This was the closest we got to Israel.
Yupp, right on the other side of the Jordan River is Israel.
We visited Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, a holy site where Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist. Bethany is located within a military zone, guarded by armed soldiers at the entry/exit point as well as within - well there was one soldier at the river, he looked quite bored I must say so there must've been no action or misbehaving tourists so far :P
I must say that the Israel complex looked much better than the Jordan side. We did not see anyone, save for two persons doing some kind of maintenance work at one far end.
We were warned not to look or say anything or even wave to anyone on the Israel side - if any one were to call out or say something to us, we were to ignore them completely. I don't know what the soldiers would do to any one who failed to comply - the guide did not mention. Thankfully, I thought, no one was on the Israel side - out of friendliness some one might just forget the warning and wave to them!
There was some walking involved under the hot sun. Hmm, I think it was less than 20 minutes one way.
The Bethany 'complex' - we were ferried on a bus from the Visitor Centre to the Baptism Site, and each group has to be led by a tour guide. Buses left at every half hour if I remember correctly. I do remember the abundance of flies - yes, as in lalat - probably from the farming/agriculture areas nearby.
That's our guide on the left ("You see there, that's Jericho. You know Jericho? Jericho! You must know Jericho!" - duh), and Sue (traveller, on RTW trip) on the right. The trees on the sides are some kind of willow trees, according to the guide.
Dipping my hand into the water - yes, I maintained perfect balance and did not fall into the river, much as I would like to just to find out what they'll do with me, haha. And it was a very hot day, a dip would've been heavenly. Okay, that thought is definitely not appropriate at a holy site. Sorry, my bad :X.
I guessed this contained Holy Water from the River. I did not have a bottle with me. No one did I think.
Prior to this trip, I did not read much on the history of the Baptism Site *shame* unfortunately, but the guide dispensed enough general facts about the site. So any inaccuracy here is due to my ignorance.
Pilgrims started coming here in the early ADs. The actual Baptism Site has been excavated only recently in 1996 (following Jordan's peace treaty with Israel in 1994) and identified based on early writings by pilgrims which said that there were marble steps leading down to the baptismal spot. More than 20 ancient sites have been found so far.
The three structures are remains of chapels built during the Byzantine era. The one on top of the hill in the background is the Church of St John, where there were some remnants of mosaic and marble floors.
The steps are said to be made of marble.
View from another angle.
A short description.
Early pilgrims etched crosses onto the stones to mark their pilgrimages.
After centuries, the river no longer exists there and has meandered its course nearby. The River Jordan is now not so much of a river, more like a winding murky green stream in the middle of a desert. Apparently it winds so much from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea that it is 130 miles long instead of 60 if it were to run straight.
Message from the late King Hussain.
Towards the river.
Ermm. Yes. This is part of the river.
Pope Benedict XVI visited Bethany mid-last year (I didn't know that, I thought this was the previous Pope) accompanied by HMs King and Queen of Jordan, as depicted by this tiled artwork.
The Greek Orthodox St John the Baptist Church which the Pope laid the foundation stone during his visit.
I love the bright blue skies here. Yes it was hot and dry.
I think the guide said that other side is Jerusalem.
And that's the city of Jericho.
So here my feet in red selipar rested for a while on the east bank of Jordan River.
I kept imagining how it was like in Bethany thousands of years ago when the people lived and moved around in this hot and dry desert conditions.
Made me shut up and think for a while.