Day 2 – Cana, Nazareth and Mount Tabor
And so it came to pass that we crossed the border from Jordan into Israel without much ado, barring a few intimidating moments at the Israeli customs. Wonder why passing through customs in any country can be nerve wracking. There was this stern lady officer shouting at meek Indians asking them to stand in lines. And standing in queues is as un-Indian as passing up an opportunity to haggle in a fixed price shop.
Waleed is our guide in Israel, sterner looking than genial Sulaiman, he was a lawyer in Italy for seven years before he decided that helping pilgrims find peace was more satisfying than helping lawbreakers find deliverance. ‘We love Indians’, he announces on the PA system. I tell myself that’s two less foreigners that dislike Indians, impressive feat by our tourists. Driving through Israel is like walking through the pages of the Bible, boards with names that one heard in Sunday School whiz past you – Nazareth, Galilee, Tabor, Tiberias, et al. The roads are narrow but well laid out and there is a fair bit of traffic on the roads.
Our first stop is at Cana, the spot where Jesus signalled his divinity by performing his first miracle. It is here that empathising with the father of the bride, Jesus replenished the empty wine jars, (a cool power to have, if you ask me 😀). The church is built above the ruins of the house, one can see stones and pillars of the old house below. There is a glassed piece of rock that is supposed to be the last of the jars that witnessed the miracle. Outside there is a curio shop that sells, you guessed right, wine of course. School children dressed in white shirts and blue trousers with, the almost universal, loaded school bags trudge along.
Nazareth is a crowded settlement. As we drive down, Waleed announces that this was the very same way Jesus walked from Nazareth to Cana with his mother to attend the wedding at Cana, though 2000 years ago it would have been just a path through the wilderness. We walk through narrow by lanes past graffiti filled walls into a massive church, the Church of the Annunciation or the place where the angel Gabriel gave Mary the good tidings. On the lower level there is a small room with a staircase by the side, this was supposed to be the house of Mary. The church two levels above is magnificent with intricate murals, an interesting one had a Japanese motif. The church is built on top of the village of Nazareth, the ruins are visible below Outside the church about 100 meters away is the Church of the Holy Family which was where Joseph stayed. So Mary’s journey from her filial home to her husband’s home must have literally been a hop skip and jump. This was where the boy Jesus spent his early days.
The climb up Mount Tabor is a steep one and our bus takes us to the base station, where there are vans to take us up further. The church is built in front of the ruins of the first Byzantine Monastery which was built between the fourth and fifth century. One level below is an altar to mark the spot where Moses and Elijah are said to have appeared to Jesus and the disciples saw his face glow with divine light. The walls of the cave like structure have murals of Jesus, the disciples and his divine visitors.
On the way back I chat up with Waleed on the life of an Arab in Israel. And he says he is a proud Israeli and that he loves his country. He lives in Nazareth which predominantly Arab while Jerusalem is dominated by the Jewish community. Someday he would like to go back to Italy, he loved it there. Our stay that night was at King Solomon Tiberias, overlooking the Lake of Tiberias. Lake Tiberias is the Jewish name for the Sea of Galilee, an important site in the life of Jesus. I look out from the window and see only darkness the sighting of Galilee will have to wait till tomorrow, I am bushed.