A walk through time Joy Se-Martinez May 13, 2019 Features Four fascinating countries awe-inspiringly transported us to ancient wonders on a blistering summer heat. Let’s take that journey together. Our first stop is mystical India, a country with rich cultural heritage preserved in its ancient forts, palaces, monuments, and mosques/temples. As New Delhi locals would claim, you never visited New Delhi if Qutb Minar is not in your itinerary. If Eiffel Tower is to Paris, Statue of Liberty is to New York, Qutb Minar, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is to Delhi. Another UNESCO Heritage Site that shouldn’t be missed is Humayun’s tomb, the first garden tomb in India with perfect symmetry, as this grand mausoleum is the source of inspiration of the world renowned, Taj Mahal. An hour and a half flight to Jodhpur from Delhi would bring you to the most beautiful fort in Rajasthan, the Mehrangharh Fort, which houses ornate palaces with a treasure chest full of antiquities, reflecting the royal family’s pomp and extravagance. After delighting at the massiveness and architectural ornateness of the fort, visit Jaswant Thada, a short drive from the fort. It’s an intricately built royal cenotaph of white marble, thinly polished to allow the sun’s rays to illuminate its interior. You may also visit Umaid Bhawan Palace, a 347-roomed palace, a big portion of it has now been transformed into Taj Mahal Hotel and Museum with a part still serving as the royal family’s residential house. On your four-hour drive the next day to the City of Jaisalmer, take a break from the long drive at Pokhran Fort, it’s small but it offers great photo opportunities with the help of the fort’s caretaker. As you reach Jaisalmer, be welcomed by majestic view of the only living fort in India, the Jaisalmer Fort nestled on a hill. Enjoy a panoramic view of the well-lit fort while having dinner at the terrace of your home for the night, the Mandir Palace, a heritage hotel which was once a palace. If you thirst for a little adventure, you may take a camel desert safari at the Thar Desert but don’t forget to make a quick pit stop at Bada Bagh, a photogenic row of yellow gold royal cenotaphs with modern windmills in the background. The next day, make your way to Bikaner, your halfway overnight rest place before heading to Jaipur. You can wander at Junagarh Fort, after a restful sleep, you are now ready to embark on another four-hour drive to Jaipur, the Pink City with structures in pink sandstone in the old city, the Hawa Mahal, being its famous landmark. You can also enjoy a 20-minute elephant ride uphill to the majestic Amber Fort and be blown away by its rich artistry and history. The next day, travel to Agra with a stopover at Fatehpur Sikri, another UNESCO Heritage Site, showcasing monuments, a palace, and mosque beautifully adorned with intricate works. Then before sunset, drive yourself to Taj Mahal and be charmed by its immaculate beauty, the reason why we all want to visit India. It may not be as grand as you may envision it to be but the love story behind it and the expensive artistry make it figuratively so. To complete your visit to Agra, drop by the next day at Agra Fort, a UNESCO Heritage Site, built in red sandstone with a stunning view of the Taj Mahal, before driving back to New Delhi to catch your evening flight to Varanasi, its Holy City. Take a sunrise or sunset boat ride along the Ganges River and be a witness to their unwavering faith of the holiness of the River, as they swim, bathe, collect water for drinking, as well as cremate the dead along the ghat. Then end your India tour with a taste of Mumbai’s cosmopolitan city, a beautiful blend of modern and British architecture. Then cap your Mumbai tour with an archaeological tour of Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO Heritage Site, by taking an hour ferry ride and marvel at the sculpted caves with huge rock cut Hindu sculptures. If you have an insatiable appetite for archaeological adventure, an almost seven-hour flight will take you from Mumbai to Cairo, Egypt. Of course, to stand in front of the monumental Pyramids of Giza is number one on your list. You can get on an ATV for a bumpy ride as you weave your way through a labyrinth of narrow, unpaved roads, dodging cars, horse carriages, horses, camels, donkeys, and pedestrians until you reach the Sahara Desert to have a gorgeous panoramic rear view of the six pyramids. For a closer look, you can hop on a camel but make sure to engage in some haggling with the owner. A visit to the Great Sphinx is just a walk away from the pyramids. You can maximize your day by dropping by Sakkara Pyramid, a medium-sized one but the oldest. Your visit to Cairo will not be complete without catching a glimpse of the mummies. But don’t expect to find one inside the Pyramid of Cheops as it has an empty interior. You can satisfy your fascination for mummies with a visit to the Egyptian Museum. The Pyramids are not the only ancient wonder Egypt has to offer, though. An hour flight to Aswan and a three-hour drive along the Sahara from Aswan will whisk you to the most breathtaking view of the Temples of Abu Simbel beside the blue waters of Lake Nasser. Yes, a day tour is expensive and tiring but their grandiose beauty makes the tour all worth it. If you have not gotten satiated by all these archaeological tours, fly your way to Luxor to end your Egypt tour. And what can be more exhilarating than starting your tour with a sunrise air balloon ride to have a jaw-dropping aerial view of Luxor, which is like one big open museum. But don’t make the hot air balloon an alternative to land tour. The grandeur of the Hatshepsut Temple, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, and Colossi of Memnon can be well-admired up close as you gaze in disbelief at the enormity of the stone statues and pillars sans modern technology. After having a huge dose of Egypt’s ancient creations, you might want to go on a religious trip to Israel without having to join a pilgrimage. Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan city of Israel can be your home base. There you can bask in the sun along the long stretch of sandy Mediterranean beach in the city itself. Meanwhile, a visit to Old City of Jaffa for a scenic view of the city across the harbor offers ultimate relaxation. Of religious significance is St. Peter’s Church because it was in Jaffa where St. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. The elegant white gateway sculpture symbolizing God’s promise of Israel will not escape your eye. The next day, you can explore the maze-like alleys of Old Jerusalem and trace each unassuming path Jesus took while carrying His cross. The highlight of this tour is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus was crucified, laid on marble slab, and buried. You’ll see faithful’s hugging, kissing, and praying on the marble slab or having their religious paraphernalia blessed by laying them on the slab. From there, head to Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus’ place of birth in a cave inside the Church of Nativity. There you’ll find His manger and the 14-point star marking His birth site. A break from church visits can be spent trekking the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Park, with waterfalls tucked behind shrubs and trees or take a cable car to Masada, King Herod’s fortress. Both will surprise you with a breathtaking view of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert. After an exhausting hike, float on the Dead Sea, without fear of sinking and reap the skin benefits of a sea salt mud bath. Then resume your spiritual journey the next day to Nazareth to see the Shrine inside the Church of the Annunciation where Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Visit also the Church of St. Joseph, where the Holy Family lived. What can be more spiritually rewarding to end your Israel tour is by immersing in the river to renew one’s faith at the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by His cousin, John. Indeed, your spiritual experience in Israel will be in abundance. If you’re already in Israel, don’t forget to swing by Jordan as this is a just a 45-minute flight from Tel Aviv. Since you’ll be landing in its capital, Amman, might as well spare a half day to see two highlights of Amman: the Citadel and the Roman theater. The Citadel is perched on the highest hill in the heart of the city, providing a good vantage point for a panoramic view of the city. Then, head your way to Jerash. What comes to mind when going to Jordan is Petra. But there’s a hidden gem there: the grandeur of the Jerash Roman ruins. It’s the most beautiful and most preserved Roman ruins outside Italy. The ruins are way too expansive so it would seem to be an endless history walk with your guide. Make sure to rest up afterwards. After getting some rest, you can spend the next day at one of the wonders of the world, Petra. This tour requires good feet for miles of walking. As you walk through and reach the end of the 1.2km dramatic Siq, a narrow, winding gorge, you’ll stumble upon the lost city of Petra, with the iconic Treasury standing enthrallingly before you. Nothing prepares you for the awe-inspiring wonder of Petra from the Monastery, amphitheater, to the rows of complex mausoleums, each made to look like a facade of building, directly carved on cliff sandstone hills. End your tour of Jordan with an overnight Wadi Rum Desert Safari. Unlike other desert tours that take you only to a sea of sand dunes, your jeep ride will let you explore a very picturesque landscape of yellow gold sand dunes, dramatic red orange sandstone/granite hills, and rock bridges. A night spent deep in Wadi Rum is soothing as you watch the sun set, then later gaze at the stars. Indeed, feeling the serenity of the vast desert is the best to cap your month’s long vacation. My family and I seized and treasured every moment of this entire trip. A journey so worthy that as I write each moment down, I still get mesmerized that I don’t want each moment to go away ever. It is gratifying to document it both on paper and in stills. I hope by sharing it fires up your desire to travel. It’s time to pack up and head out to the unknown and discover and enjoy the unimaginable beauty of the world.