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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Pray hard, play harder in Israel

Three single guys go to the land of Gods and discover spirituality, gastronomy and adventure

travel Updated: Nov 17, 2018 22:58 IST
Siddhartth Mahajan
Siddhartth Mahajan
Hindustan Times
Beyond the Wailing Wall are the premises of the Dome of the Rock
Beyond the Wailing Wall are the premises of the Dome of the Rock(Getty Images )
         

A spiritually inclined friend’s wish to bring in her birthday in the holy land of Jerusalem brought Israel up on our bucket list ahead of its time. For three friends who often travel together, this trip was another adventure, but with new flavours – that of history and cultural relevance for multiple religions.

And of course, there were also the usual suspects of gastronomy, architecture and play!

The walk towards the Dead Sea amid arid topography will make your ears pop, so make sure to carry some gum!

This trip was like no other. It was planned quick (we booked our tickets about 15 days before), featured passport jitters since there was too much hoo-haa around the visa process (but we got ours in two days without an express service!), and before we knew it, we had landed at the slick Ben Gurion Airport and were in front of a formidable-looking immigration officer. His only question – ‘You are in Israel for just five days?’ – had our red-eye flight-stricken minds already questioning the rationale behind this short trip.

The trails of Jerusalem

The Church of Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected
The Church of Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

We, that’s designers Shivan and Narresh of the label Shivan & Narresh and me, had signed on for a guided tour from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and our guide was a blessing! She drove us to Jerusalem, showed us around the entire ancient city and its mystical quarters, and filled our minds with historical facts, heightening the day to another level of importance in our itinerary.

Narresh’s walking wisdom: Jerusalem is all about the old city. You catch the first glimpse while coming from Tel Aviv at the Mount of Olives, from where Jesus saw the city first. As you enter the city from the Jaffa Gate, discover the Armenian quarters and the stunning church featuring a ceiling of suspended chandeliers. Walk towards the Jewish quarters and you will be led to the Room of the Last Supper and David’s Tomb. Do note that the Room of the Last Supper isn’t the actual room; it has been built over the site where it is believed to have been located. The room is an intriguing mix of cultures – there are influences of Christianity and Judaism in the architecture, but there is also an Islamic mihrab in the same premises!

A piece of art at  the eclectic Ilana  Goor Museum
A piece of art at the eclectic Ilana Goor Museum ( Siddhartth Mahajan )

Walk further and you will chance upon the columns of the Roman Cardo and finally make your way towards the legendary Wailing Wall – the site holiest to Judaism. The wall is believed to have marked the spot of grieving for the Jews for their community – beyond the wall lay the premises of the Dome of the Rock where the Foundation Stone is housed.

Siddhartth’s soul-stirring trail: The visit to Jerusalem is incomplete without the chilling walk along the Via Dolorosa, the path walked by Jesus from his sentencing to his crucifixion. This path is marked with 14 stations where significant events took place during Jesus’s journey and starts from the Arab quarters. To walk the same path where these events were believed to have happened sends a shiver down the soul. The walk culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Head to Old Man & The Sea for a good spread with at least 20 starters
Head to Old Man & The Sea for a good spread with at least 20 starters ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

Historical fact: The keys to the church are held by two Muslim families who open and close it respectively and have been doing so for centuries!

Shivan’s gastronomic finds: We found a rather interesting restaurant called Between the Arches. Just off the Wailing Wall, the restaurant is built in a cavern and offers a curated menu in an enchanting ambience with a selection of Israeli wines that are not to be missed!

Jewish scholars reflect on readings at the library outside the tomb of David
Jewish scholars reflect on readings at the library outside the tomb of David ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

(Not) Dead Sea

The Dead Sea was on everyone’s list! Our guide told us that “the sea will be boiling and the sand will be like lava” at this time of the year, but that did not dampen our spirits. Making your way towards the Dead Sea is rather interesting – you pass the point of the sea level (the Dead Sea is 1,412 feet below sea level) amidst arid topography and feel your ears pop as you descend (make sure to carry some gum).

Siddhartth’s saline slips: The Dead Sea is called so because of its extreme salinity, which doesn’t allow for life in its waters and makes you float even in the shallowest portions. This salinity is acidic and shouldn’t come in contact with your eyes or mouth. I was smart enough to try a falling pose for a picture, only to slip and get a drop in my eye; soon, I was rushing towards the shower, barefoot on the hot sand.

An art studio in Jaffa, the most charming part of Tel Aviv
An art studio in Jaffa, the most charming part of Tel Aviv ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

Narresh’s mud mayhem: The Dead Sea’s mud is mineral-rich and extremely beneficial for the skin. Scrape some of the soft mud from the floor of the sea and apply all over yourself (save the eyes), and wash off in the sea. The skin will be left softer than a new born baby’s! Repeat multiple times, because the range of Dead Sea skin products available on the market costs a few hundred dollars!

Shivan’s bar tales: One cannot leave the Dead Sea without a drink (or many) at The Lowest Bar in the World, which sits at 1,378 feet below the sea level!

Stop for a bite at Between the Arches restaurant built in a cavern just off the Wailing Wall
Stop for a bite at Between the Arches restaurant built in a cavern just off the Wailing Wall ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

Tell a tale of Tel Aviv

With our souls enriched and skins nourished, we headed back to base camp – Tel Aviv. The city of Tel Aviv is a piece of art – from the approximately 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings at every corner (believed to be more than any other city in the world owing to the migration of German Jews in the 1930s) to the art galleries. There is so much to absorb visually!

Tel Aviv wears the crown for one of the best party destinations in the world and has the most evolved urban systems where cultures, languages and sexuality are equally democratic. With the compulsion of all men and women in Israel having to serve its national army, the first thing that hits you is how good-looking the people are: the partyscapes are thronged with great bodies and spirits, a tribute to their mental and physical strength.

The city of Tel Aviv is a piece of art, and so is the art museum
The city of Tel Aviv is a piece of art, and so is the art museum ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

Narresh’s party tricks: The city is big on terrace sundowners. Typically starting around 2pm, they peak around 8pm and finish by 11pm. Going to one around 6pm is a great way to meet locals. This leads to more parties: while you might find from the locals that the biggest party tonight is at the bus station, tomorrow’s might be at the quaint bar down the street. Theme parties? Yes, of course. There’s literally a party menu for anyone with four limbs to dance with. We found bars and clubs for women and men separately, and some that allowed people to party only in briefs!

Pro-tip: Always enter a party with a good cover charge.

The dead sea’s mud is mineral-rich and beneficial for the skin
The dead sea’s mud is mineral-rich and beneficial for the skin ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

Siddhartth’s Jaffa jig: Jaffa is one of the oldest port cities in the world (nearly 4,000 years) and is the most charming part of Tel Aviv. It has a hilly topography but each turn has a surprise and a story to tell. The city is inhabited by artists, which explains the numerous art studios and galleries. The Ilana Goor Museum is the biggest and most eclectic, with a terrace sculpture garden featuring stunning pieces of art. If you are lucky, you can witness the locals and the Viennese waltz in the public square.

The first thing that hits you about Tel Aviv is the partyscapes thronging with good-looking and good-spirited people

Shivan’s food finds: The Michelin star restaurant HaSalon had our dinner appointment starting with incredible Hebrew scribbled menus and ending with people dancing on their chairs and tables. Fancy a beautiful sunset? Head to Old Man & The Sea at Jaffa Port to see queues waiting to get tables that feature mains with 20 appetisers by default!

The author exploring Jerusalem with his travel companions, designers Shivan and Narresh
The author exploring Jerusalem with his travel companions, designers Shivan and Narresh ( Siddhartth Mahajan  )

With a trip that was the right mix of culture and urban tourism, Israel shot up to one of the top five holiday destinations we would recommend. Bidding adieu to this holiday wasn’t easy, but our minds, bodies and souls departed Israel with a definite plan to come back!

The author is a fashion entrepreneur who enjoys travel, parties and Insta stories in equal measure

From HT Brunch, November 18, 2018

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First Published: Nov 17, 2018 21:00 IST