Israel

“…there ain't no journey what don't change you some.”

Jerusalem

As exchange programmes go, the customary travel scene has to take form one way or another, in order to steer clear of guilt, regret and missed opportunity to find oneself while standing a top a mountain someplace. Our first trip outside Tel Aviv and a mid-week break from college, our skin tingled with the urge to feel heat and sun in full force and revive our dull skin. Having our bums growing into the mattress and fingers into the keyboard was a situation that had reached its unwanted peak. It was time.

Our group of exchange folk and close friends from college headed to the capital, and one of the must see places in israel, Jerusalem. It is the largest city in terms of both geographical area and population size in the country.  A holy city for three of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—Jerusalem has a long and tumultuous history, during which it has been home to people of many nationalities and faiths.
Knowing fully that we were to wake up at 6am to catch the 7.30am bus, we made do with hasty packing and got to bed by 4am. Planning ahead was most definitely not our strong point, and “indians are always late” na. But we made it! Even German Felix, who showed up on the dot (as usual) was shocked. Dot or not, India won this time.

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A bus, train and just an hour later, we were almost there. The en route scenery on either side was more than picturesque. Families all geared up and headed in our deirection, along with lush green fields and magical amusement parks in the distance, it was a great way to start the day.

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On arriving, we immediately felt a part of the large tourist vibe that plagued our surroundings. We met at Jaffa gate, from where you could immediately tell the new parts of the town from the old. In short time arrived the rest of our gang along with our lovely guide for the day, Dichla (spelt like this I hope). She was the most wonderful, free spirited and insightful person, having spend years in the deserts of the middle east and guiding tours in all parts of israel for over 14 years. We were in great hands.

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Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We were immediately aware that Jerusalem was divided into four distinct quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian. We wandered about, and were allowed to pass through some areas, while not allowed through some parts, the residents of which did not wish to be ogled at by the inflow of tourists. Quite understandable, given that we were being guided through intimate residential lanes and watching residents do everyday activities while being told about them. It was all quite strange but everyone seemed used to this. The lanes between the quarters were beautiful, peaceful and adorned with flowers and things of almost artificial vibrance.

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ORANGE TREE!

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We caught snippets and bits of all four quarters, that were all interestingly similar to each other architecturally , but differed in its people, attire and its markets. I must say the Muslim market was something of a treat. We were all almost lost in the crowd and bustle of the market, but found each other in good time, each with something new on their neck or wrist.

Finally, we reached what most travel all the way to Jerusalem to see. Temple Mount. It is one of the most important religious sites in the Old city of Jeruslam and has been used as a religious site for thousands of years. At least four religions are known to have used the Temple Mount – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Roman religion.

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The golden dome in center of Temple mount is a shrine called the Dome of the rock. The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The long wall just in front of it is known as the Western or “wailing” wall, a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. The wall is separated by a barricade to separate women and men’s praying areas.

We took ten minutes to wander about. Around us were mothers, children and young adults all directing their prayer at the wall. Some crying, some chanting silently, the name ‘wailing’ wall didn’t need time to figure out.  Even as an observer, you could feel something, perhaps an uneasy sense of reality or a flicker of ones own deep desires. Being amongst a bunch of believers and non-believers, it was easy to tell that this environment had an impact on each one of us regardless. To think that people travel miles to this one place, it took us a fair amount of discussion to realize that this surpassed our individual beliefs in god, a higher being, science or logic. It was simply knowing that a single place was at the receiving end of millions of peoples hopes and prayer, every single day.

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Wedged between the crevasses of the stone that scaled the entire 187 feet of exposed wall, were folded bits of paper containing years and years of hope.

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We headed inside the temple of Holy Sepulchre, a place that is said to hold the remains of the tomb of christ and crucifiction site.  We made our way to the area above where the sacred rock is said to be encased. It is of special significance as it is said to be the place where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son and from where the Muslim prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. A small hole in the ground allowed people to touch the rock, and the queue went on for a while.

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It was all too beautiful, from the intricacy and detail of the craftsmanship to the sheen and lustre made more magical by the glow of candle light all around. It was a moment to pause, and soak in the majesty if it all.

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Inside the church, is also a slab which is said to be where Christ’s body was laid and wrapped for burial. People were praying at by the stone and kissing it, laying out photographs and idols. As I nestled myself in a corner for sometime and watched people come and go, I noticed at least six women cry while others caressed and kissed the slab lovingly.

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The Golden Lampstand, made of pure gold, is said to have been destroyed in the old temple, and now restored to its original form.

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We also chanced upon a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony! It was rather curious, but our speculations were best kept to ourselves.23

This cool man.

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We finally headed out, and made our way to a very famous terrace cafe in Jerusalem, that one could never hope to find on ones own. A quick decision to head to the rooftop with Shay and Johanna proved to be the best decision taken all day. The view stretched as far as the eye could see, and what the eye could see was beautiful domes, mosques and weathered homes for miles. It was a timely arrival as the Azaan sounded from all around us, and the wind blew graciously in our direction. The sun set with its orange hue cascading all over the city and we spent what felt like a long time just listening.

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As we made our way back to Tel Aviv, one slept like a log after a few out of the window shots and what was a long, long day. So much information, so much internal turmoil and so many questions. We all left with a sense of having learnt something, whether it was of a new religion, or just learning to be accepting, Jerusalem proved to be everything we heard of and more.

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Lilah Tov 🙂

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What sleep cycle.

One look out the window, and we knew we had to head out. Tel aviv is great at night, and even better past midnight. The streets are never dead and those that are empty are kept alive by the astonishing street lighting we have come to notice over the last two months here, wherever we go. The skies play their own tricks with light and intrigue us every other week with a magnificent display of well composed cloud cover and eerie senses of multi-hued depth. We were fooled into believing summer would be here. But we weren’t alone. The rest of Israel longs for the long overdue heat and are teased everyday with the blazing sunshine in the afternoon that soon unmasks its cold cruel self. The beaches are showing their own signs of rebelliousness as you’ll soon see.

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We headed to Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel-aviv and an ancient port city in Israel. Its beauty and distinct uniqueness from the rest of the city draws its many lovers to it in their free time. Always bustling, always radiating its many hues of light, we found a relaxing turkish cafe and lounged there for hours drinking fruity glasses of yumminess and marveling at the candied mist. Felix showed up unannounced not much long after, and starving from his surprise attack, we roamed the streets of Jaffa until we found our favorite Shawarma place as he devoured an entire footlong meat-fest in less than five minutes. The lanes and by-lanes are a sight. Here are some pictures to illustrate the vibe of what can only truly be experienced in the flesh. Happy youngsters too busy in their own conversations and reunions create the clinking of glass and hum that goes on deep into the night.

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Felix, Karen, Noopur and I settled into one of the innumerable bars and cafes that lined more than one street. You could walk on and take as many turns and wouldn’t be disappointed. Live piano and acoustics from here and there make this place surreal and ideal for a shoot. Damn this designer thinking. Toasts all around. And some dainty cauliflower mezze with pita. Mmm.

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The night was still alive. And despite it being way past midnight the beach of Jaffa called out to us, even on this cold, cold night. On the way, we happend to stumble upon a large, and very random art exhibition. What a treat it was. It was just about to close, and it seemed like we missed a great party as the remnants of food and drink cups lined the floor. And a large drum-set of course, smack in the middle of the entire thing.

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Here are some of the many art works of the exhibit. One of the craziest Ive seen (for free) in a while!

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This tea set.

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This large pacifier made of cigarette buds. So deep.

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As the journey continued, we finally reached the beach. Freezing, we stared at the deep black of the night as the white waves foamed and crashed on the shore. A lot of shells strewn about.

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And in my poor vision of what seemed like a plastic bag, Felix joked that my plastic bag in the distance was a super large jelly fish. Not much of a joke.

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To all of our sheer surprise, it was a HUGE JELLYFISH. THE EXCITEMENT. Really though, this huge!? Such luck. It felt as blubbery as it looked. I couldn’t place the texture or the feeling. But that wasn’t all. As we walked on after coming to terms with our discovery, we found two more smaller jelly-fish. This was the beach’s revenge for the cold month of March. Killing unsuspecting jellyfish, poor souls. Karen mustered all she could to send willy back into the sea, but we knew it didn’t help much.

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That expression though.

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We got off the sand, and walked along Israel’s thoughtfully consistent beach walkway, as Felix attempted (once again) to climb every monument, statue or sculpture we encountered. Running through the lawn, making all the noise in the world and violating every rule that was anyway gibberish on the signboards, we made it back to center Tel aviv on foot. It helps that Israel is a strip.

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Much posing. Such lighting.

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Every other half-kilometer, you will find public work out areas for joggers who jog along the coast. Its such fun, really helpful and surprisingly well oiled.

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One of those very well spent nights that continues to support spontaneity as a great thing, we took it all in and owned the small part of Tel aviv that was just ours for the night (morning), without a care in the world or work on our minds. Please visit Israel.

We found a cave.

Across the street, under our feet. It was there all along. On one of our photography walks, Karen and I discovered what we could only describe as a magical mini-society. With a crystal clear lily pond in the center, surrounded by fancy mansions with glass elevator shafts on the outside, we soon realized it was a specially constructed living area for the elderly.  Periodic tour groups of elderly people kept walking by with a guide who seemed to gesture towards the pond, the elevators, the unnaturally green everything around us and then guided them to the best playground you’ll ever see. As we made our way out of the square we even more baffled as we now found ourselves walking down what seemed to be a restored or recreated war time neighborhood, complete with army green number plates by the front door of the houses and flag poles. Unfortunately there was no one to ask anything to. The houses were also interspersed with beautiful, almost hand crafted cottages that – after a peek through the windows – turned out to be little bakeries. What is this place?!

So as we make our way down the road, this perfect family of four burst out of one of the war houses (?!) and the kids run off to the car. The mom, on seeing us armed with camera, tripod and all, asks us in the best english she can manage, “do you want to take beautiful photos?”. Yes ma’am. And then she pointed to a staircase by the house and said, “go down and make a right”, beaming, and then carried on to the car. We watched them drive away. A yellow light glowed at the bottom of the stair case. We looked at each other, hash-tagged  #lifeexperiences in our head and ascended into our instagram filter.

It was this, and this went on forever, like a never ending tunnel completely well-lit and ventilated. It reminded me of the underground cities in Turkey that are now restored and go six floors down. Our excitement was well contained inside this underground passage to god-knows where. Much photography. So wow.
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The passage did finally end, and a staircase led up to a very strange yet beautiful bar. Underground.

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Midnight Samosa

So we made Samosas. No really, we did. It took us a total of 4 hours but what beautiful samosas they were! For our international studies course, our homework was to bring food that represents where we are from, and what could be more indian than Samosas? Okay a lot, but we were dying to make them. It started with kneading the dough which our dear Somesh insisted only he knew how to do. After what seemed like half an hour of careful measuring and physically exhausting kneading, Somesh managed the most flawless dough.

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Then came the filling of aloo, peas, onions and a concoction of the spices we had collected up until now. Our little factory set up was really quite fun. Noopur and Somesh demonstrated the art of samosa folding as Karen and I obeyed and by the end of it, we had around 35 samosas!

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With some spare dough, we even made these extremely successful munchables to keep ourselves going.

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Deep frying these fat blobs on our little stove proved to be more than time consuming. If it wasn’t for Somesh, who swore he knew the exact science of Samosa frying, we wouldnt have made it through the 35 samosas. Oh wait, 28 now. haha.

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And Voila! I am completely honest when I say that they really were quite good, better than alot of Samosas we have had. Perfectly crispy on the outside, and yummy as hell on the inside, they were a success that we were only too proud of the next day in class. Our samosas were teamed with some Yogurt bread from Yohanna, Eggs from Felix, Falafel from Shay, Couscous from Keren, Cinnamon cake from Hila, a dry-fruit concoction from Talia and loads of juice. One of the better breakfasts we have had in a while, for sure! The Samosas were the first to be polished off the table.
Our parents were wayy impressed, of course. So were we. We were actually pretty surprised and way too proud. Many high fives were thrown around. Ah well, its some consolation after the rigorous month we have had. Good food will never fail to be the silver lining 🙂

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Some girly thangs

This is devoted to Karens hair fetish. She is amazing.

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Even as I blog about this…Karen braids away.

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Sometimes

Sometimes all you need is a camera, good company, no plans and great weather. As Karen and I ventured out on our free Thursday, we were joined by Felix for what was to be one of those days that you will hope to recall when feeling like the world is a terrible place. Our phones aside for the day, we spent a beautiful afternoon on the sand, looking up at the sky that was foggy and cloudy, illuminated by the sunlight that was struggling to peep through but only managed to provide the warmth that the city craved. It was ideal and rare. All three of us armed with our super-cams, we were putting our photography lessons in college to some experimental use. The people of Tel-Aviv – the ones who had their day off too – seemed to feel the same as they lolled around, some in deep thought, some plugged in and some taking long walks on the beach. Alas, long walks on the beach absolutely does qualify as a like. I will remember not to grunt when stalking matrimonial videos on youtube next time.

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After Felix finished his swim in the freezing sea, we played an hour long game of catch-catch with our make-shift ball made of sand and Karen’s hanky. I swear we still have bruises from the brutal whacks we inflicted on one another. I guess it didn’t help that we were standing 10 meters apart.

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Yes, it was a beach photo overdose. Its hard not to post every possible angle and mood of the sea, but really, its one moody relationship between the sand, sea and sky.

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We decided to rent the city cycles and make our way to carmel market for some much needed grocery shopping, but as soon as we began riding -after what seemed like ages since we last did, we changed course and decided to visit Jaffa, a beautiful part of the city tucked away in a corner. We had heard so much about it, and could see it in the distance on the coastline, so we put our cycles to good use and made our way up.

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The was probably the most scenic and serene bike ride I have taken. The sun was setting, painting the entire atmosphere around us yellow. The wind was strong, numbing our fingertips as we clutched our bikes, peddling at top speed. Cycle tracks are god sent. Cycle tracks along the coast are from someone way above. Double-lane cycle tracks are just the most efficient damn thing ever. Kudos israel, I hope one day I can write a long post about India’s coastal cycling provisions. I think we may get there one day.

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As soon as we reached Jaffa, we knew that the fuss was about. Historic, breath-taking, it was like we entered an entirely new time period. The beach here was relatively empty, and the breeze much colder.

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Aimless wandering and shawarma eating.

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We finally reached the top of the hill, from where we could see the entire city-scape. It was a magically lit skyline and we just watched. We also discovered Felix’s compulsive need to climb everything.
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We bathed in the warm yellow light, feeling all enlightened, and after some short-lived soul searching and battrey-killing photography, we cycled back home.

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Thank god for GPS.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Work hours in college exceed human capacity. We have officially been biologically tattooed with dark circles under our eyes and skin so dull from staying cooped up indoors, working tirelessly into the night. 13 hour work days are something NID never prepared us for, and our laid-back approach to life itself has become something of an ‘Indian’ way, or so we observe. Or merciless workload however, is broken every tuesday with our lovely International studies course that is organized for exchange students by our teacher Talia Freed, a quirky, insightful woman. She mothers us to no end and is always fascinated by our stories about India. She also owns a dance company with her husband Nimrod Freed, that does experimental performance art as well as dance shows.

With the lot of us hailing from Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Israel and India, we spend class time sharing and showing each other things from our home towns, talk about important world issues and discuss how a common activity is practiced in different ways all over the world. Its amazing how much more you can learn from first hand experiences and information.

In addition, we are lucky enough to be taken to landmark places in Israel, as Talia refuses to let us leave without seeing as much as possible! This week we visited the Tel Aviv Museum of art, a large, large museum that was the home of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizegnoff. Established in 1932, it houses a comprehensive collection of classical and contemporary art, especially israeli art, a sculpture garden and a youth wing. Apart from the permanent collection (that includes original Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and Picasso!), it hosts temporary exhibitions of individual artists’ work, and group shows curated around common themes.

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The museum is mind-blowing. It would take us at least half a day to see every little bit of the museum, but from what we did see, there were crazy sculptures, installations,  photographs, audio-visual art pieces and interactive art works. The most funky was this GIANT textile octopus fashioned by innumerable materials, surface styles and colours. One can only imagine how long it must have taken to create this. This octopus spreads itself across all the 4 floors, and one can stumble upon a tentacle in any random room in the museum.


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We also noticed these ingenious walking sticks that are given out to the elderly, and I just have to mention them. They double as tiny chairs! Exceptional design I must say, very light-weight and can take Somesh’s weight. Now that’s something!

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And our favourite room in the Museum? The FUZZY ROOM! Yes, a whole room devoted to inflated fluffy structures that one can simply plonk on (after slipping on special shoes ofcourse), and lay there as long as one wants.

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This is Shay. You will be seeing a lot more of her, as she is our no.1 new bff and the biggest fan of India (i kid you not) one will every meet. Apart from having lived in india for months, more than one time, she can name bollywood movies and actresses at any time and is up-to-date on a lot of questionable bollywood gossip! She takes such good care of us kids (yes everyone is at least 5 years older than us thanks to the army training) and apart from her dashing looks, is a tank of knowledge about almost everything!

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And so, it was one of those not-boring Museum visits for a change. If ever traveling to Israel, the Tel Aviv Museum of art is a definite must!