'Caught in the middle of a war in a foreign country was hardly something any of us had envisaged.'
Bollywood Actress Nushrratt Bharuccha, who was on a visit to Israel to attend the reputed Haifa film festival, found herself in the middle of the sudden attack by Hamas.
The actress, who managed to fly back to India safely, narrates her experience.
The last week will forever remain etched in my memory... a rollercoaster ride of emotions, the final 36 hours of which will remain the most unforgettable and daunting of my life...
My producer, stylist and I had been flown in to Haifa in Israel, on October 3, to attend the reputed Haifa International Film Festival for the screening of our recent film, Akelli, alongside my Israeli co-actors, Tsahi Halevi and Amir Boutrous.
After two days of visiting all of Israel's historic places -- Jerusalem, Jaffa, Bahai, the Dead Sea -- we'd almost ended our trip with a celebratory dinner for the film's cast on Friday night, October 6.
That evening, Tsahi, Amir and I had toasted our film's selection at the Haifa Film Fest, promised to visit each other, and possibly work together again.
We'd said our goodbyes and were ready to fly back the next day.
But Saturday morning was nothing like the previous evening's celebration.
We were woken up to the deafening sounds of bombs going off, a blaring siren, and complete and utter panic as we were all rushed down into a 'shelter' in the basement of our hotel.
It was only when we emerged from in there, after what seemed like an endless wait, that we learnt that Israel was under attack.
Nothing could have prepared us for this news.
In a state of complete terror, our first impulse was to somehow reach the Indian embassy, situated barely two km from our hotel, but a distance that seemed impossible to cover without any mode of transport whatsoever and only the dreadful sounds of explosions at very close range.
We were then informed that Hamas militants had infiltrated several cities in Israel and were also out now on the roads, pulling civilians out of their homes and shooting people at random.
Furthermore, there was open firing on vehicles on the roads and the situation out on the streets was 'extremely dangerous'.
Just then, we heard a second siren go off and were rushed back down into the basement shelter.
Soon realisation set in that we may actually not be able to make it to our scheduled flight back to India that night, and would most likely be stuck in a country that was now openly at war.
This is when we began making desperate calls to everyone for help out of this unprecedented situation.
When we connected with Tsahi, who too had customarily served in the Israeli military, it became clear that Israel was, in fact, in a state of emergency and engaged in a full-blown war.
We kept track of official advisories issued by the Indian government and connected with the Indian and Israeli embassies for details about the escalating situation outside, and they were extremely helpful in guiding us.
We knew then that it would be only a matter of time before flights would be cancelled and Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv would be shut down.
Our phone batteries were fast running out and we were also beginning to lose cell network.
Caught in the middle of a war in a foreign country was hardly something any of us had envisaged.
But this was also when help came in for us from completely unexpected quarters: calls from our Israeli co-actors, guidance from the Indian and Israeli embassies, the kind staff at the hotel and, most miraculously, a taxi driver who selflessly helped us at this most difficult and life-threatening time of our lives!
We mustered all the courage we could find and picked ourselves up to somehow get to the airport and take any flight out to any country we could manage to.
Our journey out of our Tel Aviv hotel was not easy, to put it mildly... praying the whole time, even crying sometimes, we held onto each other for courage to keep on going, somehow making it to Ben Gurion airport.
The wait between one formality to the next for boarding a flight has never been more excruciating... what would otherwise have been routine was an uncertain and completely unpredictable few hours, to say the very least.
With every small postponement announced, we despaired further, our hearts sinking again... surreal is a very weak word to describe how exactly we felt when we were finally airborne.
As someone who has barely escaped a war zone, I cannot be more grateful today... I'm back home and safe with my family and my loved ones.
But with an experience that has made me immensely grateful for the safety and security that we almost take for granted.
I am ever so grateful to the Government of India, the Indian embassy and the Israeli embassy, for their help and guidance in bringing my team and me back safe.
I would also like to thank each and every one of my well-wishers from the bottom of my heart for their wishes and prayers for my safety.