It was a cold winter night and keeping awake was a challenge. The excitement of travel was so overwhelming that the sleep was elusive. The Royal Jordanian flight from airport departed at 6.30 AM for Amman. I sat glued to the window and looked down the specs of mountains, streaming rivers and the cotton like clouds drift past as the aircraft flew over, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq before landing at Queen Alia International Airport at Amman. A quick transit visa and a little later, I checked into the nearby Alia Gateway Hotel.It was in the vicinity of the airport amid sand dunes. I purchased a, City Sightseeing trip and headed to the town. Amman is replete with interesting places like the Roman Amphitheatre, the City Palace, Gold Souk (market), Al Husseni Mosque, King Faisal’s Palace and the Sports Complex .The Roman Amphitheatre can house 6000 spectators and still hosts the cultural events. It was built by Antonius Pius. One cannot miss the sight of the local food stalls serving Mansaf (the national dish of stewed lamb and rice) and Shwarma (huge roasted lamb/goat slices served with pita bread).
|At the Roman Amphitheatre, Amman|
A nice run in the morning from hotel towards the Queen Alia International Airport was the start of another refreshing day. The road was long, tarred and a clean stretch with sand dunes on either side. There were security restrictions hence I did not venture too far! The flight to Tel Aviv was by a small Royal Wings aircraft. It flew over the River Jordan, parched desert land and took about 45 minutes before descending into the Ben Gurion International Airport at Tel Aviv. One can see the city of Jerusalem and the famous monument, Dome of the Rock clearly from the sky as the flight crosses the city of Jerusalem. The area is also known as the Holy Land, being holy for all Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. The security at the airport was very stringent and it was interesting to see the local Israeli’s passing through the immigration by hand identification.
The drive from airport to the Hotel was about half an hour that was located in a prime city-centre location at Hayarkon Street, facing Tel Aviv's famous beach promenade overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The evening was spent in watching the sun go behind on the picturesque Mediterranean Sea.
|The Clock Tower at Jaffa|
Next day the beach promenade was bustling with people and holiday makers as it was a Sabbath. The Israeli girls are very pretty and have the features which are a mix of Asians and Europeans (best of both the worlds!). Besides the clear blue skies and the crystal clear water there are eateries, ice cream parlors and more than a dozen star hotels adorning the beach front. I took a walk to Jaffa town which is about 2 km along the beach. It is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Parts of the Old City have been renovated, turning Jaffa into a tourist attraction featuring old restored buildings, art galleries, theaters, souvenir shops, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and promenades. Beyond the Old City and tourist sites, many neighborhoods of Jaffa are poor and underdeveloped. The Clock tower located in the midst of the town is one of the prominent landmarks. The places is known for the lovely oranges grown here!
As the evening approached I moved to the Dizengoff Centre which is the first shopping centre of Tel Aviv. The centre has two cinema halls, many shops, snack restaurants, a Food Market and Fashion Designer’s Bazaar on the weekends. There is a sculpture fountain in the vicinity which has color fountains which belch out fire! This was created by the acclaimed Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. A lot of local people hang around in the evening enjoying ice creams, crepes and Falafel.
|Tel Aviv City Centre|
I visited Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv which is one of the tallest buildings in Middle East. It is 142m tall and has 34 stories and an observatory on the top floor. It is great to watch the folk dances perform on Sabbath at beach promenade.
|The Baha'i Temple at Haifa|
I stopped by the International Diamond Centre near Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv. It is a huge building where one can see the trading of diamonds, understand their history, how these are mined, cut, polished and then valued based on the cut, clarity, color and carat (the four C’s).
|The Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall|
Dead Sea is located between Israel and Jordan. The water here is nine times saltier than the Mediterranean Sea. It is 67 km long and 18 km wide. It is sunny round the year with dry and arid air with almost no pollution. Bedouin tribes live in this area and I could see some of them in a small camp with camels tied nearby. The town of Jericho is in the north of Dead Sea. Floating in the Dead Sea and massage with the clay / mud, followed with a bath in Dead Sea has a great medicinal value. One has to be careful that the water does not get into eyes as it causes a severe burning sensation.
|The Colorful city- Eilat|
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and reached the Coral World Underwater Observatory. One can see the marine life in its own habitat here. It has simulators, aquariums, museum and stingray, turtles and shark tanks to view these from close quarters. I took a ride in the Yellow Submarine which dives down to 60 m and the glass windows give an opportunity to see the corals, hundreds of multi colored fish and even a sunken wreck. The ticket however costs a small fortune! This is a lifetime experience well worth a visit! Next we went to see the Dolphin’s show at the Dolphin Creek where watching dolphins performing and swimming with the tourists is a great fun.
We started our journey back to Tel Aviv and finally reached late in the evening.
I got an opportunity to travel up north in the Golan Heights and see the border with Lebanon and the big catchment areas in foothills where the water is stored in summer months as the snow melts! There are lush green fields with crops of Watermelons, strawberries and all exotic fruits being grown here with drip technology. The farthest towns of Metula and Kiryat Shimona in the Golan Heights were the points where the uneasy calm prevails on the Lebanese border where many skirmishes have taken place in past. The sight of a Lebanese soldier armed with machine gun on the other side of the fence was unnerving!
Israel has emerged as one of the frontrunners in diamond industry, software development, drip technology, electronic warfare and weapons. A country with iron will, people with golden hearts and smiles is what stays with me when I remember this fascinating country.
PS- Some images, kind courtesy Google
PS- Some images, kind courtesy Google