Tiberias

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery

From the desert to the green belt.

Tiberias (तिबेरीया / टायबेरीया) is a town about 180km north of Jerusalem. Located in the Lower Galilee region, Tiberias is a quiet, mid-size centre on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. This region is full of green trees, mountains, valleys and rivers, making it very beautiful compared to the desert city of Jerusalem.

Boarding a bus on Sunday morning, Mumbai ishtyle
In Israel, once a Jewish youngster turns 18, s/he has to serve for 3 years atleast in the compulsory Israeli military service. In Israel, the weekend is on Friday and Saturday, the days when hundreds of these young soldiers return home. On Sunday morning, they go back from the cities to their military camps. And this is exactly what I didn’t know…

I went to the Jerusalem central bus station, and got a student (discount) ticket for a bus to Tiberias. The whole bus station looked like a military camp – there were simply no civilians there. Anywhere you look, you could see only soldiers and guns and huge bags. I was confused. There was a young guy who was at the bus station with his parents. They clicked a picture together before he was leaving and everyone was quite emotional. Maybe it was the beginning of his military service?

Minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, the platform was brimming with soldiers. When the bus arrived, the soldiers rushed onto it from all possible sides – like a swarm of locusts devouring a farm. I was simply standing there (in what I thought was a queue, but there wasn’t one), just blinking and staring foolishly at the mess 🙂

Then I smiled and suddenly became nostalgic. It reminded me of my 7:21 Kalyan fast, the train that I took every morning to go to work in Mumbai. I plunged into the crowd, hoping that my boarding-the-crowded-vehicle skills were not rusted during the one year stay in Canada. Soldiers – guys and girls – were fighting to get inside the bus. Elbows, palms, head, everything was being used to push your way in thru the narrow door. The bus driver was sweating. I was struggling to keep up with this juvenile burst of energy. Just after I grabbed hold of the bar near the door, the bus started moving. The driver was shouting vigorously and I guess he was saying चला चला मागे सरका (comeon, move back) or जागा नाही! (no space in bus). Having plenty of experience in all this, I was happy to have gotten some space to rest one foot and grab the bar with one hand. As the bus pulled out of the station, everyone was sucked in, while soldiers left stranded were protesting angrily. There were few other tourists from US at the bus station, but they couldn’t take the cultural shock I guess, which is very natural. So, finally it was a bus full of soldiers and me. phew!

After a while, people started talking to me. Where are you from? Where are you going? Wow India! I am going there in summer. I am going too. Me too. Himalayas very beautiful. Goa, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Rishikesh, Manali…. wow, these guys knew a lot about India. Apparently there is a trend to go to India after the military service (to cool off and smoke ganja), something that I learnt on my 2006 trip to Himalayas. I got snacks to eat, water to drink and lots and lots of entertaining things to do 🙂 The bus started dropping off soldiers at various locations – probably where they were supposed to report at.

Within 2 hours, I was in Tiberias.

The city reminded me of Pune. Don’t know why, but it smelt like Pune. Haifa smelt like Indore. Tel Aviv was like Mumbai or Ratnagiri. It was very soothing to see lush green mountains and a gigantic water body – Sea of Galilee.

Tiberias

A little town, very touristy, primarily concentrated around the Ha-Galil and Ha-Banim streets. I thought the whole city was inhabited only by youngsters – delightfully dressed and extremely fashion conscious (all of this in comparison to Jerusalem). Girls go with girls, boys go with boys, holding hands, arms over each others shoulders and even an occasional kiss. Interesting sights.

Ani Simkhoni
आनी सिम्खो़नी (The ‘ख़’ (kh) sound is made as if you are clearing your throat) is one of the most powerful and essential phrases if a vegetarian guy has to survive in off-center eating places where they don’t know English. I went to one of the lovely looking eating joints which, the guy at my hostel told, had vegeterian menus too. I spent about 10 minutes explaining the waiter that I don’t eat meat, but he wouldn’t understand. Finally I scribbled a horrible wonderful sketch of an animal that didn’t looked exactly (stop lying Priyank!) like a cow and told him I don’t want that. All this was so much fun and the guys at the restaurant were delighted – I got a free cup of mint tea. Yay! 🙂 The first thing I did then was to learn how to say ‘I am vegetarian‘ in Hebrew.

Later, I made inquiries and gathered data about cycling around the Sea of Galilee and booked a bike for the next day. Thats where I’ll go next – a bike ride along Sea of Galilee coast.

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery