Part 6: A Memorable Journey of a Lifetime – the ‘HOLY LAND EXPERIENCE’

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Part 6: A Memorable Journey of a Lifetime – the ‘HOLY LAND EXPERIENCE’

On the seventh day after breakfast, we checked out from the Hotel (Tolip) and proceeded to St Catherine, Foothills of Mount Sinai, St Catherine Monastery, Burning bush, and the well of Moses. Our journey continued towards Cairo through the underwater tunnel of the Suez Canal by road. In the evening, we reach Cairo and checked in the Swiss Inn Nile Hotel for dinner and Overnight stay.

From the Swiss Inn Nile Hotel, we proceeded towards St Catherine of Sinai travelling in the morning by bus for two and a half hours. We visited the hills of Mount Sinai and St Catherine Monastery, the Burning Bush and the Moses Mountain. Every day more than 4000 people visit St Catherine.

Our tour guide Mido briefed that the distance from Taba to St Catherine was 190 km while that from St Catherine to Cairo is 520 km. Egypt has an area of 1,001,450 sq km and a population of 110 million people. The 110 million people of Egypt live in only 30 percent of the land, while 70 percent of the land is covered by the desert. Throughout the journey, we had to pass through the desert where, in some places, only a few people stay. The Borders of Egypt are surrounded by the Mediterranean sea in the north, Sudan in the south, Libya in the West, and the Red Sea in the East. The source of life in Egypt is the Nile river. Baby Moses was placed in a basket and released in the River Nile in order to be saved from the Pharaoh. Moses, Joseph, and Jesus had all used the Nile river when they were in Egypt. Joseph took Jesus and fled to Egypt to save Jesus from King Herod. Jesus lived for a while in Egypt with his parents and used the Nile water for their daily use as well as for plantation.

While we were travelling towards Cairo, there was heavy security, and the police escorted our buses. There are no shops nor internet facilities for 90 kilometres. If any vehicle meets with an accident or anyone encounters any problems while travelling, communication is difficult. The police escort the buses till they get the signal. During the journey, a gunman went with us for the safety of the passengers.

“Before 2011, many tourists used to come to Sinai for a day and stay in motels. But now, all the motels are empty. In Sinai, the rules are very strict, especially with the army and the police. There are several checkpoints in Sinai. In the 1967 six-day war, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the West Bank and Arab sector of East Jerusalem, both previously under Jordanian rule. By the time the United Nations cease-fire took effect on 11 June, Israel had more than doubled its size. Also after the war in 1973, 6 October was declared as the Armed Forces Day in Egypt. Both the Arabs and Israel declared victory in the war. The Arab countries managed to salvage their defeats after repeated losses in the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars with Israel. Within four years, in 1977, Anwar Sadat was in Jerusalem giving a speech of peace to the Israeli Knesset. Anwar Sadat was a very smart person’ He was intelligent and a Military man, he signed the peace treaty with the Israeli government. He is thus called the man of peace. The last port that we got back from Isreal was Taba in 1988 during the rule of former president Husni Mubarak”, said our tour guide Mido.

During the winter in Egypt, mountains are covered with ice. The weather in Egypt is windy and humid, and the temperatures are around -3 degrees to -15 degrees.

Our bus passed through Nuweiba, a small city with a population of 20000, the main income of Nuweiba is import and export. Nuweiba has a port that ferries people to Aqaba, Jordan. The Red Sea extends for about 2,000 km and diverges into two smaller gulfs, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. Our route took us in between the two. Towards the end of Aqaba, there are four countries – Egypt (Taba), Israel (Eilat), Jordan (Aqaba), and Saudi Arabia. The guide said, “Our civilization started 7000 years ago, and we still have monuments of those times. We still have mummies because they believed in God, and they trust in God. We have the Temples, pyramids and monuments. The main God that the people believed in was the Sun God “Ra”. The Sun God was considered to be the King of Gods and the patron of the Pharaoh.”

Our tour guide Mido further said, “St Catherine believed in Jesus in 194 AD. Back then, Egypt was a different country that believed in different Gods. Jesus came to Egypt and stayed for a few years. St Mark from Libya came to Egypt in 60 AD and was the first Evangelist to come to Egypt. He started Christianity in 61 AD. From 61 to 67AD, St Mark lived in Egypt and spoke about Jesus and Christianity. After listening to his teachings, many converted to Christianity. Egypt was under the Roman empire since 30 BC. Some emperors were against Jesus and Christianity. Many Christians were killed at that time, and that period was called the Martyrs period. The first Martyrs period was during 194 AD when Maxentius was the Emperor”.

“Catherine was born to a Christian family. Her mother taught her about Jesus and his love for humankind. Catherine crossed many hurdles to meet Emperor Maxentius and spoke to him about Jesus. Maxentius told her that she was an eloquent speaker. He called 50 scholars to convince her to give up Christianity. She was 18 years old when 50 scholars tried to convert her, but instead, Catherine converted all the 50 scholars. Maxentius then had two options – to kill her or send her to prison. He chose the second option and sent her to jail. During her time in jail, she converted many people to Christianity. Maxentius  then sentenced her to death on the breaking wheel, but she did not die. Later, Maxentius beheaded her, and she became a martyr.”

When people forgot about Catherine, Emperor Constantine gave priority to Christianity. After Emperor Constantine’s death, his mother, St Helen, converted to Christianity and ordered the construction of many churches. St Catherine Chruch is one amongst them. In the 5th century, a priest living in Sinai had a dream of angels carrying the body of St Catherine from Alexandria to the mountain; the next day, the priest found the remains of St Catherine in the same place as his dream. The remains of St Catherine are on the mountain.

Inside the monastery, there is a mosque because there were many attacks on the church by the Barbarians. To protect the church and the priests, and stop the attacks on the church, one of the Muslim brothers built a mosque inside the church so that the Barbarians would think that it was a mosque and stop attacking. Photography is not allowed inside. We visited the chapel of the Burning Bush which is also known as the Chapel of St Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The Burning Bush Chapel is the holiest part of St Catherine Monastery.

After lunch, we visited the Well of Moses. The site was renovated in 2007. It is believed that Moses was on his way to Elim from Marah to meet his wife. There is a belief that whatever you ask in this place, you will receive it.

Our bus passed through the Suez Canal that was opened in 1869. Construction of the canal began in 1859, and it took ten years to complete the work. The Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway in Egypt that connects 195 km of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The canal was constructed by two countries with the help of a French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps. The French and British governments managed it from 1869 to 1956. When President Nasir nationalized the Suez canal, the income of the canal began flowing to Egypt. The canal is the second source of income for Egypt. All ships passing through it pay the toll in Dollars. Egypt’s main source of income is tourism, and the Suez Canal, with around 150 ships passing through every day. Photography is prohibited throughout the Suez Canal as it is guarded by the Military.

Muhammad Ali Pasha was the ruler of Egypt from 1805 to 1848. He controlled Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, Sudan, and parts of Arabia. Muhammad Ali Pasha is also known as the founder of modern Egypt, and he brought reforms in the Military, economic, and cultural spheres. Ali’s dynasty ruled until 1952.

After travelling for 12 hours, we finally reached Cairo. We had our dinner at the Hotel Swiss Inn and stayed overnight there.

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