ECO-TOURISM IN IS­RAEL

TEXT & SE­LECT PHO­TOS: DO­MINICK RO­DRIGUES

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Is­rael – the “Bib­li­cal” land of “Milk and Honey” – is wit­ness­ing a Eco-tourism Revo­lu­tion, as an­cient eras come alive for tourists world­wide in their “Is­raeli Jour­ney through His­tory.” High­light­ing the frag­ile yet beau­ti­ful desert en­vi­ron­ment is high on the Is­raeli Gov­ern­ment’s agenda, as they show­case an­cient civ­i­liza­tions in the midst of wildlife and na­ture. I was hugely ex­cited at view­ing the azure blue wa­ters and en­vi­sion­ing the Bib­li­cal scenes when I vis­ited the Sea of Galilee, where the Bi­ble men­tions Je­sus Christ ‘walked’ on the wa­ters, draw­ing his 12 Apos­tles from their fish­ing nets and boats to fol­low him; bless­ing and shar­ing ‘five loaves and two fishes’ with a crowd of 5,000, barely 2,000 years ago. We were a huge “dhow” filled with tourists that did a small cir­cu­lar tour from the wooden jetty, while divers plumbed the blue depths be­low its decks.

Ag­a­mon-hula Bird­watch­ing Cen­tre – be­side the Golan Heights sep­a­rat­ing Syria – was where I saw a smaller ver­sion of the South Amer­i­can Capy­bara. In­ter­est­ingly, I met In­bal Ru­bin (45) work­ing at Ag­a­mon­hula KKL as the in-charge of guides – he has been to Goa three times and loved the peo­ple and food there. “Goa is now a sec­ond home for me,” she said, on know­ing that I am a Goan.

Ni­raspis (Nir), our ranger guide, took us bird-watch­ing and said that around 100,000 mi­grat­ing Eurasian Cranes come here from Rus­sia/scan­di­navia en­route to Su­dan and Eastern Africa, be­sides 300-400 white storks from eastern Europe (swal­lows, beeeaters, king­fish­ers, hoopoes) – and even the “Black-headed Bunting” from In­dia which was spot­ted in Mt Her­mon nearby – and are in con­stant flight. “The 2,000acre Ag­mon Hula Re­serve was wet­lands (it is peat now) till 1990 and agri­cul­ture was not eco­nom­i­cal till the JNF stepped in to pro­mote agri­cul­ture and pro­tect the Sea of Galilee from pol­lu­tion. To­day, veg­e­ta­tion here in­cludes pecan, mul­berry, fig, pome­gran­ate, eu­ca­lyp­tus, wa­ter­melon, pota­toes, car­rots, green­peas, chick­peas,

be­sides peanuts and corn, of which eight tonnes is fed daily to the vis­it­ing cranes.”

A sur­pris­ing sight on the canal was the “Nu­tria” – a rel­a­tive of the South Amer­i­can ‘Capy­bara” – which had been brought here ear­lier for their “pelts” but be­came pests in­stead, Nir said, adding that the canal is home to carp, cat­fish and ot­ters, while on land there are the wild Ass, jack­als and wild­boar.

Ag­a­mon-hula’s res­i­dent chief or­nithol­o­gist Shai Ag­mon high­lighted the cap­ture and ‘ring­ing’ of 550 bird species – com­ing from Le­banon, Turkey, Cyprus, Ge­or­gia, Hun­gary, Ru­ma­nia and Swe­den – to de­ter­mine their jour­neys and health. Dis­play­ing one that had been ringed in far­away Tel Aviv, he said “We found three species of spar­row in­clud­ing the Dead Sea spar­row, the “Span­ish” and “Com­mon” too. We are los­ing open habi­tats world­wide and the spar­row tells us we need mead­ows as well.” Other trapped birds (he lets chil­dren re­lease them) in­clude the Eurasian Bee-eater from Kazak­sthan, Bas­rah reed war­blers (which were thought to be ex­tinct af­ter the Us-iraq war till the first breed­ing pair was no­ticed here), Western African Palm dove (this bird is not sup­posed to be here but – due to its cries sound­ing like “God is Great” – Arabs brought it here and re­leased it in the desert), pel­i­cans, demoi­selle cranes and blue jay. Rap­tors like “Black-shoul­dered Kite” were ex­tremely rare with barely 8 sight­ings from 1850s to 2005, but suc­cess­ful breed­ing now has 400 pairs in Is­rael in­clud­ing 90-100 in this Val­ley. Au­tumn is the best bird-watch­ing time when mil­lions of rap­tors fly across the ex­panse. The most ex­otic bird he caught here was Ja­pan’s “Eye-browed Thrush.”

Cheese and wine were sam­pled on our culi­nary trail while vis­it­ing Omer Zeltzer’s “Shai Zeltzer Dairy” farm in the Mount Carmel ranges, where 200 ‘An­glo-nu­bian’ goats pro­vide milk for cheese. “Goats are sea­sonal milk-givers and high sea­son is spring, but milk and cheese de­pends on what the goats eat – as they are picky and eat from dif­fer­ent trees in sea­son like ‘Mediter­ranean Brush’, ‘Oak” (fe­male and male Oak trees have dif­fer­ent flavours, but goats pre­fer the fe­male Oak and leaves of the male Oak) and Pis­ta­chio ,” Cal­i­for­nia ed­u­cated Omer said, while not­ing that this dairy farm started as a place for “dropouts” to evolve through re­gional fund­ing in the 70s. “We started with plants and veg­eta­bles, and later goat farm­ing with the An­glonu­bian breed from USA’S genome bank which gives thick milk, for mak­ing dif­fer­ent types of cheeses like ‘Ra­mon’ (lac­tic cheese named af­ter his brother and agri­cul­tur­ist, who grows veg­eta­bles on rooftops); ‘Rya’ (win­ter cheese named af­ter his ‘bee-keeper’ sis­ter), as well as ‘Coal’ cheese and ‘Vine Leaves” cheese (aged in vine leaves for a month in­side dark caves).”

“We had no­ticed a strange prob­lem here, only fe­male ‘Yak­murim’ (lo­cal elk deer species) were found here, whereas their males were in Syria (en­emy ter­ri­tory then). We some­how got the males and bred them suc­cess­fully,” Omer re­vealed, while treat­ing us to other de­light­ful cheeses like ‘Bikurim’ (pro­duced from the first milk af­ter wean­ing baby goats), and Span­ish ‘Monchego’ (from goats that eat fallen olives so this cheese con­tains nu­tri­tious ‘Oleaolic fatty acids’). Now ‘Yak­murim’ are bred and re­leased in the Carmel Moun­tains, home to preda­tors like lynx and spot­ted hyena, while Per­sian deer and elk graze along­side the goats.

Just then, a wholly black-clad mys­te­ri­ous woman (Omer said she was a ‘Nun’ who came from the moun­tains nearby to buy milk and dairy prod­ucts for her con­gre­ga­tion’s ail­ing Mother Su­pe­rior) bought curd be­fore silently glid­ing away, while we watched her, nib­bling our cheese.

Our visit to an “Oa­sis” in the Negev desert was fas­ci­nat­ing, where desert

‘green­ing’ in 90% sunny days (that feed so­lar pan­els for elec­tric­ity) is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing through Vines (wine) and Rocks (ar­chae­ol­ogy), while pro­vid­ing shel­ter for par­tridges amidst vines, pome­gran­ate trees, olives, figs, dates and bougainvilla. Young en­tre­pre­neur Tchai Aviv showed off both nat­u­ral trea­sures. “An­cient Na­bateans cul­ti­vated land and trapped/di­verted rain­wa­ter suc­cess­fully to grow grapes. To­day, while our Amer­i­can Oak bar­rels store port wine, Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Mer­lot, Viog­nier, Chardon­nay and other va­ri­eties were ex­per­i­mented with be­fore we pro­duced four new types of grapes, of which two were har­vested. Now we are com­bin­ing wine tourism here with Bed-nbreak­fast+cabin stays, a big draw in desert liv­ing, which goes on un­til win­ter.”

This 10-acre Oa­sis pro­duces three main wines in­clud­ing a Kosher va­ri­ety (1,000 bot­tles are an­nu­ally sent to an­other win­ery where a re­li­gious per­son blesses it) and the Desert brand. Our wines are made only by Jews and we make nine kinds of wines,” he said, while I tasted the costli­est of them, the “Desert Dessert” wine (120 shekels).

Ar­chae­ol­ogy is a huge at­trac­tion here, with an­cient weapons made of flint­stone be­ing dis­cov­ered on digs. Na­batean camels

were used in car­a­vans here com­pris­ing 5,000 camels in each herd. A walk­way di­rects tourists to the moun­tain­top where brown rocks high­light an­cient writ­ings. “They are Cave­men draw­ings dat­ing to be­tween 2,000 to 4,000 years years ago,” said Aviv. Horses are kept here for rid­ing and trac­ing miss­ing per­sons in the desert.

“You are now en­route to Africa,” said our guide, while driv­ing us along the Great Rift Val­ley road (which stretches all the way to Africa), be­fore de­part­ing the coast and as­cend­ing to Mt. Carmel (550 msl), where we saw early 19th cen­tury Jewish set­tle­ments, which had been the res­i­dence of the fab­u­lously wealthy ‘Roth­schild’ Jews, who in­tro­duced in­ter­na­tional bank­ing to USA and the world. Our visit to the Arava Vis­i­tor cen­tre – along the Great Rift Val­ley road – re­vealed crea­tures like ‘Black desert co­bra’ and plenty of vipers, in­clud­ing ‘Pales­tine viper’, “Saw-scaled viper,’ ‘Le­banon viper’, ‘Per­sian horned viper,’ and “Black mole viper.’

I was cu­ri­ous to see a ‘kib­butz’ and vis­ited a mod­ern one – the swanky Hagoshrim Kib­butz and Re­sort Ho­tel, built on the ru­ins of the win­ter palace of Emir Fa’ur, who had ruled the north­ern Hula Val­ley since Ot­toman times. Fac­ing the ‘Golan Heights’ and the snowy slopes of Mount Her­mon and lo­cated in a Na­ture Re­serve filled with springs, rivulets and the Rivers Dan, Hatzbani and Ba­nias, the kib­butz ho­tel has em­braced eco-tourism in green­ing through na­ture preser­va­tion, along­side re­cy­cling, en­ergy-sav­ing mea­sures and en­vi­ron­ment-friendly sys­tems, while its 204 rooms in­clude the “Koren Stream House” rooms with sooth­ing sounds and views of the flow­ing Koren stream nearby.

A ‘Turk­ish Ha­mam’ and sauna here of­fered pam­per­ing treat­ments that eased the mus­cle kinks from mo­tor travel, but meet­ing a real-life ‘Kib­but­nikti’ – Hanna Levy – at Hagoshrim was an ex­cit­ing bonus. She nar­rated her story, say­ing, “Hagoshrim

means ‘bridges’ and is a bridge of hope for Jews from all over the world, while also be­com­ing a meet­ing place for dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways.” Born a Jew in Nazi Ger­many in 1940, the death of her father prompted her mother to take the fam­ily to her na­tive Bo­livia. “I was 7 years old then and didn’t like Bo­livia. When some­one from Is­rael came here to con­vince Jewish chil­dren to mi­grate to Is­rael, I de­cided to go and – on a choice be­tween liv­ing in desert kib­butz or one in Up­per Galilee, I chose the desert (Hagoshrim) and fell in love with its moun­tains, trees, wa­ter. In 1957, I fell in love again – this time with my hus­band, and we now have a son Yitzhak (he’s 52 now and hated kinder­garten here, and a daugh­ter, now liv­ing in Bel­gium.” Fast for­ward 43 years; an ebul­lient Hanna now speaks Span­ish, Ger­man, French and He­brew as the Ho­tel’s mar­ket­ing man­ager, and is presently in guest re­la­tions. “Hagoshrim Kib­butz is an in­ter­na­tional Kib­butz with its mem­bers from around the world liv­ing off agri­cul­ture, ho­tel trade and out­side jobs. But to­day Kib­butz life has changed,” she laments. “We are now cap­i­tal­ists – along­side be­ing a com­mu­nity – and into mak­ing money. Pi­o­neers from Rus­sia brought Rus­sian so­cial­ism into the kib­butz but now kids rebel, stay till they are 18 with par­ents, go into com­pul­sory ser­vice in the army and then dis­ap­pear else­where – though some come back, pulled in by nos­tal­gic mem­o­ries. De­spite lots of changes oc­cur­ring, Kib­butzes are con­tribut­ing to Is­rael’s econ­omy, with 3% GDP gen­er­ated through ho­tels, tourism and agri­cul­ture.”

Mizpe Ra­mon, a town in the Cen­tral Negev high­lands, added colour and wildlife en­joy­ment to my tour. As we climbed the hill to view the daz­zling ser­pen­tine view of the crater, a herd of Ibex ap­peared and one came to­wards me. As I fum­bled in my bag for bis­cuits, she shrugged her head dis­dain­fully and moved off. Sec­onds later, a bearded male strode up to me with a mean look, say­ing ‘Don’t ap­proach my woman,’ and fol­lowed her. A Jewish guy, Eli Yahu, while walk­ing be­side me, com­mented hu­mourously, “Good to eat, huh?” and I re­torted “I love – but don’t eat – wildlife.” Eli, a cal­ligraphist hand-writ­ing the To­rah, the Jewish Holy Book, said the ibex herds breed and move freely amidst the towns­folk, while eat­ing ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing garbage, and liv­ing in the craggy cliffs nearby. I fol­lowed the ibex and stood awed by the mélange of col­ors on the desert floor be­low, even as the an­i­mals ran fleet­footed down the steep moun­tain.

Is­rael has 70 na­tional parks in which moun­tain goat “Arthzy” is the mas­cot. We met Dotan Rotem (land­scape ecol­o­gist in the Is­rael Na­tional Parks Author­ity), in the World Her­itage Site, the Na­hal Me’arot Na­ture Re­serve, on the Mt Carmel range. He ex­plained, “Is­rael’s 20,000 sq me­tres area holds pre­his­toric caves (500,000-yearold ones fea­tur­ing Homo Erec­tus from the Lower Pa­le­olithic pe­riod as well as Ne­an­derthals and Homo sapi­ens), sev­eral thou­sand ver­te­brates, of which a few

hun­dred are of preda­tors, with the main one be­ing the ‘Striped Hyena” (Around 20 hye­nas now roam the Mt Carmel re­gion, in­clud­ing this 3 sq km Re­serve). We have rangers to en­force the law and cre­ate an eco-friendly en­vi­ron­ment for rais­ing funds, be­sides money com­ing in from tourism dur­ing Au­tumn and Spring, some­times even Win­ter, with 60,000 to 80,000 vis­i­tors per year vis­it­ing the caves, and over 100,000 com­ing for hik­ing, camp­ing and pic­nics. Kids par­tic­i­pate in a one–hour quiz pro­gram, “Young Rangers” and get a badge and cer­tifi­cate.”

The Re­serve’s caves high­light the won­ders of an­cient his­tory. “The Euro­pean man or Ne­an­derthal dis­ap­peared from earth 60,000 years ago. But here we found re­mains of both Ne­an­derthals and African man – which proves that these two groups from dis­tant re­gions had met and per­haps in­ter­bred. Dif­fer­ent lay­ers of pre­his­toric cul­ture were es­tab­lished over 150,000 years, with each moun­tain layer re­veal­ing a dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal age,” Rotem added.

Next stop was the fa­mous ‘Dead Sea,” where re­sort man­ager Conny Barghoorn told us Egyp­tian Queen Cleopa­tra, King Solomon and Queen of Sheba came to bathe, for its medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. “Ap­ply the mud for 15 min­utes and wash it off,” was his ad­vice as we ap­proached. Your ears pop as you reach the low­est dry land point on earth, and you can ac­tu­ally float in this sea as its high salin­ity makes the wa­ter very dense. No marine crea­ture can sur­vive in it. I nearly burnt my bare feet on the fiery noon sand but sighed with re­lief af­ter dip­ping them in the Dead Sea’s sooth­ing blue/grey clay and wa­ter. “The Dead Sea was formed when the earth’s crust col­lapsed – cre­at­ing the Great Rift Val­ley. It is rich in min­er­als and its clay is used in ex­pen­sive beauty prod­ucts like ‘Di­a­mond Glow’ (Shekels 1,550). 1600 peo­ple work around the clock to har­vest valu­able min­er­als from the wa­ter. It is also an oa­sis in Is­rael where all com­mu­ni­ties come to bathe and re­lax. The 50-kms-long, 30-me­tres-deep Dead Sea is de­plet­ing by a me­tre yearly and will van­ish in 1,000 years,” we are told grimly. The sea is also known in the Bi­ble as the ‘Sea of Lot’ or ‘Sea of Sodom,’ af­ter Lot’s wife was turned into a pil­lar of Salt af­ter look­ing back while flee­ing the city of Sodom. The Kumeran Na­tional Park near the Dead Sea is an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site with relics of the an­cient “Essene Sects” that dwelt here. We also vis­ited the an­cient fort cas­tle in Masada sit­u­ated on a high rock plateau over­look­ing the Dead Sea, where leg­end has it that the fa­mous King Herod of the Bi­ble lived with many wives 2,000 years ago, in­clud­ing one whom he “drowned in a vat of honey,” and he killed many of his sons for fear of them usurp­ing his throne, which prob­a­bly led to the Bib­li­cal leg­end of all new­borns in Jerusalem be­ing slain on the or­ders of Herod af­ter he was told of the im­pend­ing birth of ‘King’ Je­sus. The siege of Masada by troops of the Ro­man Em­pire at the end

of the First Jewish-ro­man War ended in the mass sui­cide of 960 Jews – the Si­carii rebels and their fam­i­lies hid­ing there. A UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site, it is one of Is­rael’s most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions and draws over a mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally. Vis­i­tors can take a ca­ble car (open at 8 am) to the top. A dawn hike up the Snake Path on the eastern side of the moun­tain (ac­cess via the Dead Sea High­way), is con­sid­ered part of the “Masada ex­pe­ri­ence”. A Judean date palm seed, 2,000 years old, was dis­cov­ered here dur­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions in the early 1960s and was suc­cess­fully ger­mi­nated into a plant, pop­u­larly known as “Methuse­lah” af­ter the long­est-liv­ing fig­ure in the He­brew Bi­ble. We later passed signs stat­ing “Croc­o­dile Farm’ and ‘An­te­lope Farm” but sadly, there was not enough time for a visit. We then vis­ited a Bib­li­cal Oa­sis called Ein Gedi Na­ture Re­serve (where the Bi­ble says David hid from Is­rael’s first King Saul). While bathing in its peren­nial springs, I be­friended mem­bers of the “Paris Sciences et Let­tres” (PSL) orches­tra, com­pris­ing 25-year-old Cel­list Gas­pard Kiej­man. “We stopped here for a cool bath as we are per­form­ing in the Con­ser­va­tory of Tel Aviv and Hos­pi­tal Hadas­sah in Jerusalem,” Gas­pard said, as his team frol­icked nearby.

“Ein Park Ein Gedi” Oa­sis ho­tel and botan­i­cal gar­den was our next des­ti­na­tion, where Botanist Mani Gal showed us the fra­grant “African Myrrh” of the Frank­in­cense fam­ily, that was brought from Ethiopia’s deserts and suc­cess­fully ac­cli­ma­tized in Is­rael, al­though orig­i­nal his­tor­i­cal scripts high­light it be­ing bred from the time of King Solomon in vine­yards of Ein Gedi and Jeri­cho. Gold, frank­in­cense and myrrh were what the three wise kings pre­sented to the new­born Je­sus in the sta­ble in Nazareth. Kib­butz Ein-gedi was es­tab­lished in 1956 on a plateau above the Dead Sea in the Great Syr­ian-african Rift Val­ley (the low­est spot on earth, at mi­nus-417-me­tres BSL) and its desert oa­sis is home to wildlife like rock rab­bits, moun­tain goats, foxes, leop­ards, birds and rep­tiles, be­sides an an­cient tem­ple that was a rit­ual cen­tre for a de­vel­oped cul­ture 5,000 years ago. The Vil­lage pro­duces an ex­pen­sive ‘Per­sim­mon Scent’ men­tioned in the Songs of Solomon and used in the Has­moneam, Ro­man and Byzan­tine eras. Bats and birds here feed on flow­ers of African Baobab trees that open only at night and die by day. “This was an Oa­sis since pre­his­toric times, that wit­nessed peo­ple liv­ing close to wa­ter­holes and to­day, we prac­tise or­ganic farm­ing here and grow dates, veg­eta­bles ‘un­der plas­tic’ amidst rocky patches, with sweet wa­ter, along­side pro­mot­ing health tourism that in­cludes vis­its to our gar­dens and even a pet­ting zoo (where an al­li­ga­tor basked lazily) in­hab­ited by peafowl, ducks, tor­toises, rab­bits, moun­tain goats, meerkats and lemurs,” Mani Gal said, not­ing that space is a con­straint for the grow­ing Kib­butz fam­i­lies here and ex­press­ing hope that the Gov­ern­ment will pro­vide new land to build new Kib­butzes. New set­tle­ments on oc­cu­pied land are a burn­ing is­sue in the Is­raeli-pales­tine con­flict. “About 50% of Kib­butz mem­bers are re­tired and the hill is small here. Jewish refugees, in­clud­ing from Su­dan, and Be­douin women live and work here. So ex­pan­sion is a prob­lem. Our ‘Botan­i­cal Gar­den’ is a suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment com­pris­ing trop­i­cal arid plants (2,000 species) and has been in­cluded in Na­tional Geo­graphic’s list of ten such projects world­wide. The Dead Sea basin is good for grow­ing ‘Myrrh”, the per­fume of Ara­bia, which gives resin, in­cense and drives away flies. We are re­search­ing ben­e­fits of myrrh, frank­in­cense and henna, with sci­en­tists work­ing here with the Univer­sity of Tel Aviv on Can­cer Cells that Com­mit Sui­cide if fed these es­sen­tial oils” he added.

The Ein Ev­dat Na­tional Park Oa­sis (es­tab­lished 1964), was an­other ex­cit­ing Canyon Ad­ven­ture, whose desert springs high­lighted tiny life such as frogs, bul­let ants, agama lizards, wa­ter bee­tles, wa­ter­worms, etc. An oa­sis frog lay ‘sun­bathing’ pas­sively be­side a tiny con­i­cal hole in the ground – which is the home of the “ant-lion”, (tiny preda­tor ants liv­ing be­low, from where they toss sand at other in­sects and drag them in to de­vour later).

The ‘bum­ble­bee” is the top pol­li­na­tor for

flow­ers and plants in the 100-35 mil­lionyear-old Arava Val­ley, where fo­cus is on sand agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing grow­ing plants in win­ter for ex­port to Europe and Rus­sia, and hy­dro­phon­ics – like “float­ing farms” for fish, veg­eta­bles, brack­ish wa­ter-grown sweet mel­ons,” said rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mici Mayor, adding that the wildlife in­cludes the lit­tle green bee-eater, lynx, Ara­bian oryx, horned owl, agama, ger­bils, ram, Dor­cas’ gazelle and the Ara­bian wolf, whose large pack de­voured her pet cat. (“Wolves carry ra­bies. So we put medicine in food left out for them as a safe­guard.”)

Young en­tre­pre­neur/en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Yaniv Fiel­d­ust show­cased us his so­lar na­ture cen­tre, ex­plain­ing the use of waste, in­clud­ing re­cy­cling plas­tic and metal now con­verted into drip ir­ri­ga­tion and so­lar cook­ing/light­ing sys­tems. “This is a sus­tain­able vis­i­tor cen­tre, hold­ing ed­u­ca­tional tours for kids, adults, com­pa­nies and even lawyers, and bring­ing about en­vi­ron­men­tal changes in so­ci­ety through proper, use­ful han­dling of waste,” said Fiel­d­ust, who, with a US $40,000 loan and 20 vol­un­teers, uses a small gar­den to grow green onions, mint, chives and toma­toes, flow­ers, figs, and berries. Charg­ing 1,650 shekels for six hours, in pro­vid­ing a hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence for camp par­tic­i­pants here and in schools, he ex­plains about the planet’s ‘fi­nite’ re­sources like plas­tic, oil, etc. He dis­plays his trea­sure chest in high­light­ing “sun-tow­ers,” “Par­a­bolic mir­rors” and wind­mills, and points out that ‘Kib­butz’ Samor in South Is­rael uses par­a­bolic mir­rors to pro­duce hot wa­ter and elec­tric­ity. He showed us the “Karob” tree (whose ‘carat’ seed was used in weigh­ing gold, di­a­monds and pre­cious stones, which is still preva­lent to­day).

Our last visit in Is­rael was a ‘desert tourism’ ex­pe­ri­ence in a Be­douin desert camp in the heart of the Negev desert, where we ex­pe­ri­enced the un­for­get­table na­tive Be­douin hos­pi­tal­ity – our elderly Be­douin Mus­lim host Athiya, of the Azazmi tribe, served us in his tent a tra­di­tional salad with pita bread meal and or­ange juice, while main­tain­ing his fast dur­ing Ra­madan. Be­douins are good story-tell­ers and Athiya had us rock­ing with laugh­ter at some hu­mor­ous ones, as he de­scribed his fam­ily (11 broth­ers and 16 sis­ters), brother’s farm, and his mas­sive tents for mar­riages and other events, be­sides cab­ins and bun­ga­lows for young cou­ples. I also met Uri Taub from the Is­rael Min­istry of Tourism and he said, “We think In­dian tourists would be in­ter­ested in our leisure and eco-tourism, MICE, Team-build­ing camps in the kib­butzes, Krav Maga (Is­raeli army’s self-de­fence sys­tem), ad­ven­ture sports and our drip ir­ri­ga­tion agri-tech­nol­ogy, as In­dia is un­der­go­ing a farm­ing evo­lu­tion.”

Salt pil­lars in the Dead Sea in Is­rael, cre­ated when the earth’s crust col­lapsed, form­ing the Great African Rift Val­ley

A rock-carved map of the Bib­li­cal trails in Is­rael

Craggy boul­ders re­sem­bling di­nosaur skulls in the desert

Camel sa­fari mov­ing across the sand dunes of the Negev desert in Is­rael

Sum­mer tourists frol­ick­ing in wa­ters of a desert spring

Nat­u­ral­ist Tchai Aviv on the arche­o­log­i­cal site above his desert vine camp, spread out be­low

Fiel­d­ust and his nat­u­ral trea­sure chest

An­cient Ne­an­derthal and African in­hab­ited caves

Tchai Aviv with wines made from vines grown in the desert

A desert wine­tast­ing ses­sion in progress

Mount Sodom, near where the Bib­li­cal Lot’s wife turned into a pil­lar of salt

A kib­butz near the Golan heights

A dammed desert moun­tain spring

The wild Ibex herds roam the Mount Ra­mon crater

Dhow tour on the Sea of Galilee

The Ag­a­mon Hula Na­ture re­serve lies be­side the Golan Heights sep­a­rat­ing Is­rael and Syria

King Herod’s fort palace on Masada Rock Plateau

The cave­men draw­ings in the desert

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