There is no doubt that the consequences of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict have reached far and wide. Israel will always be the number one destination for pilgrims. The difficulties of recent months, however, have certainly persuaded many to consider alternative destinations in the short term.
Tours, of course, can be more than just sightseeing trips by offering, on occasion, opportunities to meet local Christian communities, thereby providing a unique experience and bringing an added dimension to the holiday. Many people appreciate the fellowship and value friendships formed during these times away. Discover some of the exciting destinations on offer to pilgrims.
One of my recent visits was to
Armenia. This Transcaucasian republic is a former Soviet republic, which became independent from the USSR in 1991 and has rightly been called an open-air geological and archaeological museum. Since prehistoric times Armenians have been famous for their architecture. The remains of countless temples, churches and fortresses, as well as its natural beauty, make this small countrysuch a magnet for the visitor. Armenia is only now reestablishing itself as a tourist destination. With special celebrations this year to mark 1,700 years since the adoption of Christianity as a state religion, interest in visiting this remarkable country is growing.
Yerevan • is the capital of Armenia. It is one of the world's most ancient cities, reputed to be as old as Babylon and Rome and originally built by King Argistis in 782 AD. The modem city of Yerevan is built with "Tuffa", the country's pink volcanic stone. The city stands on the banks of the Razdan river in the Ararat valley and is dominated by the spectacular twin peaks of Mount Ararat (which are now in neighbouring Turkey), the reputed resting place of Noah's Ark.
Yerevan boasts the Matendadaran Museum, the world's biggest repository of priceless, ancient manuscripts and unique collections tracing Armenia's turbulent history and culture. This is an easy and interesting city to explore, with wide avenues lined with trees, large squares and green parks. The fascinating Vernisaj art market is an ideal place to wander through at weekends.
Although Iran is not often associated with Christianity, there are a number of biblical sites to visit. When one of our groups arrived back from their recent visit to Iran, they commented "We really enjoyed the openness and friendliness of the Iranians ... a wonderful and exciting tour, the hotel, food and guides were superb."
A visit to Persepolis makes a visit to Persia worthwhile. There is no sight on earth that can prepare you for the majesty of the ruins of Persepolis, the remains of King Darius' 2,500 year-old spring palace. The approach is down a long treelined avenue and at the end, set back against the hills, sits one of the wonders of the ancient world. It is truly breathtaking.
The stairway was built to be wide enough for horses to ascend; the 12-metre columns are topped by bulls, lions and other legendary animals; there are more than 3,000 delicately carved rock reliefs in the walls; and in the king's private room ancient stone mirrors survive.
Persepolis is not all that Iran offers; there is so much more to see. Near Persepolis are the mausoleums of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III and a short drive away is the tomb of King Cyrus the Great who sent the Jews back to Israel. In nearby Shiraz, the city of flowers, are the mausoleums of the poets Hefei and Sa-adi and further north is the mediaeval capital of Isfahan, with royal mosques, a palace of 40 columns and the Khadjo bridges.
Further west is Susa, the ancient capital of Persia where Esther was queen, and near here is the alleged grave of the Bible prophet, Daniel. And in all these cities there are the old
bazaars with the finest carpets.
miniatures and Khatem frames in the world.
When the official sight-seeing and shopping is over there is delicious Persian food — you can eat in the best restaurants for a very modest price — and the comforts of the country's most luxurious hotels.
For something quite different, South Africa and a tour of the Western Cape and Garden Route offers groups the opportunity to focus on the magnificent scenery, natural beauty and varied attractions of southern Africa.
Travellers are drawn from all around the world because South Africa is unique in what it has to offer ... modern cities ... remote bush camps and abundant wildlife ... mountain grandeur ... endless seashores. A place where ethnic African cultures blend with those from the east and west to create a colourful mixture found nowhere else. Experience the world in one country!
Cape Town — the "Mother City" — lies in the shadow of Table Mountain which provides a magnificent setting for one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has everything to offer, from the bustling waterfront, quiet vineyards and excellent beaches to scenic drives, Cape Point, the Good Hope nature reserve and much more!
The Garden Route encompasses a region along the southern coast of Africa. It is like the Lake District where mountains meet the sea. Indigenous forests with their giant Yellowwoods and beauti ful river estuaries mix in a way only nature could design. Combine a tour with visiting the churches, the mission stations, the cathedrals, African townships, nature reserves and national parks for a truly memorable experience and in the company of Christian guides.
India offers opportunities to visit parts of this vast country where missionary work has been very prominent and faithfully maintained over the years. Delhi, the capital, provides interesting sightseeing — in Old Delhi the Gandhi Museum, Red Fort, Raj Ghat and Chandani Chowak and in New Delhi Humayun's Tomb, India Gate Diplomatic Enclave and the Bible Institute.
Take the Shatabadi Express to Jaipur and an excursion to Agra for a visit to the worldfamous Taj Mahal. Experience a boat trip on the River Ganges before taking the overnight first-class, air-conditioned sleeper to Calcutta. From here you may take an excursion to Serempore, a magnificent place in the life of the Baptist Missionary Society missionaries in India, particularly the Serempore trio, Ward, Marshman and Carey, who operated here in the early 1880s.
In Calcutta there are many churches to visit and the cathedral of St Paul. No journey to Calcutta is complete without calling in at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and the William Carey Baptist College. For an alternative Holy Land tour, I would strongly recommend incorporating Jordan.
Situated at the cross-roads of the Middle East and three continents — Europe, Asia and Africa -= Jordan is a land of variety and fascination. The country boasts a number of world-famous historical sites, notably Petra and Jerash, as well as the spectacular landscapes of Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, the rolling hills in the north and the stunning coral reefs of the Red Sea. The ' unique beauty of Jordan and the hospitality and friendliness of the people make travelling in Jordan an extremely rewarding and pleasurable experience. Amman is the capital and largest city in Jordan. It is built on seven mountains (as is Rome), which are referred to as "Jebels" and define the city's neighbourhoods. Through the ages the city has been renamed by those in power; during biblical times it was known as Rabbath Ammon, as Philadelphia when it was part of the Roman empire and only became known as Amman (after the biblical tribe the Ammonites) once the Arabs had taken over in 635 AD.
Petra is undoubtedly Jordan's most famous attraction and justifiably so, being among the most impressive historical sites in the whole of the Middle East. The huge temple façades carved into the sandstone rock of Petra are truly awe-inspiring and all the more so for their impregnable location, surrounded by imposing mountains and approached through a deep narrow cleft called the sig. It was the first settlers in 800 BC, the Nabataen tribe, who carved this incredible "rose red city".
A tour to Jordan, of course, is not complete without a visit to Mount Nebo from where Moses viewed the Promised Land and on a clear day you may see as far as Jerusalem. Jordan's remarkable variety of habitats — from rugged mountains and evergreen woodlands to scrubby steppe and hot deserts — makes it an ideal destination for bird-watchers. Why not combine bird-watching with trips to some of the Middle East's most awesome ancient and natural wonders? Now that there is an end to the civil war, Lebanon has much to offer the tourist. Lebanon is currently rebuilding its former image as the Switzerland of the Middle East.
The most outstanding example of Roman ruins to be found in the country are at Baalbek. Baalbek's temple complex is the best preserved of any found in the Middle East, with its buildings still largely intact. The temples of Venus, Jupiter and Bacchus are awesome in their sheer scale and date as far back as the end of the third millennium BC. Byblos, with traces of settlement stretching back through 7 millennia, and Tyre and Sidon, two coastal cities, are well worth a visit.
Combine a visit to Lebanon with Syria, positioned at the meeting point of Europe, Africa and Asia and on the vital trading routes to the Mediterranean. Visitors are impressed at the immense historical heritage, comprising numerous Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader monuments and ancient sites throughout the country.
Damascus is not only the capital of Syria, but it is also the largest city, with a population of approximately 2 million. Damascus, whose origins can be traced back to 5000 BC, claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited capital in the world.
• Jocelyn Pimm is managing director or Worldwide Christian Travel (lel: 0117 973 1840; e-mail: [email protected] ltd.uk; web Site www.christ ian-travel.com).