliant picture. Only you could have chosen to travel to Israel, Aditi. Bravo.’ it said.
This brought back all the comments on various forums that I read for research before my Israel trip, and all the shocked responses I got from people when they found out that I was going to go on an Israel trip soon. ‘Why would you travel to Israel, isn’t it unsafe?’ ‘The political unrest is alarming, can’t you cancel?’ ‘Don’t you have enough Right Wing extremist bullshit in India already that you now want to visit Israel too?’ ‘But, what about Gaza Strip? Aren’t you scared?’ – these are some of the reactions I got.
Naturally, all this got me a little worried about my own security so I did what any smart, new-age and well-aware individual would do – I promptly Google-ed Israel. The images and article that Google threw up in 0.76 seconds were terrifying. According to what I was seeing on my smartphone-screen, my Israel trip was going to be full of smartly dressed soldiers in aviators trying to shoot me, high-tech weapons being aimed at me by random extremist groups and crowded religious spots that looked like the Maha Kumbh at the Holy Ganges in India, famous (in Bollywood) for separating families and twin brothers. I put my phone away and decided to not let any of this get to me. Thank God I am not travelling with my twin brother, I said to myself in an attempt to calm down. Not that I have any twin brothers, but you know what I mean.
However, in the end of the day, the traveller in me was undeterred by any of this, and was mighty excited about the Israel trip. Very early in my life, I had learnt a valuable lesson that applies to almost everything, and especially travel. It is:
Don’t Listen To What They Say; Go See.
And so I went to see, to explore and to experience Israel myself.
I am assuming you have already read my previous update on my Israel trip, and you know that I my trip was in association with Woodland and the Israel Ministry of Tourism. This was to be an exploratory and adventure trip, and I couldn’t have been happier even though I haven’t gone on a Moderate or higher grade trek in almost four years now. Adventure is in my blood, said my fellow traveller Kiran, the winner of Woodland’s extensive contest called No Ticket To Explore, or in short – #NTTE, and although I was a little shy to admit it to them, this used to be my life mantra too.
But ever since Gauri was born (my daughter) four years back, I had not done anything more than a few Grade Easy Himalayan Treks, some Offbeat Vacations that involved hiking the Garhwal Himalayas and of course, trying to run after her when she decided she wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle. This Israel trip would give me a new start, I decided happily. I was a part of a three people group and everything was planned for us well in advance. The Israel Ministry of Tourism had put in a lot of thought and effort in planning our trip, and Woodland’s state of art outdoor gear were to be our constant support and strong companions. We were all set. On day one, the adventure began!
I will write in detail about all destinations as a part of my Israel Trip series, but here is a quick look at the places I visited and the adventure activities I did:
- Exploring Jerusalem. From the Mount of Scopus, The Holy City of Jerusalem looked like a painting, so beautiful and calm. The Israel Ministry of Tourism arranged an exclusive tour for us which blew my mind. I am extremely fascinated by history, archaeology and ancient cultures, and this was quite literally the best place for it. I walked narrow winding tunnels three levels below the current city of Jerusalem, and saw sections that were excavated as recently as 5 years back. I had goose bumps on my arms almost all the time, this was such a thrilling experience. I prayed at the Western Wall and tore a page from my planner to write in a few (okay, fourteen) wishes and put them in the sacred wall. I walked all day through Jerusalem, drinking in the overwhelming cultural diversity, the heritage and the coming together of old world and the new one. What an experience, really.
- Dead Sea Region – We drove to the Qumran National Park where I did rappelling (where I dropped my poor phone from the height of 40 meters, but it still survived and I love my phone obviously!). We then hiked the very intriguing mountains of Nahal Arugot, in Ein Gedi. Thanks to my sister, I find rocks and mountains very interesting and listening to the geographical and archaeological history of the place from our very thorough guides was enchanting. I mean, a line of mountains almost touching each other, but formed of three different materials – Sandstone, Limestone, Granite – is nothing short of being magical. Imagine the history of how they were formed and you will be amazed and intrigued as well, I’m sure.
- Floating in the Dead Sea. Sadly, I went alone and my phone was already broken by now, so I have no pictures on me actually floating in the Dead Sea and for this alone I want to go back to Israel. But yeah, I did attempt a lunatic looking selfie and I’m going to treasure it. But but but – I WAS FLOATING IN THE DEAD SEA! Me! I can’t get over it, really. The excitement that rushed in my veins when I tentatively lowered myself to the water and realized that I am floating like a squeaky toy on that mineral rich water, cannot be explained in words. I’m sorry if I failed you, dear reader, but I just won’t be able to do justice to the Dead Sea experience in words, even if I call myself a writer. You have to go to Israel and experience it yourself. Seriously, just go!
- Eilat was super fun, not only because I saw playful and borderline naughty dolphins and soaked in the Red Sea for a long, long time – not that I needed the tan, but I needed Vitamin Sea. Sorry, couldn’t resist the cheesy one liner, hehe – but mainly because I jumped from a plane and tried Sky Diving for the first time in my life. I had once booked a Sky Diving session in Singapore, but had to cancel it because it rained heavily that day. Heartbreak happened, yes. Who knew that I was to do it in Eilat, with the spectacular view of the sparkling blue Red Sea below me, Jordan on one side and Saudi Arabia on another. I could literally see Jordan and Saudi Arabia, it is not just and expression, so imagine my view from the top! My Tandem Sky Diving partner was a cheery instructor called Roy who made lines like ‘My job doesn’t have coffee but the view is to die for’ sound like the funniest jokes ever. He sky dives about 1000 times a year, just in case you want stats.
- Timna Park is part of the Israeli desert and we hiked there to see the ancient copper mines, saw the majestic Solomon’s Pillars, climbed up and down the steep hill to find an ancient Egyptian Temple of the Goddess Hathor. She is considered to be the Goddess of Mining in Egyptian culture and it looked every bit Egyptian and serene. For the hundredth time since my trip began, I wished my sister would see all this because I know she would enjoy it as much as I did. Maybe my next Israel trip will be with her.
- Makhtesh Ramon is the world’s biggest natural crater and our Desert Jeep Tour Guide Allen was so passionate about it that it rubbed off on me, and I left the crater feeling proud to have witnessed such an unusual and unique natural phenomenon. Move over Grand Canyon, seriously. Allen showed us rocks and narrated brilliant stories and explained complex theories from thousands of years ago and helped us camp in the desert by setting up our tents, bringing in hot camping style food (courtesy Israel Ministry of Tourism) and even cooked yummy cheese omelette for us on a stove in the morning. And oh, he said he drive a Tata vehicle in the terrain once. Pretty damn cool, right?
- Mountain Biking in Sde Tzin was something I was initially tempted to back out of, because by now I was feeling the exhaustion, but I decided to give it a try anyway and viola, I complete the three-hour mountain biking tour with ease. Cycling on the desert mountains, no biggie! What did I say in the beginning? This Israel trip did restart my adventures, yippee!
- Hiking in Ein Avdat, Nature Reserve was in the middle of the day but the view was great and the trail was easy and interesting so I had fun. Also, we ate McDonald’s burgers and drowned Aroma’s coffee right after the hike because we had worked a good appetite. Or some told ourselves, ha-ha.
- Visiting a vineyard right in the middle of the desert was good, because talking to the owner gave me a sense of how closely the government there is working with farmers and supporting them while they build up their farms and experiment with the crop and the final product, before they start to make profits. Compare that to our farmer suicides and even when you know that India is a huge country as compared to Israel and needs much more resources, it still makes you sad and makes you wonder what would it take for us to show the same kind of support to our farmers. More on this later.
- Exploring Tel Aviv was the high note where my Israel trip came to an end. But not without walking around the streets in Tel Aviv and clicking pictures of stunning wall art around the city, splashing in the Mediterranean Sea at the interestingly named Jerusalem Beach, walking long the very chic Rothschild Boulevard and checking out the Sarona Market.
All this was done with our very warm and very passionate tour guide Yael, appointed by the Israel Ministry of Tourism. She drove us around the country in her own vehicle, made sure we drank enough water, kept us on time for all activities and by the end of the trip, was practically like a family member. Her knowledge about the country, its complex history, its political stand, the cultures and the lifestyles, and of everything we saw and experienced, was stellar. With stories from ancient times, to explanations about geographical phenomenons interspersed with useful and fun anecdotes, she made this Israel trip, a truly enriching one.
I will write about every experience in posts to follow, and I hope I do justice to the country that changed my view on travel.
How so, you ask? Well, remember how I began to second guess my decision to visit Israel after all those remarks and internet searches? Well, it is a thing of the past now because I have fallen in love with Israel. Yes, there are political problems and the Israelis have a few tricky issues to deal with, but Israel is so much more than all of that. When you see Orthodox Jews, Strict Christians, and Muslims living in close proximity in the Old City of Jerusalem, you see how well organized it all is today. Yes, the history is very complex and I am still trying to understand it, and I know that it is almost impossible to be a-political when you write about Israel, but I am going to try anyway because this is about Travel and Experiences, and nothing else.
The lush landscapes around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are every traveller’s dream and the two deserts in Israel are nothing short of pure magic. But the best part – the Israeli people! Warm and friendly and so, so proud of their country, they make you nostalgic about your homeland. Maybe it’s because everyone serves in the Army for a few years (all Jews, that is) – I saw a strong sense of pride in the people I met here, and for a country and government that is surrounded by hostile neighbours and has more issues at hand than one would like to talk about on a lifestyle blog, this is a mammoth achievement.
Gosh, what a super long post this is turning out to be, and this is when I promised I will give details later, ha! So, let me try to wrap it here by saying that I am glad I visited Israel. The Israel trip gave me a hangover that is refusing to go away. This is a country that is a traveller’s paradise and no true traveller should let anything else stop him or her from experiencing it at least once. Your views will change, your hearts will open and your minds will expand. And that, my darlings, is what happened with me.
I have a strong feeling that anyone who visits Israel from a period of a week to fifteen days, leaves the country feeling like they have barely explored this country. In a week of driving all around the major parts of the country and doing a lot more things than I thought were possible in a short time frame, I still felt that I have barely scraped the surface of what Israel has to offer to anyone who wants to truly explore its countless natural, historical, and cultural treasures. I read on a blog before I went on this trip, that Israel is definitely one of those places that you plan on returning to – even while you’re still there, and it is so, so true.
I have my own opinions on the complicated debate of Israel’s stand on Palestinians, and all other issues that we read about in the news. But this is not the place to discuss it, because all of us see things differently, are influenced by various factors including culture and religion, or we simply do not have enough knowledge on the subject to form an opinion. So I will not go there – you’re welcome.
But if you ask me if you should travel to Israel, I’ll say a Hells Yeah! without any hesitation, with all my heart.
I loved my Israel trip.
I have been a traveller all my life, and I know that once you set out for a new destination, you will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. And my elsewhere is now in Israel. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more that one place. To anyone who is considering an Israel trip but is worried about safety, I’ll say that its better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times.
I’m not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the wall – goes a famous travel quote and now, I know the meaning. Israel is a beautiful, culturally and geologically rich country with happy people and endless opportunities to explore and see a new and unique side of the world. So go ahead and plan your Israel trip without any fear. I did, and I loved every bit of it.
And in the end, with Israel on my mind, all I want to say – um, actually sing – is:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!
And lastly, coming back to what I declared at the start – Israel trip has changed me. What has changed in me? Well, my travel bucket list now is not influenced by the so-called travel trends that the glossy magazines or the glamorous travel experts tell us. It now has destinations that I feared to plan for before this, or places that I had not given much thought to because they are no where in the ‘happening’ travel listicles that make the rounds these days. I believe I have evolved, even if by a small measure and that is a personal achievement for me. Israel is the change in me. Hope you find your change, too.