Anand and Madhura Katti
Dec 28, 2016
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
Egypt was probably one of the earliest
tourist destinations for worldwide travellers 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
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
Egyptian Museum with repositories of more
than 120,000 artefacts 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.
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 theatre,
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.
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.
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
variety of local produce like fine Egyptian cotton, spices, leather goods and
artefacts. 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 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 colourful
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 marvellous monuments were kept intact for us and for future GENERATIONS
to admire and enjoy. The Great Pyramids and the Sphinx of Gaza continue to
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