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Function: 2 Mercs, Three seas, 7 days – a street journey throughout Israel | Autocar India

Written by Raghav

The Holy Land’s points of interest prolong manner past the theological, as we discover out on our 1,300km drive.

Revealed On Jul 16, 2022 09:30:00 AM

Half one million kilometres in 9 years, or, to be exact, 4,95,824km on the odometer. That’s the type of mileage Jerusalem-based taxi driver Razi Saa’idi has clocked on his trusted and dependable W204 C-Class. On a median, Saa’idi, a barely constructed man with close-cropped hair, drives 55,000km a yr or 150km a day, which doesn’t appear to be very a lot if you happen to’re a taxi driver. However in a tiny nation like Israel, which measures round 480km north to south and 140km east to west at its widest level, that form of mileage is the equal of clocking 10,000 steps on a Fitbit in your lounge. It additionally drives residence the purpose that the easiest way to get round Israel is by street. You’ll be able to attain any level of the nation in lower than a day; the roads are beautifully paved and well-marked; and site visitors is fairly sparse. For such a small nation, you additionally get extremely various landscapes, loads of pure magnificence, and hundreds of years of historical past within the type of historical websites. Whereas most vacationers flock to huge cities reminiscent of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it’s the countryside that has extra to supply.

By now, you’ve figured that Israel is a superb place for a street journey, and that’s precisely what we had been there for – in two shiny black Mercs. Each the GLA and the C-Class we picked up from Eldan automobile rental at Tel Aviv airport had been spanking new. In contrast to Saa’idi’s C-Class, the one I had was the brand-new W206 mannequin, which has simply been launched in India, with solely 23km on the clock. The plan was to drive each vehicles in tandem throughout the nation, sticking to a pre-defined route and schedule curated by our hosts, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

The direct Air India flight from Delhi lands in Tel Aviv at evening, so it was previous 11pm by the point we received the keys to our vehicles from the courteous and affected person Eldan employees. Our first cease was Jerusalem, lower than an hour away, and this brief drive in gentle site visitors received us settled into the C-Class and GLA, and adjusted to driving on the suitable (mistaken for us) facet of the street.

The evening is all the time younger within the resort city of Eilat.

Driving in Israel is like driving wherever within the West. Site visitors is orderly and drivers are disciplined, and the roads, whereas not as broad as in larger western nations, are, as talked about earlier, completely paved. Google Maps works effectively in Israel, however we had been advised that Waze, based in Israel and bought by Google in 2013, is a good higher navigation app. For this brief run, although, we merely adopted the motive force of our assist van who took us to a parking zone a brief stroll away from the charming Arthur Lodge, bang within the centre of Jerusalem.

Previous Metropolis scenes: An Orthodox Jew reads a prayer e book.

The next morning, we, like thousands and thousands earlier than us, had been drawn in the direction of the Previous Metropolis, which might be explored solely on foot. Jerusalem is many issues to many individuals, however it’s, above all, a metropolis of intense religion that sits atop many layers of historical past. You get an intimation of its sanctity the second you enter the Previous Metropolis by way of the huge doorways of the Jaffa Gate.

Community of slender alleyways join completely different quarters of town.

The walled metropolis, marked by slender alleys and vibrant bazaars, homes the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian Quarters – and websites which can be central to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. These embody the Temple Mount, as soon as residence to the First and Second Jewish Temples; its western assist wall, The Western Wall or ‘Wailing Wall’, the final remnant of the unique supporting wall of the Second Temple; the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam; and the gold-plated Dome of the Rock, a late seventh century CE shrine and the oldest extant Islamic monument. Hold strolling on paved streets smoothened by the ft of each conquerors and pilgrims, and also you hit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, recognized because the place of each, the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus Christ. Amid this agglomeration of holy websites, life carries within the Previous Metropolis because it has achieved for hundreds of years. Youngsters hurry to highschool, the busy hum of commerce animates the bazaars, and there’s hummus available for lunch.

Parking comparatively straightforward to seek out in Jerusalem, as alongside the Haas Promenade that afforded a panoramic view, with a shimmering Dome of the Rock.

We ended the day with a drive as much as the Haas Promenade for a spectacular view of this photogenic metropolis. The half empty parking zone alongside the promenade offered an amazing location for a photo-op of the C-Class, with the Dome of the Rock shimmering within the setting solar. Talking of parking, we had been pleasantly shocked at how straightforward it was to discover a place to park in all places we went. Certain, parking within the metropolis centres is tough, however not as painful as in different nations. In actual fact, we by no means had an issue discovering a spot – and that could be a huge plus when you’re on a street journey.

HIGHS AND LOWS

A 5am begin allowed us to rapidly escape a sleeping Jerusalem. The day, a protracted one, would finish on the shores of the Useless Sea. The drive to our vacation spot wasn’t a straight one, although, and a rambling detour off the primary freeway and into the biblical wilderness of the Judean desert took us to St George’s Monastery. The Greek Orthodox monastery, constructed across the fifth century CE and tucked away in a deep gorge known as Wadi Qelt, is a cliff-hanger of a fancy carved right into a sheer rock wall. It’s so off the overwhelmed observe that we met solely a handful of vacationers (two of them from Kerala, by the way), who, together with us, gamely braved the ultimate stretch, a gruelling, vertiginous 1.5km stroll to achieve the gates of the monastery.

Slender, twisty sliver of tarmac resulting in Saint George’s Monastery offered salvation of a distinct form.

The slender, twisty and lonely sliver of tarmac that took us near the monastery was a driver’s delight. It jogged my memory of how good the C-Class’ steering is, as I flicked the sedan from nook to nook, blissful to oblige each time our cameraman Anand Malepu requested for “yet another cross, please!” It’s straightforward to lose observe of time when you’re having enjoyable and we had been operating an hour not on time, so we beat a hasty retreat to Route 90, which might take us straight to the Useless Sea.

You’ll be able to’t miss the massive Sea Stage indicator in your drive from Jerusalem to the Useless Sea. There’s ample area so that you can leap out for a photo-op with a camel that seems to have taken up everlasting residence there. From right here, it’s like driving down an enormous bowl. The street step by step descends all the way in which to the Useless Sea, with a number of markers alongside the way in which exhibiting your altitude dropping, under sea degree, in fact.

420 metres to go earlier than we get to the bottom level on Earth.

We quickly received our first glimpse of the Useless Sea shimmering within the distance. The bluish-green physique of water, surrounded by golden brown hills, leaps out of the haze. Stepping out of the automobile to take {a photograph}, I’m struck by the searing warmth. Simply the way in which temperatures drop as you climb above sea degree, it will get hotter and warmer as you go under. Fortunately, the C-Class’s aircon stored the cabin good and chilly. Swimming within the Useless Sea, which is definitely a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, is a must-do. Technically, you aren’t swimming however solely floating, as a result of the buoyancy, 5 occasions higher than some other sea, pushes you up like some large hand lurking below water. It’s a surreal feeling floating within the slimy and very salty water, along with your physique half protruding. You’ll be able to truly learn {a magazine} or a e book with out wetting it, and that’s what I did for the cameras.

One more reason the Useless Sea must be in your bucket listing is as a result of it’s an unbelievable 420 metres under sea degree, making it the bottom level on earth. And that really offers you a giant excessive.

GIVE ME RED

Eilat, on the southern tip of Israel, is an effective 228km from the Useless Sea, which, by Israeli requirements, is kind of a protracted drive. I had switched to the GLA and the upper seating place the compact luxurious SUV affords got here in helpful on an off-road detour we took later that day into the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, which breeds and nurtures endangered biblical animals and releases them into the encircling Negev desert.

Acacia timber within the Negev desert echo the African savanna.

You wouldn’t affiliate Israel with teeming wildlife – over 60 p.c of the nation is desert – and it’s true that it doesn’t have huge cats or the number of animals you discover in India, however nonetheless it was a uncommon expertise to drive by way of the reserve and have ostriches knocking in your home windows and watch herds of Arabian oryx and white antelope lounging within the shade of Acacia timber, their pale pores and skin reflecting the solar’s warmth.

The Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve is residence to the Arabian oryx and curious ostriches.

Our route from the Useless Sea to Eilat handed by way of the Arava Valley and the street snaked up as we ascended the evocatively named Ma’ale Akrabbim (“The Scorpions’ Ascent”). This transformation in elevation made for some terrific driving roads that undulate and curve throughout the reddish colored hills and rocky panorama. The GLA isn’t as hunkered down because the C-Class by way of quick sweeping bends, but it surely resolutely holds its line nonetheless, the taut chassis and correct steering making it a automobile you possibly can drive at velocity with confidence. Since we’re as regards to velocity, we didn’t spot too many police vehicles patrolling the nation’s safe highways, however that doesn’t tempt Israeli drivers from straying too far above the 110kph restrict on two-lane highways. On single-lane roads, the velocity restrict drops to 80kph. Fairly truthfully, when you’re surrounded by spectacular landscapes, you’d slightly soak all of it in than put your foot down.

Properly-paved roads with gentle site visitors encourage lengthy and pleasing stints behind the wheel in Israel.

We get our first view of the Pink Sea as we crest an increase and gently descend into Eilat. A touch was made for the seaside for a sundown shot with the Mercs and that earned us a picture-postcard end to a protracted however exhilarating day. Israel has made essentially the most of this 12km strip of shoreline sandwiched between Jordan and Egypt. Eilat is sunny and full of life and has a buzzing nightlife.

A Manta ray glides by on the Coral World Underwater Observatory in Eilat.

There’s so much to do within the resort city other than gazing on the blue waters of the Pink Sea, and this consists of parasailing and scuba diving. And you probably have companions in want of some buying remedy, they are going to be glad to know that by advantage of being a free commerce zone, Eilat is exempt from value-added taxes, which interprets into considerably decrease costs for items than the remainder of Israel.

ROCKS OF AGES

We headed northwards once more from Eilat, taking a number of detours to find much less frequented treasures such because the Timna Nationwide Park. Breathtaking purple, purple and brown hills usher you into Timna, about 30km from Eilat, and simply off Route 90. Otherworldly rock formations, formed by the wind over thousands and thousands of years, give the park, one in every of Israel’s largest, a Martian vibe. This Grand Canyon of Israel is a geologist’s delight, with rocks formed like mushrooms, majestic columnar formations reminiscent of ‘Solomon’s Pillars’, and the remnants of historical copper mines.

‘Solomon’s Pillars’ and the Mercs at Timna Park: One million years aside however all formed by the wind.

The cherry on the cake was the fabulously empty and clean roads contained in the park. A few of these had been dust roads, so the low-slung C-Class was unwittingly compelled into some off-roading. I used to be greater than slightly apprehensive in regards to the comparatively low-pro tyres, particularly after I dropped the surface wheels onto a shoulder with jagged stones whereas executing three-point turns for a number of passes for the digicam. However the tyres did maintain up fairly effectively and, in truth, each vehicles received again residence and not using a single puncture.

Timna might need made us crane our necks in awe to absorb nature’s handiwork, however the sheer immensity of Makhtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater) took an extended time to course of. Makhtesh Ramon, 40km lengthy and as much as 10km broad, is an erosion crater and a landform distinctive to the Negev and Egypt’s Sinai desert, and, in truth, it took us some time to understand that we had been driving by way of it. The street that led from Timna to Makhtesh Ramon featured mild curves and sparse site visitors, and the spectacular surroundings throughout made the journey much more thrilling than the vacation spot. The very best bit was climbing out of the crater and attending to the guests’ centre within the metropolis of Mitzpe Ramon, the gateway to Makhtesh, to feast on fabulous views of the crater.

Petrol expensive on the equal of Rs 164; diesel touches a stratospheric Rs 227.

Earlier than we depart Mitzpe Ramon, we tank up each vehicles, as gasoline stations within the area are far and few between. In the event you assume petrol is pricey in India, it’s much more so in Israel, the place a litre of 95 octane prices 7.06 shekels (about Rs 164), and diesel is at a good steeper 9.74 shekels (Rs 227.25). Thank god, we weren’t driving diesel vehicles! Each our petrol-powered Mercs had been fairly environment friendly and returned an total determine of 15kpl, which is fairly first rate given the terrain we had been driving on.

A street signal you’ll solely discover in Israel.

The guts of the Negev desert, by way of which we had been travelling, additionally hosts army workout routines, so apart from camels, you additionally must be careful for tanks crossing the street! The final little bit of the day’s drive, down a hilly street, led to Kfar Hanokdim, a resort surrounded by the Judean desert and impressed by the tradition and customs of the Bedouins.

Scorpion-spotting within the Negev with UV gentle.

After dinner that evening, we trooped out of our desert-style rooms and ventured out into the encircling desert searching for scorpions, and found that these masters of camouflage gentle up like a reflective street signal below UV gentle. That’s proper: scorpions are the one land-based creatures that glow vibrant inexperienced below a beam of ultra-violet gentle. Use an abnormal torch and these venomous arachnids are all however invisible. It was a traditional case of now you see them, now you don’t.

RISE AND SHRINE

The surroundings modifications dramatically as we proceed our journey additional north. The austere great thing about the Negev recedes into the gap and is changed by the soothing inexperienced of a Mediterranean countryside. In keeping with an outdated Israeli saying, “In Jerusalem they pray, in Tel Aviv they get together, in Haifa they work.” Haifa, one in every of Israel’s greatest port cities, might need a fame for industriousness, however it’s also immensely charming, with a laid-back Tuscan vibe. Located on the western promontory of Mount Carmel, town, a lot admired for its multiculturalism, unfurls magnificent views of the Mediterranean.

Haifa’s hottest attraction is the impeccably manicured and terraced Baha’i Gardens that roll down the slopes of Mount Carmel. Later that afternoon, after a fast lunch of some glorious falafel, we drove to the outskirts of town to fulfill up with a gaggle of traditional automobile lovers who hang around with their vehicles each Saturday in a giant parking zone. Automotive tradition isn’t huge in Israel, as a result of, because of excessive import duties, good vehicles are unaffordable for many, but it surely’s not exhausting to seek out pockets of passionate (and wealthy) fans which can be as psychological – and as happy with the vehicles they personal – as wherever else. Shimon Rosenfeld, a mechanical engineer, is one in every of them. The octogenarian, an Auschwitz survivor, beamed with delight as we admired his impeccably maintained Mercedes-Benz S500 (W140), and advised us, by way of an interpreter, about his different automobile, an NSU. And earlier than we left, in a touching gesture, Rosenfeld handled us fellow fans to ice cream. Dinner that night was on the La Cochina Douzan, an elegant restaurant situated within the stylish, tree-lined German Colony neighbourhood, and earlier than we hit the sack that evening, we admired some fabulous views of the illuminated Baha’i Gardens and Shrine by way of the massive home windows of our rooms on the elegant Schumacher Lodge (no connection to Michael or his household).

Early the subsequent morning, we drove alongside the Mediterranean coast to Rosh Hanikra, which lies on the northernmost fringe of Israel, inside spitting distance of the border with Lebanon. Rosh Hanikra was as soon as a part of an outdated railway route that linked Israel (then the British Mandate) with Lebanon, however in the present day it’s extra common for its grottoes that had been fashioned over hundreds of years, as the ocean and rain stored battering the bone-white limestone cliffs. You hop right into a cable automobile, on the world’s shortest and steepest line, that takes you to a path alongside the grottoes, the place the ocean rushes in and creates a grand theatre of sound and light-weight. Acre, the final cease on our week-long journey, was a particular one. Acre, a UNESCO World Heritage Website, is a walled metropolis by the Mediterranean, studded with mosques, citadels and baths, and has been formed by everybody, from the Romans and the Ottomans to the Byzantines and British. However the greatest imprint on town has maybe been left by the Crusaders. Acre was as soon as a serious Crusader stronghold, and the stays of the Crusader city, constructed between 1104 and 1291 CE, are nonetheless extraordinarily well-preserved, each under and above road degree. (Acre’s slender lanes don’t make it car-friendly and it’s greatest to park your automobile in one of many safe government-run parking tons.) A quiet lunch, our final in Israel, at a homely native restaurant by the Mediterranean, offered me with a possibility to mentally retrace our route over the past seven days. We had pushed over 1,300km throughout Israel and found that its points of interest prolong manner past the theological and that its canvas was a vibrant one, full of cerulean skies, dun-coloured deserts and hanging blue seas. Throughout our journey from Acre to the Tel Aviv airport, I learnt the right way to bid farewell in Hebrew, and whereas I nonetheless can’t get the pronunciation of ‘Ani hachzor shoov bekarov’ proper, I imply it after I say that I’ll be again quickly.

5 REASONS TO ROAD-TRIP IN ISRAEL

1. Israel’s spectacular surroundings is complemented by a well-developed freeway system with clean roads and light-weight site visitors.

2. Most street indicators in Israel are additionally written in English, so you already know precisely the place you’re going.

3. Israel has each paid and free parking tons, and discovering parking even in its main cities just isn’t an excessive amount of of an issue.

4. In fact, the Israelis have Waze, the world’s largest community-based site visitors and navigation app, however simply so you already know, Google Maps works simply fantastic, too.

5. Selecting up an area pay as you go SIM card in Israel is a fuss-free affair with minimal paperwork. Plus, good offers abound.

Holiest of the holy: Israel is residence to sacred websites of Four main religions

CHURCH OF HOLY SEPULCHRE

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a big architectural complicated that includes a number of small chapels, was first constructed in round 326 CE, and is sacred to all Christian faiths. The big construction, which has seen a number of alterations and additions over the centuries, homes completely different Christian denominations such because the Catholic church, the Armenian church and Syrian Orthodox church. Christians consider the location was one the place Jesus died, was buried and was resurrected.

DOME OF THE ROCK

Jerusalem’s Previous Metropolis can be residence to a fancy of non secular buildings identified to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (‘The Noble Sanctuary’) and to Jews because the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock, a seventh century shrine situated inside the complicated, is likely one of the oldest extant Islamic monuments. The shrine is constructed over a sacred stone, from which, Muslims consider, Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, whereas to Jews, the rock is the very place the place Abraham ready to sacrifice Issac. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated in the identical complicated and is the third holiest web site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

THE WESTERN WALL

The Western Wall (additionally known as Wailing Wall) is situated within the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, and is likely one of the final remaining partitions that when surrounded the Temple Mount, the location of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Western Wall, one in every of Judaism’s holiest websites, is visited annually by thousands and thousands of people that insert prayers, hand-written on scraps of paper, into cracks within the Wall.

THE BAHA’I GARDENS

Israel isn’t just integral to historical religions. Up north, the port metropolis of Haifa is residence to the comparatively new Baha’i religion, a faith born in Iran in 1844. The Baha’i Gardens is a research in symmetry, and residential to the gold-domed shrine of the Bab, which comprises the tomb of Siyyid Ali Muhammad, the forerunner of the Baha’i revelation. In Acre, additional up the coast, you’ll discover the resting place of Bahaullah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i religion.

About the author

Raghav