Place this Mid­dle East­ern coun­try high on your travel bucket list im­me­di­ately. It has ev­ery­thing – from gas­tro­nom­i­cal de­lights to architectural won­ders – that a good va­ca­tion re­quires

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text and pho­tos by Sid­dhartth Ma­ha­jan


Aspir­i­tu­ally in­clined friend’s wish to bring in her birth­day in the holy land of Jerusalem brought Is­rael up on our bucket list ahead of its time. For three friends who of­ten travel to­gether, this trip was an­other ad­ven­ture, but with new flavours – that of his­tory and cul­tural rel­e­vance for mul­ti­ple re­li­gions. And of course, there were also the usual sus­pects of gas­tron­omy, ar­chi­tec­ture and play!

This trip was like no other. It was planned quick (we booked our tick­ets about 15 days be­fore), fea­tured pass­port jit­ters since there was too much hoo-haa around the visa process (but we got ours in two days with­out an ex­press ser­vice!), and be­fore we knew it, we had landed at the slick Ben Gu­rion Air­port and were in front of a for­mi­da­ble-look­ing im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer. His only ques­tion – ‘You are in Is­rael for just five days?’ – had our red-eye flight-stricken minds al­ready ques­tion­ing the ra­tio­nale be­hind this short trip.


We, that’s de­sign­ers Shivan and Nar­resh of the la­bel Shivan & Nar­resh and me, had signed on for a guided tour from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and our guide was a bless­ing! She drove us to Jerusalem, showed us around the en­tire an­cient city and its mys­ti­cal quar­ters, and filled our minds with his­tor­i­cal facts, height­en­ing the day to an­other level of im­por­tance in our itin­er­ary.

Nar­resh’s walk­ing wis­dom: Jerusalem is all about the old city. You catch the first glimpse while com­ing from Tel Aviv at the Mount of Olives, from where Je­sus saw the city first. As you en­ter the city from the Jaffa Gate, dis­cover the Ar­me­nian quar­ters and the stun­ning church fea­tur­ing a ceil­ing of sus­pended chan­de­liers. Walk to­wards the Jewish quar­ters and you will be led to the Room of the Last Sup­per and David’s Tomb. Do note that the Room of the Last Sup­per isn’t the ac­tual room; it has been built over the site where it is be­lieved to have been lo­cated. The room is an in­trigu­ing mix of cul­tures – there are in­flu­ences of Chris­tian­ity and Ju­daism in the ar­chi­tec­ture, but there is also an Is­lamic mihrab in the same premises!

Walk fur­ther and you will chance upon the col­umns of the Ro­man Cardo and fi­nally make your way to­wards the le­gendary Wail­ing Wall – the site holi­est to Ju­daism. The wall is be­lieved to have marked the spot of griev­ing for the Jews for their com­mu­nity – be­yond the wall lay the premises of the Dome of the Rock where the Foun­da­tion Stone is housed. Sid­dhartth’s soul-stir­ring trail: The visit to Jerusalem is in­com­plete with­out the chilling walk along the Via Dolorosa, the path walked by Je­sus from his sen­tenc­ing to his cru­ci­fix­ion. This path is marked with 14 sta­tions where sig­nif­i­cant events took place dur­ing Je­sus’s jour­ney and starts from the Arab quar­ters. To walk the same path where these events were be­lieved to have hap­pened sends a shiver down the soul. The walk cul­mi­nates at the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre where Je­sus was cru­ci­fied, buried and res­ur­rected.

His­tor­i­cal fact: The keys to the church are held by two Mus­lim fam­i­lies who open and close it re­spec­tively and have been do­ing so for cen­turies! Shivan’s gas­tro­nomic finds: We found a rather in­ter­est­ing restau­rant called Be­tween the Arches. Just off the Wail­ing Wall, the restau­rant is built in a cav­ern and of­fers a cu­rated menu in an en­chant­ing am­bi­ence with a se­lec­tion of Is­raeli wines that are not to be missed!


The Dead Sea was on ev­ery­one’s list! Our guide told us that “the sea will be boil­ing and the sand will be like lava” at this time of the year, but that did not dampen our spir­its. Mak­ing your way to­wards the Dead Sea is rather in­ter­est­ing – you pass the point of the sea level (the Dead Sea is 1,412 feet be­low sea level) amidst arid to­pog­ra­phy and feel your ears pop as you de­scend (make sure to carry some gum).

Sid­dhartth’s saline slips: The Dead Sea is called so be­cause of its ex­treme salin­ity, which doesn’t al­low for life in its wa­ters and makes you float even in the shal­low­est por­tions. This salin­ity is acidic and shouldn’t come in con­tact with your eyes or mouth. I was smart enough to try a fall­ing pose for a pic­ture, only to slip and get a drop in my eye; soon, I was rush­ing to­wards the shower, bare­foot on the hot sand.

Nar­resh’s mud may­hem: The Dead Sea’s mud is min­eral-rich and ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial for the skin. Scrape

some of the soft mud from the floor of the sea and ap­ply all over your­self (save the eyes), and wash off in the sea. The skin will be left softer than a new born baby’s! Re­peat mul­ti­ple times, be­cause the range of Dead Sea skin prod­ucts avail­able on the mar­ket costs a few hun­dred dol­lars!

Shivan’s bar tales: One can­not leave the Dead Sea with­out a drink (or many) at The Low­est Bar in the World, which sits at 1,378 feet be­low the sea level!


With our souls en­riched and skins nour­ished, we headed back to base camp – Tel Aviv. The city of Tel Aviv is a piece of art – from the ap­prox­i­mately 4,000 Bauhaus-style build­ings at ev­ery cor­ner (be­lieved to be more than any other city in the world ow­ing to the mi­gra­tion of Ger­man Jews in the 1930s) to the art gal­leries. There is so much to ab­sorb vis­ually!

Tel Aviv wears the crown for one of the best party des­ti­na­tions in the world and has the most evolved ur­ban sys­tems where cul­tures, lan­guages and sex­u­al­ity are equally demo­cratic. With the com­pul­sion of all men and women in Is­rael hav­ing to serve its na­tional army, the first thing that hits you is how good-look­ing the peo­ple are: the partyscapes are thronged with great bod­ies and spir­its, a trib­ute to their men­tal and phys­i­cal strength.

Nar­resh’s party tricks: The city is big on ter­race sun­down­ers. Typ­i­cally start­ing around 2pm, they peak around 8pm and fin­ish by 11pm. Go­ing to one around 6pm is a great way to meet lo­cals. This leads to more par­ties: while you might find from the lo­cals that the big­gest party tonight is at the bus sta­tion, to­mor­row’s might be at the quaint bar down the street. Theme par­ties? Yes, of course.


There’s lit­er­ally a party menu for any­one with four limbs to dance with. We found bars and clubs for women and men sep­a­rately, and some that al­lowed peo­ple to party only in briefs!

Pro-tip: Al­ways en­ter a party with a good cover charge.

Sid­dhartth’s Jaffa jig: Jaffa is one of the old­est port cities in the world (nearly 4,000 years) and is the most charm­ing part of Tel Aviv. It has a hilly to­pog­ra­phy but each turn has a sur­prise and a story to tell. The city is in­hab­ited by artists, which ex­plains the nu­mer­ous art stu­dios and gal­leries. The Ilana Goor Mu­seum is the big­gest and most eclec­tic, with a ter­race sculp­ture gar­den fea­tur­ing stun­ning pieces of art. If you are lucky, you can wit­ness the

lo­cals and the Vi­en­nese waltz in the pub­lic square.

Shivan’s food finds: The Miche­lin star restau­rant HaSalon had our din­ner ap­point­ment start­ing with in­cred­i­ble He­brew scrib­bled menus and end­ing with peo­ple danc­ing on their chairs and ta­bles. Fancy a beau­ti­ful sun­set? Head to Old Man & The Sea at Jaffa Port to see queues wait­ing to get ta­bles that fea­ture mains with 20 ap­pe­tis­ers by de­fault!

With a trip that was the right mix of cul­ture and ur­ban tourism, Is­rael shot up to one of the top five hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions we would rec­om­mend. Bid­ding adieu to this hol­i­day wasn’t easy, but our minds, bod­ies and souls departed Is­rael with a def­i­nite plan to come back!

PRIS­TINE SIGHT Be­yond the Wail­ing Wall are the premises of the Dome of the Rock

DI­VINE AP­PEAL The Church of Holy Sepul­chre, where Je­sus was cru­ci­fied, buried and res­ur­rected

SI­LENCE, PLEASE Jewish scholars re­flect on read­ings at the li­brary out­side the tomb of David

LOVE BITES Stop for a bite at Be­tween the Arches restau­rant built in a cav­ern just off the Wail­ing Wall

THREE MUS­KE­TEERS The au­thor ex­plor­ing Jerusalem with his travel com­pan­ions, de­sign­ers Shivan and Nar­resh

EYE FOR CRAFT An art stu­dio in Jaffa, the most charm­ing part of Tel Aviv

ART AT­TACK The city of Tel Aviv is a piece of art, and so is the art mu­seum

WORTH ITS SALT The dead sea’s mud is min­eral-rich and ben­e­fi­cial for the skin

PICK YOUR PIECE A piece of art at the eclec­tic Ilana Goor Mu­seum

GAS­TRO­NOM­I­CAL DE­LIGHT Head to Old Man & The Sea for a good spread with at least 20 starters

brunch­let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com Fol­low @HTBrunch on Twit­ter The au­thor is a fash­ion en­tre­pre­neur who en­joys travel, par­ties and In­sta sto­ries in equal mea­sure

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