WEST AND EAST JERUSALEM. We entered the city through the Jewish side which is West Jerusalem. It looked nice, clean and cosy, reminding me of the mews and close of old London, with beautiful gardens and picture pretty frontages. I remember passing by what appears to be a University campus and young Israelis walking to and from classes.
As our bus climbed up the hill, our arrival at the Arab quarter is announced by the stone walls of old Jerusalem, parts of it rebuilt by the Ottoman when they held Jerusalem. Feroz the guide mentioned that this is discernable by the Ottoman type architecture and design. I nodded sagely while wondering “But this end of the wall looks exactly like the other end of the wall…” No doubt a practiced eye would see the difference which is lost to this sinner-pilgrim.
We finally arrived at the appropriately named Holy Land Hotel. After a quick breakfast and shower (after almost 20 hours' travel, I felt and no doubt smelt like a camel's breath), we assembled outside for our walk to the Dome of the Rock and Masjid al-Aqsa (“Al Aqsa Mosque”). The roads of Jerusalem are narrow with impossible corners and turnings, but somehow tour buses and large lorries still manage to navigate the serpentine streets of this city (with a lot of shouting, hand waving and honking).
HEROD’S GATE. About 100 metres down from the hotel we arrived at Herod’s Gate, which is one of the many entrances into the Old Jerusalem. At the gate, the sign of ‘Allah’ (God) and ‘Muhammad’ in Arabic script adorned the right and left side (which is the traditional position – as Arabic script is written and read from right to left) of the entrance. The ubercool thing was that it was written on two road signs. This is the first thing which made me think, “Yowza. I like this town…”
The labyrinth of the old city was captivating. Down each alley, turning right into a corner, I feel myself walking back in time, as around me, Arabs children play and their elders drink coffee and smoke outside the shop fronts.
Despite my dreamy reflection, I was soon jolted into the present when I saw an abandoned police barricade - a sign of past troubles and an indication that while the city seems peaceful, tension and conflict is never far beneath the surface.
I must run! Even my companion travelers on wheelchairs are far in front of me. I turn left, then right after a Christian souvenir shop. I walked down a long straight which was kinda dark at the end. In the gloom, two bored Israeli police officers sat, (boy, they look young! In fact all Israeli soldiers and policemen I encountered looked to be in their 20s) observing with mild interest the arrival of these strange creatures from Malaysia.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK. Then suddenly, I saw a glint of gold. There it is, beyond the darkness of our troubling times, a light at the end of the tunnel. Beautiful and golden, glorious monument of the Prophet’s heavenly ascension…
How did it feel, sunshine? It felt familiar. Oh so familiar. Suddenly I am reminded why I am here. I am pursuing Love. As Muhammad did, when one serene night Gabriel came to him and led him away from Mecca, far away from Arabia… to the Land of the Prophets and to the City of Prophets and Saints - beautiful and captivating Jerusalem. It felt like a dream. And writing this now… It feels like I am there still.