The Dead Sea
(Sorry for the delay, but this posting is the continuation and 15th part on my Umrah Pilgrimage) THE DEAD SEA. After the shrine of Moses, it was perhaps about half an hour's ride to the Dead Sea. It was a wet and rainy morning, so we all took shelter at the shop which was doing brisk business with Jewish and Arab tourists, who looked quite surprised to see our 50-odd crowd descending upon the small shop. This locality is famous for being the lowest spot on earth, about 418 metres below sea level. Left with no US Dollars, I got my friends to treat me to hot chocolate, which is the best drink in this cold weather. Brrr!
The Dead Sea Ashtray
For awhile I was famous, being the smoker at the lowest point on earth. How did the Marlboro taste at that altitude? Still good. Now, that's the problem, kiddo.
Err. This must be some kinda mistake
JALUR GEMILANG (name of Malaysian flag) IN ISRAEL. And this, must be the Malaysian flag at the lowest point on earth. We had quite a chuckle because Malaysia has no diplomatic relations with Israel. But I guess the proprietor bought a stock of national flags and just decided to raise them all up, regardless of diplomatic niceties.
FARMS AND THE FRONTIER. We came in peace. And as the sign instructed, we left the Dead Sea Resort in peace too. Its worthwhile to note that even in this seemingly infertile land, the Israelis appear to be growing some crop or rather. It looked like date palms, but I could be mistaken. In fact, as we made our way later through the frontier land facing Jordan, the Israelis are trying very hard to populate the region with small self-contained townships and farms dotting their outskirts. I never saw any farmhand at work during the afternoon, save for a couple of Arabs, but the vegetables and olive trees appear to be flourishing under the desert Sun.
JERICHO prides itself as being the oldest city (as well as being at the lowest altitude) in the world. It is adjacent to the Dead Sea, and from the resort we could already see the town. Arriving absolutely hungry, we made our way directly to the cafeteria, after which we bought some souvenirs from the shop below - "The lowest lowest prices at the lowest lowest shop in the world!" the banner should have read. By this time the guide and bus driver was absolutely worried that we will be missing our flight from Amman to Medina. The drive from Jericho to Amman is not exactly near, and there is still the border crossing that we had to contend with.
Hashemite means the lineage to Bani Hashim, the Clan of the Prophet
A LITTLE PROBLEM EXITING ISRAEL. Our exit from Israel was directed to be via Sheikh Hussein Bridge which was a long, long way off from Jericho, instead of the much nearer King Hussein Bridge. That added at least an hour plus to our already oppressed time-management. At Israel immigration control, they processed us as fast as they could, but still took more than an hour (oh no!) and thereafter one poor dude was actually called into the interview room. I don't know why, maybe he looked like a security threat, but really I don't think so. While waiting for him, I was sitting behind the bus with Matt, and it appears that maybe our unfortunate friend's current predicament is perhaps not so coincidental after all. It was nothing really, but it appears that during the group's tour (which I opted out, remember?) after al-Aqsa Mosque, the dude was kinda rude to our Arab tour guide, ranting with expletives (!) at the poor man and witnessed by the group. "It's Karma", says Matt. Well, I have had my fair share of Karma biting in me in my bum, so I just nodded.
Anyways, after half an hour, the guy came out grinning out of the immigration complex. "Quick! Quiiiick! We must hurry!", our driver shouted as he hustled and bustled us up into the bus. Along the way, our Jordanian guide (who joined us at the border) told us that the Jordan, which is part of the Great Rift Valley is also known as the bread basket of the region, growing a lot of the vegetables and fruits for export to the Arab and Mediterranean countries. The Jordanians however aren't pleased because they say that the Israelis are taking too much water from the River Jordan.
The Prophet's Mosque, Medina
BOUND FOR MEDINA. It was a mad 3 hour's drive from the border to Queen Alia International Airport. Along the way, I noticed festooned on bridges, government buildings, military facilities, gateways, housing complexes and shops were the smiling picture of King Abdullah of Jordan, looking dour and mostly alone, but sometimes together with the picture of the Crown Prince, who must be in his early teens. We finally arrived at the airport about half an hour before the flight. Thanks to the pre-arrangement via phone by our tour leaders, the Major and Abu Ayob, we breezed through Jordanian passport control. My only hiccup was at the security scanner, where in a state of mad frenzy I deposited my phone, sandals, cane, slingbag, wallet, passport, boarding pass, cigarette and other assorted personal items into four separate boxes. "I am sure I will forget or lose some of them!" I worried. But of course being on pilgrimage, we had the Devil's luck - I got them all back safely.
Soon I was sitting in the plane bound for Medina, musing on the past 48 hours' travel and the sights I have seen in Palestine-Israel, and hoping that one day I shall return to the Land of the Prophets. But for now I was contented - Happy to know that in two hours' time I shall be stepping onto the blessed soil of Medina, City of the Prophet Muhammad, my Habibullah and Mercy to the Worlds. Even in my exhaustion, that made it all worth while.
Have a beautiful day, sunshine.