Somewhere in Judea Mountains there is a hidden stream. Its name in Hebrew – katlav - means a name of a tree, the eastern strawberry tree, that many legends have been told about its reddish-brown branches . Hiking this stream combines the splendid coolness of spring exploration together with the impressive green of Jerusalem Mountains. I have found that supplemental for visiting the stream, touring the Sorek Cave is also highly recommended, because this stalactite cave is near the stream; entrance to the cave includes admission fee and the cave is immensely spectacular.
he 5-km [3-miles] itinerary is suitable for families throughout the whole year; duration for completing it takes 4 hours, not including the Sorek cave. Note that the second part of the circular route includes a difficult climb and probably only good walkers will enjoy it; however a milder down-stream version may suit better but entails having a second vehicle left at the end of the route. Visiting the cave is suitable for wheelchairs and baby buggies.
After driving to Route 38 (Sha'ar HaGay - Beit-Shemesh - Beit Guvrin) turn into the main entrance to Beit-Shemesh and follow the road signs that direct to the Stalactite Cave. Leave Beit-Shemesh behind you while heading east on Route 3855 until arriving at a turn left toward Nes Harim and Bar Giora (look for the road signs for the Stalactite Cave).
In this junction follow the road signs, turn left and start ascending with the road (3866). Another 9-km [5.5 miles] and you’ll notice to your left an information booth of the Israel Nature Parks Authority and soon after that leave the road and drive your car next to the information booth on a dirt road leading to the parking lot of Katlav stream.
To the none-circular route– for those who prefer to avoid climbing back to the car after descending to the stream (this steep climb is suitable for good-walkers) it is recommendable to leave a second vehicle at the end of the route. From the information booth drive an additional 200 m [660 foot] on Route 3855 until a junction leading east to Jerusalem (Route 386). After 5-km [3.0 miles], consecutively to an intersection of the road with the railroad take a turn left on a fairly drivable good dirt road marked red in the footpath marking. Drive this dirt road an additional 2 km [1.2 mile] until the Bar Giora Train Station and leave the second vehicle there.
A path marked black in the footpath marking descends toward Katlav stream from the parking lot. Katlav stream, which is named after the many eastern strawberry trees growing lengthwise to its flow, is one of the tributaries of Sorek stream. The meaning of the latter Hebrew word is a choice vine. Findings of many wine presses in this area can only strengthen that vine-growing was once a major agricultural pursuit of the Judean Mountain inhabitants throughout the various historical periods and indeed, even today there are many wineries in this area.
Being the biggest stream that drains Jerusalem Mountains, the Sorek stream flows to the Mediterranean Sea south to Kibbutz Palmahim. Today the stream is utilized for streaming down the wastewater of Jerusalem and its periphery toward the sea. During the last several years some wastewater treatment plants were built alongside the stream and although this water is not drinkable today it is being used for agriculture and irrigation. Regarding this, please read about the itinerary along the Sorek estuary. Katlav stream that fids the Sorek stream is also quite a steep stream and there is a great height difference between Bar Giora which is c. 700 m above sea-level and the Sorek-stream footpath which is 400 m below.
The black footpath descents about 150 m [490 foot] till a splitting of a footpath marked red that leads to an observation point with a view of Sorek stream. We shall stick to the footpath marked black which will finally bring us after an additional 200 m [650 foot] to Ein Giora, a small spring, and to the stone pool that stores its water, a fairly sealed pool which is not always so clean. Even at the end of the summer water are running out of the rock to the lush of the surrounding vegetation. Once the place was surrounded with many orchards, typically of almond and olive trees, but today they were replaced with wildflowers like horsemint, the bramble with its delicious sweet berries, great willow herb etc. Growing in the more distanced circumference, there are the thorny burnet and wild marjoram. Should you visit the spring during winter and spring, don’t miss the blossoming of cyclamens, anemone, poppies and other beautiful flowers.
Similarly to other springs in the area of Jerusalem Mountains, Ein giora is also a fracture spring. A rainfall in the area above Ein Giora is absorbed into the chalkstone until it reaches impermeable bedrock. Then the rainwater flows beneath this layer until finding a place from which it can be discharged. One of such places is Ein Giora. The relation between the annual waterfall quantity and spring capacity can be clearly demonstrated in the following fracture-spring illustration.
From the Giora spring we shall continue another 150-m [490 foot] until a footpath intersection with a blue path. The latter stretches over the riverside and those who shall choose the circular route may take it back; however, we shall continue with the route marked black toward Katlav riverbed.
Members of the Mediterranean forest will be present at both sides of the footpath as for example the Kermes Oak, terebinth tree, carob, and evidently the red-trunks of the eastern strawberry tree. Some of the many legends that were told about this tree are compiled for you on this page.
The wet color of the ground gives evident for the proximity of some underground water to the surface. A second evidence for this closeness can be seen in Ein Katlav spring, about 500 m from the footpath intersection we will have met before. A ruin old concrete levee can be traced next to this spring. It was built during the days of British mandate and since 1882 it has bee used for the passenger-trains of the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem historical line for filling their boilers of steam locomotives.
We shall continue down with the footpath toward Sorek stream. The many stone stocked walls in our way are actually terraces that were used for agricultural purposes along the various periods. We shall continue another 1.5 km [0.9 mile] on the streambed and walk along a great concrete pipe that brings drinking water to the inhabitants of Bar Giora and Ramat Raziel. About 30 m [100 foot] before a meeting with a train bridge there is a passage that allows for climbing toward the right northern bank and for approaching the worn-out building of Bar Giora Train Station.
In the year 1892 the honks of the train horn had been whistling here for the first time, and in a matter of fact, they were the first honks ever to be heard in the Middle East of a technological marvel called train. Traveling from Jaffa Station to Jerusalem lasted 4 hours although it was only 82 km [50 miles], but back then, nobody thought about complaining. Actually the arrival of the train to Jerusalem evoked such a huge amount of enthusiasm and interest that even Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the “reviver” of Hebrew language, published a poem about it in his newspaper Chawatzelet:
Behold ye masses of the people:
The steam boiler when it roars
Is Enlightenment defeating
Over laziness snores
Wisdom over nonsense
Progression over regression
Mind over mindless obsession
The sportive keen soul
Over a bitter devilish devour
The triumph of a new enlightened generation
Over folly-mongers in an age-old nation
Jerusalem, delight your reclaim,
Enlightenment is on the rails again!
In 1998 the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem passenger line stopped to function due to some difficult maintenance problems. Priorly, only a single passenger train and occasionally few freight-trains were operating on this line, thus the closing didn't bring any operative or commercial damage. However, the symbolic importance of the line, the first railroad line in the country, built hopes in Israel Railway that a budget for upgrading the line is soon to be found and consequently a chance for new features for opening and developing it. In June 13 2001 Ephraim Sneh, the Minister of Transport, decided about an immediate upgrading of the old line to Jerusalem parallel to planning the fast new line through Modi’in and Ben Gurion Airport (the A1 line development which is not in the foreseeable future due to 2010). In April 2003 the upgrading cost was estimated as for 420 million dollars. The upgraded line is only a single track for all its length and the project contained two parts: firstly, the 22-km line between Na'an Junction and Beit-Shemesh Station was upgraded and it included refurbishing of some bridges, building a working station (an over-taking station for train-meeting) in the historical Sorek stream station, aligning the railroad alignment on the interchange with the Cross-Israel Highway, and more such aligning works for grade-separation-built interchanges. Secondly, the Beit-Shemsh-Jerusalem segment. The original Jerusalem line used to end in “The Khan” (approximately 36 km) and now it has two working stations: in Bar Giora and Beitar, both of which were built on existing older working station. Another two new passenger stations were built in Malha and the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
In April 9, 2005 the Malha Station was inaugurated with many sermons and the former prime-minister then, Mr. Ariel Sharon, was boarding on the first train traveling on the renewed Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv railroad.
The time-lapse of the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem line is 1:40 hour which does not meet with needs of a transportation connection with the Capital.
The Bar Giora Train Station
We are now near the ageing building of the Bar Giora Station which is used today as a working station, a place where two trains can pass one next to the other. The structure is evidently calls for some restoration work and it is totally sealed.
We shall continue below the bridge and the purified water of the Sorek stream will be only in a few meters distance below us.
For those who plan to leave their vehicle next to this bridge, turn right after crossing the bridge and after 50 m [164 foot] continue on another small iron bridge above the riverbed to the northern bank and car awaiting you.
For those who shall take the circular route - after meeting with Sorek stream, we shall go back to the southern part of the bridge, and turn right toward a path marked green in the footpath marking.
The green footpath which goes parallel to the railroad will gradually depart toward Bar Giora up in a sharp ascending toward Deir e-Sheikh, the burial place of Sheick Bader and the impressive mosque that used to serve the habitants of a near-by Arab village until 1948. If you’d go down in a stone staircase to the mosque yard, you’ll find a cistern there.
From Deir e-Sheikh we shall follow the green path until meeting with the blue one. A turning left will take us to Bar Giora and the parking lot; however we should better chose the right turn that makes a swerve to the right from the footpath in order to reach a tunnel of a spring. Making this swerve is not obligatory – it will prolong your schedule in half an hour, and for those who’d prefer to skip it (and therefore miss something valuable…), turn left and follow the explanation in the next Stalactite Cave section.
Those who’d return to the spring shall turn right in the footpath splitting with the blue path, and soon afterward to another splitting with a footpath with black marking. After about a 7-minutes walk we shall see a deviation from the path marked transparent in the footpath marking. Following its markings will soon lead us to a stone tunnel. The short tunnel ends in a subterranean water pool that even during the hot summer months supplies about a half-meter [1.6 foot] deep of pure and lucid water and you’d better use this opportunity to bath in it.
After visiting the spring we shall return to the footpath intersection, the one we will have left before for making the deviation toward the spring, but this time we shall turn aside and ascend up with the footpath marked blue along the riverbed, and continue with climbing in this route for an additional 2 km [1.2 miles] until meeting with the footpath marked black that initially we will had left in the descend to the streambed in our way down. From this point and on we should continue straight toward the Ein Giora spring and parking lot.
The Stalactites Cave
I would dare to say that seeing the Stalactites Cave is a must, and it doesn't matter whether you'd combine it priorly or subsequently to the Katlav stream route. From Bar Giora information booth you should keep going west with Route 3866 until reaching a right turn toward the access road to the cave. On the other side of this junction you could see a monument in a shield-like oval shape that commemorates the space shuttle Challenger. The forest in this area was planted by the JNF for the American people and is called the American Independence Park and it is warmly suggested to end your visit in the Stalactite Caver here with a picnic.
We shall follow the road to the Stalactites Cave and in a small while we'll notice a right turn toward a goat cheese farm. Straying aside to this road will eventually bring us to the farm of the Ya'aran family and their business of natural pasture goat herding, milking and cheese making which result in an all-pure and natural cheese with no chemicals. The cheese and home-made bread are delicious and it’s a great idea to buy for munching it later in your picnic.
From the Ya’aran farm we shall return to Route 3866 toward the Stalactite Cave, (a nature reserve with an admission fee). The stalactite system known as the Sorek Cave or Avshalom Cave (to commemorate the late Absalom Shoham who was injured during his service in the special force sayeret Shaked and died three years later from his wounds in February 4, 1974) has been latently hidden there for millions of years but we didn’t know that. It was only in 1968 that workers from the Hartuv quarry had blew off the limestone bedrock for making gravel for building, when an opening of the spectacular cave was discovered. Today too the quarries can be seen from the same entrance.
Stalactites and stalagmites is a karstic phenomenon that results from water seeping into the cave and dissolving the chalkstone. It may takes millions of years to process this dissolving that put a creation of marvelous shapes into effect. Usually a guide of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority attends the tour and reveals Nature’s beauty and power. With a bit of imagination we could point to some limestone figures that might look like cream-cake, cauliflowers, Snow White and the seven dwarfs, the Witch etc.
Perhaps the most charming ones are Romeo and Juliet – a stalactite and stalagmite that for millions of years have been approaching each other but had never yet touched … If you'd get closer you'll notice that water is still dripping from the stalactite and maybe it will take a lifetime till the distance will be bridged…and then we shall revisit the site. There is no need to bring lamplights.
Opening hours: October – March (included) 08-16:00; April - September (included) 08-17:00. On Fridays and holiday eves the nature reserve is closed one hour earlier. Note, that the ticket-office is closed one hour before the closing of the nature reserve. Access for people with disabilities is available. Prices for adult: NIS 23; for child: NIS 12. Groups: adult - NIS 19, child - NIS 11. Tel No. 02-9911117
Two Legends of the Stalactites
The First Legend
Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a beautiful princess. One day her father the king decided to marry her off. Emissaries were sent all about the kingdom to announce the news. Consequently a reverent group of important barons, ministers, princess and great tycoons had arrived the next day… all of them wanted to marry the princess. All of them brought many presents and gifts; however, the princess abhorred them all. Her heart was captivated by a charming young man who worked in the court of the palace. Certainly that was completely impossible because how could a princess marry a simple boy, a son of the royal shoemaker? But their love was such that the princess refused to marry anybody else - she couldn't feel anything toward just anyone else. Her father became terribly mad about it and decided to distance his daughter from the young man and punish her, so he built a big tower with a turret, and lucked his daughter in a small room there.
This broke the heart of the princess and her longings for the young man were just growing stronger. She sat on the window edge and cried. The boy sat beneath the tower and cravingly swallowed her tears. The king was not ready to let go and continued to prison his daughter in the tower. Thus the princess has been crying for many years, the boy has been swallowing her tears; with time the distance between them gradually became smaller, and maybe one day they will meet: the princess follows her tears and descends down below, and the young man grows higher up above with each tear he is swallowing.
The Second Legend
This is a tale about Karstic, a spoiled girl of a well-to-do family, who mostly desired to be the prettiest girl in the world. Once, in one of her strolls in this area, she met a great wizard who disguised himself in the image of an utterly poor man begging for some food and warm clothes. However, the very egotistical and unthoughtful Karstic only laughed at him and continued her stroll. Not long after, she met again with the wizard who this time disguised himself in the image of a rich and beautiful prince and immediately upon seeing him she approached and welcomed him. Soon after they had started conversing the wizard asked her: "dear princess, what thing you’d desire most in this world?” and Karstic replied: "to be the prettiest girl in the world". Immediately the prince was transformed back into a wizard, who said to her: “since in your innermost, your soul is so black and ugly, I’ll turn your outer appearance in this fashion too.” And indeed, he turned Karstic into a squinting girl with an eagle nose, shrinking lips, many missing teeth – a teeth here and a teeth there – twisted feet and disproportionate body. Her shame grew so immensely big that Karstic had to hide herself in a cave and started to beg the wizard to turn her into a stone. The magician surrendered to her pleadings and turned her into a stone. Ever since then we can find Karstic caves with an upper teeth (stalactite) and lower teeth (stalagmite)…
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