Achziv and Rosh Hanikra Promenade

While in Israel don’t miss the opportunity to walk or drive on the coastline that stretches between Achziv and Rosh Hanikra located on the northernmost Mediterranean coast. Achziv is located in a unique ecosystem, filled with local animals and natural pools. A chain of small islands dot the coast, which creates a special natural landscape and a haven for the area’s birds. The cliffs of Rosh Hanikra and the mountains of the Western Galilee surround Achziv from the east, and provide wonderful and interesting places to tour in.

The Achziv national park is a must visit. The park combines a rocky coastline, complete with bays, lagoons and natural and artificial seawater pools with archaeological remnants of an ancient settlement. Beneath the clear water one can catch glimpses of water lilies, sea urchins and small octopuses. In the summer time a unique way to spend the night is by sleeping under the sky in this national park.

We spent two days in this beautiful place. As usual we opted to stay at SPNI youth hostel. It is located just opposite to Achziv Beach where we could feel the salty breeze and the sound of waves at night were like lullaby. We happened to visit this place during full moon day and took stroll on the beach at night.

Achziv to Rosh Hanikra promenade is around 5 kilometers and we walked the entire length of seashore watching the lagoons, tide pools, several fisherman, beautiful sunsets and also enjoyed the sea under full moon light.

 

From the sea shore you can find beautiful white chalk cliffs meeting the sea. This is the only place along 100 kilometer stretch of Israeli coast line where the sea meet the cliffs. At the point, one can find an enchanting tourist site of Rosh Hanikra. This place marks the Israel and Lebanon border (this part of Lebanon border is guarded by Hezbollah, a group identified as militant group by USA).

Here one can reach the grottoes formed by erosion of soft chalk cliffs pounded constantly by sea waves. These grottoes could be reached by a cable car, which is claimed to be the steepest in the world with a gradient of 60 degree. An old railway tunnel made during World War II by blasting these cliffs is currently being used as a visitor center.

Thanks for following my blog. I will take a sabbatical from blogging for a while and time permitting I would love to bring virtual tour of several other beautiful places from Israel and also would love to introduce you to the beautiful culture and beautiful people I ever met.

 

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Shells beach at Palmachim…

Continuing my photo blog on the beautiful Mediterranean beaches, I bring to you a unique beach; Shells beach on the south side of Yavne Yam beach located in Palmachim national park. We were lucky to have stumbled upon this beach when we took a wrong turn en route to Rishon beach. The drive was pretty and we decided to drive along the coast and park somewhere away from the crowd. There we found this secluded beach that was full of shells.

Palmachim national park is also a historical site that features several of the ancient ruins and many beaches. It also offers city views of Rishon-LeZion. We decided to spend all our time on this patch of seashells instead of going around the ancient ruins. The place was less crowded. We stumbled upon only two more families. I could attribute this to the lack of several amenities like restaurants etc. On a hot summer afternoon, visitors could rest under one of the huge thatched umbrellas seen all along the coast.

Our peaceful evening was occasionally disturbed by the sound of ATV’s (All terrain vehicles). It was very sad to see those vehicles crushing the beautiful shells. There was a wall of shells along the shoreline for about 150 to 200 ft. I did dig the shells to check its depth and it is at least one feet. Recently I found a picture that shows this shell wall. I used to collect many shells on beaches from my childhood. In this place, there were so many shells that I collected only those that were brought along the waves.

I was very excited to show this unique place to my parents, especially my mom who comes from a coastal city in India. We could still see the shells but very low amount that too mixed with sand. So, there is no assurance that you can see many shells every time, I feel lucky to have seen that many before.

Next time I will take you on an virtual tour to the Achziv Lagoon and Rosh-hanikra grottoes and chalk stone cliffs that will stay the same unlike the Shell beach at Palmachim.

 

Ashkelon- ancient port city

What are the best beaches in Israel? With over 100 km of Mediterranean coastline and beaches of Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee and Read Sea beaches at Eilat, it is really difficult to answer the question. The beach you want to visit depends only on you and what you are looking for. Israel beaches contrast hugely; from the urban beaches of Tel Aviv to quite beaches of western Galilee set in the rural areas. Some beaches even have historical importance. Many Israelis have some favorite beaches where they might be looking for certain amenities like restaurants, pubs to enjoy the evenings.

Some of my favorite beaches in Israel might not be the popular ones with tourists or locals. My favorite ones are those that are less crowded and away from the urban setting; where I get to enjoy the sunset peacefully. Irrespective of the kind of beach, one can spot several people fishing. Through my next series of blogs, I would love to share the pictures from my favorite beaches but not in any particular order.

The first in the series is Ashkelon beach. If you have read my previous blogs, you will have an idea how much I love history. This is one beach where you can enjoy both the ancient ruins and the beach at the same time. Off course Caesarea is the best but is usually crowed compared to Ashkelon. Almost entire Ashkelon beach is dotted with several excavation sites. Ashkelon national park is a fascinating antiquities site. The park consists of expansive lawns, picnic tables and barbecue facilities and is a good place to spend time with entire family. Southern part of the park is a reserve for unique flora and fauna living in the costal dunes.

The city of Ashkelon is the ancient port city having evidence of human settlement from Neolithic period. It is the nearest Israeli city to Gaza strip (around 8 miles only) ruled by Hamas group and hence is mostly targeted by crude rockets. The major attractions of this park are the Canaanite Gate (considered to be the oldest vaulted gate in the world), the rampart and the mediaeval walls surrounding the park. The look out point provides panoramic views of the city, the beach and also the ancient ruins.

Follow my blog to get the virtual tour of other Israeli beaches like Shell beach at Palmachim, Achziv Lagoon and Chalk stone cliffs of RoshHanikra…

 

Ein Gedi – Oasis on the Dead Sea shore…

Ein Gedi, an Oasis and Natural reserve on the shores of Dead Sea is one of the premium hiking spots in Israel. The most favored bottled water in Israel (at least for me) is from Ein Gedi springs. Seeing numerous bottles of these in almost every super shop in Israel, I mentally pictured Ein Gedi as a huge spring in a beautiful setup akin to tropical green forest. But in reality it is a moderate sized spring with lush green surroundings that contrasts with the harsh conditions near Dead Sea and Qumran. This contrast is the secret of its beauty.

Ein Gedi consists of two words. ‘Ein’ meaning spring and ‘Gedi’ meaning goat-kid (Nubian Ibex) thus Ein Gedi means “Fountain of the kid”. I felt the name was appropriate with several of Nubian Ibexes surrounding the spring. This reserve is situated on the eastern border of Judean desert, on the dead sea border. The elevation of the land ranges from the level of Dead Sea (423 meters) below sea level to the plateau of Judean desert at 200 meters above the sea level.

The reserve is a sanctuary for many types of plants, birds and animals. We spotted several Ibexes that can walk with utmost ease on the vertical cliffs surrounding this reserve. The animals like Ibexes and rock hyrax are very much used to humans with millions of visitors visiting this reserve annually. In fact, at the parking area one can see several of the Ibexes climbing the motor vehicles to reach the tender leaves of trees.

The water from this spring provided sanctuary to several people from over 3500 BCE. Currently, it supports an entire village of Kibbutz Ein Gedi located a kilometer away from the reserve. The Kibbutz area is home to an internationally acclaimed botanical garden that supports the growth of around 900 plant species from around the world.

One could choose from several different hikes that could range from kid friendly to moderate to strenuous hikes. One could even cool themselves along the hike by taking we could relax in a small pool we found hidden behind the huge boulders. We felt like we had private swimming pool all to our family only.

I was keen on looking for the bottling unit near Ein Gedi but instead found only waterfalls and pools. I got an answer to my question while hiking back to the parking. The spring water ends up directly into the camouflaged filtration units. We were told that the filtered water reaches the bottling unit directly that is located far from the natural setting.

If you liked this virtual tour to Ein Gedi, please follow blog to get updates on my coming blogs on the Mediterranean beaches.

Dead Sea… the lowest point on dry land!

Though it’s not the saltiest lake in the world, the Dead Sea, located between Israel and Jordan, is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world at over 1,000 feet deep. Those who walk its shores are at the lowest point on dry land — just over 1,400 feet below sea level. I was very much excited to see the elevation going below sea level as we drove from Jerusalem to Dead Sea via Jericho – the lowest city in the world. One can feel a sense of calmness while driving the entire length of Dead Sea on highway 90.

On our first day of travel to Dead Sea, we were greeted by a dust storm that greatly affected our visibility. On a clear day, one could easily see Jordan on the other side of blue Dead Sea. On our way we got to visit the Qumran caves, where the actual Dead Sea scrolls were found. We stayed at SPNI youth hostel located on a hill opposite to Dead Sea. We highly recommend this place as it offers great views of Dead Sea. We spotted several friendly Ibex’s roaming freely around the hostel premises. These Ibex’s are great example of the conservation efforts at Hai Bar natural reserve.

Our first visit to Dead Sea was really and fun and adventurous. Being first time to Dead Sea and we didn’t had any knowledge regarding the best beaches to float in Dead Sea. There are several beautiful and easily accessible public beaches all along the shores of Dead Sea but our random choice of the beach near by our hostel led us to a rugged and inaccessible beach.

We had adventure of a lifetime when we spotted and decided to try the Mineral beach. It is a spa and resort located at the northern shores of Dead Sea. At 8.00 am, we were the first and only ones to visit resort and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is the only beach with natural Hot Sulphur spring which is maintained at 39 degree centigrade at all seasons. The sulphur pool had enough salt that it was buoyant enough. The medicinal properties of these sulphur pools attract many visitors from all over the world to Israel for having a dip in these hot sulphur pools located near Dead Sea and Hamat Gader. Having been cured of a persistent rash on my body from just one dip into this pool, I can vouch for its medicinal properties. I learnt a hard lesson not to go into this pool with any metal ornaments especially silver that reacts with sulphur.

Natural boiling Dead Sea mud rich in minerals is found in this beach. The mud is also supposed to have several medical properties. The mud bath makes your skin soft and supple like a baby’s skin and is also known to reduce arthritis. My mom who could barely walk with out any support could easily climb several steps at Masada after receiving a special knee massage with this mud. From past 8 years, pure Dead Sea mud from Ahava is the only beauty product I use. We still massage our knees with warm Dead Sea mud to relieve the knee pain.

Our idea of floating in the calm Dead Sea water was not fulfilled during our first visit because of the high winds and choppy waves. Even though we could float on the water, we were drifted to a different shore and had cuts from the sharp salt crystals that form the bottom of the seabed. It is highly recommended not to walk bear footed. A minute into Dead Sea water with 34% salt, one could feel every small and minute cuts on your body you were previously unaware off. We were almost shrieking from the pain. More than our pain for these cuts, my mom who was enjoying on the shore had to endure higher pain (feels like thousands of bee stings at one point) and red eye because of small drop that fell into her eye (because of high winds). The rough weather presented us with a totally different experience of Dead Sea. One our next visit, we could enjoy a normal, relaxing float on Dead Sea completed with reading newspaper while floating. I am glad to have enjoyed this mineral beach which unfortunately cannot be enjoyed again as it remained closed to public from 2015 onwards because of sinkholes.

Follow my blog for the next virtual tour of the only Oasis in the harsh conditions surrounding Dead Sea; The Ein Gedi!

Masada: King Herod’s desert palace!

The rugged natural fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead sea, is Israel’s first World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO, and thus receives special treatment as an historical location. It is the second most popular tourist destinations in Israel after Jerusalem biblical Zoo with over 1.25 million visitors per annum. This fortress is a classical Roman style sumptuous palace complex built by the Judean King Herod the Great. He is credited for the construction of Temple mount, a portion of which today remains as western wall. Apart from the modern harbor, Caesarea, he also either built or fortified fortresses like Herodium, Alexandrium, Hyrcania, and Machaerus. It is also an archeological site of great importance. The remains of Herod’s palaces are outstanding and very intact examples of this type of architecture.

For many tourists the exploration of Masada begins before dawn, when they wake up very early to begin a long hike (snake path) up the side of the mountain. However, we took the cable car up to the top. Most of the information regarding the history, the legend and archeology at this historical site could be obtained at the Visitor center located at the entrance of cable car. Some of the finds that were discovered at Masada by its discoverer, the famous Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin are now on display in the halls of the visitor’s center. Personally, I would recommend visitors to use cable car as one need to conserve energy for walking around this huge complex, particularly for visiting the hanging terraces on the northern side.

The “hanging” palace with its three terraces in the Masada complex, is an outstanding example of opulent architectural design, elaborately engineered and constructed in extreme conditions. The palace on the northern face of the dramatic mountain site consists of an exceptional group of classical Roman Imperial buildings. This luxurious desert palace is the winter retreat of King Herod who used to enjoy with guests. It was told that King Herod used to dine on the most expensive foods shipped to him in the desert, such as wine and fish sauce from the Caesar’s own estates in Spain and apples from Italy. Here you can find remnants of elegant frescoes that decorated the walls of Herod’s buildings, which were painted by esteemed Roman painters themselves.

Another archeological wonder at this place is the bathhouse of King Herod. The water system at Masada was

particularly sophisticated, collecting run-off water from a single day’s rain to sustain life for a thousand people over a period of two to three years. This achievement allowed the transformation of a barren, isolated, arid hilltop into a lavish royal retreat.

Later, survivors of the Jewish Revolt against Roman rule occupied this natural defensive site. Many refugees flocked to this fortress especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. But a massive Roman army successfully besieged it after three years. We saw the site where the Roman siege ramp reached the top of the mountain, leading to their discovery of the mass suicide by the Jewish revolts. The military camps, siege works and an attack ramp that encircle the site, and a network of legionary fortresses of quadrilateral plan, are the most complete anywhere in the Roman world. Masada is a poignant symbol of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.

The siege of Masada is often revered in modern Israel as “a symbol of Jewish heroism”. “Masada became a symbol for a heroic ‘last stand’ for the State of Israel and played a major role for Israel in forging national identity”. To Israel, it symbolized the courage of the warriors of Masada, the strength they showed when they were able to keep hold of Masada for almost three years, and their choice of death over slavery in their struggle against an aggressive empire. Masada had become “the performance space of national heritage”, the site of military ceremonies.

If you have enjoyed this virtual tour of Masada, follow my blog for virtual tours of other great places, the holy land has to offer.

Timna Park – Ancient Egyptian copper mines

Timna is an unusual geologic wonder not to be missed especially while visiting Eilat. I heard of Timna for the first time while visiting the Eilat Museum where copper ore mined from Timna are displayed.  Timna is a large geological, nature and history park located about seventeen miles north of Eilat right in the desert. This horseshoe shaped park with strong granite base and soft red and white sandstone rock formations above it is strikingly different from the white chalk and lime stone mountains found else where in Israel. The area is one of the most ancient copper mines, dating to the end of the 5th millennium BCE (about 6000 years ago). An Egyptian temple and rock engraving are located in the site, and the miners’ camp is located nearby. Most of these are dated to the 12th-13th Century BC.

One of the major attraction of Timna park is the famous mushroom rock which is one of the spectacular sand statues formed by the wind erosion over centuries. This monolithic red standstone formation known in geology as hoodoo is surrounded by copper smelting sites discovered in 1959 where one can learn a bit about the ancient copper mining.

Around the area of the mining areas are ruins of the houses of the Egyptian workers. Don’t miss the rock engraved drawings on the rocks around mining holes and tunnels dating back to 12-13th century. Most of the drawings are of animals (Ibex and ostrich, deer) and of hunters but the famous one is “chariots” that got a virtual clone for  better understanding of the people who made it.

In the center of the park is another Egyptian mining center called “Solomon’s pillars“,  a tall red sandstone cliffs carved by wind. This houses an Egyptian mining temple (Shrine of hathor) dated back to 12th – 13th century and also a rock carving of Eyptian King Ramses III. Red rock state park had similar tall wind carved tall red sandstone pillars but not as extensive as King Solomon’s pillars. If your knees support, hike this place to enjoy the views. The area is so vast, that the people look like ants. The lone dry acacia tree near this place looked like a miniature model from the top of these pillars.

Features like hoodoos and natural sandstone arches provide glimpses of the Bryce canyon and arches national parks located at Utah, USA. The 20 odd hiking trails of Timna can be enjoyed best during winter season when the temperatures are pleasant compared to extremely hot summer seasons. Remember to carry several bottles of water while hiking.

Landscape is composed of rock of different colors that reminds us of death valley national park in USA. The natural colored sand from all these different rocks are available at the visitor center that could be used to create a souvenir sand art in a bottle.

Other attractions in the park include pedal boats on the lake, making “King Solomon stamps” and of course enjoying the stunning arid-land vegetation that includes herds of wild ibex that observe the visitors from the cliff tops. Additionally, there is a restaurant on site, a souvenir shop and camping grounds.

Follow me to get a virtual tour of one of its kind in the world – Dead sea, Ein Gedi and Masada in my following blogs.