My hosts in Jerusalem – Hotel Dan Panorama & Hotel King David (Crown Jewel of Dan Hotels). Click HERE to check out their properties.
During the recently concluded TBEX International in Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post interviewed me (See the article HERE). Just before wrapping up the interview, the senior correspondent asked me about my feelings about Jerusalem. I had just smiled and said – ‘Do not die without going to Jerusalem.’ My statement was not PR-driven but came from deep within.
The Strongest Flavour
I returned from Israel yesterday after a 10-day whirlwind tour that took me around Northern and Central Israel to Haifa, Caesarea, Nazareth, Bet Guvrin, Akko (Acre), and Nahariya, besides my 6-day stay in Jerusalem. While each of the places mentioned accorded their own unique flavour, the most overwhelming flavour that still remains with me is Jerusalem.
As a city, nay, as a cauldron of cultures, Jerusalem has it all. From Craft Beers to Cinema City, from holy to happening places, from pre-historic to progressive, Jerusalem negates your belief that you are in the Middle East. It sounds, smells, tastes, and feels just like any other global cosmopolitan hub of hubbub!
Jerusalem – a Multi-tiered Cake of History
Though this was my second visit there, at every cobblestoned step I was discovering something new. My walk through the old town Jerusalem brought me face to face with an unbelievable number of layers of mankind’s history. Israel’s most hated king – King Herod – has left his indelible mark on this multi-tiered cake of a city.
At the Tower of David, our guide Alan pointed out those layers. From the Roman era to the Ottoman Empire, from the Crusader’s time to the more recent British period, this tower showed it all. He also mentioned that since the actual creator of this tower (King Herod) was a hated soul and David was a loved king, over the centuries the tower got attributed to David. Little wonder then that Jerusalem Development Authority spent millions of dollars to put up a projection spectacular to give the visitors a 45-minute glimpse into this complex history!
Old Town Jerusalem – A Potpourri
At old town Jerusalem, I also discovered some more amazing facts. Though the four quarters – the Jewish, the Christian, the Muslim and the Armenian – have people from different faiths living there, their harmonious coexistence is a remarkable fact the world could take a lesson from.
Every step of the narrow, history-spewing bylanes gets cleaned and mopped every 7 minutes. Some of the shops in these bylanes are hundreds of years old. The traders have been doing their trade here for generations. And despite the area being crowded, the vehicular traffic, wherever allowed, has complete respect for the pedestrians weaving their way through this maze.
This ancient part of Jerusalem also offers a quirky mélange of cuisines – Shawarmas jostle for attention as Falafels score a victory; Lasagnas and Burgers scream out loud to attract the scores of nationalities seeking out their own favourite flavours; Pizzas and Pitas battle it out for glory at every corner.
Hawkers at every step tempt you with their wares. From handicrafts to holy symbols, red Kaballah strings to the hands of God, goggles to picture postcards – everything is available for the takers. What’s more, this walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Old Town Jerusalem – Points of Interest
Now, this can truly be an unending list. But here are some of the choicest ones:
The Western Wall:
The holiest site for Jews, this centuries-old wall has been created with huge stones – some of them weighing as much as 575 tonnes!
Temple Mount or the Dome of the Rock:
Arguably, this is the second holiest site for Muslims. Here, while the sanctum sanctorum of the mosque allows entry only for the Muslims, visitors are permitted into its precincts from 7.30 am to 10.00 am and from 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm (all days except during Ramzan or Ramadan). The queue here could be long. So, reach early to avoid disappointment.
The last five stations of Via Dolorosa are inside this massive church that houses the spot where Jesus was crucified as well as Jesus’ tomb. As this is the holiest place for all sects of Christianity, there are many chapels inside. Different sects of the religion have created these.
For a real life experience, here’s an exciting video I created:
And then, there’s the New Jerusalem
As soon as you step out of the walled city through any of the famous gates (Jaffa Gate or Damascus Gate), a different world greets you! Spanking new buildings, wide well-tarred roads, global brands, malls, and luxury hotels, punctuated with some well-kept period buildings and structures that impart even this new town a typical Jerusalem character. This part of the town is characterised by orderly traffic, evident security, and folks from different lands.
During my trip, while the winter chill was in the air, the dryness in the mouth indicated a dry climate. As I stepped up to buy a bottle of water, a sudden realisation about how expensive Jerusalem is, dawned on me. This realisation stayed with me throughout my Israel trip – every time I took a cab or every time I bought some food. But I found comfort in the fact that as a traveller, I was NOT paying the 17% VAT every Israeli has to pay for most things.
Is Jerusalem Safe?
Being from India, I realise how media is prone to hyping up every little unfortunate incident. I guess that is how media elsewhere would also behave. And since Israel is a small country belonging to an otherwise volatile region, global media would have an even more exaggerated tendency to blow things out of any conceivable proportions. With that clarity, I approached Jerusalem and found the town safer than most cities I have visited. And my fellow TBEX-ers shared this feeling.
Do Not Die Without Going to Jerusalem
Jerusalem also called the Holy City, offers its rainbow hues to every traveller, regardless of the purpose of his visit. Here, every traveller will get what he seeks. The place is rich in history and heritage, culture and character, cuisine and chaos, sightseeing and shopping. And this is a lot more than what I can say about most cities I have visited. So, coming back to where I started, my one-line advice for every travel-lover would be – ‘Do Not Die Without Going to Jerusalem!‘