Introduction by Rana:

In 2013, we went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and I included several posts on our trip. Since then I have told quite a few people – mostly Indian Christians – that it was one of the more fulfilling trips that we have undertaken.

My brother, Peter (Eapen Joseph Panicker) went with his wife, Shiny, and several others and used the same tour operator that we did – Royal Omania Tours in Kochi. He kept a journal of his trip to the Holy Land and he recently shared it with family and friends. He did a far better job than I did in recording the different facets of the pilgrimage. He gave me permission to publish the relevant excerpts from their journey.

What follows over the next several posts is a day by day account of Peter’s journey.


Kochi to Amman, Jordan

The tour officially started on an early Thursday morning at Nedumbassery Airport. Outside the airport to meet us was Bindu, a young woman with a friendly and ready smile, and who for the next 10 days will be our tour guide.

Soon she was joined by others in our group who stood in the front of the airport with varying sizes of luggage, some of them had already donned what looked like red caps. There must have been at least 30 of us who had gathered, Bindu was there to make sure that the head count matched what she had on her sheet and then handed us the first of the Royal Omania giveaways, a shoulder bag and a red cap emblazoned with the Royal Omania tour logo. This cap was later on described by our daughters as our MAGA (make America great again!) look alike caps. As we filed into the airport Bindu took charge of getting us situated, the air travel to and fro from the Holy Land countries had been handled by her tour agency

Our flight from Kochi to Amman was on an Emirates Airlines with a stopover in Dubai. For those of us who do the round trip  to India from the US subjected to those long hours of travel time, this 4 hour plus journey was a quick one arriving in Dubai around noon local time. It’s at Dubai that we were joined by the rest of our group from the US, and adding them our group had swelled to 48 people. Two hours later we were on the next Emirates flight from Dubai to Jordan which was even a shorter flight 3 1/2 hours to Amman – Queen Alia airport. All travel formalities were handled by the capable Bindu. When the formalities were completed our motley group, friendly and seemingly happy to have each others company got on the bus,  which for the next two days would take us around Amman and as we learned later, the same bus would transport us all the way to the Israeli border. After the luggage was loaded we went straight to the hotel. Initially it did not strike me that a lot of the public transportation especially tourist buses, were Mercedes Benz. The seating was quite comfortable with a decent amount of legroom. The buses are equipped with a speaker system and above all driven by competent drivers in the countries we visited – Jordan, Israel, Palestine & Egypt.

Our all Malayalee group, the majority who reside in India some working a few retirees. There were two nuns, 16 were NRI’s mostly from the US. There was a young couple from England and one from Australia.  Apart from the young couple, our age group hovered between 50 and late 60’s – there may have been a couple who were in their early 70’s. The young couple from England, Roy & Aneena would from time to time infuse some youthful enthusiasm to our group.

As we got out of the bus at our hotel in Amman, which was,  if my memory serves me right, called Arena Space, by American standards we sure looked an interesting group, with some of  our sari-clad tourists wearing the MAGA type caps – very different looking Trump supporters. The room we stayed in, as in most of the hotel rooms that Royal Omania had arranged for us, were comfortable and clean. By  US standards in the 3 star range – the hotel food and restaurants were also decent, the food offered during the whole trip was local cuisine, Middle Eastern – usually a variety of salads, humous, fish and meats included chicken, grilled and kofta either lamb or beef with fruit, and fruit juices also coffee or tea.

At Kochi airport  with our friends and fellow parishioners K.Matthew and Chinnamma, from the US

Bags packed and ready.

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