Pushkar Lele’s travel diaries
Classical vocalist Pushkar Lele shares his experiences of his recent travel to Israel. In this piece, he talks about Kibbutz Degania, Safed and Haifatravel Updated: May 26, 2018 18:05 IST
After spending three lovely days in the holy city of Jerusalem, it was time to move on to my next adventure. Danielle, a friend of mine invited me to visit her parents in a Kibbutz (a concept unique to Israel) named Degania which is located in north Israel between the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. This was the origin, where the whole kibbutzim movement started. As we drove from Jerusalem along Route 90, Israel’s longest road connecting its southern tip Eilat all the way up to Metula near the border with Lebanon, the landscape changed from an arid desert-like to lush pastures, greenery and gently sloped hills cloaked with wild flowers.
Israeli society was founded a century ago on socialist principles, exemplified by the shared communal life of the kibbutz. Back in 1909, when the first kibbutz was established, the idea was both practical and utopian. Committed to establishing a Jewish homeland, members of kibbutz believed that farming collectively owned land in their new place of residence would provide a sound economic and political foundation for an eventual Jewish state. The movement reached its zenith in 1960s but started to decline in the 1980s as a more individualistic ethos gained currency and increasing numbers of residents started to leave their kibbutz homes to follow their new aspirations and build careers in Israel’s rapidly expanding cities. Today most kibbutz in Israel are privatized and have restructured themselves by diversifying into non-agricultural endeavours including manufacturing, artisanal industries, tourism and innovative environmentally sustainable businesses. Reaching Degania by late afternoon, I had a tour of the dairy and milk processing plant there as well as the chocolate factory that dished out artisanal chocolates. After tasting some pralines and an evening stroll, it was time to enjoy a dinner of fresh wood-oven baked pizzas made by Danielle’s father (who was a former chef). As the night flowed with the cool breeze, so did the wine! We exchanged stories, sang songs and talked about our experiences in India and Israel. The next day, I woke up to the chirping of birds. After a sumptuous breakfast in the community dining room, it was time to bid adios to Danielle’s lovely family.
Danielle and I took a walk on the Yigal Allon promenade along the Sea of Galilee, watching small boats bobbing on the shimmering waters. She dropped me to the Tiberias bus station from where I took a bus to Safed, a tony hill-city in Northern Israel. Safed is a quaint and eccentric mix of the ancient and the modern. A center of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) since the 16th Century, it is home to a mixture of Hasidic Jews and hoards of artists. After checking into my hotel located on one of the hill-tops, I headed straight to the Old City of Safed. The Old Jewish Quarter takes the northern half of the Old City, and is where the bulk of the Jewish population used to live before the 1948 war. It is now also called the Synagogue Quarter due to its 32 synagogues with the ancient Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue and Abuhav Synagogue being the most popular ones. The Artists’ Quarter, situated just south of the Synagogue Quarter, contains a large number of galleries and workshops run by individual artists and art vendors that punctuate the narrow cobbled-stone alleys. I trekked up the Citadel Park which is the highest point in central Safed and which was once part of the largest Crusader fortress in Middle East. Watching the sun go down on the horizon on that breezy evening, inspired me to sing one of Pt. Kumar Gandharva’s bandish “Ajara din dooba..”. Two American born Israeli musicians joined me on their guitars impromptu! That moment was simply magical!
The following day, I headed for my next destination – Israel’s third-largest and one of Middle East’s most picturesque port cities - Haifa. As I was about to change my bus coming from Safed to an intra-city bus at the main bus depot, a bomb-threat was apparently detected. Immediately the depot was sealed with entry-exit of all buses put on hold. Surprisingly, there was no commotion or panic. After about 40 minutes, the depot was declared safe and operations resumed as if nothing had happened! I couldn’t help compare this scene to the chaos it causes when such a thing happens in India! My AirBnB host, an old lady named Hadass, picked me up just in time for the free English language tour of the world famous Bahai Gardens. Laid out on the slopes of Mt. Carmel between 1987 and 2001, the Baha’i Gardens have 19 terraces (representing the 19 disciples of the Bab) with a distinctly classical feel – wrought iron gates leading to flower beds, soothing ponds, fountains, stone balustrades, sculptures and impossibly steep lawns, all with the panoramas of Haifa Bay that defies superlatives. It is said that the gardeners (there are about a hundred full time gardeners here) have to tie themselves to some big trees around the garden while mowing the steep lawns there, lest they roll down the slopes along with the mower! The golden domed ‘Shrine of the Bab’ completed in 1953, is the final resting place of the Bab, Baha’ullah’s spiritual predecessor, who was executed in Persia in 1850. Combining the styles and proportions of European architecture with motifs inspired by Eastern traditions, it was designed by a Canadian architect, built with Italian stone and decorated with Dutch tiles! After taking numerous selfies, it was time for some grub. As I lugged along my bag up a steep flight of stairs to my new home, I was rewarded by the view from the balcony- a full panorama of the Haifa Bay! It turned out that my host was a potter and a practitioner of yoga, having visited India on numerous occasions. After some much needed rest and a refreshing cup of herbal tea, we headed out to the beach. Watching the sun set on the Mediterranean horizon, the sky ablaze with golden hues was a serene experience.
I soon realised that Hadass’s driving skills were at best passable. She would often get lost in her own city and would simple dread parallel parking! I was soon to realize that she was mortally scared of cops too! We decided to dine at one of the pretty restaurants in German Colony which is situated directly below and in alignment with the Baha’i Gardens. As she drove slowly along the narrow Ben Gurion Ave lined with handsome 19th Century houses with steep, red-shingled roofs, looking for a parking spot, she held up a long queue of cars. As their impatience grew, they started honking, in turn increasing the blood pressure of Hadass! The poor thing got so tensed that a sweat broke out on her forehead on that chilly evening. In my naivety, I asked her to let me park the car, although I didn’t have an International driving permit. As I stepped in the driver’s seat, trying to figure out the gears, Hadass’s biggest fear came true. A lady cop appeared from no-where to enquire what was going on. I almost had my heart in my mouth thinking of the consequences if the cop decided to fine me for holding up the traffic. Hadass immediately explained the situation and the lenient cop helped her park the car. I guess the cop was in a good mood and my luck was riding high that I could sneak out of that situation, unharmed! The dinner that followed hence tasted extra sweet! Haifa indeed proved to be quite ‘eventful’ for me!
(The author is a classical vocalist based in Pune. The view expressed in this article are personal.)
First Published: May 26, 2018 15:30 IST