Journey through Sinai peninsula
We are on our way to Egypt, a 14 hours continuous drive started early morning from Jerusalem and halted for our break fast in a restaurant near Dead sea. Our Guide Mr. Fahdi and the driver Mr. Mahmood who arranged our entire tour in Jerusalem are all the way with us and they will accompany us until the border of Israel and from there another Egyptian team will take over our tour. Good arrangements by the tourism companies. Our next destination is Taba, the border crossing point between Israel and Egypt.
Taba border crossing point
After an exhaustive long drive we reached Israeli side of border crossing point at Taba located between Israel and Egyptian administered Sinai peninsula. Our bus left us at a point earlier and we had to walk in a single line one behind the other all the way with our baggage almost half a kilometer through the pavement. Photography was not permitted beyond this point. Security was pretty tight here. Red light indicates to wait until you are called upon. You better strictly follow these rules unless looking for troubles. Black uniformed young female commandos manage the entire immigration and customs control at Taba, very smart females and I was amazed to see their professionalism.
Once we have come out of Israeli clearing point after the formalities, we had to go to the Egyptian immigration at the same place for the entry formalities to their country. A representative from the Egyptian touring company received us at the Egyptian immigration building and helped us out. As we came out of Egyptian immigration, bus arranged by tourist company of Egypt was waiting for us with a beautiful lady guide on board.
This triangular piece of land is situated between Mediterranean sea on the north, Red sea on south and Gulf of Suez on to the west with Gulf of Aqaba being on to the east (Requested to refer the location map of Sinai Peninsula above). The peninsula remains under the control of Egypt from the first Egyptian dynasty until today. However It was under Ottoman Empire occupation, and then with United Kingdom. Later occupied by Jews but based on 1979 peace treaty Jews with drew from the last territory of Sinai Peninsula which is Taba.
Our journey continued through the planes of peninsula after leaving Taba border control and next destination being Catherine Monastery at the foot hills of Sinai mountain located south of Sinai. Though bit tired of journey started since morning, I was enjoying the long distant view of unpolluted purity of Sinai yellow sand dunes visible through partially opened curtaines of the Bus window.
As the bus sped through Sinai desert, the young lady guide Normeen was explaining about Moosa Nabi (Moses) and how he happened to reach her land of Egypt and she was indeed very proud in giving her explanation. I kept memorizing the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in bible and the possible difficulties Israelite must have come across in the desert in a period almost 3000 yrs ago.
As we reached closer to the monastery the geography of the land was completely changing and was looking entirely different at this high land area of Sinai. It was mountainous region instead of desert and yellow sand. It was not rocky but mineral rich flaky mountains on either sides of the road. We reached the junction on the main road from where there is an off shoot ascending towards south going to the monastery. you can choose to walk, use pick ups or donkey service given by Bedouin community living in the desert. I decided walking to stretch and give exercise to legs sitting immobile for long and also enabling me to shoot some beautiful pictures from the area.
St. Catherine's Monastery is an Orthodox monastery on the Sinai peninsula at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt. One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, St. Catherine's incorporates the burning bush seen by Moses and contains many valuable icons. Above the monastery is Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Because God spoke to Moses in these places, this area is sacred to three world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site. According to the UNESCO report this monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. Christian orthodoxies settled upon this mountain in the third century and they built the monastery during the 4th century. Monastery is surrounded on all sides by a massive wall 2.5 m wide and 11m high. This is the wall provided by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
Burning bush of Moses at the Monastery
The holiest part of the monastery is the large living shrub that is said to be a direct descendant of the very burning bush that was seen by Moses at Mount Sinai. In the early 4th century, St. Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, built the Chapel of the Burning Bush at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the miracle.
Well of Moses
In the premises of Catherine monastery also locates a well, traditionally believed as the well of Moses at this sight. A continued supply of fresh water is provided to the monastery by the Well of Moses, which taps an underground spring. According to tradition, this stands on the very spot where Moses met his future wife, Zipporah, after protecting her and her sisters from an aggressive group of local shepherds (Exodus 2:16-21).
Jethro was the priest of Midian and Moses' wife Zipporah was the one of the seven daughters of the priest Jethro. (Read Bible Exodus 18)
Skulls of the monks who lived here in the monastery is preserved at the monastery. Next to the garden is the Cemetery and Charnel House. When the monks die, they are first buried in the cemetery, then after decay their bones are disinterred and deposited in the Charnel House (a crypt beneath the Chapel). Visitors are able to view the great pile of thousands of skulls of past monks.
Mount Sinai is 2285 meter (7497 feet) high near St. Catherine Monastery in Sinai region - Egypt. According to books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in bible, after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Israelite arrived at the foot of mount Horeb and gathered there in anticipation of the words of God. Moses was called in by the God to go by the cliff of this holy mountain to receive the "Ten Commandments" for Israelite to follow with out fail. Mount Horeb is another name of mount Sinai.
People from different parts of the world arrive Sinai and start their climb early morning at 1'o clock for enjoying the fabulous view of sun rise and also they camp themselves there for not to miss the beauty of sun emerging above the mountain. Mystic formation of mount Sinai itself is an exotic view, you may see the picture shot from the top of the mountain.
There are people traveling by midnight from Taba and reaching the climbing point of mount Sinai at 3 in the morning. They start hiking ASAP to occupy the best viewing point at the summit of the mountain. It is cold out there and it is 7 km steep climb through very ruff terrain. Not recommended for children and disabled,
However hiking of Sinai mountain is a highlight and very inspiring since it is part of pilgrimage and when mind is filled with knowing how Moses did went up the mountain to receive God. There are donkey service provided by Bedouin community and they also provide tea, biscuits and other eatable in small huts erected on the way.
Believe it or not there is a chapel at the pinnacle of mount Sinai owned by Greek Orthodox Church. You can see the passage which takes you to the cliff. The main route to the summit is known as the Path of Moses. This photograph is shot from the summit where the Holy Trinity Church is located.
Chapel of the Holy Trinity
The summit of the mountain has a Greek Orthodox chapel, constructed in 1934 on the ruins of a 16th century church, and it is not open to the public. The chapel encloses the rock which is considered to be the source for the biblical Tablets of Stone. The summit also has the "Moses' cave", where Moses was said to have waited to receive the Ten Commandments.
Pilgrims on their way of descend after viewing the sun rise from the cliff and after making their tribute to the church atop. This little hut you see is just below the Greek orthodox church situated at the summit
We walked our way in company of our guide back to the bus waiting down hill. it was late in the evening, as soon as we all got in, the bus took its momentum for our night stay in a hotel on our way. We had a hot shower in our hotel room and rushed for a full course dinner. Returned to room had a nice sleep and after an early break fast we pushed off to Suez canal for crossing to the main land of Egypt.
Journey through Sinai peninsula thus became a fond memory to cherish for a life time. Recommend you to undertake this inspiring journey.