Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travelogue: Egypt (Part 2)

Continued from the previous post....

After the Pharonic Village in the morning, we visited the Pyramids of Giza for the Sound & Light show in the night followed by a Nile River cruise.

The sound & light show was a treat to the eyes. Sitting in that chilly weather, looking at the pyramids & the Sphinx highlighted in various colors while listening to the mythological/ historical stories associated with them is an experience you would not want to miss. Beware of those people who try to convince you that the sound/light show is not worth the money. You wouldn't want to go so far and miss seeing it just becoz someone else has already seen and he/she feels its not good!

The next day we took a full day trip to Sakkara, Memphis and Giza. The pyramids of Giza looked completely different in daylight. The feel of the place itself was very different! So we were glad we saw the sound/light show the previous night 'coz we had already heard a lot of history about the pyramids and could relate to it while exploring the place.

The Sphinx at Giza (image above) is supposed to be the largest Sphinx. The other one we saw earlier was at Memphis. We had hired a guide for this day trip who was an expert in Egyptology (yes, its a subject in the academic curriculum in Egyptian colleges!). He was a well informed guy and he filled us in with a whole lot of history related to Egypt. But no one really knows why the Sphinx was built. It's true that there is a head of a man and body of a lion to denote that the Pharos had the intelligence of a (hu)man and power/strength of a lion. But there was no more information on why and how this structure came up.

The above picture shows the king's pyramid along with the 3 small pyramids of his queens (who always got the smaller ones) . We also went inside the 3rd pyramid (which is supposed to be of the grandson of the King who has the largest pyramid). Now, this was an out-of-the-world experience! The pathway inside is so small that you have to squat and walk; almost crawl down else you will bang your head to the roof. Once you reach inside you can see the burial chamber where the mummy was found. As you get excited to explore the place, you realize that there is hardly any air; it is suffocating to death and you will sweat like crazy! If you are someone who is claustrophobic, then be prepared to have a tough time! Yet, I strongly recommend that whoever visits Giza *should* go inside the pyramid. You cannot get this experience anywhere else in the world! Going inside the first pyramid is difficult as they issue very limited tickets per day and you will have to reach their before 9am and stand in teh queue to get the tickets! But it really does not matter inside which pyramid you go, they are all the same, except for the size...

The picture above is the Sphinx of Memphis, also known as the Albatros Sphinx. There is nothing much to see here other than a set of statues and a small museum. However if you hire a guide he can explain to you the history behind each stone and statue which can easily take 2 hours! Yes, we patiently listened to him :)

Before going to Giza we actually visted the pyramids at Sakkara. This pyramid in the below image is called the step pyramid and is supposed to be the very first pyramid ever built in Egypt. The ancient egyptians believed that after the King is dead and burried in the pyramid, he can use these steps as a stairway to the heaven.... interesting, isn't it?!

On the last day, we visited the Egyptian Museum and the Khan-el-Khalili market in Cairo. If you are someone who is very interested in history and loves visiting museums then you will need an entire day to see this museum. We spent just about 2-3 hrs as we knew what exactly we wanted to see. I don't have any photos of the museum as they dont allow cameras inside. The entry to museum was 65EGP per person and once you go inside, to get into the Royal Mummies room, you have to pay 200EGP per person again!! I found this ridiculous, absolutely looting the tourists, that too to see dead people! But there is no choice, you cannot go to egypt and not see the mummies, can you? So, in we went. It was interesting to see how the egyptians preserved the dead bodies of their pharos! Some of the mummies even had their hair, nails and teeth intact!

The Khan-el-Khalili market has a lot of stuff you can shop for. But remember to bargain for at least 75% lesser than the quoted price! It is sad but true that if you are a tourist in Egypt you will be looted wherever you go. The economy is so poor that they dont have many sources of income other than tourism...Nevertheless, I did get some wonderful perfumes, souvenirs & scarfs which I absolutely loved!

Well, that marks the end of our 4 day trip to Cairo. We did want to see Alexandria, Luxor & Sharm-el-shaik but that needs at least a week's stay and we didnt have the luxury of time...Anyways, allz well that ends well.. It was a lovely and a memorable trip!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Travelogue: Egypt (Part 1)

Seeing the pyramids of Egypt was one of the things on our To-Do list before leaving Dubai and we somehow managed to squeeze it into our busy schedule last month. It was a short 4 day trip to Cairo (and the pyramids of Giza, of course!). Extremely expensive as it was the holiday season and horded with tourists all over. Well, there is no other time during the year that you can visit Egypt as 7 -8 months are scorching summer. So going there in winter will always prove to be an expensive affair, wont it?! I wouldn't say it was worth all the money spent but definitely I am glad I could tick off another wonder of the world as seen :)

The weather in Cairo was very pleasant and beautiful but the city is equally bad and filthy. The buildings are extremely old & badly constructed, public transport sucks, cab drivers and other fellas are there to just loot the tourists! People hardly speak English, so forget conversing with anyone around. If you are trying to find your way or get some info, then be prepared to have a tough time, in addition to haggling with cab drivers whom do not run on meters and demand 5 times the actual fare! So always remember to bargain to 75% of what they ask :)

The picture above is the view of the bridge over River Nile (the longest river in the world which flows through 9 different countries, and the only river which flows from South to North!) from our hotel terrace. We stayed at Novotel El Borg which is a 4 star hotel and it did not disappoint us. Though on the slightly expensive side ($140USD per night for a double bed) it was worth it! The view from the terrace restaurant was breathtaking! The staff were very friendly and helpful and the service had no complaints. But when it comes to food, if you are a vegetarian especially, then its a struggle to find some food to eat!

The picture below is the view of Novotel hotel, taken from the boat on Nile cruise. The tower adjacent to the hotel is the Cairo tower

The first thing we did is to visit the Pharonic Village in Cairo, which is close to Zamalek island (where we stayed). It is a cultural village which has the entire history of Egypt modelled inside in a very beautiful way. They take you around in a boat and at the end of the 2hour tour, you will be quite familiar with the Egyptian history. So it is always a good idea to visit this first, before going to the museums or the pyramids. The entry is about 150EGP per person and you dont need a guide....they have their own guides inside who take you around..

The Pharonic village also has a lot of papyrus trees (used to make the papyrus paper used by ancient egyptians). There is a demo of how the papyrus paper is actually made from the plant, which was quite interesting to see..

Below is the picture showing the mummification process, followed by the ancient egyptians. You can see the actual mummies (which look exactly like this) in the Egyptian Museum. The entire process of mummification is very well explained within the Pharonic village.

It was quite an irony to see how the egyptians spent a fortune to build the huge pyramids for dead people but crappy old houses in the city for people alive :)

More about pyramids of Giza and the museum in the next post....