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With Kashmir Valley in lockdown, Israeli tourists prolong stay in Leh


Press Trust of India Leh
From streets to hotels and restaurants to monasteries, Israelis are all over Leh to enjoy the pristine beauty of Ladakh after cancelling their Kashmir Valley plans due to the lockdown.
In markets and public places, one can hear Ladakhi and Hebrew being spoken and shops have tailored their menus to suit Israeli taste buds as a large number of them are currently staying in Leh town.
The nearly month-long lockdown in the Valley has prompted most of the Israeli travellers to cancel their Kashmir itinerary and prolong their stay in Leh, turning the city into a 'Little Israel' of sorts.
Ayelet Hod, 23, a native of Haifa in Isarel, and her husband Nitai Hod, 23 from Tel Aviv, both orthodox Jewish, arrived in India recently on their maiden visit to the country. But, before they could make any plans for Kashmir valley, the lockdown happened.
We were all set to visit Kashmir, as it one of the most beautiful places on earth. But, we are aware of the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, especially after abrogation of the provision of the Article 370, so we decided to cancel the trip and continue in Ladakh, Ayelet told PTI.
Deeply religious, the couple, said the hotel they are staying in at Leh town, has practically everyone from Israel, except a few Indian guests.
And, indeed it is the scenario at Hotel Green View too, overlooking the beautiful snow-capped mountains and the sound of a river stream playing in the background, where several men wearing kippah and women wearing tichel, can be seen reciting Torah in the lawns, at regular intervals.
Stanzin Namzang, manager of the hotel, said, We have 13 rooms and barring 4-5 rooms, all have been taken up by Israelis. Same is the situation in many other hotels too. Israelis love Ladakh and the French too.
Ayelet said, the couple chose to visit India because, in this one country, a person can see both beaches in Goa and mountains in Ladakh, and it is "cheaper to travel to India".
Our country has Jordan River and Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on land, and many people come to see that. But, what we like about Ladakh is its mountains, particularly its dry, brown mountains, which we don't get to see back home, she said.
Nitai, who is studying religion, said, the couple have planned to go on a long cycle ride across Ladakh valley, just to admire the mountains.
"There is a jeep with a hired driver who will be following us, in case we fall of exhaustion, Ayelet said.
In Leh, a walk in the streets is enough to tell that Israelis outnumber all foreign tourists significantly, and several shops even offer kosher food.
Elii Dorhaim, 58, an Israeli actor said, he and his wife, Hagid Greenstein had also planned to visit Kashmir, but the situation there is quite volatile, so we decided to cancel it.
We are going to spend that time in Leh-Ladakh, which is just heavenly in terms of its natural beauty. And, with so many Israelis in Leh, it feels like I am back in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Leh has sort of become a 'Little Israel', Dorhaim said.
Standing in Leh's main market, a beautiful pedestrianised space, he points to a huge cloth banner that reads 'Thank you Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making Ladakh a UT', and said, he has been reading about the situation in Israeli media, when asked if he was aware of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir Valley has been under lockdown for nearly a month, since the Centre abrogated provisions of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into UTs J&K and Ladakh

In Buddhist-dominated Leh district, people are largely happy about getting a UT status, however sections of people in Muslim-dominated Kargil district of Ladakh have been protesting the decision.
Shay Ron, 23, another Israeli tourist, who quit his job as a data analyst to travel to India said, many of his countrymen are travelling to India, as it is a summer break there.
Also, all men and women have to mandatorily do service in Israeli armed forces for a couple of years. I finished mine last year, but I wanted to take a break, so I chose India, he said.
Ron is travelling to Ladakh with his friend R L Weitz, 24, and both left Leh a few days ago to visit Nubra Valley, about 150 km from here. Ladakh is sheer beauty and gives us a true sense of adventure, he said.
Asked about the influx of Israelis in Leh, he said in a lighter vein, We left Israel to take a break from our own country, but seeing so many Israelis around, I feel I am still in my own country.
Dave Fleming, a New Zealander, travelling with his friends to Ladakh, said, Everywhere in Leh, we are running into Israelis. Leh has turned into a 'Little Israel' I guess, and Kashmir's tourism loss is Ladakh's gain it seems.

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First Published: Aug 30 2019 | 2:10 PM IST

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