The Himachali people understand basic Hebrew – shalom (hello), sticha (excuse me) and schnitzel (boneless meat) – as well as they understand their own language. They welcome young Israelis into their homes and share the same food, without any reservations.
This familiarity is the result of a mutually beneficial relationship. The foreigners supply dollars in return for the privilege to treat the remote mountain villages as their home, no questions asked.
According to Israel’s biggest travel agency, Israeli Student Travel Association, 30,000 Israelis visit Asia and South America annually. These are mostly youngsters in the age group of 20-24years who have completed mandatory military service from the Israeli Defense Forces.
I have always admired the free spirit of these young men and women who set out to conquer the world. My recent travels to Himachal have helped me uncover some of the reasons behind their wanderlust. There is a lot more to them than meets the eye.
Rite to passage
Three years on the front lines takes its toll. Daniel Barnea, a student at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told me about a sticky situation in which he found himself in during his stint in the army. “I detained a Palestinian man for breaking the law. The crowd in the surrounding buildings started to pelt stones at my regiment. It was a volatile situation and I had to choose between words and bullets.”
A period of travel eases the transition from military to civilian life. It gives youngsters the freedom and allows them to blow off steam. Daniel trekked in India, Nepal, and Kazakhstan for almost a year before heading home for a college education.
I was surprised to hear that many Israelis travel without any real passion for travel. “It has become a cliche,” said Boaz, a friend who trekked with me to Triund near Dharamshala. “Everybody travels after military service, whether they like it or not. It is almost a rite to passage.”
The good life
They don’t run to Taj Mahal on arrival. Their ideal destinations are remote Himalayan towns, coastal villages near Goa and quiet places in South India. They almost make these villages their own. If you find one Israeli somewhere, you will surely find many.
The Parvati Valley is the hotbed of this recreational immigration. The readily available drugs, peaceful environment and prospect of rave parties draws many foreigners to this hill station. There is complete freedom to do anything or nothing if you so choose.
“Many of us wake up in the afternoon, have a leisurely breakfast, browse the net and by that time half the day is gone. And then it is time to eat again,” said Eyla Resh, an American Jewish artist.
Kasol also has a Chabad (prayer place) for the Israeli community at the end of the market. It is open and accessible to people of all communities and looked after by a soft-spoken priest. They have built their own nest here and are at ease with the surroundings.
Easy on the pocket
The mountains are pocket friendly destinations and the money exchange rate allows them to make the most of their savings. The daily expense comes to about 25 dollars (1,250 rupees), including lodging. Therefore, Israelis can easily spend six months to one year without any financial constraints, many enjoy the life so much they never return.
A hostile neighbourhood
Israel is a small piece of land (one-third the size of Uttar Pradesh), and the immediate neighbourhood is full of hostile countries. It gives them another reason to look eastwards for safe travel options. India is one of the most safe destinations with no known prejudice against Jews. Yoga and spirituality only add to India’s allure.
These are some of the many reasons that drive Israelis to India. It is comfortable almost to the point of spoiling them sick. Some of them lose their way and become a part of the blatant drug abuse. However, I have had only positive experiences with them; I call some of them close friends.One thing is certain: Whether you like them or hate them, you can’t avoid them.