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On Hyderabadis' bucket list: Israel
The number of Indian travellers rise from 20,300 in 2006 to 40,000 last year

Photo by: Petdad

 When Samuel Reddy was planning a business trip to Israel, hoping to learn about the famous drip irrigation technology used there so as to adopt it on his dry farms in Rayalaseema, his wife insisted on accompanying him; spa tourism was on her mind. His mother too wanted to come along; her wish: a religious tour of Jerusalem.

The perplexed Hyderabadi began charting out his travel plans, but it was not till he bumped into a friend that his perfect work vacation to Israel finally gained shape."From skiing at Mount Hermon, to floating in the Dead Sea, to learning how drip irrigation saves water and fertilizers in between, this trip was a dream come true for me," said a beaming Reddy .

Reddy and his family are among many Telugus who have found an ideal travel destination in Israel. Not many people know how the historic city of Jerusalem, modern Tel Aviv, idyllic Haifa and the historic city of Caesarea have been drawing a lot of Hyderabadis to explore their secrets.

Israel saw the number of Indian travellers rise from 20,300 in 2006 to 40,000 last year. There has been a 97 per cent growth in Indian tourists to that country over the past 10 years. In fact, the Ministry of Tourism in Israel recorded a 15 per cent growth in travellers between January and March this year, and is expecting the number to go up to 50,000 by year end.

With seven-day tour packages starting from Rs 75,000 per person, Hyderabad has contributed significantly to this growth, and according to tour operator SOTC, it stands third in sending travellers to Israel after Bangalore and Chennai in South India. "Hyderabad has been witness to a huge promotion campaign run by the Israel tourism board and that is one of the reasons why travellers have been exposed to the destination. Obtaining a traveller's visa is also not an issue, so the process isn't a tedious one," said Daniel D'souza, sales head, India and NRI Markets, SOTC Travel.

Considered to be the Holy Land by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the draw of Israel has undoubtedly been felt in India. Speaking about the country's unique allure, Neelu Singh, CEO and director of Ezeego1, another tour operator, said 25 per cent of all travel bookings from Israel have been coming from South India in recent years."We have witnessed a 10-12 per cent increase in the number of travellers visiting Israel this year from here and they have chosen the Dead Sea, the city of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other regions like Haifa, Masada, Negev Desert and the mountains of Galilee for holidays," she said.

So what makes a trip to Israel so fulfilling? Ask Sharon Pelleg, a seasoned tour guide in Tel Aviv, who cites Israelis' love for Indian tourists as one of the key factors.She adds the Indian gusto to explore Israel completes a mutual relationship of respect and understanding between the two cultures."They (Indians) love our culture and they love to shop.And since Israelis also travel to India in droves, the special bond is always there," says Pelleg, during a tour of Jaffa port, where the maze of lanes and bylanes takes one back through 4,000 years of history when Jaffa was the most important centre for seafaring empires. Starting with the Egyptians, followed by the Greeks, Romans and the Crusaders, each brick of Jaffa has been witness to a crucial piece of history.

These days, Jaffa wears a more modern look. Dotted with rows of cafes, antique shops, hotels, museums, ice cream parlours and galleries, overlooking the sea, it leaves travellers spoilt for choice. As Pelleg explains, the varied architecture of the city , built over thousands of years, is at once in harmony with more recent influences. For instance, Bollywood numbers play in the background as traders show their beautifully-crafted pottery and jewellery to customers.

A must for any tourist when in Israel is the Holy Church of Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was said to be crucified and finally laid to rest. As one takes the journey along the route taken by Christ, leading up to the site of his crucifixion, where the Church now stands, time almost stands still. A climb into the Cavalry, regarded as the exact spot of the crucifixion and the Stone of Anointing, where Christ's body was prepared for burial, can be a melancholic experience.

Apart from its religious significance, Indians also choose to travel to Israel to experience the therapeutic spa-like feel of the Dead Sea and to laze in Haifa, a pretty city with scenic beaches which is home to the Baha'i temple. Another preferred destination is the city of the past, Caesarea, where travellers go to get a glimpse of both old-world monuments and modern mansions.

For most Indians, taking the cable car to Masada, which King Herod built, gives an adrenalin rush. It is said that Herod built the palace for himself between 37 and 31 BCE, which also saw the last resistance against invading Roman soldiers.

While the cable car ride to the 400-metre high fortress can be a hair-raising experience for some, tales of how the first Jewish-Roman war ended in a mass suicide by 960 Sicarii rebels and their families, is something that will remain forever etched in one's mind.

"Israel offers a mix of historic and modern attractions and for travellers seeking to explore new destinations and new offerings, Israel is emerging as a destination they are adding to their bucket list," summed up Ezeego1's Singh.


Source: The Times of India

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