A journey through a sliver of the Bible

 A passage through a sliver of the Bible-

Israel – As a first timer, its been a revelation and teaches why I should not listen to the media and other know-alls. Beautiful country and for a population of just over 8 million, the young country but biblical land has so much to offer. If not for the searing temperatures, it could just have been anywhere when you are in Tel Aviv. Then you turn south and go to the ancient port city of Jaffa (or Yafo, as its called), you start the time travel to times of Abraham.

A history of building, invasions, carnage, then the rebuild, development, time and again proves just how resilient the folks are. Tel Aviv is just barely 100, while Jerusalem is well over 4000 years old. Tel Aviv is just like any other modern city and still yearns to grow with its subway under construction and skyscrapers dotting the horizon. For an avid hiker, it’s a dream come true since everything in the city that is worth visiting can be covered on foot while savoring the ambience of the outdoor cafes.

An overwhelming experience to walk through the Biblical history in Jerusalem has to be the highlight. The east part of Jerusalem (Jeru for City and Shalom for Peace) was founded by King David (Of the David vs Goliath fame). The temple mount stands in the middle of the walled city which by the way has just over 40,000 denizens, Armenians, Jews, Muslims and Christians; A perfect harmony of cultures in this microcosm. The city is divided into these four quarters and underneath it all, lies the pathway over which Jesus was crucified and walked to his final destination. I got to see the place where he died, the place where he was anointed and the monument over his tomb. That is truly awe-inspiring.

Another sub highlight is the famous Wailing wall, that used to be a retaining wall of the temple structure. As you turn left of the wall, you see the minaret of the mosque that was built by the Muslim conquestors on the 7th century. The Al-Aqsa mosque also stands proud in the temple courtyard. Everyone from King David, Babylonians, Romans, Muslims, Ottomans, the British, The Jordanians and now the state of Israel has had something to do with this Biblical city.

Then the drive from 3000 m above sea level to 400 m below sea level passing through yet another slice of history and political turmoil, The West Bank to the Dead Sea. The Dead sea, where absolutely no life exists. Wading through it feels like wading through a barrel of oil, such viscosity made worse by the sulphates, bromides , chlorides and other mineral salts that keep it saturated. You could see Jordan on the other side of the Sea and its no picnic being at the beach here except to make sure you could actually float on water.

Visitors and Tourists- Just make sure you pick a cooler time to visit Israel if you can but if you are a sun worshipper, then by all means go for it any time. The Mediterranean beaches are just gorgeous and super lively.

One thing for sure – Never else have I seen a people with a more fierce national pride than the Israelis. They all go to public schools until they are 18, at which point all boys and girls have to compulsorily serve a 2-3 year stint in the military. There is a deep sense of belonging that exudes pride and patriotism.

 

 

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Blame it on Rio?

With the curtains down on the Rio Olympics, what is it to the Brazilians? After having been the genial hosts for the 2014 world cup soccer and then the summer Olympics this year, what does it do to the country? With the ongoing talks from several world leaders about protecting the country and the earth for their children and grandchildren, one would hope the Rio Olympics does not pass on billions of dollars in debt to their future generations.

When reports of less than 90% tickets sold come out and considering these figures are way less than Beijing and London, it makes you think..is it going to take a generation and a half to clear these debts they may have accumulated?

Rio

Not to put a downer on the games, but we certainly witnessed history being made and well, the “victims” of that made up robbery scenario.

Memorable moments-

Usain Bolt, of course- He’s a brand

Michael Phelps, of course- He’s from Maryland

Then, it was Mo Farah- Arise Sir Mo, perhaps?

Simone Biles- Genuine happiness for her by everyone around

Lochte- Embarrassment personified, what else can I possibly add?

What was especially heartwarming was the world record winning performance in the men’s 400 m run by South African Wayne Van Niekerk watched and cheered on by his 74 year old coach.

The oil rich emirates of Bahrain and Qatar did import their athletes from Kenya and other East African nations and these people did them proud! So why are people crying sour grapes! Do whatever it takes as long as its legal .

India- What a fiasco, what an encore of yet another disastrous non-performance. The two ladies that won them medals won them not because of everyone but they won them inspite of everyone. What an insipid show otherwise! How about staying away from the games for a few decades and may be do something to come of the shame shell meantime

Bottomline- Brasil- You did it! Damn good show!

PS- Nemar redeems himself,almost!

This is highly deplorable!

A classic case of an ignoramus reacting to someone from a specific religion. Just goes to show how shallow, ignorant and trashy people can get.  We’re seeing several such instances when these sort of semi-educated, unaware people blurt off something so offensive thereby embarrassing their establishments. Sorry state of affairs!

Its not about Islam, this could have been a Hispanic, an islander or a black. Its about people’s inherent bias and the microcosm they dwell in.

Surely a hard drinking pub culture cannot be an excuse for being boorish! Irrelevant? Not quite! Something I have faced and what some people now go through is most certainly far worse!

http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/perth-boxing-club-fires-worker-after-banning-woman-for-being-muslim-20160808-gqniyo.html

Planes, Trains, Horses & Automobiles- Peru Hike 2016

A journey that took me to the Andean valleys in Peru was a trip through the customs, a trip through the Quechua traditions, a trip through the vastness and remoteness of the countryside yet a supremely enriching experience. A trip that started with another plane ride evolved into all forms of transport; A locomotive engine, an automobile , horseback ride and of course my own two little feet.

As with most journeys in this land which I’d rather refer to as the Inka kingdom, it starts in Cusco, capital of the magnificent Inka empire. Cusco, at just over 11,000 ft does bring back some memories and feeling like Tintin in “Prisoners of the son” I bask in the warm winter sun feeling may be a little bit out of breath. However as the locals say, cocoa tea is that magic pill for altitude sickness and admittedly its a weak concoction and doesn’t do much for me. So I do what I do, get used to the altitude. Embarking in the week of the Peruvian independence day was a great feast for the eyes watching the schools, local fire and police units parading in the central Plaza de Armas, Sitting on the balcony on a lazy day sipping a Pisco sour watching the locals intermingle with the tourists in a rich colorful array of cultures was a treat.

Then the journey begins into the Lares valley. Our  group is typical of an international contingent with a Peruvian (Quechua Indian) guide and an assortment of French and  Polish folks. Traversing a village meat market where heads and hooves of cows are out on display before we headed out towards the Lares Valley while going over a 12,000 foot high mountain pass. Llamas and alpacas are a common sight and seem to have formed a special bond with humans, being the source of food and clothing for all around.

The first day hike goes up from the relatively low elevation of 10,500 ft to the camp 1 at 12,500 ft. The hike takes us through remote Indian villages where life is at complete peace unhindered by technology and simplicity is at its best.The hike is gradual yet tests out the endurance of the feet and heart; frequent rests become the norm as the altitude gets up to above 12,000 ft. The camp we get into as remote as it can get but yet close to the village of the horsemen, where womenfolk dressed in colorful bright red garb spread out their wares consisting of alpaca wool gloves and scarves. It becomes an instant flea market and you cannot help but admire their tenacity as they are fascinated by us and we in turn are fascinated by them. The camp tents are surrounded by the glorious Andes peaks and as the cold sets in, the silence of the darkness is only broken by the occasional barking of dogs and the soothing flowing of the nearby stream.

The second day hike starts fairly early and as the caravan departs towards the mountain pass the journey has to be made. We have to be at 15,000 feet in under 5 hours. The terrain is rocky, the slopes are steep yet we must march on. Tyros take frequent breaks while the seasoned hikers lead the trail. Passing other hikers, horses carrying supplies but what is most amazing is the endurance and strength of the men and boys that literally are seen jogging up at these elevations like it was a jog to the convenience store round the corner. After a steep climb and some assistance from the horses, we finally make it to the 15,000 ft point, the mountain pass overlooking a gorgeous lake that makes it all worth the effort. Then the rest of the day is about going downhill and hiking for over 4 hours like a billy goat takes us to the camp 2. A warmer place yet superb in its location where we “chill” for the night.The day 2 has probably got to be one of the most grueling days I have ever encountered in my life and turns out that I actually walked close to 25 miles!

The Day 3 is then decamoing, hopping on to a coach to get to Ollantaytambo and walking around this charming town before getting on the Perurail train to Aguas Calliente. Machu Pichu beckons.

Not just hiking in Machu Pichu, but what is absolutely rewarding are the hikes to the Inka bridge and the Sun Gate that makes it special. A must do, if you haven’t done it already! Then the final hike down the steps from Machu Pichu to our base camp in Aquas Callientes.

My highlights-

The valley hike, meeting the locals, great group of people, discovery of new lands and the sheer feeling of serendipity as we hiked some mind boggling trails around Machu Pichu.

Be prepared for high altitude effects; breathlessness, parched throats and remember its a marathon not a sprint.Hike light and let the horses carry that extra heavy hiking backpacks. Lots of water highly recommended alongwith sun protection. It may have been winter but when the sun gets out, it shines down hard.

And spare a thought for the village kids who wear smiles and go on about life with such verve and enthusiasm it is infectious. Consider contacting a local agency if you are keen on supporting their education and development, I am certain there are appropriate avenues.  What is it they say- “A good deed never goes unrewarded”.

The trip has put life in a different perspective and makes me want to do more of this; miles to go before I sleep !

 

The Journey of an immigrant- Part II

The Saudi feeling is starting to sink in; well you can never really get that feeling in you entirely. True to belief it felt like I had been sentenced to a one year rigorous imprisonment in a minimum security prison. The camp was a compound by the Red Sea, a set of box modular structures and I could imagine this to be another Gulag with less security. Have you ever been kicked in the mouth by a rampant horse?

The inner conditions do not get too better as days transition into weeks and weeks transition into months. I could never really come to grips with that life especially in those surroundings. I would actually thrive in these conditions decades later but in 1995 I left myself for dead. A few thing to write about would be the weekend trips to the port city of Jeddah which was trying its best to look like fast food America and the air conditioned malls I had not been in before. Jeddah is also the home to the infamous “Chop Chop Square” where convicted rapists and petty criminals have their heads or hands cut off.

Mecca the holy city for Moslems was not too far from the camp I was in, where the signs to the checkpost proclaiming “For Moslems Only” still stirs an ominous feeling inside me. The tranquility in midst of this temptest was the lucid turquoise waters of the Red Sea and I was even blessed to catch a few views of Flying Fish, which I had only seen in one of my favorite TinTin publication, “The Red Sea Sharks”. After all these years when I stop long enough to delve on my Saudi experience I am convinced it wasn’t Saudi, it was me that kicked myself into this baleful whirlpool of darkness.

And just as I reckoned, it was rock bottom and the only way after this episode was to lift myself and at least see the azure skies of hope.

Alexandria

My journey took me next on a teaser trip to which eventually was going to become my home eventually but that cold dark January evening when I landed at Dulles, Washington DC I wasn’t so sure. Just as I had experienced dealing with cabbies back home, I was sure the guy would cheat my precious $75 out of me.So of course as the taxi starts, the guy in all likelihood is attempting to be friendly and asked me if this was my first trip to the US. And me, in all my devious bent, say “Oh yeah, I have been here several times, in fact I love the east coast and of the west coast cities, Chicago is my favorite city.” Deathly silence and that was the last exchange we had for the rest of the journey. The names he may have called me under his breath, I don’t think I would have been able to repeat. However, being in the promised land sent a shiver of optimism through my veins. It was going to last, I hoped as I-495 beltway outside the taxi looked like a parade of pearls and rubies.

—To be continued…

Washington DC- An immigrant’s Diary-Part I

The Journey of an immigrant- 

I was not born in this county, I was not born in the State, I wasn’t even born in this country. Its been close to 17 years for me in this country. An immigrant with aspirations, dreams and looking to touch and feel that I had only seen through postcards, movies and commercial clips and Time magazine. A few decades back I would have made my way on a steamer across the Atlantic, processed at Ellis Island and made my way into the Big Apple.

The sheer romance of this journey, the awe inspiring narratives were what my dreams started to be spun around. It took a British writer,  Jeffrey Archer to vividly describe the success of an immigrant from small town Poland. “Kane and Abel” that is the book. The graphic and vivid portrayal of Abel Rosnowski and his rags to riches story was the recipe for several of the west bound aspirants. And as time rolled by, the dream seemed to get far and further away with each passing year.

And then you start to wonder- Opportunities do not come around if risks are not taken. Life definitely gives you lemons, but being served lemonade is completely unheard of. If the New York bound ship is not docked for you at the harbor, then you start to look at options. You could still set out west but you may have to have a few pit stops. Now that is something that clicked inside me. I am thinking, even the Arabian peninsula is west of where I grew up.

The journey begins- Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

It was an extremely sunny cloudless day in Oct 1995 (I later realized 364 of the 365 days are extremely sunny and cloudless) and I landed with a deep sense of foreboding, not sure what to expect but somehow fairly certain that I was a second class citizen. This is not fiction and the way the immigration officer waves me through I started to resent my own self, my seemingly impulsive decision to even set foot in the peninsula. And then the journey to a remote camp, 150 miles into the desert hugging the Red Sea was me slumped in the backseat, still unable to fathom the deep change that was happening right in front of me. Miles and miles of dunes, herds of camels, some of them on the back of Toyota pick ups and the relentless sun refusing to hide. Now I am starting to hallucinate- I am going to be asked to join a plethora of workers, whipped across my bare back and pull the huge pieces of rocks to create a pyramid like structure. Not entirely delirious but the projection of fears emanating into something evil.

I arrive at the camp and instead of running across the Bedoins or even hearing the Arabic dialect, I almost get run over by group of loudly chattering Filipinos. Then some Sri Lankans, some Indians then I spy some gringos. This was going to be my microcosm, a camp by the Red sea, by no means a resort but certainly not made up of stuff I had earlier imagined. Reality sinks in and the jet lag hits me. I am off to lala land.

To be continued……

 

Sights,Biking, Foods- Washington DC

DC denizens-

Its March, time for  march madness in some ways but its for me the hump month. A hump from the white side to the green side.And for me there’s not a better place for spring to arrive and so much so that the Cherry Blossom is getting here ahead of its schedule. The arrival of the Cherry Blossoms brings renewed kind of enthusiasm and while I am not complaining about the DC winter, just feeling the optimism in the air that accompanies the Cherry Blossom is something known only to those that live here and those who love DC.

Spring cleaning is not even a chore, there is something about it that makes you tick, get prepared for the azure skies, the perfect sunshine ahead. Get out there and do what feels right in this crisp spring time and carry this on through the summer. What do I want to do?

DC marinaMt Vernon

The Dawn-

I love to get myself out there and do my walk and jog trails. Rock creek park, Mount Vernon, C & O Canal, here I come!

And my bike is obviously not going to ride itself. Every trail in the area has its charm. For biking aficionados, a start with the fresh paved trails would set them up well for the rest of the season. Some of my tips-

1- Mount Vernon Trail- 36 mile, all paved, pretty and scenic but you could always start off at 10, may be 20 miles.Park at the Theodore Roosevelt Island. The other good part is just 8 miles from the island on the trail,you get into Alexandria, charming Alexandria. Just stop here and smell the roses, the cooking smells as you ride through town, the citizens moving at leisurely paces in no hurry whatsoever. Its an experience.

2- Rock Creek Park- You may want to until early summer to do this. An experience through the lush greens of the Beach Road, by the DC Zoo,Rock Creek park and then depending on how far you want to do, you could bike all the way to Georgetown while catching sights and sounds of the Tidal basin and all those fantastic monuments. Park at the beginning of Beach Road on the MD side.

3- Georgetown- After parking at the island, enter DC from the Georgetown side over the key bridge and get down to the river. You could go either side. Makes up for refreshing ride. The other good part about this trail is you get to go through the heart of Georgetown on M St. Smell of fresh brewing coffee, the cup cakery, the little quaint stores, the small eateries, I cannot see a better place to spend your Saturday morning.

The Dusk-

Not that winter ever stopped me, but the spring gives me even more. Any cuisine, any place, and if the temperature stays like its been past few days around 75, I would absolutely prefer being out where I can get some spectacular views of DC across the river. A few locations for sure are worth the drive, but Alexandria, M St/Wisconsin Ave are just some that come to mind. And then of course getting right onto Dupont circle and its like being in a candy store of foods.

The writing is on the wall- Make the best of it and for sure when DC gives you lemons, squeeze every drop of it!