This post wasn’t planned for the AtoZ Challenge but as they say somethings find their own way…
I left quite a few people confounded when I picked up Egypt as my preferred place of travel. I had decided to forego South Africa. Now this is what happens when you ask a romantic to take a call. Expect a thousand-year-old monument and mysterious alleys to appeal to our senses more than towering buildings.
It was mid-January when we boarded the flight from Delhi to Cairo, with a brief stopover at Kuwait.
Egypt is not just like any other tourist spot. It has a historical charm and mystic vibes. Flying over the Suez Canal, your eyes rest on colourful vessels, so majestic in real life that look no bigger than speckles of gold in a sea of rubies. They vanish soon enough to give way to vast deserts and then to ancient architecture in the city of Cairo. Yes, the country is a wonderful amalgamation of the old and the new. Just as it preserves its ancient monuments, so does it offer a tinge of modern life, all along its virgin beaches.
I was always under the impression that Egypt is warm all through the year. But it does have its share of chill in winters. Specially, the winds can be pretty cold and can blow more than just your hair away!
On one such cold night we were on a cruise on the Nile. If there is anything that can lift an evening like that, it is great music and good food- both of which were in abundance there. I must, here add a note about the traditional dances Beledi/Baladi (also popular as Belly Dancing) and Tanoura that completely lifted our spirits. The performer of Tanoura also wowed us with his knowledge of numbers in various languages, from Spanish to Hindi. As I pen this down my ears continue to ring with fine Arabic music and I hope the music can reach your ears as well!
The Traditional Tanoura being performed by a local artist in Cairo. (Pic@ A Hundred Quills)
The best part of being a tourist in a place where you know nobody is that you willingly mingle with people of all cultures and origin. We had a Chinese group on the adjoining table who waltzed on traditional Egyptian music and people of all ethnicity and groups joined them with full gusto.
Our visit to the Pyramids was another spellbinding experience that will keep me enthralled for life. First of all, it is well-known that the idea behind the Pyramids is the belief in life after death. But not until you see it in person do you realise how strongly the belief ruled the minds and hearts of people. These are facets of human life that continue to beguile us even today. We got the opportunity to enter the oldest Pyramid in Saqqara, which happens to be in Memphis (the old capital of Egypt). It made me wonder how man has always believed in preparing for future, which is always unknown. Maybe because it gives us a kind of assurance that we are ready to face tomorrow, no matter what.
The Light and Sound Show at Giza with the Pyramids and the Sphinx. (Picture@ A Hundred Quills)
Another thing that the Pyramids make you feel. They leave you awestruck at the slightness of human life. Not just because they happen to be huge structures, but also because they make you marvel at your own pocket-sized existence. A visit to Giza is incomplete without the mention of the Sphinx and the light and sound show in the evening. It is an eye-opening journey into the five-thousand-year old civilization, served and preserved with pride and love.
The Great Pyramid at Giza (picture @ A Hundred Quills)
On a lighter note, as I haggled with a hawker at Memphis for a souvenir, he asked me, ‘India?’
‘Ah! Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan!’
Yes, Indian movies are a rage in Egypt and as pointed out by our guide, Rania (meaning Queen) once when Amitabh Bachchan visited Cairo, the airport saw crowds so huge that you wouldn’t even witness if the Prime Minister was found visiting the country!
And, this gives me the opportunity to introduce Rania, our guide in Cairo. A tall, slender girl who has History on her tips. And, she is unlike the “Raju” guide we have in India. Rania told me that you need to be well-qualified to be a tour guide in Egypt. She was a research scholar in History and had apparently frequented the Cairo Museum for three days a week, for four years during her research period. It was a well-paid and revered job. Thirty-five-year-old Rania was unmarried as yet. Smart and suave, she told me that young men and women believed in marriage only after they settle well in life. Specially, the men. Because they were expected to give their wives lots of gold in dowry! So, they needed time to save all the money!!
Meeting Rania and few other women in Cairo made me learn one more lesson. You always hold prejudices against people or cultures until you are exposed to them. And that is why, maybe travelling and meeting people is so essential. It opens your mind like nothing else ever does.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities or Museum of Cairo has an extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities. But what just does not leave your senses is the Tomb of Tutankhamun, the Egyptian pharaoh who lived only until he was nineteen. He became king at the age of nine or ten and married at thirteen. As she elucidated these facts, Rania joked with my son, who was twelve then that maybe he could consider the same in another year or so!
Coming back to the Pharaoh, his tomb is supposed to have more than five-thousand items, most of them made of solid gold. The museum left us wonderstruck.
Sometimes when I see the apathy of children towards History in schools, I only wish we could carry the subject to places of interest. Honestly, history is anywhere but within the four walls of a classroom. Maybe, then our next generation would know well the pearls we have in store.
The Khan El Khalili market is the place that you see in Poirot movies or in The Adventures of Tintin. Haggling is common and souvenirs are in abundance. Your heart goes out to everything but you need to know what and how much!
I end my piece here but my journey through Egypt doesn’t close now. Tomorrow I take you to the city of Alexandria, the charm of Coptic Cairo and the waters of the Red Sea. This account of my travel does not intend to outline facts, for they are randomly available on Google. This is Egypt through the lens of a romantic.
I will unfold the mystery of this word in tomorrow’s blog.
To be continued…
This post is part of Blogchatter’s AtoZ Challenge 2019. The other posts in the series may be read here.