ISRAEL….never thought of being there, the least on a “Business tour”

19th Jun 2017

Being in the travel industry for the past 10 years, Israel was amongst the last country I had imagined going to, especially as getting a visa stamped on your passport meant you are banned for life from entering all the Middle East countries… No more Dubai ☹ ☹

Just this thought of being banned, deterred me from going to Israel all these years… whilst I regret why I did not go before. But the idea of going there kept revisiting, and I finally began my research.

The first thing was, how do I go to Israel and still visit the Middle East without any trouble - Getting a paper visa? Or getting a dual passport – is that legal???

Well, I spoke to a lot of people in the industry to understand this and finally I was told that dual passport is a possibility…but still I had my reservations on this recommendation. So, I went to the Passport Office to check if this could be done…and to my surprise it was possible.

Yes, it took ages to get a new passport done, with applications, visits to Passport offices (thrice), verifications, and then finally when I got my new passport it was not over yet…. After, getting done with these (a struggle of over 3 months), I had to apply for my Visa (another struggle).

Well, with a lot of back and forth with the Israel embassy in Mumbai, I got my visas done (will recommend using a good Visa Agent), and I was all set to depart for Israel (Only one direct flight – EL AL from Mumbai, which flies thrice a week).

My ordeal did not end here…before boarding the flight to Tel Aviv from Mumbai, I had to go through a 15 minutes of questioning by Israel officials (Indians working for El Al) for security reasons. I recommend that one should reach the Check in counters no 3 hours prior but at least 4 hours prior as the questioning is done for all the passengers and it is a long & cumbersome wait at the check in counters.

So, when my turn finally came, the Israeli officer (Indian), looked at me and my check in luggage and jokingly asked me – “ Emirates mein gaye ho kya” (looking at my Emirates luggage tag). Well ! I thought I am in big trouble here! I gathered courage and I told him – “Haan, kafi time pehle ????”. He reassured me that it is absolutely fine, and he started questioning me routine security questions. He looked at both my passports (do carry both your passports as they will ask for it and check the stamps you have on them).

All went fine, and I was all set to board (after clearing security & Immigrations). Here again be prepared for long queues as every foreign passport holder will be asked to open their hand luggage and you will be scanned thoroughly before getting on to the flight.

A long flight, an overnight journey in Economy class was not enough to wear you down that you had to go through another set of questions & long queues upon arrival. Finally, I got to my hotel room, early morning and I crashed (for a couple hours – with a host of meeting lined up for the day).

Choosing a Hotel:

While, most of the time when you are on a business trip, you do not have the right to choose the hotels, but in case you do, please do ask for a hotel on the Tel Aviv beach. This is the best place to be in Tel Aviv and the beach is very close to the CBD area. Though a bit expensive, it is worth staying here than in the city.

Batman begins:

Done with my day’s work, I begin to explore Tel Aviv. The first thing I decided to do is to take a walk at the beach. I started at around 6:30 pm and even by 8 the sun was bright & shining (21st June – longest day of the year ????). You can witness the locals enjoying the sun at the beach.

Tel Aviv Beach

Photo of Tel Aviv Beach, Shlomo Lahat Promenade, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel by Kunal Shah

Recommendation: Try out Mike’s Place Restaurant at the beach front.

Apart from the beach, if you are into partying you must visit Kuli Alma and experience the night life at its best. Don’t miss walking at the Boulevard – Rothschild, a few blocks from Kuli Alma, and witness how the locals spend their evening – walking, cycling, jogging, dining, partying or just unwinding.

If you have half a day to spare, I recommend visiting the old town of Jaffa. From the beach it would be around 30-40 mins walk, but you can also catch a local taxi.

Travel Tip: Taxis in Tel Aviv are expensive and most of the places are walkable.

You could read about Jaffa online for more details, but the most interesting thing is to climb up the old palace and get a bird’s eye view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Tel Aviv.

View from Restaurant in Jaffa

Photo of Jaffa, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel by Kunal Shah

Recommendation: If you like Arabic food (yes, you do get a lot of Arabic food here) – try having a lunch/dinner at Alibaba Restaurant. You will be awe struck by the view from its dining area.

Overall, it was worth the ordeal and pain I went through before the journey. It is really inspiring to see the positivity amongst the locals here inspite of the ongoing war with all their neighbours. Anytime anything could happen there, but that does not deter them from enjoying their lives. I got to learn a lot from them.