Sunday, June 17, 2012


A letter to Grand Daughter Achu

Prof. Joseph K. Alexander


1 Why the Holy Land Tour
2. Getting Ready
3. Air Port Agonies
4. Thirty Days in Bahrain
5. Holy Land Tour
6. Jerusalem
7. Cairo
8. Gaza Pyramids
9. Red Sea Crossing
10. Crossing Taba Border
11. Sodom the Dead Sea
12. Jerusalem Hills and Valleys
13. Bethlehem in Palestine
14. Nativity Church
15. Re-enter Israel- En Karem
16. Gethsemane Olive Garden
17. Mount Tabor
18. Sea of Galilee
PART 111
19. Tour of UAE
20. Dubai

"Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open."
-- Elmer G. Letterman

My granddaughter Achu requested and I agreed to write about my Jerusalem tour. I went with my wife, her grandma, Uncle Alex and Lalitha Aunty. In the wake of the recent craze, many have gone to Jerusalem. Some have also written about Jerusalem tour. One of the earliest “Sanchara Sahityam" (travelogue) in Malayalam at the end of the 19th century is the tour of Jerusalem written by Saint Parumala Mar Gregorios. I have not seen one in English. There are also very good DVDs on Jerusalem. I write this for youngsters like my granddaughter. I write in English because I can type it on the computer leisurely.
When I started writing my idea was only to give a description of what all we saw in the tour. As I proceeded, I found that what I saw and learned from tour guides is scanty. Therefore, I researched the Bible, internet and books on Jerusalem monuments, archaeological research materials and the book “Holy Land “of Fr. Godfrey OFM. Hence, the letter is lengthy. However, I think it is worth.


1 The Why
Why I ventured into this hazardous journey at this not young age of 80s, nay old age, is a brainteaser. Being a Christian, Jerusalem, the place where the historical person Jesus lived and crucified, is the “Mecca” of Christianity. Walking and thinking about his teachings and his extreme sacrifice for humanity, is pilgrimage par excellence.

Like many Christians, for me, Jesus is son of the Triune God- Father, son and Holy Spirit- who created everything in the Universe. He incarnated in flesh through Virgin Mary and lived among us. Pontius Pilate crucified Him. He suffered all iniquities for remission of the sins of man. He resurrected on the third day. We believe that He would come again to gather under His banner all His followers. We also believe in His Holy Church and baptism (repentance) as the only means to enter into His Kingdom.

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem like Jesus did on the dusty roads of Judea 2000 years ago, confirms your faith in Him, His historicity and His Teachings- “Universal brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God”; And Love everyone as you love yourself, get imprinted in you. I think every Christian who can afford the cost of this tour must do it. As in the case of the Muslims, Government must subsidize this tour. This pilgrimage will make them better Christians and better citizens You should think of such a pilgrimage some when in the future

Frailty- weakness- thy name is man. Man, the puny creature when confronted by normal natural calamities like thunder, lightning, floods, cyclones, whirl winds, cold winds, frost, heat waves and moving sand dunes; Physical ailments and old age, become still more small and helpless. My anxiety was ailments of my age, prostrate problems and the extreme heat of Middle East to which we (wife &me) were flying in. Therefore, we decided that we could undertake the tour only if our son Alex and Lalitha join us. When contacted, they agreed with alacrity. That was the greatest booster of our spirits. In retrospect, now I know that it was only a fear of the unknown. We both went through the entire tour in perfect health.

This was my third time dream to go for Jerusalem pilgrimage. About a dozen years ago, a priest gave us an ad talk on this tour in our Senior Citizens monthly meeting at Trivandrum. That kindled in me a desire-not a demand- to go. In Economics, demand is a term with wider meaning. It is desire plus resources and readiness to spend for the desired consumption item. Mine was only a desire. Readiness to spend money was absent. Sometime later Mr. K E Cherian and wife- our relatives- went and presented us with Jerusalem souvenirs. That was a strong persuasion.

In the second time, it was not merely a dream, but a real demand. However, we could not make it. We four (including Alex and Lalitha) decided to go on May first with Omania Tours at Cochin and remitted Rs. 40,000/- as registration fee. They insisted medical insurance for wife and me. That created umpteen worries in getting medical check-ups and reports from a qualified doctor. Because of our advanced age, the insurance company imposed more detailed check-up, a second time. We underwent that too with demur. However, just 3 days before the tour Lalitha’s brother-in-law passed away. She and Alex had to go for the funeral. We cancelled our tour. A question you might ask. What happened to the registration fees? It was lost. They spent the amount for preparations for our tour.

2. Getting ready
In August 2008, Alex phoned, “Martha Mariam Samajam of the Malankara Orthodox Church is arranging a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Sep. 15 under the leadership of Rev. Fr. John Sankarathil, its Secretary”. Ramadan is lean business period for his company and he will be more free than otherwise to go with us. We agreed. This was my chance to fulfill my dream. Then things happened instantly. He contacted Sankarathil Achen and discussed our itinerary to join the tour group at Cairo. In two days time he booked wife’s and my flights to Bahrain, Cairo and return journey to Trivandrum. He requested me to register us for tour and remit US$ 100 each in Indian rupees to Achen at Kottayam. This I did. Since Achen knew me from his student days, he was delighted to learn that I am joining his tour group and said so much to others and me.

My itinerary was that we two were to fly on Air Arabia on 17 August via Sharjah to Bahrain, and stay with Alex for 30 days. Then the four of us are to fly to Cairo via Abu Dabi on Etihad Air lines to join the tour group. On our return, we are to leave the tour party at Amman in Jordan and fly to Sharjah for a 3 days stay with granddaughter Alvina. On 26 Sep., we were to return by Air Arabia to Trivandrum. Alex booked all these sector flights. All our anxiety about age, physical ailments and climate withered into thin air.
Kunjannamma and I were thence on toes. Photocopies of our passports and photos were couriered to Sankarathil Achen and e-mailed to Alex to arrange our visas to the various countries. This was not our first foreign tour. Despite, our anxiety was that of first delivery of a young woman. We met our doctor for prescriptions for all eventualities including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and even sleeplessness.

Since we were to stay for more than forty days, we had to carry enough dress. After much persuasion, Kunjannamma agreed to reduce her dress requirements. I sold away my old car. It was becoming a white elephant. We got a caretaker for the house in our absence. We informed our neighbors, telephone, water and electricity authorities about our in-tented absence. I installed an extra light for the verandah for the security guard. Meanwhile Alex e-mailed the minimum dress that we are to carry including a woolen sweater for each. It also contained photocopies of our visa to enter Bahrain and instructions about what to expect at the Trivandrum, Sharjah and Bahrain Air Ports. I went to Air Arabia Office and checked our flight. It was all okay. I went to the bank and collected some US dollars and UAE Dirham for incidental expenses. Both of us went to our parish priest Rev. Fr. Sam Kanjickal, Fr. Alexander Vaidyan and Fr. P M. Eapen to pray and bless us for safe journey. By 16 August, we tightened our girdle for tour.

Leaving our friends, kith and kin, home, or our physical body at death are all .painful. This is true for all living organism -man, animals and plants. For those who believe in life after death there is consolation. The Orthodox Christians believe that death is only a movement to the other side of the curtain. Death is birth into a new life with a multitude of our relatives who died earlier. The living and the dead are a single community. They are praying for each other and waiting for the second coming of Christ. We were leaving our home only for a short period and need not be sorrowful. Yet, was there not a tinge of pain?

     Air Port agonies
We had to be at the airport at 00.00 hours for our flight at 03.00. Since the road from Petah to airport is solitary and rightly or wrongly notorious as goonda infested, the advice was to pass that area before 09 00 PM. Our night watchman Johnson came at 08.00 hrs. We locked our doors and got into a taxi at 08.30 with our bags and travel papers. At Eanchakal Junction, I wore a brave face with inner anxiety and my wife a more masked appearance. At the gates of the international airport, our face muscles relaxed and we were calm. Johnson lifted the bags to the trolley. At the airport, they would not allow us to enter their premises so early. I approached the airport manager through the receptionist woman, and had a telephonic interview with him. We got permission to go inside probably on, considerations of our age.

The long hall into which we lugged in was empty, lonely and silent, except for an occasional service man/woman traversing its length. Air conditioning was off. I found out a wall fan, worked it and sat down for our small talk. Time ticked off until 01.15 AM when the entrance became live. We moved with our luggage and papers to one of the slowly becoming alive counters and got our boarding pass to wait again for checking into the security area. That happened only at 02.15 AM, Imagine the hours wasted by waiting for the flight. We came to the airport by 08.50 PM and we could fly only by 03.15 AM. The labor hours spent waiting for the airplanes, ships, trains and bus by millions of travelers every day must be a staggering figure. Imagine the Gross Domestic Product lost.

Sharjah and Bahrain Air Ports
Air Arabia flight G9442 took us to Sharjah airport at 05.30 AM. Armed with the copies of entry visa to Bahrain we found out the counter and got the boarding pass to the next flight G9103 at 09.00 AM to Bahrain. Leisurely I went around and purchased from Mac Donald’s a cup of morning coffee priced UAE D 12 (around Rs.144). It was concentrated decoction and packets of sugar stirred in could not reduce the bitterness. We shared it. I also took the sandwich brought from home. The duration of Sharjah – Bahrain flight was only one hour. Because of the difference in time zones, we left Sharjah at 09.00 hrs and reached Bahrain at 09.05 AM. Trivandrum on the east at that moment was noon 12.35 hrs. We came out of the plane and moved in queue to the security counter. We had a copy of entry visa. We had to exchange them for the original at a special counter, by paying UAE D.5 per visa. Suddenly a young man sent by Alex approached us asking the old woman in sari from behind “Are you Annamma Joseph from Trivandrum?” We turned back. He smilingly took us to the nearby counter, gave UAE D.10, and pointed us the counter to give the visa copies and the money. The clerk took them and in a moment gave us the original visas. We moved into the queue to get entry visa punched in our passports. In about ten minutes, we were moving out of the airport. At the exit, Alex and Lalitha were waiting for us.
The hot air of Bahrain struck us on our face. They whisked us in 2 minutes to the parking lot and his car. Even within that time, my skin felt the burning sensation. The urge was to remove the sweater I was wearing. In another two minutes, the air inside the car became cool and smoothing. He drove us fast to his residence; some twenty minutes away. Alex without wasting time went to his office. Lalitha served us appam and chicken curry as breakfast. After a few niceties, we two went into a bedroom for a nap.
Thus, we were in Bahrain on the FN of 17 August. For the next 30 days our son Alex and daughter-in-law, Lalitha took us all over the island, pampered, and fed us well with all varieties of food made at home / available in the food courts and hotels. However, he persuaded us from not going to any small or local hotels where food is too oily, acrid, hot and pungent.

Achu, I think I have given a detailed report of the preparations of our journey and anxieties we encountered. In fact, there are three distinct laps in our journey. First, we went to Bahrain for a 30 days stay with Alex. The second was the Holy Land tour of Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The third sector of our visit was to Sharjah and Dubai in UAE (Unites Arab Emirates). I am trying to give a brief sketch of our tour of these places from my point of view. You can enter any search engine on the internet and get more or any information about any country or monument. However, you would not get my view of them.

4. Thirty days in Bahrain
You might be wondering as to what we were doing all the 30 days. I myself was musing over it when Alex suggested it a month before we went. Well, we fell into a routine. Alex used to leave for office at 08.30 AM in his car. His lunch pack was dry chappathi and chicken. He returns after 05.00 PM. Most days Lalitha and Kunjannamma would skip the breakfast for self-imposed fasts. Therefore, I had to take it alone. In the FN, I used to spend time by reading Manorama daily, Gulf News and my internet mails. There was Google chat / talk with Alvina and Alna, and my blogs on the internet. After lunch, we would go for a catnap. Chocolates, cookies and exotic dates stored on top of the cupboard used to enliven our taste buds. Alex, on return from the office will have a bite or two on any of them. After a few nicety exchanges, he will change into casuals and is ready for the evening drive to show us Bahrain. We went out all the days except one, when he was indisposed and felt feverish. He drove us in different directions on each day, explaining the sights and buildings on the route. Malls and eateries or food courts were there in our daily itinerary.

God interfere
A woman pilgrim in a recent group from Kerala just dropped down in the Holy Sepulcher area in Jerusalem and died. Newspapers in Kerala regularly report such sudden exhausted deaths. Because of the high standards of health care, Keralites prolong their life and live longer. Death is a certainty. When is the only mystery?

On Sept.14 Sunday evening, we went to the Church service and had absolution and Holy Communion. We thanked God profusely for keeping us in good health all the 29 days in Bahrain. We also offered prayers for protection in our Holy Land tour. I purchased some dress items as souvenir presents to you all in Trivandrum. We limited the purchases in Bahrain because we have to carry them in our luggage all through the 8 days of the tour. We postponed further purchases hoping to do so at Dubai on the final lap of our journey.

We went through some anxious moments in the morning hours of 15th. Alex discovered that his identity card, “Akkama” is not in his wallet. He thought that he misplaced it on the bank counter on previous day when he went to purchase US $ for the journey. He went to the bank. Nevertheless, it was not there. Lalitha ransacked his belongings at home. The card was still out of sight. Without the card, he cannot go out of the country or for the tour. He went to the office to report the matter to the Boss to manage a duplicate: impossibility in eight hours. God stepped in. On reaching the office his driver brought the card. He found it in the car when Alex sent him on an errand in the previous day. He failed to inform yesterday itself. This news relieved us all.

Once again, we reviewed our luggage to check whether anything is left out. Our flight from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi is at 3 AM and so had to report at 00.00 hours to the airport. We locked up the flat and were on the car with all the luggage of the four of us in the dicky and in the laps of us. Alex was to leave the car in the airport for the company driver to take it back.
Another anxiety was that we had not received visa for Kunjannamma and me for visiting UAE on our return from Jerusalem. The usual practice was to issue the transit visa at the airport. Due to terrorist outbursts the UAE, authorities changed that system in Sept. beginning. Alex was in continuous contact with Raphael, his son-in-law in Sharjah. After several approaches, Raphael applied for our visa in the customary way. We even thought of the possibility of not getting out of the Sharjah airport and wait for the next flight to Trivandrum on the next day. Raphael was knocking at the doors. Finally, near the end of the tour, four days before our arrival in Sharjah we were informed on the phone that the ministry has agreed to issue special sanction as we are transit passengers holding ticket to Trivandrum. We were not sure, until we got it at the Sharjah airport on 23 Sept.

Part 11.

5. Holy Land Tour

Israel-- crossroad of the World
Because of “globality”, fast transport and internet connectivity, now any can sit before his computer and see, talk and transact any trade or commerce with anyone in the World. In early history, caravans and goods moved out over land and sea for trade and commerce. Israel- Canaan- the country of Jews (later called Palestine) in those days was on the main road of such caravans. Israel is around 20770 Sq.Kms It lies between Europe, Asia and Africa. So, all mighty hoards. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans and Arabs* successively captured and owned it. During Crusades, (from 1099-1270 AD) European Christians attacked it many times to recapture it. It went again into Arabian hands and later to Turks. In 1917, it became a British protectorate. At the end of the Second World War, the Allied powers created Israel State for the Jews to return to their “ancestral home* to wait for the coming of Jehovah.

UNO at the end of World War 2nd divided Palestine into two states of Israel and Palestine. Arabs rejected the proposal. The conflict between the two is the result of the ancestral and wider Zionist and Arab traditions. They are progenies respectively of Isaac, son of Abraham born to Sara and Ishmael, born to the slave Hagar. God said to Hagar that her son “Would be against everyone and everyone would be against him”. (Gen.16:12) Anyway, after 1947 Jews all over the World soon migrated to this new Israel, their original homeland.

Sea of Galilee and such other areas in northeast was under the control of Jordan. In the 1967 battle, Israel drove Jordan from these places and occupied those areas. The Palestinian Arabs of today got back from Israel through little skirmishes and finally negotiation, the Gaza strip on the Mediterranean Sea coast and the West bank on the Jordan boarder in the north. After the death of their leader Arafat, HAMAS a resistance group got control of Palestinian parliament. They dominate the Gaza strip area while the late Arafat’s FATAH dominate the Palestinian West Bank area The HAMAS foment problems for Israel with drastic Israeli reactions. This is the nature of the present unrest in Israel. Series of international negotiations, conferences and peace proposals to reconcile them continue.

Israel is on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Its climate is temperate in the north, hot, and dry in the South. Population is 7.2 million. They are an advanced and developed society with longevity over 80 years. Literacy is over 92 %. Seventy six percent of the population is Jews. Muslims account for another 16 %. The rest are a few Christians of all denominations and about 3 % non-definable (Wikipedia). In 1950, Jerusalem became the capital of Israel.

6. Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the center of early Christianity. Our tour was mainly to this Christian center. Hence, it is worth knowing about the place and its early history. King David founded the city on the top of Moreah, Zion, Bassetha and Akra Hills in Judah. It has a history of 4000 years. His son King Solomon (970-931 BC) built its famous “Jerusalem temple on Mt.Moreah”. He took 20 years to build it. (1 Kings. 9:10) The temple was completed and officially consecrated in 946 BC. It was famous for its magnificence and munificence in the use of metals including gold and valuable stones and wood. No wonder, it was attacked and plundered 50 times; was demolished 17 times and re built 18 times.

Jesus wept.
The center of ancient Judaism was Jerusalem. Babylonians destroyed the first temple built by Solomon in 587 BC. On the return of Jews from Babylonian captivity, they started re-construction of the temple on its old ruins. After a break, they completed it in 515 BC. Roman Governor Herod renovated this temple to please the Jews. He did it magnificently in 20 BC. Romans and particularly Hadrian destroyed this temple and the city in 70 AD. Jesus in 30 , on his way to Gethsemane, foreseeing this imminent destruction lamented. (Lk.19:41-44) They built the ancient church of Dominus Flevit on the slope of Mount of Olives to mark this spot.
Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena reinvented Jerusalem in the fourth Century (around 325 AD) and started the age of Byzantine Christianity. They built a number of churches and monuments in Jerusalem as memorabilia of Jesus’ mission in this World. The Muslim onslaught of 636 AD once again destroyed Jerusalem and its churches. The European Crusaders (1095-1291) re-established Christian supremacy in Jerusalem. Turks recaptured it in 1517 AD. It continued under Muslim rule until 1917, when Jerusalem became a British Protectorate.
Jerusalem is Holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. All the three groups come here to worship. Today the only remnants of the old temple built on Mt. Moreah by Solomon is the “Wailing Wall”. Hundreds of Jews come every day to mourn over the loss of their temple and to strike their head on the wall and pray. A more reasonable interpretation of this is that the Jews gather at the Wailing Wall for the thanks giving prayer for being able to come back in 1947 to their original home. It is holy to Christians because they crucified Christ here. For Muslims Jerusalem is holy: Mohammed went to heaven on his winged steed from the rock on Mt. Moreah. This rock is also the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2). With this rock inside, they built the magnificent mosque El-Aksa. The golden “Dome of Rock” mosque is the most significant landmark of modern Jerusalem.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheist religions claiming descend from Abraham and his God. However, their Gods are different. According to some Talmudic traditions of Jews, Jesus is the son of a prostitute. For Islam he is only a simple prophet. However, for Christians, he is the triune God: the father, Son and Holy Ghost who came to the World. They crucified him. He is to have a terrible second coming for which we all wait.

Tour itinerary.
Our tour route of the Holy Land was from Egypt to Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Some others start their tour in Jordan and end it in Egypt. We started the journey on the route taken by Moses for the exodus of Israelites from Egypt to Canaan.

Mesopotamia and Babylonia in Central Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was the cradle of the early civilizations. Now this area is Iraq. Garden of Eden (Geneses 2: 10-14), Tower of Babel (Gen. 11: 1-4), the building of Noah’s Ark (Gen. 6: 13-22) were all in Iraq. Abraham came from Ur in Iraq (Gen.15:7) to Canaan (modern Israel) around 1900 BC. Egyptians enslaved his grandson Jacob’s descendants The Exodus in the Bible is the story of the retrieval of Israelites (Jacob’s descendants) from Egypt by God. Moses and his brother Aaron lead them from Egypt in 1250 BC in the 40 years journey through the Sinai desert to Canaan.

7. Cairo.
We four Kujannamma, Alex, Lalitha and I, landed in Cairo on 16 Sept. noon by the Etihad Air lines. Cairo is the capital of Egypt. Keli Tour operators received us. Soon we found out that Alex lost his bag in transit, most probably at Abu Dhabi airport. Four of his pants- pieces of his suits-, mobile phone, chargers of movie and still camera were all lost. Luckily, his wallet and passport were in his pocket. He ran around to register his complaints while we three waited in the airport anxiously for over an hour. The rest of the tour party of 47 arrived from Cochin via Muscat.§ We all got into a chartered coach and traveled through the Cairo city roads along the banks of the river Nile. Nile is the longest river on earth, very wide and deep; navigable for big barges loaded with commercial goods. We saw not only barges and boats, but also very fertile riverbank all along. Date palms, plantains stooping heavily with fruits, and plants and trees lined our way.

Egypt is a vast country. Most of it is uninhabitable. They get less than two inches of rainfall per year. The Egyptian civilization developed around 5000 BC along the 4000 long Nile River. The Pharaohs and their animal gods and later sun god gave the basis for their civilization. They strongly believed in life after death and used to preserve the dead man’s body and wares used by him for his life after death. The pyramids were such storehouses. The banks and delta areas of Nile are very fertile. Agriculture, fishing and river transport of men and materials comprised their main economic activity. They developed cuneiform writing on papyrus (paper) - called hieroglyphics. Political leaders rule the country. After Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar-al Sadat and since 1981 Muhammad Hosni Mubarak was the ruler of the country until February 2011. After a revolution, the country is now under a military regime.

Coptic Church.
We went first to St.Mary’s church, MAADI. This is built on the site where the Holy family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, first stopped a few days before going on boat to further south in Egypt. The stay probably might have been for getting a passenger boat. They were fleeing from Bethlehem and King Herod, on instructions of the Angel. Herod had ordered the massacre of all children under two (Mat.2:16). Inside the church there is an old well covered with an iron mesh. The holy family quenched their thirst from the well. The church is on the bank of river Nile. There is a shrine just in front of the church and to its right on the riverbank. 

Holy Bible
There is an open holy Bible in a glass case. The tell-tales of water soaking is evident on the showpiece. The story is that the Bible was found floating on that spot in the river in 1976. They built the shrine and altar on that place. In these two churches candles and incense burn. Some of us went down a few steps to get their hands or feet wet with the Nile water.

The Holy family stayed in Egypt for two years until the death of Herod. After that, they returned to Nazareth in Galilee, away from Bethlehem and vicinity of Herod’s successor. Jesus grew up in Nazareth as the son of carpenter Joseph. He was a Nazarene. His followers –St. Thomas Christians of Kerala inherited the name Nazarenes. His public life started in Capernaum and places near Sea of Galilee.

There is a legend about St. Thomas, the apostle of India. He was Didymus. His two fingers were fused together. After touching the wounds of resurrected Christ, the fingers separated and other apostles kissed the blessed hands of St.Thomas. The kissing of fingers (hands) of priests and bishops started from that incident. Only St. Thomas Christians has this tradition of kissing the fingers of Bishops.

In the Shrine of St.Mark

Then we visited the shrine of St. Mark, the author of second Gospel. Romans executed him in Alexandria. This shrine in Egypt entombs his holy relics. We offered prayers at his tomb. He was the originator of the Coptic (Egyptian) Church. Oriental Orthodox Churches with which Malankara Indian Orthodox Church has Holy Communion are Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Eritrean and Syrian (Antiochan) Church. The supreme head of the Coptic Church is Pope Shenuda III. His magnificent cathedral church is very near. We went in. Renovation was going on. Pope was out of station. We could not meet His Holiness and pay our respects.
When we were boarding the bus to go to the Hotel “Delta Pyramid” for night rest, a very fat Egyptian woman in her forties accosted Alex with folded palm “namasthe”. She pleaded by gestures to take her photo with our V. Rev. Remban Gabriel. Alex agreed and had to request him back from the bus. She probably presumed because of his Masnapsa (head cover), that Rembachan is a bishop from India. She seemed extremely happy and thanked Alex profusely.

On our way back to the city, I noted that most of the buildings had unplastered walls. My inquest brought an answer. The city corporation levy property tax only on buildings after its completion. Therefore, owners keep it outwardly unfinished to escape the tax. Egypt is not a rich country. We had instructions not to use Egyptian pipe water. It is not potable. Use only bottled mineral water. It is costly. 1.5-liter bottle cost US $ 3. We rested at the Hotel for the night. It is a three or four-star hotel. They gave us a buffet dinner of rice, meat, fish and many other palatable and not so, items.

8. Giza Pyramids.
On 17th, tour leaders woke us up and we came down at 6.30 AM for breakfast. Bread, eggs, and a number of sweet and sour items, tea / coffee were the buffet menu. We had it quickly and entered our bus. Alex was heading to Thailand for a business trip. We two were returning from our Bahrain tour. Lalitha was going to meet her relatives in Kerala. We three had heavier luggage. Wheeling them out of the bus to lifts and our rooms and back again to the bus in the next morning was Herculean task. With our little help, Alex did it for us. Thanks to God for him.

We were warned that we will be making a 6 ½ hour-long journey by bus through the Egyptian Sinai desert and that the bus will not stop for rest or for easing us. Therefore, we were to take as little water as possible in the morning and to carry mineral water for use on the way. After ascertaining that all of our things and us are in the bus, we started at 7.45 AM to the Red sea coast. The Egyptian guide who joined us the previous day and the bus driver comprised the 53 of us in the bus. While we were going through the streets of Cairo Fr. Sankarathil led us in the Morning Prayer. We also sang a few Christian songs, making the tour a pilgrimage of the faithful.

Our coach stopped at Giza pyramids on the outskirts of the Cairo city. It was 9.25 AM and the hot sun was blazing on us. . In my College days, I was a student of Ancient History: particularly of Greece and Rome. Hence, I knew all Nile River, Giza Pyramids and Sphinx. I had read extensively about the Roman-Egyptian wars, Cleopatra and the earlier Pharaohs who constructed these pyramids. Seeing them was reliving my studies.

I had brought two P-caps. For our women, Alex purchased despite their protests, two costly plastic net caps from the vendors. However, Lalita and my wife refused to wear it. They covered their head with sari. Thus, the hats turned out to be inconvenient items in our luggage

There were a few other tourist coaches unloading passengers. We wanted to be the earliest to avoid the crowd. We were in front of the three biggest of the 80 and odd pyramids so far discovered. Pyramids are funeral chambers. Egyptian civilisation flourished on the Nile banks 5000 years ago. They believed in life after death. Rich people used to arrange embalming their corpses and preserving them in chambers along with articles used by them for future use. They used to entomb Mummified corpses of their chief aids with the master’s Mummy.

“History of Herodotus” Vol. I.Bk. 2 Para 86 (Written around 460 BC) {translated by George Rawlinson, 2 Volumes} explains the process of embalming a corpse. Herodotus toured in Egypt and gathered as much information as possible to write this part of the history. On Para 124-133 he also describes the method adopted for the construction of the pyramids of Cheops (Khufu), Chephren and Mycerinus. They constructed it around 2600 BC. Around the area we visited, there are a number of basements and remnants of smaller pyramids of lesser chieftains.

Cheops pyramid is the biggest occupying 13 acres of land, 450 ft high and using 3 million stone blocks, each weighing about 2.5 tons. Herodotus says that they used some kind of a machine made from wooden planks for lifting these blocks. Our guide said of a different method. After the first ground layer of stones, they molded mud banks around to haul stones to the next higher level and the next and so on. It took 20 years to construct and another 10 years to scrape off the mud bank crust. The middle pyramid of the son of the emperor is small compared to the third one. The coffins containing mummies and other articles were in the inner chamber at the center of the pyramids. I am leaving out other stories about pyramids given in Herodotus.
There was enough time to go up the stairs to the door to the inner chamber of the big pyramid. People can enter the chamber of the second small pyramid on payment of an entrance fee of US $5 per head. Now there is nothing inside. It is all empty. Thieves have ransacked all the valuables centuries ago. The mummies have also gone into the museums in Egypt, England, USA and other places.

Sphinx is a statue on a pedestal with a human face and the body of a lion in resting position. This also is a massive lime stone structure. Most of us took photos: still and movie, with these pyramids and Sphinx in the background. A local photographer came and arranged all of us into a group with the pyramids and Sphinx in the background for a photo. Those who wanted copies for US $ 4 per copy gave their names. They gave the copies later when we were in the herbal perfume shop. We took a number of photos and movie pictures of all pyramids and Sphinx. Yet I purchased two copies, for us.
Prof. Joseph Alexander; Kunjannamma

We boarded the bus at 10 AM for our next destination, Suez Canal. The Egyptian tour guide told us that we are about to go through an 800 meter long tunnel road under the Suez Canal. If we are lucky, we may see ships crossing the Canal before we enter the tunnel. We were all looking with outstretched necks like cranes to see the ship. None came to our view. We continued our eastward journey.

9. Red Sea Crossing.
Our next destination was the Nuwebia Village Resort in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. The bus was cruising towards the east on more or less straight road through the desert. Both sides it was arid land of ash like top soil. It reminded the moon surface shown on TV.

By about 11.30 AM we reached an herbal shop- a connived commercial stopover. They seated us in a small hall and gave us a welcome drink of grape juice. Then a sales man around forty in age started explaining the medicinal value and use of each of the perfume. Meanwhile another attendant smeared each perfume on the hands of each of us to smell it. This went on for an hour because they had 15 or 20 varieties of perfumes for sale. One of it, he explained as midnight perfume. He also told us where to smear it. : the shoulders / mountains, the thighs and the fifth spot being between the thighs for women and on the machine-gun for men. The smuttiness of his description made us giggle. Anyway, he was able to sell a good number of small perfume bottles to us. Alex purchased a few bottles worth US $ 130 for all his relatives.

From the shop, we walked up to a nearby hotel for lunch. Around two PM we were back in the bus. Though it was very hot outside, the air-conditioning saved us from the heat.

Further, on our tour, we stopped again at a wayside shanty for our evening Tiffin. We had Tiffin packets on the bus brought from Cairo. They gave us seating space and demanded in return purchase of soft drinks or mineral water. Most of us obliged. Our packets contained chicken fry, potato bonda, two unusually large ripe dates, and guava or pear fruit. It was too heavy for my stomach to do justice to the contents. In another 30 minutes, we continued our journey on bus.

Aqaba Front
From Sinai to Aqaba Gulf it was an eight-hour bus journey, with two stopovers at herbal shop plus lunch and Tiffin shanty. All the way through from Suez Canal to Aqaba Gulf and Nuweiba, the road appeared reddish in the sun. The soil on either side seemed life less. Nearer to Nuweiba green plants and trees appeared. We now entered the town of Nuweiba. Our aim was to reach the Neweiba Village Resort in South Sinai, in Egypt early enough for a dip in the Sea. It is a beautiful expansive village resort on the Red Sea front, with gardens of well-maintained shrubs and trees. We reached the resort only at 7.30 Pm. Our plans to have sea bath at this point on the Red Sea could not materialize. Few of us and I rolled up our pants and entered for a couple of feet into the Red Sea. We were in calf deep water. For me the division of water into two walls and its closing on the Egyptian army to destroy them was a real happening. So getting into the Red Sea at this point was very significant for me. The resort had boats and diving gear for those who wanted. However, we were too late for such pleasure.

The name Red Sea comes from the red colored corals in the seabed. Even from the shore, we could observe the red tinge of the Sea. Red Sea has two gulfs jutting into the Eastern desert in Egypt: Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba. In between the two Gulfs is the Sinai wilderness-an extension of the Sinai Desert. We were going through this hinterland. The left of the road is the Egyptian Eastern desert continuing into Sinai. On the right there is the Sinai little hills.

In Bible Exo. Thirteen, the Red Sea crossing of Israelites happened in the Suez marshy place. Another presumption is that it happened at the Nuweiba beach on the Gulf of Aqaba. A third opinion is that crossing was on Red Sea. However, where it happened? I am inclined to believe Ron Wyatt, the archaeologist that it happened at the Nuweiba beach, exactly at the location of the Resort where we were staying.

The Aqaba gulf of Red Sea is very shallow and narrow (less wide) at the Nuweiba point. It is here that Moses crossed the Red Sea in around 1210 BC with his Israelite hoard of two to three million people. The opposite side of the beach in Aqaba gulf (north end) is partly in Jordan and rest in Saudi Arabia. Moses and his people after crossing the Sea went into the Sinai desert in Saudi Arabia. They camped there in the foothills of the Sinai Mountain. Ron Wyatt asserts that it is here that God appeared to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments. The legend is that the Catherine Monastery at the foot of the small mountain and a thorny bush there are the places of God’s appearance to Moses. The Biblical Median and Mt. Sinai are in Egypt. We could not go to either of these locations

There are people who question the miracle of water moving to either side to form a wall to open a Dry Land Bridge for Israelites to cross the sea. Moses had miraculous powers from God. (Exo. 4: 3- 5). We know how difficult it is to keep a few people under one’s command. Moses exhibited his miraculous powers a few times to keep the 2 million within his ranks. The Israelites were fleeing from the chasing Egyptian Emperor’s army. God devised this scheme to destroy the entire Egyptian army by drowning them in the Red Sea. When all the Israelites crossed over to the other side, Moses stretched his hand over the Sea. The water wall closed on the chasing Egyptian army. Men, horses and chariots: all drowned. The high water walls on either side (of the land bridge under the sea) miraculously fell on the Egyptian army drowning and burying them in deep waters of Aqaba Gulf of Red Sea. (Exo.14:26-29)

With archaeological and documentary evidences, Ron Wyatt proves that the crossing took place at the Nuweiba beach. With sonar depth measurements, Ron Wyatt shows the land bridge under the Sea. He went to this spot in 1978 and 1984, conducted scuba diving to the Sea bottom, and took photos of wheels of the Egyptian chariots and bones of drowned army men. (Ron Wyatt- Moses & the Red Sea Crossing -Truth or Fiction- a power point presentation: Source Internet) With hundreds of evidences, he also states that Bible is “one of the most accurate books in the World”.
Israelites took 40 years to travel from Ramese (Cairo) to Canaan (Jerusalem). We covered the distance in 32 hours. We were on bus from 10 AM on 17th to 6 PM on 18th. We also took enough rest on the way and an overnight stay in Nuweiba Resort. They were on foot and had little idea about the destination. The map below shows the route we took from Cairo through the Sinai Desert. The line of arrows marks it.

At Nuweiba, each pair of us got a cottage in the village resort for stay. The attendants wheeled our luggage to our respective cottages. I got cottage 311 and Alex 312. Cottages were of fully furnished four-star facility. We were to be in the dining hall before they close at 8 pm. So we postponed our bath and washing to a post-dinner time.

After a good sleep, Alex and I packed our things and waited for the attendants to take our luggage to the bus waiting in front of the Resort. When they left with the boxes, we locked our cottages and moved through the gardens to the dining hall on the sea front. It was only 6.30 AM and the sun was blazing hot from the eastern horizon. Alex took a number of photos of the gardens and sea front. Two pleasure boats and a fishing boat were moving at a distance. The gentle morning breeze was lovingly caressing the Sea to wake it up from the night sleep. Small wave like movements on the Sea surface was the sign of awakening sea. A couple of priests and two nuns among us entered the sea to wet their feet by the lapping ripples of the awoken Red Sea.

At 7 AM, the dining hall opened. The buffet breakfast menu were too many including four or five sweets and cakes, cookies, fruits including pears, figs and very ripe black giant size dates, kebabs, steak, eggs, soft drinks, coffee, tea and so on. We went after breakfast to the bus just in time and gave back our room keys to the receptionist. Suddenly Alex noticed that I was not having my walking stick. He took back the key, and rushed to the room. He returned with the walking stick.

10. Crossing Taba Border.
We started at 7.45 AM on Sept. 18 to the Taba Border of Egypt to Israel, a one-hour drive northward. On our right side of the road was the Aqaba Gulf and left, the Sinai desert. At Taba, we were to leave the Egyptian bus and guide for new ones on the Israel side. We lugged our bags to the emigration counter of Egypt and then to the security check and immigration counter of Israel. It was 200 yards away and the checking was meticulous. We waited in queue for our turn. Lalitha’s passport and photo were old, much used and full of entries due to her regular Bahrain-Kerala travels. The officers conferred with superiors and finally got convinced. They permitted her to go forward.

There were three immigration counters, one for Israelites only. This special counter was for the speedy disposal of incoming Israelites. Without realizing this, Kunjannamma and I went to the vacant counter. The checking was slow at the two counters. Disregarding us, the girl officer took the papers from one who came after us and processed it. Was I a bit irritated? The officer then took our passports and papers and remarked that it is a counter for Israelites only. Yet she punched our papers and permitted us to go into her country. We had instructions to request to the officers at the counter not to punch our passports. Instead, they were to issue a punched special slip with our name and passport number. The enmity between the Jews and Arabs is such that if by mistake Israel stamps a passport, that passport holder cannot get later into any Arab country. Our tour itinerary included Arab countries Palestine and Jordan. We had to preserve that punched slip to get out of Israel. One by one, we checked into Israel side and to the new bus.

Israel is like a cone. It is narrow at the South end and wide on the North at the Mediterranean Sea coast. Egypt on South West, Jordan in the east and Syria and Lebanon in the north, are its boundaries. Like Kerala Israel is an elongated strip 350 KM from north to south and 50 to 80 KM west to east. The Mediterranean Sea coast gives it access to sea trade. The hinterland is hilly desert in the south and highly fertile low-lying lands in the north. The eastern side of Israel is a rift valley formed by geological movements of earth plates in the long past. Judea is in the southern Israel and Canaan and Galilee in the north. The south end of Israel is on the north tip of the Aqaba Gulf. We entered Israel through the port city of Eilat. Eilat imports all brands of motor vehicles manufactured in East, including India and export them to Europe. The city is prosperous and has an airport and a busy Seaport.

Entire length of Eastern Israel from Eilat up to Syrian border in the north is in the rift valley and lies far below the sea level The Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and river Jordan are along this valley. Dead Sea is 411 meters (1356 ft) below the sea level. The southwestern Israel is the Hanegeve desert. In King Solomon’s days, it was famous for copper mining. Movement of caravans from Jerusalem to Alexandria in Egypt was through this desert. Well-developed cities and towns like Memphis and Beersheba came up wherever wells and water were available. Archaeological excavation has unearthed remnants of these ruined cities.

Jews are intelligent and industrious. Many of the University professors and scientists of USA and developed countries are Jews. Jews own / control most of the financial institutions of the Western World. The migrant Jews who came into Israel State in 1947 made the deserts of Israel good arable lands and gardens. With the help of the Bible, they identified the trees that grown in biblical times in different parts of Israel. Now they are replanting them to make Israel green. Similarly, to water Israel, they are reopening wells of Biblical times. Before 1948, there were only a few Jewish families in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv towns. The migrant Jews who came in since then got accommodation in community homes called Kibbutz. They adopted sprinkle irrigation and green house cultivation to make intensive use of land around their Kibbutz. They prospered. Kibbutz is communal living that combines socialism and Zionism. It started as plantation communities owning everything in common. Later they entered into industrial endeavors. In course of time, individualism crept in to the decline of Kibbutzim. Some of them encourage tourism. We went on our route for food to common dining halls of two Kibbutzes.

Greening Israel
We were going northwards along the rift valley to the Dead Sea. The left side of the road is barren hill country. The hills near the Dead Sea are salty containing a variety of salts and minerals. When rains come, fresh water runs down as a wide river to the Dead Sea. They wash the outer crusts of the salt hills and drain them to the Dead Sea to make it more and more salty. The water rushing down with pebbles and small boulders along the slopes cross the road to run down to the Sea. Such cascading water may create roadblocks. We stopped for half hour at one point by such an avalanche of water. JCBs came and cleared the road to continue our journey

On our way from Eilat to Dead Sea, the right side of the road had plenty of green houses. With plastic roofs, controlled temperature and humidity Israelites were mining horticulture green gold from the arid salty desert. Their method of sprinkle irrigation and economy in use of water is a model for dry land farmers. They give this technology to India for cultivation in the Rajasthan desert. Is it not an emulative miracle for the World? This is what the rest of the World must do to feed the growing teeming millions of the future.
In the green houses, they grow and export fruits and vegetables demanded by Europeans in off seasons, when European climate do not allow cultivating them. Extensive date palms, olive farms and banana farms exist in the rift valley on the right side.

Lot and Sodom
Soon we were traveling from south to north along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Abraham came from Ur in Babylonia to Canaan. Because of too many sheep to graze, Abraham and Lot, his nephew decided to separate. Lot preferred the very fertile Jordan valley and Abraham went westerly to Hebron hills.

The fertile Jordan valley of Sid dim and Sodom were full of tar pits (Gen.14: 8). In due course, the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah made God to destroy them by a rain of burning sulphur. The marshy Sodom became the Dead Sea. Angels asked Lot and his family to run for life to the western hills and not to look back. (Gen.19:12-21). Lot’s wife looked back at her precious possessions she had to forgo. She became a pillar of salt. (Gen. 19:26). Our bus stopped for a couple of minutes for us to see a solitary salt pillar among the hills on our left side of the road- a reminder to all who give too much attachment to worldly possessions.

Hebron was the city of Abraham. He built an altar here for God near the sacred trees of Mamre (Gen. 13:18). After his meanderings with his flock, he returned to this place. His wife Sara died. Abraham purchased the Machpelah cave from Ephron the Hittite and buried her. Later they buried Abraham, his son Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and Jacob and his wife Leah near this place. A legend is that they buried here Adam and Eve coming out of Eden (in Iraq). It is a holy place for Jews. They installed David as king at this place. For the first 7 1/2 years, he ruled from Hebron as his capital. Then he captured the northern areas and made Jerusalem his Capital city. The city is 35 Km south of the modern Jerusalem

Ein Gedi.
We also passed Ein Gedi, which was an Oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea in the Old Testament times. Ein Gedi is between Hebron hills and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has shrunk and receded due to evaporation. New modern roads have come up further down near the Seashore. The towns and cities of old times are now on the left side of the new road and away from the Dead Sea. Caves exist in the interior little rocky hills. There were also hot and fresh water springs. David hid fleeing from King Saul’s wrath in the hill caves in Ein Gedi (1 Samuel. 23:14). David instead of cutting off Saul’s head cut off a piece of his coat while he was easing in a cave (1. Samuel. 24:4) He did this to prove to Saul that he (David) is not an enemy. King Saul thus reconciled to David. (Ibid. 24: 7-22). After Saul’s death David became king of Judah (1010-970 BC)

Another area we passed on our route was Masada. Our guide told us the story of this Desert fortress overlooking Dead Sea. On the eastern side, it is a steep rocky fall of 450 meters to the Dead Sea. Hearing the harrowing story, I hunted for more information. King Herod (37 to 31 AD) to protect himself from rebellious Jews constructed this fortress. The only written account of this incident is of Josephus Flavius, a Roman Governor at that time in Galilee. In 66 AD, there was Jewish rebellion against the Romans. Romans routed the Jews. Some Zealot Jews ran into this fortress and stay put there. They stocked enough food, water and other supplies. Then they raided Jerusalem and harassed Romans. Flavius Silva the Roman Governor marched with a large army and made a siege of the fortress. Nine hundred and thirty Jews (967?) including children under the leadership of Eleazar realized their plight and decided to kill themselves than be killed by Romans. Ten of them were chosen to kill all others and then to commit suicide. Two women and a child hid in a cave and survived the massacre. Josephus got the narration from them. Archaeologists have dug up the beautiful palace, rooms, storehouses, water ducts and tank constructed by Herod. They excavated two skeletons of a young couple and that of a little child with the pleated long hair. They are now in the Rockefeller Museum. Now Mazda is a term that springs a fountain of patriotism in Jews. They vow that they will not allow Masada to repeat.

Qumran and Essenes monks.
Further up, on the shore of the Dead Sea is Qumran. The religious sect of Essenes monks lived there. Their scribes copied the famous Dead Sea Scroll. A Bedouin boy named Muhammad discovered this scroll of the books of Bible in 1947. He was rearing his sheep. In search of one of his sheep, he threw a stone into a cave. A tinkling sound came from the cave. He with a friend explored the cave and found a jar. There was this scroll in papyrus neatly rolled and preserved in skin cover. They sold it to an antique merchant for a small sum. He took it to the Antiochan Syrian bishop Jesu Samuel Mar Athanasios of Markose Dayara. . Experts told the bishop that it is a very old hand written book of Isaiah (Bible) in Hebrew language. Realizing its antique value, he sailed to USA and conducted a series of its exhibition. Then he sold it to the highest bidder, a Jew for US $ 0.25 million. These discoveries lead to a series of searches of the caves in Qumran (nearly 200.). They have practically recovered all the books of the Bible. They are now in the Israel museums.

These books were hand copied by the Essenes monks. These monks were a group of Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity. Finding that Judaism has deteriorated, they started its puritan version some when around 150 BC. The community was of monks devoted to spiritualism. They lived in the desert caves waiting for their Messiah. By around 70 AD, this community disintegrated.

11. Dead Sea.
We stopped at a hotel for lunch and moved to a Spa in the Dead Sea. This Sea is the lowest spot on earth. Oxygen content of the atmosphere is high. The Seawater is rich in minerals and salts. It is nearly 40% salty and 10 times more salty than the regular seawater. This high density makes you to float in water. No one can drown in the Dead Sea. You will only float. We have to be careful that even a drop of it should not get even accidentally into your eye. The salt crystals will bruise and wound the eyeballs and cornea. One may even loose eyesight. Persons with high blood pressure may aggravate it by bathing in the salty water or sea mud.

We had instructions to bring towels and dress to change for bathing in the Sea. Alex, Lalitha and I floated in the sea for about 10 minutes. Then I joined a group taking fresh water bath under an overhead pipe system fitted with many taps on a circular pipe; each opened by a hanging chain. Pull the chain. Water gushes on to your head. We were a medley: men, women, Indians, Westerners, yellow-skinned and even Negros. I went into an enclosure for changing while Alex and wife went up the steps to the spa‘s changing rooms.

They extract fourteen different kinds of salts from the salt farms in the area. Powdering of rocks and stones of the sea and nearby salt hills to extract the salts is a major industry. Potash used for the manufacture of fertilizers is an important export of Israel. Dead Sea salt water is medicinal. It can cure some skin diseases. Plenty of multi-storied hotels have sprung up to lodge people from all over the World to come and stay for one day to weeks. They bathe in the sea for cure. Some smear the body in the black mud of the Sea and wash it off after hours. I saw a few completely smeared in this dark mud, along with me on the shore. Dead Sea resources are encashed by Israel in many ways. They manufacture cakes, soaps and creams from seawater and its mud and pack them in colored cartons to lure customers. After bath, the bus took us to a nearby medicinal shop that stock these soaps and creams. Some of us purchased a few items from that shop.

In another 50 years, the Dead Sea may dry up and become history. Daily three million tons of its water evaporates. During the last 50 years, the sea level has gone down by three meters or more. § Jordan River, 251 KM long, originate in the spring of Banias at the foot of Mt. Hermon and flows into the Sea of Galilee. From there it flows to Dead Sea. Now the latter part of the river also has dried up. Government is diverting water from Sea of Galilee through an artificial canal to keep Jordan River and the Dead Sea alive. This project is not a success Therefore they are scheming to bring water from Aqaba Gulf to Dead Sea.

We left the Dead Sea around 5 PM to Jerusalem. Jericho the oldest city was very near our bus route. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites in their Exodus to Canaan (1210-1250 BC), conquered it. Modern Jericho is a little south east of the old Jericho and north of the Dead Sea. In the 1967 war, Israel wrested from Jordan, Jericho and the areas around. However, in the peace talks they gave back West Bank area to Palestine. Jericho is now in the Palestinian West Bank. We passed it twice on our tour, but could not go in. It was on this road from Jerusalem to Jericho the parable of the Good Samaritan occurred (Lk. 10:30-36). It was in those days a rugged country with winding roads. Robbers attacked wounded and robbed a traveler. While a priest and a Levite saw the wounded man and left on their way, the Samaritan took him to the nearest inn to nurse and cure him.

12. Jerusalem Hills and valley
We were coming down the road, from the eastern side to Jerusalem. We were in the forest of “the deepest darkness” (Psalm.22:4) of those days of the narrow valley between the hills. Now it is modern macadamized road. The golden dome of the mosque El Aksa (Dome of the Rock) glittered in the evening Sun inviting us to the “Mecca” of Christendom. The left turn in the road took us to be between the Sun and the Dome. The golden dome dazzled in the evening rays of the Sun. The roadblock slowed us. Jerusalem city slopes down from east to west. On our right was the highest point of the Jerusalem Temple. Satan tested Jesus on this pinnacle. He asked Jesus to jump down to prove that He is the son of God. (Luke. 4:9-11; Mat. 4:5-6). The bus moved and stopped at the Dung gate of the walled city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a small crowded city with every kind of business activity of religious tourism. Specially constructed churches, alters, grottos and memorabilia help us to venerate all incidents and locations in the life and mission of Jesus. Different places claim as place of occurrence of some incidents. Four places claim as Emmaus where Jesus met two of his followers after resurrection. (Lk. 24:13). Two places claim to be the Last Supper Room. Two locations maintain claim as Calvary. In all these places churches or alters have come up; built by one Christian denomination or another. Seeing them in chronological sequence is difficult. The monuments are so many and close to each other that we have to pass from one to another nearby, rather than the next one in sequence. We saw each church / monument as an independent item by itself.

The last five stages in the "Way of the Cross” are in the same Church of Holy Sepulture. We saw the tomb of Jesus and later climbed to the Calvary and the Golgotha. Seeing all the monuments, churches and alters is also not possible unless more time is at disposal. Moreover they are scattered in Arab controlled Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Jewish Israel. So one has to enter and renter these countries to view all of them. Those who start from Jordan often stay more days in Arab countries than those who start the tour from Egypt. In short, this travelogue is not a sequential tracing of the events in the life of Jesus. It is only a narration of what we saw and experienced on each day. I have added more information on topics I got interested

Dung Gate.
Dung gate was the waste disposal gate of the old city. We queued in the heavy rush at the gate and edged into the Wailing Wall square. It was the western wall of the old Jerusalem temple. Muslims constructed their mosque over its ruins. Now it is part of “the Dome of the Rock” complex. Lowest seven rows of huge cut stones of the wall were part of the wall of the original temple. Jews were praying with forward shaking heads near this wall. Jewish guards insisted everyone to wear a cap to go near the wall. Those not having cap got free paper caps. Women had to cover their heads with cloth or sari ends. There is a belief that God will answer prayers scribbled on paper and tucked in the crevices of this wall. Some were doing this and others praying. Batches of tourists go near the wall. New batches edge them out after every few minutes,

A large number of Jews were viewing a passing out parade of young Israel military cadets. The army had temporarily cloth-fenced an area in the square for the parade. Their microphone announcements, drums, band music and the din and bustle of the pilgrim crowd in the square created pandemonium. A couple of hundred armed military chaps in uniform were also on the scene. In the wake of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, the jostling of Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Christian pilgrims and tourists, instilled anxiety as to what may happen next.

A roll call of our badge numbers came from our leaders to ensure that all of us are present to return to bus. Our tour operators had given us booklets and maps of Israel and green P-cap. Locating us in the crowd was easy with the P-cap. The bus took us around 7.30 PM to the four-star multi-storied “Tower Hotel” of Jerusalem. 18th and 19th nights, we were to stay in the same hotel. We stayed for 3 days in Jerusalem and visited Bethlehem in Palestine.

Hanging lights.
Alex and I went out after dinner for a stroll. From the hotel, we turned left and I was aghast at the stunning sight of thousands of bright lights in the sky. I was wondering at it and storming my brain for a reason. Then Alex said it is the street and building’s lights on the hanging slope of the city. The road level in the valley we walked was so beneath them that the scene was magical.

We were seeking an IT shop. He wanted re-chargers for his movie, still camera, and wanted to download our tickets for return journey from Amman. We were to leave the tour group at Amman in Jordan to be on our own itinerary to Trivandrum. After a long walk in the night we located a shop, got the things we wanted and returned by 11PM.

13. Bethlehem in Palestine?
Friday 19 Sept. 2008 was the fourth day of the tour. We started around 8 AM on bus with the routine prayers and singing. Being the Ramadan month and Friday (holy for Arabs), the daytime crowd on road was scanty. Therefore, we changed our tour route to go first to Bethlehem in Palestine.
Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel is a cape-promontory into the Palestinian West Bank area under the control of Arabs. About 40 % of its population is Christians. The rest are Muslims. Bethlehem is only 10 KM due south of Jerusalem and inside West-Bank-Palestine. We left our bus on the boarder and went through the security check to board a Palestinian bus. Even the tour guide had to be changed

Bethlehem is an important place for Jews and Christians. Jacob During his return journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan (Genesis. 48:7) buried his wife Rachel in the Hebron Hill area. This site is on the side of the road to Bethlehem (Ephrath). Bethlehem is the birthplace of David. (1 Sam.17:12) and is called the city of David. It is also the birthplace of Jesus

Souvenirs squeeze the fatty purse
We were to celebrate Holy Qurbana in a Bethlehem church. The time allotted to us was 12 Noon. To spent time, we went first to a Syrian shop for Religious Souvenirs. Bethlehem artisans manufacture crosses and artifacts with olive wood. It is a cottage industry. Our group including priests and nuns purchased a number of items. Metal and wooden crosses in all sizes, from one inch to table top sizes, vestry items, jute bags and tea shirts with souvenir prints on them, costly icons and a number of souvenir trinkets were for sale. They are available at high prices with at a 5% discount hoax. I purchased a few one-inch wooden crosses and two red T-shirts for casual ware.

Authenticity of sites?
The crowd was thin and so we moved after the shopping to the front of the World-renowned Nativity Church in Bethlehem; the birth place of Jesus (Mt.2:1). The Roman emperor Augustus Caesar ordered a population census for fixing poll tax on the citizens. Joseph being in the lineage of David had to register his name in Bethlehem. Joseph and pregnant Mary went from Nazareth. They could not find a room to stay in crowded Bethlehem. Jesus (King of kings) was thus born in a manger; stable. The Nativity Church is here

Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine identified the Holy Cross on which Jesus was crucified and other places of importance in his life. How did she locate those places? A bit of Roman history is relevant. They divided Roman Empire around 309 AD into two with Rome and Constantinople as capitals. In due course, Constantinople became more important.

If someone ask 50 years after the death to present residents near a dead person’s house, “Where did he (named so and so) lived? “. Quite probably, they will express their total ignorance of such a person. Then how is that, 300 years after His death, Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine identified the important places in the life of Jesus? She heard stories about the life and mission of Jesus and became a convinced Christian. One night she saw in a dream the Holy Cross of Jesus lying buried in a spot in Israel. She went in 326 AD to Bethlehem. Her workers started digging places. At last, she found a cross deep down in a well, probably formed by walls erected near it for constructions of succeeding generations. The tradition is that miracles happened to all who handled or touched it. They got convinced of the originality and sanctity of the cross. She called a meeting of forty most knowledgeable persons in the empire and deputed them to search all records and information from every part of the world to locate the places of importance in the life of Jesus. They all returned and submitted their reports before juries. Twenty-six of the 40 reporters pointed out the same location for each incident. They venerate these locations with shrines and churches built over them in the fourth century. They are likely to be the original places. Believing them to be so, we venerate them. Greek Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church and Armenian Church are the dominant owners of these shrines.

Boswell of Christ.
Christ the teacher got St. Paul to be the “Boswell to Johnson”. St. Paul interpreted the messages and mission of Jesus through his speeches and letters. However, Empress Helena made Jerusalem the “Mecca” of Christendom by identifying the places where the historical person Jesus lived his sacrificial mission in this World. Thus, St. Paul and Helena together erected the edifice of Christendom. Jesus, the Guru, St. Paul the interpreter and Helena the locator were the builders of the first Christendom (Byzantine). Her son Emperor Constantine gave royal imprint to Christianity. He called together and presided over the Nicaea Synod in 325 AD. He declared Sunday as a holiday and constructed a number of churches for Christians. By the early fourth century, Christian religion became not only a religion of the poor, but also of all, including the rich of the World.

The Quintessence of this World Religion is simple to comprehend, though difficult to practice. God incarnated as man to teach humanity self-sacrifice and Universal love as the method of building a new society (Heaven) (Mt.20:28). He taught us to create the Heaven immediately in this World itself, by practicing his own example of “Universal Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God”. His great command was “Love one another just as God loves you”. (Jon. 15:12). God loved humanity so much to sacrifice Himself on the Cross to absolve men for all their disobedience and sins. The essence of Christianity is “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself”. (Mk.12:31).

14. Nativity Church.
The Nativity Church built on the birthplace of Jesus is one of the oldest and looks like a fortress. Emperor Constantine first built it after the 325 AD Council of Nicaea. They constructed it with huge stone blocks like that of the pyramids. Bullet marks on the front wall are the remnants of the 1967 Israel- Palestine war. The Persian invaders of the seventh century destroyed every Christian church and altar. However, they spared this church. The fresco on the wall depicting the visit of the three Magi from the east had Persian dress on them. Tradition is that this fresco prevented them from destroying the church

Prophet Micah had predicted the birth of Jesus in the 8th century BC “God will bring a ruler for Israel from Bethlehem (Mic.5:2). The prediction became true. He was born in the stable of a cave in Bethlehem. Later they built an altar over this cave and inlaid a silver star on the floor to mark the spot of birth. This altar belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. Now the Nativity Church is a complex of shrines. An altar below this one belongs to the Latin Catholic Church. The altar on the side belongs to the Armenian Church. Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) had closed the entrance to this church and erected a temple over it for a Heathen goddess. Later Christians demolished and opened it for the Christian believers.

In the 17th century, they partly sealed the big Arch door of the church constructed by the Crusaders to prevent Muslim equestrians riding in. You have to double bend your body and head to enter the low-door called the “Door of Humility”. We had to wait a few minutes in front of this door of the Nativity Church. A tourist group before us was winding their way in. Inside the church, you enter into the great Justinian Basilica constructed in 530 AD. This great hall has two rows of tall magnificent columns on either side. We can see original mosaic floor of the old church down below the present floor through an opening. The birth spot of Jesus is below the main altar on this floor. The narrow steps on the right side of this altar go down to the front of the Holy Manger. Five circular shaped steps take you further down. After that, again you double bend your body and head to enter into the Holy Manger. There is the following inscription: “Here Jesus Christ was born of Virgin Mary”. One by one, we knelt before the Silver Star. Number silver and gold incense burners hang in the grotto.

The Star at the Birth Place of Jesus in the Nativity Church
Within the complex, on the left side of the Nativity church is the Latin church of St. Catherine into which we emerge from the underground grotto. Every year, the Latin Patriarch celebrates the Christmas Eve in this church. Pilgrims from all over the World come to attend. Under this church, there is another grotto over the tomb of St Jerome. He spent here 40 years translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin. We also saw another grotto of “innocents” close by. This is the place marked to remember the hundreds of children below two years massacred on the orders of King Herod. (Mt. 2:16). From there we come out into the open quadrangle. A photographer arranged us in front of the Nativity church for a group photo. He sold copies to those of us who wanted at US $ 5 per copy.

Eucharist in Bethlehem.
At about 11.30 AM we climbed a few steps up in to a beautiful small church. Here we were to have our Holy Qurbana of the tour. This St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox Church is an Antiochan Syrian parish church. The priest gives it out to tourists for celebration of Holy Qurbana for a small fee. They assist the tourists in all ways by supplying Lahamo (leavened bread) and Mass wine for the Holy Eucharist.

Our tour group included V. Rev. Gabriel Remban of Pathanapuram Dayara, six other priest and two Nuns. One priest was Fr. Dr. Joseph Thomas of Manganam Marthoma Church, Kottayam. Rembachan celebrated the Holy Qurbana. We all received individual absolution from the priests and Holy Communion from the celebrant.

We have all participated in Holy Qurbana. However, to have it at Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus is a lifetime chance for one from Kerala. Recalling through Holy Mass the birth and the incidents in His life, the last supper and institution of Holy Qurbana, His crucification and resurrection was all imprinting indelible Christian faith in us. Partaking in His body and blood through the Holy Communion was indeed God showering Grace on us. We all enjoyed real ecstasy. We thank God for this great blessing. From the Church we came down to a nearby hotel for a luxurious lunch. There was a small park in front of the hotel with a number of olive trees. Some of us plucked unripe fruit to feel it. It looks just like hog-plum (Ambazhanga)

Milk grotto
We boarded the bus to go to the nearby Milk grotto and its attached church. Out of the bus, we climbed a small hill to the front of the church. This is very near the Nativity church. The grotto is far below the floor of the church. The legend is that Joseph and Mary in their flight to Egypt rested for a while to feed the baby. A drop of breast milk fell on the ground. The soil became milk-white. This is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. It is the tradition.

Through a rock cut window in the wall of the church, we could look out and see the Sheppard’s field at the bottom of the hill. For lack of time, we could not go to the Shepherd’s Field church in the valley. It is here that the Angels appeared and announced the birth of Jesus (Lk. 2: 10-14). “For today there was born for you in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord”. We went further down through another flight of steps to the Milk grotto. The walls of the grotto are all chalky. They collect the white powder that falls from the rock in very small phials and sell it for a small price to the tourists. Tasting it make barren women to conceive is a belief. Dr. A. A. James, a dentist of Chittur, Cochin, came a year ago to our residence in Trivandrum. He vouched to us the efficacy of this powder. He brought a phial from the grotto and gave it to a neighbor barren woman. She delivered a child within a year. Drinking milk mixed with this powder will increase breast milk of the nursing mothers is another belief. These may be superstitious stories. The priests and Nuns in our group got into the grotto and chanted our routine prayers and songs.

15. Re-enter Israel--- Ein Karem
From the Milk Grotto we surfaced and moved on to re-enter Israel. At the border, we left the Palestinian bus. After routine security checking we boarded Israeli bus waiting on the other side with our luggage. Soon we entered a small town Ein Karem in Israel, 7 Km southwest of Jerusalem, and only three or four Km from Bethlehem. Zachariah and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist lived there. St. Mary had only just conceived Jesus. When she greeted Elizabeth, already six months pregnant, her babe (John) leaped in her womb (Lk. 1:41). A new Church of Visitation came up in 1935 over the old fourth century church on this site. There are frescos of this visit on the walls. The church has a tall belfry and is in the center of the town. In the cave grotto below a star on the floor, mark the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. St. John’s church in my native place Mepral, Kerala, India is in his name. Nostalgic memories of my marriage and countless Holy Qurbana celebrated by my father; vicar of this church, all rushed in to my mind. I thanked God for bringing me to Ein Karem

Via Dolorosa
Our next tour was to the Via Dolorosa- the way of the cross. Jesus was condemned to death by crucification and was lead with a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders; ridiculed by multitude, beaten, scourged and dragged along to Calvary. In the 17th century, Roman Catholic Church developed this concept of 14 stations in this path of Jesus to Calvary. Pilgrims stop and pray at these stations:

1. The praetorium where Christ is condemned to death by the people and Pontius Pilate (Lk.23:23-24)
2. The cross is laid on him
3. His first fall under the weight of the cross
4. He meets his mother.
5. They force Simon of Cyrene is to bear the cross (Lk.23:26).
6. Veronica wipes the sweat of his face. There is a legend that the imprint of His face is on this cloth
7. His second fall with the cross.
8. Met the wailing women of Jerusalem (Lk. 23:28).
9. His third fall with the cross.
10. His garments stripped. (Jn.19:23)
11. His crucification at Golgotha.
12. His death on the cross. (Lk. 23:46).
13. Aremathea Joseph takes down the Holy Body from the cross.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb. (Jn.19:41).

The Catholic Encyclopedia says that there are other variations for this “Way of the Cross”. It can have more or less stations according to your own convictions. For pilgrims, it is a real experience to go through; reciting prayers and remembering the sufferings Jesus had on His way to the cross.
Since it was the Ramadan month and Friday evening there was heavy rush of vehicles blocking the road traffic. Muslims were rushing home to break their “fast”. After trying to go by bus, we embarked and walked down a few steps to the Lion Gate of the walled city of Jerusalem. We got inside into a small quadrangle. It is part of the old Praetorium. Pilate tried Jesus here and handed Him over to the crowd to crucify Him. Praetorium was inside the extensive Antonia Fortress built by Herod in 36 BC. Pilate lived and held his court here. Titus destroyed it in 70 AD. The Gabatha (stone pavement seat) on which Pilate sat and declared the verdict to crucify Jesus (Jon.19:13) was here. This is the first station of the Way of the Cross-. It is on the right side of the small quadrangle.

On turning on your heel around is the Church of Flagellation. They scourged Jesus here at the pillar. He received the Cross. They pressed a Crown of Thorn also on to His head. The inside of the dome above the altar of the church has a mosaic of this Crown of Thorns.

From this second station, we moved a few steps leftwards and were in the third station. Here was His first fall under the heavy weight of the cross.
The fourth station was where Jesus met his mother. We came out to a narrow road and there was an avalanche of “Nombu Murickal” Muslims rushing home on their feet. We eased us to the right side of the road and edged on in single file to stations 5, 6 etc. Reliefs of Jesus falling under the cross and the number of the stations etched on the walls can be seen on the way of the cross. At one point, we passed an Egyptian Monastery, where the monks were chanting prayers.

The last five stations are inside the Holy Sepulcher Church complex. Emperor Constantine built it immediately after the Council of Nicaea. (325 AD). The Empress Helena identified the tomb of Jesus. Three buildings came up on this area: A round church over the empty grave of Jesus; then a big Basilica called Martyrium; and in between a shrine over Golgotha, (place of crucification of Christ).

These were destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD; rebuilt; and was again destroyed in 1009 by Caliph Hakkim. The crusaders reconstructed it in 1149 AD. Now it is all a single complex belonging to Greek Orthodox Church. It has altars of Armenian and other Christian sects. From outside, if we look, we see two arches of which the right one is the entrance. Over the roof, we find two domes.

At all the five stations inside this church pilgrims stop and pray. Thirteenth station is where Arimathea Joseph took the body from the cross to a stone slab for anointing and preparing it for burial. The up keepers maintain fragrance of the marble stone for the pilgrims to smell.

The tomb of Christ in the complex is the last (14th) station of the Way of the Cross. It has an entrance called the Chapel of Angel, where the Angel declared that Jesus resurrected (Mt. 28: 6). We had to wait there for 15 minutes because a high mass by Bishops and monks were going on. They finally came in a candle procession and showed the censer at the chapel. Only when they left we could enter into the chapel in fives. Guards control the entry into the inner tomb.

A marble slab covers the sacred tomb. The body of Christ was here from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. There is just enough space to kneel at the mouth of the tomb. You kneel down, one by one, at the marble slab and turn to the left to go up by the same door, back to the chapel of Angel. When the former five return the next five go in. The well in which the original cross was is under this church.

From there we went up to Golgotha and Calvary (12th station). One has to climb up a few steep winding steps to enter the small shrine to pray. Here they keep a glass-encased rock on which stood the original cross of Jesus. We heard about the death at this spot of a woman tourist. She was a member of another tour group just before us from Trivandrum. She climbed up the stairs, prayed before the glass case, fell down exhausted, and died. At all these stations in this building, different sects of Christians practice their religious ceremonies.

Many Protestants believe that crucification and resurrection took place, not here, but just outside the wall of Jerusalem north of Damascus Gate. (Jn. 19:41). This is the Garden Tomb of Christ discovered in 1883 by the British General Charles Gorden. We could not go there. We reached the Tower hotel by 7.30 PM and rested for the night.

Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives plaque
On 5th day of the tour (Sept. 20) we moved out of the hotel with our baggage. We were leaving Jerusalem. First, we went to the Mount of Olives. It is a 2900 ft hill. Kidron brook and valley separate it from the Jerusalem Temple hill. The mount had plenty of olive trees on its slope. The Gethsemane garden is on its western slope. Even now, there are olive trees in this garden. Some of these trees look very old and said to be those that existed in the time of Jesus. There were also small caves on the slope. From the top of the mount, one can get a complete picture of the Jerusalem city on the opposite hill.

The Mount of Olives slopes down to the Kidron valley in the west. There are thousands of Jewish tombs on temple hill slope. Jews believe that the Lord will come from East on the “Final Day of Judgment” and stand on the Mt. of Olives. (Zec.14:4). There will be destruction all around and the righteous gathered into Heaven. The “Universal Resurrection” of all the dead will happen. Hence, Jews were meticulous in preserving the mortal remains of the dead in tombs. They buried their dead on this slope hoping to resurrect first before the Lord.

On the top of the Mount of Olives is the Church of Ascension. In the morning, we first went to this Church. It is from here Jesus was taken up in a cloud after resurrection (Acts. 1: 9). It is a small eight-sided circular pillar like building with a dome on top. There is a rock in the center of the floor with a footprint, supposed to be of Jesus. There was a shrine in the early centuries. Now it is a small Muslim mosque in an open quadrangle. Pilgrims can enter and pray by paying a small fee. We went in one by one, kneeled, touched the rock and offered prayers.

                                                                                    Church of Ascension

Lord's Prayer
We were now in the Mount of Olives. Jesus and His disciples often stayed here in a cave. It is here that He taught them the Lord’s Prayer (Pater noster). They constructed an altar on this spot. They wrote this prayer in 44 different languages on the cave and adjoining walls on the way. It was a pleasant experience to read the Lord’s Prayer in Malayalam. 33 million Malayalees is a microscopic minority of the 7,000 million of World population. Malayalam is only one in the thousands of the dialects used in the World. It is a matter of great pride for every Keralite and its Diaspora that, Lord’s Prayer is there as one of the 44 languages displayed. Alex took photos of us in front of the Malayalam version.

The last Supper

The Bethany and Bethphage are just on top of the eastern slope (the other side) of the Mt. of Olives. It was at Simon’s house in Bethany (Mat.26:7) that Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus by pouring a very expensive bottle of perfume on His head. It was symbolic of His preparation for the impending supreme sacrifice on the wooden cross. Two days later on the Passover day Jesus in His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mat.21:1-13) got the donkey for the ride from here. It was to this Bethany that he returned after the ride for the night rest.

We started our descent from the top of the mount. To repeat, Jerusalem city is on the west of Mt. Olives. Kidron valley separates them. The old city was only the Temple with the City of David on its southern end. Later the New City came up westward on the slope upwards above the old city. The Roman Fort and Praetorium of Pilate were outside the ancient wall of this expanded city. The city later further expanded upwards to include Herod’s palace and Golgotha. The present Jerusalem city wall encompasses all these.
All Jews rarely come inside Jerusalem city. The Moses’ code prescribed Jews to come to Jerusalem for worship mainly on three times a year: Pass over, harvest festival and festival of shelters (Deut.16:16). Jesus and disciples came to the upper room in Zion mount to celebrate the Passover, called the “Festival of the unleavened bread”. Zion mount is just south of the old city of David. Jesus had the Last Supper in this room and instituted the Holy Qurbana. (Mat.26:26-27). All the four gospels carry this incident. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the institution of the Eucharist as the "inauguration of the “The New Covenant” mentioned by Prophet Jeremiah. It was fulfilled at the Last Supper, when Jesus said, "Take, eat; this [bread] is My Body; which is broken for you. Partake of the cup, drink; this [wine] is My Blood, which is shed for many; for the remission of sins". Jesus himself thus becomes the (Sacrificial Lamb) Passover bread and wine. Many other Christians view it as the new Passover communion.

We do not know the exact site of the Last Supper. We know that it was on Mt. Zion and south of today's city walls. It is possible that the present site of the Last Supper Room stands over or near the original site. They assume the Last Supper Room and the “Room of Pentecost” to be the same. Muslims made it a mosque. The Catholic Church purchased it. They retain it as a shrine. It is near the Dormition Abbey.

Dormition Abbey
The Abbey is where St. Mary died. She died in a house inside the city. They took the body ceremoniously to a rock cut cave outside the city far down in the Kidron Valley. They constructed Church of tomb of Virgin Mary on that spot in the valley.
Tomb of King David (970 BC)
They believe that it is beneath the Last Supper Room. The Jews control the area. One can go to this tomb room only with a cap on the head. Free paper caps are available. We see Jews reading the Torah -in sitting and standing positions. Their body bends back and forth. They keep the Torah open for any to read.

The descent from Mt. Olives to Jerusalem temple
In our descent from Bethphage we took the same route of Jesus for His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mt.21:1- 3). Jesus rode on a young donkey accompanied by a multitude chanting “hosanna”. They shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord”. (Lk. 19:38). It was a great procession. The entire riff and raff of the city and some others joyously participated in the chanting. Jesus’ mission on Earth was ending. His speeches and actions enraged the Jewish priests and elders. On entering Jerusalem temple he drove out all who were buying and selling (Mt. 21:12), charging them of making the sacred temple a cave of thieves.

The descent is so steep that a miss-step may send you rolling down 50 feet below, breaking your bones. We slowly went down step-by-step holding on to the railings attached to the wall. Prof. Mary Thomas who had a knee problem slipped. She felt it impossible to go down. She arranged a taxi and went down the short distance. The road then turned to the right. An Arab with a donkey stood on the way. He was inviting tourists to get on to his donkey. Jim Nanthiyattu, the only teenager among us complied. He paid a US Dollar. On request, Alex took a photo of the boy on his camera. He took another photo of us three holding on to the donkey. We also paid a dollar and the Arab thanked us profusely.

Dominus Flevit
On the left of our way down was the Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) church. One could see the temple mount and the entire Jerusalem city from this slope. This is the spot where Jesus looked at the city of Jerusalem and cried. He wept foreseeing the impending destruction of the magnificent city. It was the one rebuilt by King Herod to please the Jews, when he was in charge of Israel area of the Roman Empire.

16. Gethsemane
We then turned to the right and into Gethsemane in Olive Garden area. It is here that Jesus went to pray after His Last Supper. On the right of the road, we can see three or four old first century tomb relics of Jews preserved in a cave. In the Gethsemane garden, Jesus knelt down and prayed in agony. “He fell on His face praying “My Father, if it possible let this cup pass from me; however not as I will but as you will” (Mt.26:39). “His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood”. (Lk.22:44). The church built on the rock on which he prayed is the Church of Agony, also called Church of All Nations. They built this magnificent church in 1920 over the earlier church with contributions from 14 nations. The floor of the church display the rock on which Jesus prayed. We could not get in. We were late in reaching there. Christ was arrested and taken to Caiaphas by the soldiers from this garden
The Gethsemane olive garden is now fenced and entry is controlled. It has over twenty old olive trees. Of them, eight are very old and have massive thick trunk. They are 2000 years old. Scientists examined cells of their trunks. The tests proved them to be really so old.

A 2000-year-old Olive tree of the garden.
Down on the donkey ride road, there is a spot on the left wall to mark the place where Judas kissed Jesus (Mt.26:48) to betray him to the priests and elders of Caiaphas. What was the need to kiss Jesus? Though he was the leader, he was apparently one among the thirteen in dress and outward appearance. Therefore, Judas had to kiss to show him to the soldiers

Church of tomb of Virgin Mary
Just after the garden, further down, is the Church of Tomb of Virgin Mary referred above. This site belongs to the Orthodox Church. The Crusaders rebuilt the old church destroyed by the invaders. We have to go down from the entrance through a number of steps to the bottom floor. The interior of the crypt is marked as the traditional place of St. Mary’s tomb. It is behind an altar. Lolita got a chance to kneel inside the crypt and pray. Monks wait there to control the crowd. There are many other alters dedicated to parents of St. Mary, and others. The Greek and Armenian Churches control main altars. Coptic and Syrians also have their altars inside the church.

We returned in quick time to board the bus to go to the other side of the Kidron valley and to the Palace of Caiaphas. In those days, it was outside the city. Now it is within. They arrested Jesus from Gethsemane and led Him through the Kidron valley and up to this palace. From the courtyard of the palace, I saw a walkway down to the bushy valley. I walked for a few meters down this path and then climbed up to feel the vertical steepness of the path. The Sanhedrim tried Jesus, charged Him for blasphemy, and condemned to execution. The soldiers led Jesus up this path and imprisoned Him for the night in a dungeon in this palace.

Peter Gallicantu.
It was here that during the trial Peter denied three times any knowledge of Jesus before the rooster crowed twice. (Mt.26:69-75). “The Lord turned round and looked straight at Peter”. Peter had the shock of his life and self-pity. He went out and wept bitterly. (Lk.22: 61-62).This place is called Peter Gallicantu. There is a statue depicting Peter’s denial and three cocks crowing on three sides of the statue. Over that palace now, there is a church. One can go deep down into the dungeon where Jesus was imprisoned. An open Bible with Psalms 55-58 is on a podium. Pilgrims go down and read this portion. It gives an idea of the mind of the “man Jesus” and the agony he went through, predicted by King David the Psalmist a thousand years before the birth of Christ. These sites and places transport you through the “Time Machine” to the times and agonies of the “man Jesus”. Next day morning they took Jesus to Pilate and then to Golgotha to be crucified.

Jonah goes to Nineveh.
By11. 30 AM we bid good-bye to Jerusalem and was going by the National High way towards Tel Aviv. This city on the Mediterranean coast is 62 KM from Jerusalem. It is the cultural and financial center and major Air port of Israel. Overlooking modern Tel Aviv port is the old biblical Joppa (modern name Jaffa). The legend about Jonah happened here. God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against their wickedness. Jonah disobeyed and boarded the ship to Tarshis (Jonah .1:17). God caused a great storm threatening to capsize the ship. Sailors’ fervent prayers did not help. They threw Jonah to the Sea to calm it. A whale swallowed Jonah and spewed him to the Nineveh beach. Because of his preaching people went on fast and prayers to eschew their wickedness. God desisted from punishing them and saved the city from destruction. The canonical Nineveh Fast is associated with this incident. Prayer and fasting is the best yogic practice to attain physical and mental peace. It can change impending disaster in life in good time of God. It is at Joppa that St. Peter stayed with Simon the tanner for many days. He brought back Tabitha, a woman follower, to life (Acts.9:40-41). These memories kindled faith in the Bible.

Bus then took us to Haifa city in the north, a great seaport. We went into a Kibbutz near the city for lunch. The menu was many including fruits. Some were unpalatable for Kerala tongues. Jews have made the Kibbutz area a garden of all varieties of fruit-bearing plants and trees. Abundance was evident all around.

Back in the bus, we moved on to Caesarea. It got the name because Herod in the name of Augustus Caesar built it into a beautiful city. Cornelius was the first converted Christian of this city. Hearing the preaching of Peter in the house of Cornelius many gentiles became Christians. Soon it became famous as center of Christian Learning. On the sea side of the road was the ruins of the old Roman city and the city rebuilt by the Crusaders, preserved by the Archaeological Department.

Mt. Carmel is on our right side. It is a 1500 ft. high lime stone hill. The head quarters of the Carmel Brotherhood are here. We went into their church. Their Monastery of the Muhraqa is at its top. Trees flourish in this fertile area. It is a beautiful sight to see the sea on the north-west and green slopes on other sides of the hill. They maintain a good garden. The Church is a massive structure. From there we came a few feet down to the forest area on the south-west slope. Prophet Elijah’s victory over the priests of Baal took place here. Their prayers failed to fetch fire. Elijah’s prayer brought fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, altar and even the water. Elijah thus won the bet and slaughtered all the prophets of Baal. All those witnessed the incident believed in Jehovah. (1.Kings.18:38-39) From this promontory, one can see the plains a 1000 ft below- a beautiful sight.

Haifa is Israel’s main seaport. This sloping side of the Carmel hill is now the Bahai Center. In Carmel area Christians, Jews and Baha’is live. The Baha’is are akin to Muslims. Around 200 years ago Baha’U’llah, latest of the Lord’s messengers taught his followers that all religions are successive chapters of the same religion of one God. All humankind is one brotherhood. His followers exist all over the world. Baha’is purchased the seaport slope of the Carmel hill and built their Bahai City and golden temple. The Bahai garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is a beauty. One has to see it to believe its celestial glory.

Towards evening, we reached the Sea of Galeeli and the “Eden Tiberius” hotel. The son of King Herod built old Tiberius town. Tiberius town is on the banks of the lake called “Sea of Galeeli”. This lake is only 11 Km long and about 60 Km in circumference. Yet the Bible refers it as a Sea. After a good sleep, we woke up for the next day’s tour. Despite the five days of meandering in the hot climate all of us were in good spirits

17. Mount Tabor
The sixth day of our tour was on Sunday 21 Sept. The hotel made special arrangements to provide bed coffee at 5.30 AM on the corridor of one of the floors of the multi-storied hotel. We had an early breakfast and started to Mt. Tabor. Israeli Arabs and Christians live here. The bus could not climb the steep hill because of the many hairpin curves of the narrow road. Therefore, we got down from the bus at a mid-point taxi stand and waited in queue to go up on taxis: seven of us in each trip. The entrance to the sacred hill at the top is through a fortified gate. On top, the “Basilica of Transfiguration” stood in all majesty. They rebuilt it in 1924 on the ruins of older churches. This is the place where Jesus, Peter, James and John went for solitude. Jesus transfigured before them: “His face shining like the Sun and His clothing a brilliant white.” (Mk. 9: 3-4). Prophet Moses and Elijah came on to his left and right. There is a fresco above the main altar of the church depicting this scene.

On the right side of the Church, there are a few steps to go up to a terrace from where one can have a panoramic view of the Jezreel valley far down below. Naboth’s vineyard was there. King Ahab confiscated it by causing the death of Naboth by treachery. (1 Kings. 21). Below Mt. Tabor is the city of Nain. It is here that Jesus performed the miracle of raising the dead son of a widow to life. (Lk. 7: 11-15). Half an hour later taxis took us down to our bus.

The Church of Cana
From there we rode to Cana where Jesus performed the first miracle of turning water into wine. He did this at a wedding on the request of His mother St. Mary. (Jn.2:1-11). We got into the church built on the ruins of the wedding house. The crypt of the church holds a Roman stone jar symbolic of the six jars in which water turned to wine. A little aside, we can see some other symbolic utensils used in those days. Young couples believe it is auspicious to come to this church to celebrate their wedding. We came out of the church and went to a nearby wine shop. Good Mass wine, wine of other grades and souvenir items are available for sale. I purchased a few key chains. All items are costly and pilgrims purchase them as souvenirs.

We then went to the Church of Annunciation. It is here that Angel Gabriel stood and announced to Virgin Mary that she will conceive Jesus. (Lk. I: 31).We are in Nazareth. It is a fertile and green area full of trees and plants. In Jesus’ time, it was a small place. Joseph and Mary returning from Egypt settled down there. (Lk.2:39-40). Now it is a prosperous town. Half of the population is Muslims. Christians belong to a variety of denominations. There are many churches and monasteries. The Church of Annunciation we entered is the sixth church, re-built on the spot. The Roman Pope constructed this in 1969. It is the biggest Christian church in the Middle East. Catholics all over the World sent icons and paintings of St. Mary to adorn the walls of the church. We can see Indian, Asian, Chinese, Japanese, European and American pictures of St. Mary. The church floor is below the road level.

There is another Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel church of Annunciation nearby. We went in. The baptism of a child was going on. On the side of this church, we see the St. Mary’s well from which she used to draw water for the family. Tradition is that Angel Gabriel met her while she was drawing water from this well. If this is true, then the church of Annunciation must be this Orthodox Church and not the one described above. There is a spring going out from the well to the center of Nazareth city. A little away, through a glass covered opening and a few feet away, another iron-grating-covered opening on the ground, we can see the spring flowing far below the floor we were walking.

The St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church is close by. This is over the house of the Holy Family. A large fresco on the alter wall depicts the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit hovering above him as a dove. A painting in the church shows the carpentry of Joseph. On the floor-level of the church, there is a large opening. Far down below we can see the 2000-year-old street of the time of Jesus. Below the church, there is also a grotto of the Holy Family. Jesus lived 27 years in this house in Nazareth before He came out for public service. He was a Nazarene. His followers St. Thomas Christians of Kerala adopted the name Nazarenes.

Jordan River.
We then had our delicious and sumptuous lunch in Kibbutz Kinnerat. This Kibbutz is famous for dates and honey. Back on the bus, it took us to Jordan River. God did not permit Moses to cross the river to the Promised Land Canaan. He allowed Moses only to see it before his death at a distance from Mt. Nebo. (Num. 27: 12-13) Joshua led the Israel horde across the River. To repeat, Jordan River originates as a small spring from a cave in Hermon hills.

A hundred yards we walked through an array of date palms on either side of the road into the welcoming gates of a hotel cum tourist center. It’s out-door leads us to the banks of the Jordan River. My expectations about Jordan River got shattered. It is just a rivulet and appears to be stagnant. The water is murky and polluted. We walked a few yards up stream to the place where people come for mass baptism. Pentecostal Christians come here to baptize new entrants into their belief. We saw a pastor immersing four of them dressed in white robes into the river. They dip the head of each entrant, one after another, in Jordan River. Yardenit is the name of this place. The river is slightly wider at this point. Here it leaves the Galilee Lake to wind its way to the Dead Sea in the south. The riverbank is paved and the bathing place in the river is fenced for the safety of the pilgrims. Some of us had a dip in the Jordan River. Alex, Kunjannamma, Lalita and I, went down the steps into the River up-to knee-deep water. After soothing our legs and minds, we came up the steps to join the group. There is a changing place for bathers, who want privacy. You have to pay US$.5 per person. Souvenirs including bottled Jordan water, snacks and soft drinks were available. I saw one or two collecting water from the river into bottles. Many pilgrims come here thinking that St. John baptized Jesus at this place (Mk. 1: 9). The spot is further down on the Jericho plains where the river is zigzag, too narrow and often near dry.

Returning from the River, we entered into the sales wing of the Degania Aleph Kibbutz. Many varieties of dates: fresh, ripe, cured, packed and in bulk, were on display. Honey, Olive oil and a number of edible and souvenir items were there for sale. Some of us purchased some items. Our tour guide told us that those who want to purchase olive oil could do so directly from the near-by oil press on our way.

Mount of Beatitudes.
After spending half an hour in the shop, we headed to the Mount of Beatitudes. On the right side of the uphill journey, we could see Magdala, the place of Magdalena Mariam. We soon reached the small hilltop. It is here that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The church of the Beatitudes is on the top. It is octagonal .We can read the eight beatitudes on the eight window glasses of the cupola. The colonnaded verandah around the church gives a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee and the beautiful garden surroundings.

On our way to Hotel Eden Tiberius, the bus stopped before the oil press and a couple of us purchased olive oil. We then went into a Dead Sea products shop. There was a large array of beautifully packed, mud, salty water and processed products from Dead Sea. Some of us purchased the soap cakes and creams produced from the Dead Sea materials. By 5 PM, we were in the Hotel. We were to be ready by 8 PM for the “JP honor convocation”.

J P Convocation.
Most of us assembled after dinner in the specially arranged hall of the hotel for the ceremony of conferring the honorary degree J P (Jerusalem Pilgrim). It is an A4 size black and white certificate in thick paper with the painting of the Jerusalem city on the top and signed by the minister of Tourism of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem. They print your name in bold letters in the middle. It permits the certificate holder to wear the title “J P”.

Foreigners who come to Jerusalem have to report to the Mayor and pay one U S Dollar per head. In return, he issues this certificate. The tour operators do the formalities and distribute the certificates to the pilgrims. We went with the Keli tour operators. Mr. Cherian Kuriakose of Keli welcomed those present in the hall, congratulated, and thanked all for being punctual on each day and at each tour spot. He said, “This enabled me to arrange the entire tour without missing any planned item.” Then he called each pilgrim to the dais. V. Rev. Gabriel Ramban of the Pathanapuram Dayara presided and gave away the certificates. He also gave small cash presents to Mr. David the bus driver and Mr. Ral (?) the Israeli guide. They safely drove and guided us all the four days in Israel. Rembachan, Fr. K V Paul, Principal St. Stephen’s College Pathanapuram, Fr.Nathaniel Thomas of the Manganam Marthoma Church, Kottayam, me and Mrs. Kunjamma Mathai, Kozhenchery explained the circumstances that prompted us to take the tour. We thanked Mr. Cherian and Fr. John Sankarathil, organizers for the detailed arrangements that made the tour enjoyable. After some discussions and benediction, we went to our rooms for a good sleep.

18. Sea of Galilee
On 22nd morning after breakfast, we boarded our bus. That was our last day in Israel. We were leaving hotel Tiberius and Israel. They tucked our luggage in the belle of the bus.

First, we went to the area around Sea of Galilee. In New Testament, “Lake Tiberius” is the name of the sea. In Old Testament, its name is Sea of Ginneseret or Lake Kinneret (in the Book of Numbers). It is the second lowest spot in the World and is 209 meters below the Sea level. Dead Sea is the lowest spot. Both are in the Rift valley. While Dead Sea is salty, Sea of Galilee is fresh water. Fishing is still the occupation of some residents. The lake is only 21 x 13 Km in size with an average depth of 84 ft. Even now whirl winds sometimes create tall waves as it happened in the time of Jesus (Lk. 8:23)

We leisurely walked around Capernaum on the edge of the Sea where Jesus started His ministry. He collected the fishermen to make them disciples and fishers of men (Mat. 4:19). We visited the “Tabga” (the Fish and Loaves church). This small church first built in the fourth century commemorate the miracle “Jesus feeding 5000 men and the multitude with five loaves and two fish”. (Mat.14:16-21). Outside the church, marble benches are arranged semi circularly. Pilgrims sit and meditate. Inside the church, there is a marble table. Just under and near that table is the “Mensa Christi” Rock, (the Table of Christ). After resurrection, Jesus ate here on the seashore with disciples. (Jn.21:12-14). Pilgrims kneel and kiss the rock. Latest reconstruction of this church was in 1982.

Peter’s guilt.
On the night of the trial of Jesus, Peter denied Jesus thrice. This denial caused self-pity. Peter’s guilt self-ostracized him from the group of twelve disciples. Jesus wanted to clear Peter of his misgivings. To reconfirm his faith Jesus asked Peter thrice whether he loved Him. On getting confirmation, Jesus re-instated Peter and entrusted the care of His followers to Peter as of other disciples (John.21:1-17). Some misinterpret this passage in the Bible and claim that Jesus made Peter the chief disciple.
We went to the seashore. Some of us stepped into water. A pastor was preaching outside the Tabga. We came back and sat down to rest. From there, we strolled to the ruins of the Jewish Synagogue where Jesus preached. While other buildings are in black stone, the Synagogues are in specially procured white limestones. The foundation, the walls and some of the columns of the old Synagogue still stand majestically. Alex took photos of our group with the colonnades in the background. Many of the artifacts of the old synagogue are preserved.

St. Peter’s house was near the Synagogue. This house rebuilt by Queen Helena also is in ruins. It was here that Jesus cured the fever of the mother-in-law of Peter (Lk. 4:38-39). Earthquake destroyed all the edifices. Now the Roman Catholics have built a new circular church. Catholic pilgrims alone can celebrate Holy Mass in that church. The ruins of nearby houses and utensils used in St.Peter’s time are also preserved. Probably this is the house, where Jesus cured a paralyzed man. Because of the crowd, they removed the roof tiles to drop the paralyzed on bed to Jesus. (Mrk.2:4). He pardoned his sins and cured his paralysis. A statue of St. Peter prominently stands on this site.

We went by 11 AM to the boat jetty for a ride in the Sea of Galilee. We sat down and the boat engine puffed off. We sang a song or two. The tour managers made me to hoist the Indian National flag on the boat’s mast. We sang the Indian National Anthem. For over thirty minutes, we were in the boat cruising in the Sea of Galilee. It took us to the jetty of a restaurant. The much-trumpeted “St.Peter’s Fish” lunch followed. We gave a special payment of 15 US Dollars for the boat ride and the lunch. They served a large plate-full fried fish looking like pomfret or tilapia. They say it is the same species of the original fish served by Jesus at Tabga. A second service of Rice and vegetables followed. After lunch, we were on bus by 1.30 PM moving to Jordan boarder. We said good-bye to Israel and thanked God for keeping us all healthy and safe through all the seven days of the Holy Land Tour. Priests lead us in special ‘thanks-giving’ prayers.

In an hour, we reached the Israeli border in this last lap of the tour. The usual security checking took a long time. We had to lug our belongings from the Israeli bus through the borderland. Security checking was rather very strict. We were coming from Jewish Israel to Arab Jordan. Despite both were and are at war, they earn substantial income from cross-border international tourism. One by one, they checked and cleared our papers and passports. However, they detained Prof. Mary Thomas Their contention was that her name is in the internet as a terrorist. I know her from the time she joined CMS College Kottayam as a junior lecturer in the early 1970s. She was very active in the MGOCSM and the Church. She even represented our Church once in the World Council of Churches.

We lost more than half an hour for that argument with them. When they charge you as terrorist, imagine the anxiety and fear of imprisonment for months or years until God comes to your rescue. I was trying to be in the mind of my friend. Prof. Mary Thomas. We all were anxious about the outcome of the argument with a group of Government officials of a foreign country. Our tour managers at last succeeded in convincing them Mary is from Kottayam, Kerala and is not the ‘terrorist in the internet’ Finally we crossed over with our luggage to the Jordan bus waiting on the other side. Relieved of the anxiety, we drove through the Amman city to the “Hill Side Hotel” for the last night stay of the tour.

Mt. Nebo
Tuesday 23rd Sept. was the last day of the tour. We got into the bus after breakfast with our luggage. We moved to the Amman airport to go home in Kerala. The flight to Cochin via Muscat was at 14.30. We had to report to the airport only at 11.30 AM. Therefore, we went to Mt. Nebo. The entrance to the top of the mountain was through a gate and two memorials. A pillar in memory of Moses says the place is Holy. Moses died here. Another is in memory of Pope’s first Millennium visit.
Memorials: Of Moses . Of Pope’s visit.

From the top western side there is a panoramic view of Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Jordan Valley up to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. One Km to the east of Mt. Nebo we can see the distant spring of Moses where water gushed out when he struck at the rock with his staff. The guide pointed out a lone tree far down in the valley as the spring.

Moses died somewhere on the Mt. Nebo. God did not allow Moses to go to the Canaan promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God allowed Moses only to see the land from the top of Mt. Nebo. Then he died and buried by God. None knows the burial spot. (Deuteronomy. 34:6)

Memorial Churches exist on the mount from 4th century. The Franciscan church and Monastery built in the 18th century are in ruins. Renovations are on. At the pinnacle of the mount, there is a Metal Serpentine-Cross. It is in memory of the bronze serpent that Moses carried to the desert (Num. 21:4-9) as a cure to snakebite deaths. The cross represents crucified Jesus-the cure for all the sins of Man and his redemption After some photo sessions we returned to our bus and moved on to the Amman Air port.

Metal Serpent
Our Holy land tour ended. It was a tour that filled us with more faith in Christ and his teachings. The tour imprinted in our minds the supreme sacrifice of Jesus for the emancipation of Mankind from their sins. Jesus was showing a new way to get immediate peace and happiness for those who seek it. Even the worst sinner can attain this peace by repentance for the sins and loving everyone and everything around him as himself. Jesus promised instant Heaven for the thief on the cross on His right because he repented his sins. Jesus taught humanity that sacrificing oneself for the sake of others is the supreme evidence of loving others as you. He manifested it by sacrificing himself on the Cross. Such self-sacrificing love, if practiced by any one gives happiness and solace not only to the person giving such love, but all others getting that love. You invoke Cosmic Synergy and disseminate it. It keeps all participants as a coherent whole in peace and harmony. One need not wait for successive rebirths to get this Nirvana or Moksha. Successive rebirth is the method of escape from sins in certain other religions. Christ gave us repentance as the instant solution to relieve us from sins of commission or omission done willfully or unintentionally.

Part. III
19. Tour in UAE
Though UAE is not part of Holy Land, I feel that I should not deny you my perceptions about Dubai and its “Babel-Towerism”
Our tour friends and group mangers went for security check into the Amman Air port for their flight to Cochin via Muscat. Alex and I waited. Our flight to Sharjah in UAE was at 15.30. We went in by 14.00 hrs. Since the passengers that day to Sharjah were very few, Air Arabia de-routed us to Sharjah via Beirut in Lebanon. A guide took us through another door to the aircraft. It started westward to Beirut on the Mediterranean Sea Coast at 15.40 hrs.

Beirut is a big city on the seaside of the Lebanon Hills. I saw from the Air Plane multi-storied clusters of buildings on the slopes of the hill. At Beirut, there was a 40 minutes stay for passengers to alight and board the Plane. From Beirut we re-started eastward at 17.30 hrs to Sharjah. We were in Sharjah at 20.30 hrs. Raphael Manjooran and Maria my granddaughter came to receive us. Since we four were transit passengers with heavy luggage, Bobu their brother-in-law also came with his car. We reached Raphael’s house by 21 hrs. Bobu helped us to haul our luggage to the lift and Raphael’s flat higher up in the building. We had a quick wash, dinner and went to bed.

UAE (United Arab Emirates) is a federation of small states of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaywayn, Ra’s al Khayamah and Al Fujayrah. Excepting the last one, all these are seashore city-states in the Persian Gulf. All of them have beeches and that of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are famous. Abu Dhabi is the capital. Both are modern cities with many high-rise buildings and hotels. Dirham is their currency equivalent to around 12 Indian rupees. Both are famous for duty free shopping. Dubai is the center for commerce and trade. Plenty of Indians work in the Dubai offices. Residential accommodation is costly. Many like Raphael stay in Sharjah and commute the 20 Km. Because of traffic jam it takes one and a half to two hours to reach Dubai.

20. Dubai.
On 24th we rested. Raphael returned around 6 PM from office. We went first to “Mall of Emirates” in Dubai. It is a seven-storied super market. The first four floors are for car parking. You can take the car up to the fourth floor to find a suitable parking lot. The three upper floors are all shops operated by franchisees of branded goods. There are also plenty of food courts. Vacant shop spaces are waiting for more franchisees. When full this mall may become the biggest in the World. Stairs lifts and escalators that move up or down carry visitors to the different floors. We also went sightseeing the shops. Very few purchased anything. I entered some dress shops and assessed the price of the displayed items. Most had high priced tags. On our return, we got into "Carrefour”, another supermarket and purchased a few items. After eating in a food court, we returned to Sharjah.

On 25th, Raphael took leave and took us in the morning to the recently opened Sharjah aquarium. There is variety in the specimens. The aquarium is in its infancy. By noon, we went on special invitation to the flat of Ammukutty in Rala in Sharjah. She is my wife Kunjannamma’s sister Sosamma’s daughter. She is a pathologist in the hospital. We had a luxurious and delicious lunch. Then we went to Susan’s house on the south edge of Dubai. She is Chartered accountant of a construction firm. We met her mother from Kerala, baby-sitting Susan’s new child. Susan returning from her shopping later joined us.

On our way home, we got into the Lulu center to make some final purchases. The aim was to give some presents to Maria, child and Raphael. We purchased a few items for Raphael and the child. For Maria we found a beautiful cutlery set. Though costly, it was worth purchasing; a complete set for a full table of a dozen diners. The set came in its own preserving box. We then went to the confectionery and food corner and purchased chocolates, dried fruits of different varieties, two synthetic pillows that puff up when its cover is broken and other items. Because of the too many items including the pillows, we had to purchase a new bag. Alex persuaded us to purchases a three level folding bag costing around Rs.700. Open all the folds. It is a 4 feet tall sack. It can hold quite a cargo. After visiting some more places and purchases, we returned to our home in the night. Packing all our things into the bags engaged us well into the night.


Next day was our last in UAE. Being a Friday; holiday for Arab countries we got out with Raphael in the morning itself. We passed through Sharjah Gold Shook, Sharjah lagoon, Cornish center and moved on to Palm Jumeirah. We went through a busy street, which was desolate in 1990. Now it is a cluster of very many high-rise structures. Dubai is famous for multi-storied buildings. New constructions are coming up day by day. 15 to 25 % of the cranes of the World lifting construction materials are now working in Dubai.
                                                                                      Burg Al Arab

It is a crazy city aspiring to be the first in many aspects. “Burg Al Arab”, in Dubai is the World’s highest seven star hotel. It has a cross like appearance on top. Looking at it from one angle, it is a cross. This created a lot of hot blood for Arabs. The architects designed it for balancing the structure. There is a helipad on its top. It is World’s highest hotel complex.
                                                                                   Palm Jumeirah
Palm Jumeirah is a grand scheme to create reclaimed islands in the sea in the shape of palm trees with leafs. On the sides of the road of main palm-trunk and the roads on the leaf like islands, constructions of modern buildings are going on... “Palm Jumeirah has everything you need to enjoy a wonderful holiday break. World famous hotel names, amazing tourist attractions, luxury, fashion and shopping malls are starting to open up. Whether you just want to relax or immerse yourself in an exciting world of leisure and entertainment, this is a truly inspirational holiday destination.” This is their advertisement. There are plans to construct three such palm tree islands and a fourth Globe shaped island with the countries of the World-shaped islands and buildings on them. The picture on the left is the first completed palm tree. The two others are under construction. Each new palm tree construction is bigger than the previous.

On one leaf island is the famous Hotel Atlantis. It is the biggest seven star hotel just being completed. We went to the sea front of it. Suits are as costly as UAE D 2500. Two days prior to our visit short circuit fire completely devastated one such suite. That was also the day of the formal opening of the Hotel. They spent US $ 20 million just for the inauguration of this Hotel complex
                                                                                                Dubai City Tower 
However, the most astonishing structure is the “Dubai City Tower” (Berg Dubai). The design of the structure is for four hundred floors in 2400-meter high (2.4 KM high or equal to 7874 ft high) buildings with a central bullet train lift of 200 Km/h speed. The building has a central core tower with six outer buildings connected to the central building at every hundredth floor. The interconnection ensures stability to the building. They have already finished 800 meters of over 270 floors. Plans are there to raise it to 1200 meters. The idea of the ruler Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum is to retain it as the tallest in the world. If any building equals it in height, the plan is to add immediately new floors to the city tower to make it tallest. The design of the building is such that it can withstand pendulum swings in strong wind. Now it is the tallest in the world.

The World recession of 2008 was contagious. Over supply of property spaces and housing accommodations became the central problem of the recession. People who invested in the hope of staying in these constructions were abandoning their dreams. Will Dubai end as “Tower of Babel”?

In the afternoon, we packed up and were in the Sharjah Air port at 5 PM for our flight to Trivandrum. Bidding fare well and thanks to all including Ammukutty who came to see us off, we went for security check up. We two reached Trivandrum by 2 AM on 27th. A porter stepped in to help me to pick up my boxes from the escalator to a trolley. I got a pre-paid Taxi. The porter loaded the luggage into the taxi’s dickey and to the back seat. We came home by 03 AM. Johnson the watcher woke up and unloaded the bags. Our tour of the Middle East thus ended. We covered Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and UAE states of Sharjah and Dubai. We thank God for guiding us throughout the tour and safely returning us to our home without any health irritants.

Appendix -1 Tour Members

KELI tours of Cherian Kuriakose, Mumbai and Rev. Fr. John Sankarathil, Devalokam Aramana, Secretary Marthamariam Samajam of our Church conducted the tour.
The 49 others were V. Rev. Remban Gabriel, Fr. Nathaniel Thomas, Fr. K V Paul, Sr. Helen and Sr. Persis of Pathanapuram Dayara, Fr.K.E. Mathai, Fr. Simon Scaria, Fr. Dr. Joseph Thomas of Manganam, Mr. & Mrs. Varghese Mathew, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Paul, Mr. & Mrs. Sunny Thomas, Mr. & Mrs. K C John, Mr.& Mrs. Mathew Daniel, Ms. Aleyamma Kurien, Ms Thankamma Mathew, Ms Shyni Jacob, Jim Nanthiyattu, Mr. & Mrs. C T Kuruvila, Mr. & Mrs. T M Varghese, Mr. & Mrs. K P Mathai, Ms Saramma Panicker, Ms Santhamma Jacob, Ms Leelamma George, Prof. Mary Thomas, Ms Remany Punnen, V T Yohannan, Mr. & Mrs. George Joseph, T C Abraham, Mr. & Mrs. Jacob Varghese, Dr. & Mrs. M A Ittyachan, Ms Mary Varghese , Ms Elizabeth Eapen, Dr. & Mrs. K C George and we four Mr. & Mrs. Alex Jose and Prof. & Mrs. Joseph K Alexander.

“And in the end it is not the years in your life that count.
It's the life in your years."
-- Abraham Lincoln

Web sites referred Christian Travel Study Program, Walking in Their Sandals,, and Catholic Encyclopedia.

Alex and Lalita

* in 639 AD
* From all over the World
§ The list of the other members of the tour party are given as Appendix -1
§ The roads and luxury hotels have all come up on such sea drained new land.