From here, we said good bye to the beautiful city of Jerusalem and headed towards Masada en route to the Dead Sea. This was a two-hour journey roughly around 145 KM from Jerusalem. We descended into the Judean Desert, a barren wilderness.
We used the cable car to reach the mountain top of Masada, the place where the King Herod built two fortified palaces over 2,000 years ago. Excavation of the site has uncovered structures not only of Herod’s palace and a Byzantine church but also a swimming pool, a synagogue, rebel dwellings and a mosaic workshop. We saw a Torah scribe writing by hand in a small, old synagogue on the summit. We were told by Ilan that Torah could not be copied or printed and must be hand written.
On our way back from Masada, we stopped at Ahava Dead sea lab to observe first-hand how creams and lotions are made with the minerals extracted from the Dead Sea. It was getting dark and the rain in the desert chilled the air when we reached Royal Rimonim Hotel at the Dead Sea. Ilan, our guide, informed us that the hotel had its own SPA and the water for its indoor thermal pool was directly pumped from the Dead Sea. Therefore, there was no need for us to go to the beach to soak into the water since it was bit chilly. However, Farzana and I along with another family defied his advice and quickly changed and rushed to the beach and floated into the Dead Sea for about 15 minutes, despite being cold. It was a strange feeling because of the shallowness of the sea. Anyone can float in the sea because of its natural buoyancy. To the east of the sea was Jordan. As this is the saltiest body of water, one should not dunk his/her face into it. I was stupid to do that and paid the price with burning eyes for few minutes. After that, we returned to our hotel’s spa and relaxed in their pool.
The next day, we traveled into northern Israel through the Jordan River Valley passing Qumran, the archaeological site near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We saw the mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue depicting the moons of the lunar Hebrew calendar and its corresponding zodiac signs. After a short lunch break, we visited the ruins of the Roman amphitheater in the impressive archaeological site of Beit She’an. From there, we went to Yardenit, a popular baptismal site on the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. Christians from all over the world go there to dip into the Jordan River. In fact, Jesus was baptized in Qasr el-Yahud, north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. After the Six Days War, this area became the frontier between Israel and Jordan. Therefore, the Israelis decided to build this site as a replacement in 1981. On the way to our hotel, we stopped at the Caprice jewelry production plant in Tiberias, famous for the diamond factory. Israel is one of the largest exporters of polished diamonds in the world along with Belgium and India. We reached Kibbutz Lavi, in Lower Galilee for overnight stay. A kibbutz is a small society of people who live together communally according to socialist principles. “Jews and Socialism”, interestingly surprised us.
The next day, we drove to Safed, a holy city in Judaism, and strolled through the artists’ colony and visited an ancient synagogue. After that, we proceeded to the Golan Heights stopping at Mitzpe Gadot for a tour and lunch at Kibbutz Gadot. We, then, continued to Har Ben Tal, a former Israeli bunker. Next, we visited a kosher winery in Katzrin, the largest town in the Golan Heights. The next day, we headed towards the Mediterranean Sea through the Galilean Hills to Nazareth. We visited the Church of the Annunciation, the largest basilica in the Middle East. Ilan told us that right at the entrance to the church in an open area Muslims proposed to build a mosque a few years back. The Israeli government granted permission but the Christian Arabs opposed it and riots broke out between Christians and Muslims. Therefore, the construction of the mosque was halted. We did see a group of Mullas, with their tables, chairs and Islamic books, busy in preaching Islam to the people who were going to visit the Church of the Annunciation. Knowing my background, Ilan introduced me to those Mullas and then grabbed a copy of the translation of Quran by an Indian scholar from the table and told me that he had found that translation of the Quaran the best. The Mullas were not too keen to meet me since they were looking for some white clientele among our groups.They engaged a couple of people from our group and tried to introduce them to Islam and gave them some literature about Islam. I could not find any logical reason for them to be standing there. Perhaps, they should learn from Umar Bin Khattab and respect the feelings of Christians going to the church. It is just inviting trouble especially when the Christian Arabs are often allies of Muslims in their struggle against Israel.
We then continued to Haifa, a beautiful city where we visited the impressive Baha’i Gardens in the heart of the city. Bahaullah, the founder of the Baha’i religion is buried there. Following the Mediterranean coast back to Tel Aviv, we reached Caesarea to see its Roman, Byzantine and Crusader ruins and the impressive theater.(In Caesarea)
Driving south along the coastal highway, we reached Tel Aviv’s Dal Panorama Hotel. We attended a farewell dinner arranged by our guide at one of the finest restaurant on the boardwalk overlooking the Mediterranean.