Award winning travel journalists based in Mumbai, India
Iconic view of the pyramid (Shutterstock/File)
Fascinating structures of pyramids were strongly etched in our memories from history lessons in school. Words of caution from family and friends on hearing of our plan to visit Egypt couldn’t dent the deep craving we had for the land of Pharaohs. Sights of Egypt in Amitabh Bachchan’s "The Great Gambler" of the late seventies had been like a trailer to the historic country and we were excited with the thought of visiting.
Egypt was probably one of the earliest tourist destinations for worldwide travelers and continues to be so, for its pyramids have stood strong for 4666 years. So strong are these oldest man-made structures that efforts to move even an inch of one of its two and a half million hefty stones (on the biggest pyramid) will only go in vain. A smile on an immigration officer’s face as we arrived at Cairo International Airport after a five and half hour night flight from Mumbai was a pleasant and welcome gesture.
Life seemed to go on as usual at the popular Tahrir Square on the way to the hotel. Guide Hassanein mentioned that it was also known as the Martyr Square. Familiar scenes on the roads as we drove through streets exploring beautiful Cairo city after breakfast – like school buses ferrying kids to school, traffic snarls and owners upping the shutters of eateries and small shops – made us feel at home. A couple of places looked like our own Princess street, Mohammed Ali road or even Bombay central area.
Interior view of the Egyptian Museum(Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)
Egyptian Museum with repositories of more than 120,000 artifacts seemed like an essential prerequisite to learn about the country’s historic civilization before heading to its popular monuments. Precious exhibits like the Mummies, Sarcophagi, the famous Tutankhamun’s treasure and the boy king’s golden death mask, ancient jewelery and pottery made it easier to connect to the land.
Alabaster Mosque of Mohammed Ali(Shutterstock/File)
Live culture was evident at the Saladin Citadel, a short uphill drive to Mokattam hill after our sumptuous Egyptian lunch. The Citadel of Saladin, a huge fortress visible from afar inside the city, was a medieval Islamic fortification with a well-maintained complex of monuments like Alabaster Mosque of Mohammed Ali, the Citadel outdoor theater, Al Gawhara Palace and the Military Museum. Free literature available here presented Islam as any other religion that was laid down to refine human nature for well-being. The Citadel was home of the Egyptian rulers for almost 700 years. Al Moqattam Hillprovided a vantage point for a panoramic view of Cairo.
The Hanging Church(Shutterstock/File)
Cairo was also home to a 4th century Orthodox Church in Old Cairo, which was our next destination. Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church was also called the Hanging Church because of the way its nave hung above the passages below, which were resting on the bastions of a Roman fortress gate house.
Khan Al Khalili market in Cairo(Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)
Though historic evidence has proven the relationship between India and Egypt, two of the oldest civilizations, Bollywood links seemed to draw parallels with the current generation. Most of the shopkeepers at the popular Khan Al Khalili market in Cairo were keen to welcome us for discussing films, Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor or Shah Rukh Khan. It’s interesting to note that the very first international passenger flight by Air India in 1948 was to Cairo. The 40-seater Lockheed L-749A Constellation “Malabar Princess” with roll-down flat beds and gourmet food used to further connect to Geneva and London.
Ancient (since 1382) Khan Al Khalili bazaar itself was an attraction with many inner lanes leading to shops selling a varietyof local produce like fine Egyptian cotton, spices, leather goods and artifacts. At its entrance was the grand Saiyidna Hussain Mosque that became a landmark for our group to meet back after shopping in the busy market. It was time for coffee and Hassanein took us through the maze-like lanes to El Fishawy, a famous coffee shop. A few men and women on the way were smoking shisha. Some sellers followed us, selling watches, bracelets and rings. Egyptian Pharaoh Designs seemed like popular buys here. As in any local market in the East, bargaining was prevalent and the trick was to ask for 30 percent of the quoted price before rising to a mutual agreement.
The Great Pyramid of Giza and the popular face of the Sphinx(Shutterstock/File)
The Great Pyramid of Giza and the popular face of the Sphinx were just an hour’s drive away from Cairo. We left the main city and drove onto the west bank of the Nile and were awestruck as three huge pyramids rose into our view from the Giza plateau. The entire area was surrounded by many mastabas or flat-roofed ancient tombs.
The Great Pyramid, built by King Cheops (IV Dynasty) in roughly 2650 BC, was spread on an area of 13 feddans (13.49 acres) and stood mighty at a height of 137m. Its 2.5 million blocks of huge stones have withstood nature’s fury because of the firm interlocking system created through groves. Our vocabulary ran blank in finding the right words to express our admiration for the precision and astounding ability of those ancient architects who thought of erecting these permanent mega structures at their beloved pharaoh’s final resting place. It seemed to be touching the sky as we looked up at the tip.
Two smaller pyramids stood next to the Great Pyramid. Two tourist buses arrived with one carrying Italian tourists. Some arrived in tongas too. As we aimed to click one of the colorful horse-drawn tongas carrying visitors against the backdrop of the pyramids, tonga owner Ahmed was happy to display his knowledge of Bollywood by telling us that "The Great Gambler" was shot in the same location.
We smiled at the thought of Big B’s popularity scaling along the pyramids in the minds of local Egyptians and moved toward the huge lion’s body with a mighty man’s head. Believed to be that of a Pharaoh, the Sphinx, which faced the rising sun on a short hill toward the edge of town, was one of the largest statues and definitely the oldest one. Estimated to be from the same period as that of the pyramids, it was believed to be guarding the royal tombs.
We left with a sense of gratitude knowing these marvelous monuments were kept intact for us and for future generations to admire and enjoy. The Great Pyramids and the Sphinx of Gaza continue to mesmerize visitors.
Anand & Madhura Katti (husband & wife team) are award winning travel journalists based in Mumbai, India. They travel across the country and the world, attending many travel trade, hotel industry summits, and conferences. They also have contributed to many Indian newspapers and some overseas publications for 26 years. Writers can be contacted at [email protected].
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