Israel : A Diamond in the Rough

A pint-sized delight, Israel has everything form scenic mountains, breathtaking deserts and valleys to an abnormally buoyant ocean which doubles as the world’s largest natural spa. That is why TnH believes that Israel is the ‘The Must Visit Destination of the Year’.

I have had a bee in my bonnet about visiting Israel for quite sometime now. Unfortunately, I was always warned against it. I could not blame the incredulous look my parents gave me when I announced I had finally decided to visit the country.  After all, Israel is seldom in the news for the right reasons, the Indian media always portrays Israel as an area of constant strife but I knew better. Tourism is one of the main sources of income in Israel. Around 3.54 million tourists visited the country just last year. If Israel were truly dangerous for tourists, visitors would not be zealously trying to visit the holy land.  Though I have to admit I had my own apprehensions about visiting this stunning country. I was skeptical that once I enter the country I could forget about any shopping expeditions to Indian shopping havens like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I did thorough research and re-confirmed with many reliable sources and I was assured that metropolitan countries in the Middle East don’t deny Indian tourists visas simply because they have visited Israel.  In fact, shortly after I travelled to Jordan with no problems.

While in Israel my first stop was Jerusalem. For someone who has grown up on religion, visited the temple every Monday and believes in every religious tale with religious fervor, being in Jerusalem was pretty heady stuff. Here I was in the very city where three of the world’s great religions had roots. Jerusalem, with its hundreds of churches, mosques and synagogues scattered across the city, was like an open-air museum. I touched the very grave Jesus was buried in and the cross he was crucified on. I saw where Muhammad ascended into heaven and visited the famous first temple Dome of the Rock.Each site was more unbelievable than the other. No amount of words can do justice to the significance of the place. I could feel the deep enduring spirituality in the very air of the city. For the local residents and those travelling for pilgrimage prayers punctuate daily routines. At any given time you can see hundreds of devotees leaning on the Wailing Wall or performing other such rituals and it’s these traditions, even more than the spectacular sites that make Jerusalem such an alluring, authentic, and utterly singular destination.

My next stop was Tel Aviv, which was standing in complete contrast with its record number of designer shops, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, and bars. This co-existence of two antipodal worlds under a handful of sky is what makes Israel so special. My first night there, the people were celebrating a special annual event called White Night (Laila Lavan). This is Israeli army slang for a night of continual activity with no sleep. Everything from restaurants, to offices, to museums and clubs were open all nightand special free concerts were organized through the city. The energy was amazing and it is safe to say the nightlife was comparable to the likes of places like Ibiza and Miami. The next day I shopped till I dropped in the trendy Kikar Hamedina area. The area was brimming with chic stores, art galleries and cafes. At night we decided to eat at the world-renowned Messa Restaurant, which brings me to the food.Of course, the food at Messa was brilliant; it’s one of the top restaurants in the world. But what needs to be noted is that food through out Israel is superb: even the most humble places offering nothing more than hummus, tahini and pita are never less than excellent. Israel is a gastronomical paradise! What is considered an average restaurant in Israel will serve food that would be considered great in any other part of the world.

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Click on Image!

After Tel Aviv, we drove to the Mizpeh Hayamim Spa Hotel that overlooks the magnificent Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee.  The journey itself was an experience; there was a picturesque landscape at every turn. The hotel estate was spread over a sprawling 37-acre area and was surrounded by forests and flowing gardens. I enjoyed a delicious and healthy meal at the hotel’s vegetarian restaurant with its appetizing and creative dishes made solely from the fresh produce grown in the organic farm within the hotel complex. The next morning I took a tour of the organic farm, herb garden, soap factory and bakery. Even though I started as early as 5 am, the wonderful surroundings made me feel in perfect harmony with nature and kept me energetic and revitalized. Finally, I decided to enjoy the renowned spa. Anyone who knows me knows I am a spa buff since I am eternally hunched up in front of my laptop I suffer chronic neck and shoulder pain and massages temporarily relieve me of my woes. I tried the traditional body massage at the spa. It was so relaxing I could barely stay awake for the first five minutes. For those of you who love trying new treatments, the spa menu was one of the most extensive I have ever witnessed, there were a host of options for spa, beauty and cosmetic treatments.

After leaving the quaint resort I had a hectic day ahead of me. I had to go visit Tzora vineyards, an olive pressing factory and a cheese farm. I immensely enjoyed each activity and was left feeling more culturally enriched. But what surprised me was what a compact place Israel is, we drove from the north to the south in about two hours, and within this compact spacethere is everything a tourist could want. Another` thing that astonished me was that driving around I did not see any soldiers or policemen. In fact, the only time I became aware of the unrest at the borders was when I drove to the Dead Sea, which is close to the borders, and saw a few security checks.

In short, Israel is a pint-sized delight, which has everything form scenic mountains and breathtaking deserts and valleys to an abnormally buoyant ocean and world-renowned historical sites. This is why TnH has anointed it as ‘The Must Visit Destination of the Year’—a bold statement, perhaps, but one we believe in.

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