Dig Israel Day 2 – Massada and Kfar Hanokdim

After all the hard work in the morning, digging for ancient treasures and climbing through tunnels, we visited Masada (Hebrew: מצדה), Israel’s most popular paid tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Picture of me in Masada
Picture of me in Masada

Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. The Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels holed up there.

The siege is a controversial event in Jewish history, marking radicalism on the one hand and heroic struggle on the other.

Asaf from the Dig Israel team shared with me how Masada always have a special place in his heart as this was where he was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Israel army. One thing which was a very easy conversation starter between a Singaporean man and an Israeli is the military service as both countries have a conscripted army.

The first thing that struck me about Masada was how vast and magnificent the area is. Masada is actually just an an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Due to it’s unique geography, Masada was a natural place for fortification, making it hard to capture for enemy troops. Yet the Roman built a steep, man-made ram and conquered it. Such is the twist and turn of ancient human civilisation.

The story of the siege is tragic on my hand, yet strangely dignified and gallant on the other. It is this kind of stuff that gets people debating, passing it on for generations.

My first glimpse of the plateau
My first glimpse of the plateau
Setting off
Setting off
Entering Masada National Park
Entering Masada National Park
We will be climbing up this plateau
We will be climbing up this plateau
Looks daunting isn't it? It's actually quite manageable if you walk slowly
Looks daunting isn’t it? It’s actually quite manageable if you walk slowly
And so we made our up, slowly
And so we made our up, slowly
Scenery on the way up
Scenery on the way up…
Looks mostly the same
Looks mostly the same
It gets steeper and narrower near the top
It gets steeper and narrower near the top
I managed to catch up and leave some others behind to get a picture of them
I managed to catch up and leave some others behind to get a picture of them
Just a bit more to the top
Just a bit more to the top
At the top of the Masada fort, we were greeted by our guide
At the top of the Masada fort, we were greeted by our guide
A model of how the fort looks like originally
A model of how the fort looks like originally
Walls of the Western Palace
Walls of the Western Palace
Anything below the blue line are original while those above are restoration
Anything below the blue line are original while those above are restoration
A majestic view
A majestic view
Herod's palace
Model of Herod’s palace
This should be where Herod's throne room was
This should be where Herod’s throne room was
The actual throne room
The actual throne room
Connected bathroom
Connected bathroom
Other rooms near the throne room
Other rooms near the throne room
Stairs leading down
Stairs leading down
More walls
More walls
Matan and Idan
Matan and Idan
Moving on to the next site
Moving on to the next site
You can see the Dead Sea
You can see the Dead Sea
Magnificent view that makes us realise how small we all are in this world
Magnificent view that makes us realise how small we all are in this world
A flying flag
A flying flag
The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries
The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries
Church wall and interior
Church wall and interior
Close-up of the wall motif
Close-up of the wall motif
The motif was created with small stones stuck into the wall
The motif was created with small stones stuck into the wall
All that left of the church
All that left of the church
Small intricate tiles on the floor of the church
Small intricate tiles on the floor of the church
A lone building in the distant
A lone building in the distant
This lone dude looks really cool sitting there fiddling with his mobile phone
This lone dude looks really cool sitting there fiddling with his mobile phone
Nice puffy clouds
Nice puffy clouds
The Commandant's Residence
The Commandant’s Residence
Remnants of painted wall
Remnants of painted wall
The commandant area
The commandant area
The sun is almost gone
The sun is almost gone
Our guide sharing on the history of Masada as we move along
Our guide sharing on the history of Masada as we move along
Pillar ring
Pillar ring
Willowy tree
Willowy tree
Amazing view of the Red Sea
Amazing view of the Red Sea
Wandering around
Wandering around
Me at the top of Masada fort
Me at the top of Masada fort
This view makes me feel so small!
This view makes me feel so small!
Yes, we are this small in this wide world.
Yes, we are this small in this wide world.
Looking down
Looking down
The place where the Jews defended themselves against the Roman
The place where the Jews defended themselves against the Roman
Lots of rocks
Lots of rocks
Scale model of King Herod's palace
Scale model of King Herod’s palace
A common little bird in Masada, forgot the name...
A common little bird in Masada, forgot the name…
Walking between rock walls
Walking between rock walls
Stairs
Stairs
A look-out point
A look-out point
The Breaching Point where the Jewish soldiers knew they lost the battle during the Siege of Masada
The Breaching Point where the Jewish soldiers knew they lost the battle during the Siege of Masada
Heading down the Roman ramp... was so much easier than climbing up
Heading down the Roman ramp… was so much easier than climbing up
It's still a pretty long walk though
It’s still a pretty long walk though
The route we took
The route we took
The sky was turning dark as we made our way down
The sky was turning dark as we made our way down

After Masada, we visited Kfar Hanokdim to learn more about the nomadic Bedouin, part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes, or clans.

Entrance to Kfar Hanokdim
Entrance to Kfar Hanokdim
Two musicians performing as we walked in
Two musicians performing as we walked in

The term “Bedouin” derives from a plural form of the Arabic word badawī, as it is pronounced in colloquial dialects. The Arabic term badawī (بدوي) which means “desert dweller”and derives from the word bādiyah (بَادِية), which means “plain” or “desert”. The term “Bedouin” therefore means, “those in bādiyah” or “those in the desert”.

Kfar Hanokdim is situated in Kana`im valley in the Judean desert, between the city of Arad and ancient Masada. It is a green oasis shaded by palm trees, gardens and Bedouin tents. Obviously, if the location of Kfar Hanokdim is fixed and not nomadic, it is set up more for tourist experience (it says so on their official website too), replicating the Bedouin way of life.

Interior of a colourful Bedouin tent
Interior of a colourful Bedouin tent
Charcoal fire roasted Bedourin coffee and tea
Charcoal fire roasted Bedouin coffee and tea
Areas to hang around
Areas to hang around
Inside a large tent shed
Inside a large tent shed
We were served with thirst quenching juice upon arrival
We were served with thirst quenching juice upon arrival
Palm trees
Palm trees
Colourful mats
Colourful mats
A Bedourin man came to share with us about his culture
A Bedouin man came to share with us about his culture
Bedourin coffee on the left and tea on the right
Bedourin coffee on the left and tea on the right
The others in my group enjoying their beverages
The others in my group enjoying their beverages
Showing us how to grind the coffee beans
Showing us how to grind the coffee beans
More resting areas
More resting areas
Water cooler
Water cooler
The place where we will be having our dinner
The place where we will be having our dinner

I quite enjoyed lazing in the Bedouin tent with the colourful mats and Arabic roasted coffee. We had a traditional Bedouin dinner at Kfar Hanokdim and the food was pretty delicious.

Dinner consists of Magluba – a rice and vegetable dish served on pita breads; a variety of salads and grilled meats, kebabs.

Dinner is served
Dinner is served
A variety of salads
A variety of salads
Pita bread
Pita bread
Me with the group I was seated with for dinner
Me with the group I was seated with for dinner
Mugluba
Mugluba
Tucking in
Tucking in
Someone brought a guitar for after dinner entertainment
Someone brought a guitar for after dinner entertainment
Group photo
Group photo

After dinner, I was so chill lying on the mat that I find it hard to stand up. Great food, new friends, great companionship, all this in the middle of the desert in Israel, far away from my island home Singapore. Surreal.

We still have lots more activities waiting for us though. We spent the night at Leonado Privilege Hotel Dead Sea, beside the Dead Sea which we will get to explore the next day.

The lobby of Leonado Privilege Hotel Dead Sea
The lobby of Leonado Privilege Hotel Dead Sea
The shower! Just what I need after a long, hot, sticky day!
The shower! Just what I need after a long, hot, sticky day!
My cosy room... I fell asleep early
My cosy room… I fell asleep early

By the time our bus reached the hotel from Hanokdim, it was already past nine and I was pretty tired from a long day. While some of the more energetic ones went to check out the Dead Sea, I decided to leave that as a treat for the next morning.

Stay tuned to my next blog post on the Dead Sea and more. 🙂

For all my posts on Dig Israel, CLICK HERE.

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