My desire to visit Lebanon awakened years ago, when I started reading the works of the great poet Khalil Gibran in my adulthood, and it only strengthened when I moved to Dubai and had Lebanese co-workers. So, having been on my bucket-list since so many years, I finally set out on an unforgettable journey to explore Lebanon, known to many as the “Paris of the Middle East”!
Passport stamping was quite comfortable at the immigration once I reached Beirut International airport. After collecting my luggage, I came out of the airport and started looking for a taxi. The taxis were a bit expensive – it costed me around 20$ for the journey to my hotel, which was almost 10km away from the airport.
After checking into my hotel, I took some tour brochures from the reception and started looking for attractions in Lebanon. I had already planned to visit Raouche Rocks, Cedars of God, Jeitta Grotto and of course, Khalil Gibran’s museum!
After getting some rest at the hotel, I stepped out to explore the neighbourhood and to eat something. Luckily there were some restaurants nearby, and I ordered a Shawarma, which was quite delicious!
For the next day, I pre-booked a taxi with my hotel, which would take me on a tour of Cedars of God (an extensive forest of Cedars, a tree that Lebanon is famous for) and Gibran’s museum. This entire tour cost me $100, including the taxi drive to and fro. The drive was excellent. Every bit of it was so scenic and beautiful, as we drove past lush greenery and plenty of charming, small, towns and villages on the way.
After around a 3-hour drive, I reached the Cedar Forest, commonly known as Cedars of God, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The air was quite chilly here, as this forest is nearly 1600+ meters above sea level. Although there’s no entrance ticket, you are expected to contribute some donation. Please be generous to help the Friends of Cedars of Lebanon State Park association, to preserve and promote the beauty of the forest.
There is a gorgeous walking trail which takes you to explore the forest strewn with tall cedars, some of which are hundreds of years old. The history of Cedars dates back over 5,000 years. Unfortunately, after centuries of persistent deforestation, the extent of these forests has been markedly reduced. As Khalil Gibran aptly describes, “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.”
However, the good news is, that the forest is now being rigorously protected and a reforestation program was initiated in 1985, by the Friends of Cedars of Lebanon State Park. If you visit the forest during the winter months, you’ll be blessed with incredible scenery, with the trees covered in a soft blanket of snow.
I also came across a big tree on my way, which had sculptures carved into it by a Lebanese artist. After nearly an hour-long relaxed and peaceful walk through the forest, I headed to Gibran’s museum.
While driving to Gibran’s museum, I felt a special connection with him as I had been reading his books since my teenage years, and I’ve always admired this celebrated author, poet, and painter.
“Trust in dreams, for in them is the hidden gate to eternity.” – Gibran
Once at the museum, I stopped by each of his paintings and works, and tried to delve into it further. Finally, I headed to the section downstairs which is Gibran’s final resting place. This section was dark, with just a slight beam of light, and the following lines inscribed:
“I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you.”
On my way back, I stopped at the city of Byblos and saw the sun setting in the sea, before continuing my journey back to Beirut. I was already tired after the day-long trip, and preferred to chill at the hotel, rather than heading out again. I had dinner at the restaurant located on the ground floor. Some locals were enjoying their drinks; I initiated a conversation with them and we all admired the beauty of Lebanon together. They were very friendly and gave me insights into the history and culture of Lebanon.
The next day, I found the same taxi driver waiting in front of the hotel. I had made plans to visit the Jeita Grotto, which is a system of two interconnected limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres!
The lower grotto is remarkably beautiful, and you can explore its beauty on a boat tour. Cameras are not allowed on the tour, however, I sneaked two pictures. Sorry! The boat ride takes you inside the cave, floating over the beautiful, clean water – such an amazing experience!
On the way back, I stopped at the significant landmark of Lebanon – the famous Raouche rocks, also known as ‘Pigeon Rocks’. This is a breath-taking spot to soak in beautiful views of these fascination rock formations, overlooking the deep blue sea. I hired a boat to explore these signature cliffs.
WATCH: Lebanon in Pictures!
In the evening I went bar-hopping, see people enjoying the pub life. On the streets, I struck up a conversation with a friendly man standing next to me, who happened to be a banker by profession. We chatted for a long time; he told me how lively the Lebanese are and how much they love partying. I still remember and cherish his hospitality!
The following day, I took a flight back home. It was such a satisfying journey. I am happy that I visited this lovely country and hopefully, I’ll revisit it someday, in winter!