TP and I had decided on a loose itinerary before leaving for Israel based on our reading and our determination of what was a must-do for each of us. As per plan, we set off on a walking tour in the Old City. I highly recommend the Zion Walking Tours, though by Indian standards it seems steep (at approx 1000INR per person).(http://zionwt.dpages.co.il/) Our guide (coincidentally named 'Shalom') welcomed us on the tour.
We walked through the very private Armenian Quarters, soaking in the warmth and embrace of the Old City.
We then walked into the Jewish Quarters. In speech, and perhaps in belief, every Jew I met is highly 'Jewish', which can be loosely translated into anti-Arab (and therefore, anti-Muslim). The average man on the road will talk about how the Jordanian king razed down his grandfather's tombs, or how a Palestinian Arab shot his nephew or how the Muslim Kings built Al-Aksa on their Holy Temple.
I can do a few posts on just the Western Wall. The atmosphere in the Western Wall complex is unbelievable. Tirupati perhaps comes close, but not really. Its quieter, more grandiose (no shrine, no idol, no priest, no collection boxes) and apart from the wall, you can see black everywhere(except for the military). The reverberations and energy one feels in the place is immense. The Wall is the culmination of 3 warring religions. The Jews,as per the tenets of their religion, have only one Holy temple(which only their high priest can enter) and several synagogues(for the average Jew to pray in).The temple was built to house the Ark of the Covenant (for more, pls watch Indiana Jones!) and the Foundation Stone (from which the Earth originated and from which Adam was made).
We walked on from the Western Wall via the Cardo(a magnificent Roman structure)to the Christian Quarters. While it does look like the Jewish Quarters, it is not as bustling or as traditional... until one reaches the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We wound up with a brief tour of the Arab Quarters, more a market. Our 'Jewish' guide, who spoke excellent Arabic (business is never confused with personal belief!) gave us some vignettes such as how the Church of Holy Sepulchre was literally a battleground with several Christian sects fighting over ownership and now each of the 'winning' sects have a few square feet each! Also, that the key of the Church is owned by a Muslim family which lives nearby. Finally, as we wound up, he expressed hope for Israel returning 'rightfully' to the Jews.
After the walk, we indulged in a lovely Hummus and salad meal. The salad portions are huge and come with dips (labneh, baba ganoush). Lots of chick peas. At about midnight we reached a desolate parking lot, the starting point of a guided midnight bike ride. (http://www.jerusalembiking.com/) 2 South Indian women at 12 in the night at sub zero temperatures? (with teeth chattering and eyes watering) started praying to Tirupati Balaji that somehow the thing is called off (high on enthusiasm, low on warm clothing). HE is powerful, I kid you not. Coincidentally,the other participants cancelled and we gracefully demurred a private tour and came back with a free T Shirt to remember our midnight cab ride to the parking lot.But if you visit in summer, it is surely worth it. The guide and contact person are just so wonderful.The upside? The Parking lot (in an area called Talipiyot) has the loveliest look out of Jerusalem by night... all sparkling and lit up.
Moral of our day? : Warm clothes and good shoes are a must anywhere. Men (i mean people) can get carried away by perceived past slights and behave as though what happened over a thousand years ago can affect their rational judgement now.