Masada – isn’t that a curry? I hear you ask. Y’know, that chicken tikka masada you always get at the Indian restaurant, along with poppadoms and pint of lager.
No, I said Masada, not masala.
I must say I am completely ignorant of anyone climbing masala curries for fun, but who knows, perhaps in some dark corner of Brexit Britain this has become a new sport among desperate politicians; quick, climb that tikka masala before its too late!
But I digress.
Where were we? Or rather, where was I?
Well, I was nineteen years old, and spent three months of my gap year as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel. It was 1993.
More specifically, I spent one morning climbing Masada, to watch the sunrise from the top.
What is Masada? Well, its the remains of a fortress built by King Herod in 30 BCE, at the top of a high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, in the Judaean Desert. Its one of many significant archaeological sites in Israel, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A couple of friends and I were staying in a youth hostel in Jerusalem and booked ourselves onto an organised trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. Unfortunately, this meant getting up at the highly unreasonable time of 3 o’clock in the morning. (In the morning? Really, shouldn’t it be called 3 o’clock in the night?)
Somehow I did wake up at 3 o’clock in the night (I mean morning) and met my friends downstairs in the youth hostel. Bleary-eyed, we made our way through the warren of alleys and streets that make up the oldest parts of Jerusalem to find our minibus.
After an hour or so we arrived at the foot of Masada, in the desert, in the dark. The climb up Masada isn’t very long (it takes about an hour) but it is very steep. No-one climbs it in the afternoon because of the sweltering heat, but ascending to watch the sunrise is a popular tourist activity.
The views from the top were wonderful. I remember feeling so lucky, to be standing there, looking out over the desert and the Dead Sea, and trying to picture all of the other people over the centuries who have stood in the same spot, admiring the same view.
These days there is a cable car you can ride to the top, and a museum, too, but neither of those things were there during my visit in 1993.
Masada has a dark history. In the year 72, the Roman army put Masada under siege, even building a massive ramp out of stones and rocks in order to reach the top, and the 960 Jewish zealots who lived there decided to commit suicide rather than be killed by the advancing Romans.
Standing there among the ruins it was difficult not to think of the events that happened so long ago.