Saturday, November 24, 2007

O Jerusalem!

I like planning my vacations way in advance. I love the process of getting to the actual trip, especially if it involves a country or a city I have never visited before. As I begin planning my next trip abroad, I have been asking myself, "After Europe, what?"

Old Jewish Quarter in JerusalemThe obvious choices are Africa and Australia. I haven't set foot on these continents thus far. While my initial impulse was to do a real African Safari, I have been recently contemplating visiting Morocco and/or Egypt instead. But there is one place that fascinates me no end but I am wary of planning a family vacation in: Israel. Note: Jerusalem picture by Sam Rohn.

I read an interesting article on Israel in the Hindustan Times recently. Completely different from the usual stuff you read about continuing hostilities, the killings and the tragedy.

The author, Samar Halarnkar, begins with this funny observation: First, let's get this out of the way. Israeli women are not just stunning and fit but very stylish. Come to think of it, they are a lot like Iranian women. A friend who has lived in Tehran told me this, tongue firmly in cheek: "If they procreated (ie., the Iranians with the Isrealis), you would have some of the world's most beautiful people."

He goes on talk about how women are ubiquitous in Israel. He says, "Women are everywhere: soldiers with rifles, security personnel manning the country’s ubiquitous x-ray machines, running passport controls — and most look like models. Many tour guides are women, weaving their country’s biblical past into a great national narrative with great passion. I met two energetic grandmothers, both in their 50s (one had a grand-daughter aged 22, another a grandson aged 17), sprinting up stairs and barely breaking into a sweat as they rushed our group of huffing Indian journos from historical site to museum. When we met with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, three stooping, old women brought coffee and snacks."

Israeli Tourists in GoaIndians will feel welcome here. Many Isrealis visit India for their vacations; Goa is a popular tourist destination for the young. Here are some interesting notes from the HT article:

There is no country I have visited where being Indian evokes instant acknowledgement — and a smile. Young people behind shop counters, artists, bureaucrats, politicians, middle-aged university professors who may not have gone to India but know enough about it from their children. Even a grim-faced security officer at the heavily guarded presidential home in Jerusalem let down his guard for just an instant to reveal he was heading to India next month."

The biggest surprise came from a young Israeli at an airport bookstore. “Tu marathi bolto (Do you speak Marathi)?” he asked delightedly. His Marathi wasn’t particularly strong, but then he had been to India only once. Uziel Moshe was the son of Maharashtrian Jews, one of 70,000 Jews of Indian origin who streamed into the promised land over the last 30 years. His colleague, an Asheknazi or European Jew, grinned and said: “Woh Marathi bolta hain, main toda Hindi boltan houn (He speaks Marathi, I speak some Hindi).”

All this recognition is aided by the fact that 40,000 Israelis head to India every year to let off steam after their two years of compulsory military service. When you consider that Israel's population would comfortably fit into Mumbai's suburbs, the universal recognition is clear. And links appear when you least expect them.

“Ichaka dana, bechaka dana …” We were driving in the Judean desert heading for the Dead Sea when Tikhva Levin, our guide, who was really a professional archaeologist, suddenly broke into this ancient Raj Kapoor hit. She had been with us for two days and was one of those rare people who showed little interest in India. “You know this song?” Levin asked cheerfully. “It’s from a movie I saw when I was younger. I cried so much. It’s still popular in Israel this movie, The Wanderer. The Wanderer? Ah, she was talking of Awara, the universal Indian hit from Russia to Morocco.

I really hope I will be able to travel to this tiny but historical place during this lifetime...

17 comments:

RennyBA said...

i can tell we really share the urge to travel and see interesting places. Australia is a good choice. I was there more than 10 years ago and as a Norwegian, it was very exotic and also an interesting continent.

Btw: Sorry I haven’t bee around lately, but have been rather busy with family matters and traveling. Right now I am in Brussels.

PS: Congratulation for winning a Norwegian Troll in my second blog anniversary - I’ve wrote you a mail telling how to collect it.

sank said...

Hi Shantanu- I've been many times and can highly recommend, especially if you're a history buff. The food is excellent. This post resonated well with me, several of my cousins are Israeli, all of them went to India, exactly as you described, after the army.. one of them never returned home and I believe still is living in Goa years later.

Random Magus said...

I love the planning part of traveling as well - I have a folder with options for hotels, the places to visit, to eat. In fact hubby complains that I micro manage a holiday. Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt is supposed to be kick ass. I haven't been myself but heard that from everyone who has been there

jaja0359 said...

do you want to go to china,
there have many beautifull place!
you can visit great wall and bingmayong and so on!!!

IUnknown said...

Hi Shantanu,
Excellent post! The old world countries of Isreal and Turkey do very well connect with us Indians due to their multitudinous nature and rich history. I am sure they figure in the list of any travel enthusiast.

The only point in your post that I do not agree with is the observation of "Ichak Dana.." being from the movie Awara; it is, in fact, from the movie Shree 420. Maybe you can correct the article writer who will then correct Tikhva Levin! :-)

#madhu

Shantanu said...

@rennyba: Yes, Austalia's been on my radar for a while too. Both for Syndey and the Outback region. Thanks; I will send you an email reply too!

@sank: Intesting! Havn't researched Israeli food yet. :-)

@random magus: Thank you! I will certainly check that out.

@jaja0359: I have been to Beijing but would love to visit China once again.

@iunknown: Thank you for the comments. Damn, I should have caught that myself. :-)

Smita said...

Most cities around the world look alike after a while. Jerusalem has retained its own unique flavour. Definitely should be next on the list

Sandeepa said...

That was a very nice excerpt from the article. Caught in politicial nonsense, we often overlook the real people . Hope you are able to make that trip

Shantanu said...

@smita: You are right. Some cities have retained their past through their buildings. In this respect, I was actually pretty impressed by London too.

@sandeepa: Which is why this article caught my attention...

indicaspecies said...

Having checked quite a bit of Europe and the Americas, I'm yet to set foot in Australia and Africa too. However, I've been to Jerusalem about 9 years back, but on a very short trip.

Thanks for that link. 40,000 visitors to India in a year! No wonder I've met so many of them not just in the southern parts of India but also in the forts of Jaipur, in the trekking areas of Leh and also in Panamik, close to the Indo-Pak border of the Himalayas.

Shantanu said...

@indicaspecies: Yup, which I think is pretty cool and the way I would like it to be. We need to make our country a lot more tourist-friendly though, especially the airports and areas around some of the tourist attractions such as Agra.

Melody said...

Ah Jerusalem, the fairest city, so strongly built as one united whole (sorry, singing a song there).

I look forward to visiting Israel one day too, but by doing a pilgrimage.

Incidentally, though I haven't commented on other posts, great stuff!

Shantanu said...

@melody: You should do that. Thanks for the comment. :-)

Mansi Desai said...

I'm still planning my Europe trip, but Australia is on the cards too..I'd like to say that New Zealand, Egypt and Puerto-Rico should go on your list shantanu!!

Jerusalem has a lot of legend attached to it...should be fascinating...

Shantanu said...

@mansi: You know what, Egypt has actually popped up in my list. Mostly as a result of some friends visiting recently. From what I hear, it's awesome to see the Pyramids and the temples up close and personal.

sahil said...

My daughter is currently in NZ on holiday. In fact just yesterday she wrote saying she was currently in Bay of Plenty , which I thought sounded like the Garden of Eden! She checked out the volcano White Island and said she’s going sky diving today. I’m quite nervous http://100percentpure.wordpress.com

Nikita said...

U're right, Israelis are definitely good looking people. And yeah, they do smile very sweetly when we say we are from India. :)