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Published: December 26th 2022
Cacophony in Cairo
- Piprey on wheels
Egypt is a dream destination
since time immemorial. In ancient time, Socrates, the Greek philosopher travelled to Egypt to visit the pyramids. I was most excited and planned a 2 week dream itinerary. I am writing a travel series to focus on these fascinating Egypt cities. Cairo was my entry and exit point to Egypt. British Airways
flight from London to Cairo was delayed
by 1.50 mins because supposedly a crew member had called in sick at the last minute ( and so that they do not have to offer refreshment vouchers applicable for delay above 2 hours). I had a satchet of masala tea and a paper cup. Shopped around for hot water and sipped a masala tea with homemade cheese toastie
in a quiet corner at the terribly busy London Heathrow airport
. These days, British airways can only afford to provide refreshment on purchase that is if the card payment system worked. Else, even children go hungry as one mother raised a complaint when the cabin crew refused her a glass of orange juice.
The Cairo hostel pick up from airport to Cairo downtown was double
Seeing the old style wooden lift
the normal charges. The taxi driver even asked for a tip. At the airport, I observed that the luggage of a black lady was scanned while many others were not. Perhaps, there was bias of carrying illegal drugs in the black community.
The hostel was opposite famous Groppi (which was being renovated).
Cats in Egypt are considered protectors of people. Perhaps. they got rid of rats and associated diseases.
In a grand old building, a wooden lift from Harry Potter times took me 'safely' to the 6th Floor. Then you climb marble steps to the 7th floor where you were greeted by live cats.
Except the big hot water shower, my hostel room did not have much to recommend itself with its walls needing an urgent lick of paints. The young hostel caretakers did not even offer a map of Egypt but tried desparately to sell their tours with false smiles.
I changed to another hostel a few floors down. This downtown area ( like the Connaught Place/Rajiv Chowk in New Delhi) buzzed with excellent Shwarma joints, ice creams (delicious Lotus and Mango ice cream) from the famous El Abd patisserie and loads of trendy shops
. Shoe shops sold a rich variety of leather boots. It was a lovely atmosphere with everyone having a jolly good time.
First day in Cairo, I was window shopping, enjoying the pleasant weather wearing a light marroon fleece jacket. With Europe in minus degrees, Egypt was indeed a welcome escape.
An Indian along with his Egyptian friend introduced themselves, guessing my Indian origin. The Egyptian recommended that I do go inside the pyramid which would undoubtedly be a valuable
I took a taxi to Giza pyramids. For the 3 pyramids, total entry ticket was 780 LE ( Egyptian Pound).
While I enthusiastically encouraged other tourists to go inside the pyramids, I chickened out when it was my turn. It was so small and narrow, like going into a rabbit hole.
I remembered the must see recommendations from Egyptian. I had paid in full already. I took a deep breath and ducked in. Half bent like an old man, I went a few meters before stretching myself to full height. Then at an angle, it was another steep climb to the chamber in the center of the pyramid. Gold or silver or diamonds? Nothing. Just a rock slab in a closed empty room. The security guard offered to take some photos for 1 LE. You can imagine, the journey out of the pyramid was such a welcome relief.
The sun was hot
I used my Kolkata umbrella to shield myself from it and the crooked nature of guides in Cairo.
While I waited for the larger pyramid of Khufu to open after lunch, a young, happy family of 5 came along. I held the cute baby on my lap while the father took photos of the wife and other children against the backdrop of this ancient monument. Everywhere people were happy, family oriented and having fun.
The long queque was welcome as everyone went in one direction. The reality dawned when
Inside of Khufru pyramid.
It is so narrow and 2 way.
the people started to return.
People squeezed on the railings like toothpaste in the tube.
The children had fun as they walked but not for the rest of us who were doubly bent. The Spanish tourists sang songs and exclaimed musically
their frustrations on the slowness and heat. Maybe it was like a coal mine for which we all paid to visit/
I took a local taxi to see the Step pyramid/Saqqara excavations,
south of Giza. The freshly excavated tomb of a princess with its engraving about butchers cutting animal parts after sacrifice was fascinating.
There were engravings of snakes to protect the tombs
. The sun set in the desert. The taxi driver created a fuss as it was getting late and demanded more money . Hence, it is always advisable to take uber in Egypt- clean cars and professional service.
It was dripping water from a lovely marble fountain, straight from the Arabian mornings.
I tried the famous Egyptian vegan dish called Koshery- a mixture of lentils, pasta, rice, tomato sauce, vinegar and chilly, in the lovely restaurant of Abu Tarouk.
The simple wholesome meal cost 38 LE. A 1.5 liter of bottled water cost 7LE.
The real gold Tutakhamen mask, head gear and jewels in Egyptian museum blew my mind away.
involved draining the body of all organs/ fluids and preserving liver,lungs, intestines and heart
in tall, conical earthern vessels protected by sacred animals. Brain was not considered valuable
afterlife and drained away. Interestingly, in one mummy, the spinal cord was drained and filled with ivory because it was white and took the shape of the spinal code. The coffins and tombs were decorated with spells for a happy after life. For sure, the boyish face of 19 year old Tutankhamen mannequin launched Egypt back on the world map of tourism after 3000 years.
Rameses Cairo railway station is the sexiest station on Earth. The unique, mystical lighing gives a surreal aura.
The ticket booth was pretty ordinary though. I collected a token number of 427 and had to wait for 2 hours.
I went out, had a cup of Egyptian tea (which is black Kenyan tea) and still it was running 360s. It is strange that men smoke in the building including in Novotel hotel lobby.
Early morning, I took my large suitcase down to the 3rd
floor of the same building into another hostel. I was harassed by the hostel receptionist and told that I did not have a booking. I asked him to contact the old man to whom I had paid advance. Later, he conceded though he did not have the basic manners to apologise. I did not find Cairo a place which welcomes foreigners.
Constantly idle men/guides on the road, I was catcalled as "India". If I responded, I was asked if I wanted to do any pyramid tours. Later, I heard from other foreigners including men that they were called "Korea". The pleasant shops in downtown sold Egyptian cotton stuff at exorbitant prices.
I was so tired that I got lost in the streets. No one seems to know the downtown road or the famous statue close to it though I showed them the address in arabic. Then a kind lady showed the proper direction. I realised I had taken a wrong turn from Tahrir Square. This was the evening when the taxi driver had asked for more money. The whole experience was tiring.
The Saladin Citadel
gave a great view of the city. Its Mohammed Ali mosque was made of Albastor
which was a kind of stone which glowed if light passed it. There was a prison, a military museum and wooden palace ruins which was burned down a bit. A famous clock which never worked was part of the gift from France in exchange for one obelisk of Luxor temple.
I enjoyed a lovely Nile cruise with trendy Arabic music for 50 LE.
I offered an old lady to be my guide at the Citadel and she fleeced 400 LE when the running rate was 150-200 LE.
Finished the evening with excellent world class Knafe
and Turkish ice cream with a generous.sprinkle of green pistachio.
Ate another delightful chicken shwarma. Ended the evening with bowl of fresh cut fruits and the yellow, juicy mango bites were like chicken soup to my soul.
On the day of my return from Hurghada to Cairo, I stayed at Novotel. I watched the winning penalty shots by Argentina against France. Volcanic eruptions of joy and cheer pervaded the hotel lobby with staff and guests alike. Messi the world favourite who does magic with football had won his dream FIFA world cup 2022
I took uber to Almaza city center
and bought some warm boots from Carrefour. (The button came off the following day but I sew it back. Yes, it was made in China). It was like visiting Lulu in Kuwait. I was tempted to go to Cairo downtown but did not wish to face the harassment of foreigners yet again.
British airways ( BA) was delayed by 2 hours. I tolerated a pathetic Arabic platter at the platinum lounge. (With my Egypt travel, I can now distinguish between good and bad Egyptian food). Used the free massage chair which sent me to 7th
To top it, it was a 2 hour wait for luggage collection at London Heathrow airport. In total, 4 hours waste of time. Some fellow travellers also refused to travel on BA ever again.
At 3am, my co-passenger's ever romantic husband stood with a bunch of pink roses and her 8-year-old son ran to his mother. They were waiting patiently to drive her back to Oxford.
A beautiful, rosy end to the Egypt dream trip.
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