Pilgrimage to Jerusalem [Al-Quds]
If we take into account all the Abrahamic religions and think of place which is mutually revered as sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, there is only one city: Jerusalem.
A walled city of probably 1-mile radius, it is amazing how vast its influence has been on 3 key religions which dominate the geography and political scene of today’s world.
I had the privilege to visit Jerusalem in Sept 2013. I am writing few quick tips for anyone planning to visit the city, but first let me show some photos that I took just to tempt you visit this amazing city.
Top tips for visiting Jerusalem
1. It’s a test of patience at Israeli security. Don’t fretting why you are in waiting lounge for 7 hours; rather get a good eReader/book to enjoy. Once in the walled city, it is going to be every moment worth the wait!
2. Keep your documents and answers ready. i.e. reason for visit, place of stay. Be prepared to answer the same questions again and again to different Israeli security officers.
3. For foreign visitors, usually there is no entry or exit stamp on the passport. Instead, Just ask Israeli border controls to stamp on the B2 Tourist Visa Paper Slip. It’s absolutely critical that you don’t lose it! I repeat, do not lose this stamp.
4. Jerusalem is the melting point of all three faiths, so be respectful to all of these. Whether you are approaching Aqsa Mosque or the Western Wall, you be be asked stopped and enquired. Be polite and obey the local laws and customs.
5. Know where to go. Download Jerusalem Map here.
6. If you are visiting from a Muslim Country , chances are there are no direct flights to Tel Aviv. Therefore, the next best option is to fly to Amman (Jordan), which is a popular city. I believe it may be a better option since you can do some sight seeing there. My experience is that security at Jordan side is merely a tick-box, take money and stamping exercise. One tip is to keep exact change, which you may need, as often the custom and other offices don’t keep much change. Here is the list of common places where you need it:
7. JD is often accepted at Israel also and you can use it for transport to Jerusalem city or buy souvenirs. On the contrary, Israeli Shikil are not accepted for shopping/travelling Jordan.
8. Taxi within Amman city boundaries is quite cheap compared to western standards. As long as you are within the city boundaries, the fare should not exceed 2JD. Always insist on using meter and you should not be ripped-off, unless the driver takes the longer route (in which case maybe Google maps can help :))
9. I took the JET bus, which is the best option after taxi I guess. It is reasonably cheap, punctual and the best part if that you can do a booking online, see JET Bus Website Jordan. However, you should confirm your booking by calling them a day before your journey.
10. JET station is conveniently located and all taxi drivers know about it. There are shops nearby in case you need to buy snacks or drinks.
11. There were around 8 passengers in the bus when I travelled, so plenty of space. There was a guy from Switzerland with his wife who were on globetrotting adventure coming from Lebanon. We chatted and realised that we have been reading the same blogs and shared the same knowledge about our travel. I believe Swiss Passport holders don’t need to pay for entry fees.
12. It was around a 45 min drive to King Hussein Bridge. There was a toll where you need to give you passports to security, as they look at each photo and match with yours.
13. It is advisable to keep exact change as they don’t have change usually.
14. After getting the exit clearance, you will board the bus which will take you through the no-mans land.
15. The same bridge from Israeli side is called Allenby. There was much longer queue as you also see the security level heightened with automatic weapons and CCTV cameras. At the initial screening I was asked about the place of stay etc. Afterwards, there an airport style screening of baggage, which was quite badly organized and could be problematic if you have lots of travel baggage. After baggage clearance, I was questioned by a young official who was actually friendlier than all other officials. You should have quick answers for questions like why, where, when, how etc. Keep them ready and be patient as you tell the same answers to 5 different people. The most annoying part is the longest wait. You will be asked to take a seat and then the wait game begins. There may be someone coming with your passport calling you names, but this may only be questioning and more questioning. It took me 5-6 hours waiting, which could be frustrating. Keep your cool and have a good page-turning book to keep you occupied.
16. Once out of the building, you will see ticket office booth right in front of you, which basically manages the transport going to Jerusalem, usually the Damascus gate. Buy a ticket, using JD or Israeli Shikils, whichever you have. These are usually smaller vans, with limited space, which will be stopping at different stops, before arriving at Damascus Gate. You are are the walled city of Jerusalem now.
17. Jerusalem is best on foot, considering it’s small and divided into 3 parts [Jew, Chrsitian and Muslim quarters]. Each has their distinct features, although all three Abrahmic religions has overlapping practices.
18. Jerusalem is majestic in food, do try local breads, pastries, desserts and qahva [hot mint tea].