Photos by Anand Sivasubramaniam
Here's a guide through the land of the four seas — the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.
1. The Baha’i Gardens
These gardens in Haifa, the third most populous city in Israel, are spectacular. With 19 terraces of exquisitely landscaped flora framed by a panoramic view of this port city, it is nothing short of breathtaking. Haifa is an hour away from Tel Aviv with convenient trains every 20 minutes.
Cost: 55 NIS for a round trip; entry to the gardens is free.
2. The Mediterranean Sea
The beaches in Tel Aviv are pristinely clean with gyms, life-guards, showers, foot washes, and gazebos. Man-made dykes reduce the intensity of waves, making it suitable even for anxious swimmers.
3. Eat and Drink
Skip the falafel, but do not miss its Iraqi cousin, sabich, with fried brinjal, potatoes, egg (optional), salads, and sauces all stuffed into the ubiquitous pita pocket — addictive and filling. All over Israel, fresh juice stalls abound. Orange, grapefruit and carrot are most common with custom-made blends available.
Sabich is priced at NIS 12-22; Juices: NIS 6-15 (1 New Israeli Sheqel equals Rs.18)
4. The Mount of Olives
This vantage point in Jerusalem offers an excellent view of the Dome of the Rock and the extensive Mount of Olives cemetery (dating back to Biblical times) in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is of great significance to three religions — the third holiest site for Muslims, believed to be where Mohammed ascended to the heavens; for Jews, the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac; it is also thought to be where, in Byzantine times, Constantine’s mother built a church.
King Herod’s refuge fortress from over 2,000 years ago, this structure, built on a cliff 300 metres and 120 metres high at opposite ends, leaves one marvelling at the skill of the architects. Located in the Judean desert, as inaccessible as it was self-contained, it is probably one of the earliest examples of rain water harvesting.
The fortress could store enough water and grain to sustain 1,000 people for seven years! Climb to the top on foot or take a cable car.
Cost: Daily air-conditioned bus tours combining Masada and the Dead Sea — $109 from Tel Aviv
Markets have the best deals in town on bandanas to baklavas and everything in between. T-shirts, souvenirs, baked goods, utensils, spices, vegetables, fruits, sea food, nuts, artisan bread and jewelry are found in these markets.
Recommended: Shuk Ha’Carmel; Bezalel Market near Allenby and King George Streets, Tel Aviv.
7. Fish massage in the Jordan River
At the Yardenit site on the Jordan River (included in tours of Biblical highlights of the North), where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, there is a small cordoned area full of tiny fish. The fish love feet and come and take little nips — cleaning (and tickling) the feet naturally. Children and adults alike will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
8. Yad Vashem
Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust — the entire Jewish population in Israel today. A walk through this holocaust museum in Jerusalem enables an understanding of how anti-semitism evolved. The final stop, a floor to ceiling display of victims’ photographs, will leave even the hardest-hearted with a lump in the throat.
Two hours from Tel Aviv, Capernaum has the ruins of an ancient Roman town from Biblical times and two synagogues built over each other. A church has been erected in what is believed to have been St. Peter’s home. The Bible refers to Jesus as having lived here awhile.
10. Jaffa Port
A short walk from Tel Aviv, Jaffa Port is the oldest in the world having been actively used continuously for the last 7,000 years. Mentioned in the Bible, it predates Islam, Christianity, Judaism and the Egyptians. Functioning now as a small fishing port, the surrounding area is a marketplace with many cafés and restaurants. A flea market operates too and is a great attraction for locals and tourists alike.
El Al offers direct flights to Tel Aviv several times a week from Mumbai. Cost: Rs.45,000 to Rs.60,000. Visa: Indian citizens require a tourist visa costing around Rs.1,300. The application can be sent by mail to Mumbai or Delhi. Details at www.israelvisa-india.com
Keywords: Israel vacation, the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Isreal tourism, Isreal sightseeing, Tel Aviv, Jaffa port, Capernaum, Baha’i Gardens, Jerusalem, Judean desert, holocaust museum