National Geographic Photo of the Day

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 4

An Awesome breakfast spread awaited us, with a wide range of soft pastries, breads and what not to choose from. Tiger was still sticking with us for the next few days in Cairo. My Cruze craze continued with another gray car spotted on the bridge between Giza and Cairo. The pedestrian is important here. But unlike Indian pedestrians (a.k.a arrogant a-holes who walk on the roads as they wish) they wait for a driver to wave them past. They don't exactly mosey across diagonally either, they're brisk in pace when they cross.

Checked out the Al-Azhar and Sultan Hassan mosques - both large structures worth a watch - and Khan el Khalili bazaar along the way.

Our next destination was the Citadel - a fortress-like walled area of Cairo. A huge mosque of Mohammed Ali with a very tall ceiling lies inside.

After a run around the place as well as savouring the views from the walls of the citadel, we returned to the entrance and waited for Tiger to get back with the car from the parking lot. Everyone was equal at the entrance and exit points. A bus driver tried to ignore police calling out to him to stop at a point for inspection thinking he could get away with it, but then a guy with an AK stepped in front and the bus was forced to move back. Now that is how policing should be done.

No one is allowed to park near the exit, hence allowing a free flow of traffic - something people in Chennai are yet to learn. There was this one guy who tried to park right there and an officer politely walked up to him and told him he couldn't. After trying to argue for a while (unsuccessfully) said driver got pissed off, put the car into first gear and suddenly accelerated forward a short distance before parking. Sadly, there was this one young lady (most likely his wife or maybe daughter) alighting from the back of the vehicle at that instant who fell to the ground and got dragged by the vehicle for a short distance. Thankfully, no damage done.

And so our drive around Old Cairo continued with a visit to Ibn Tuln mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Cairo, built around 800-900AD. Very intricate wood work in the ceiling was a highlight. Then we went to the Coptic area of Cairo. Attractions here include the Hanging church - a Coptic Christian church built upon the walls of an ancient Babylonian fortress with no real base or foundations(yes, you can see through the base at one point).

The Ben Ezra Synagogue was the next stop, followed by the Coptic museum. While I traversed a narrow alley, a gaggle of teenage girls ventured a Namaste with their hands, and giggled as I smiled while walking past. There was a large bunch of college kids who'd been practicing "Namaste"s on seeing us back at the Citadel too. The guards at the Coptic museum queried "India?", and an affirmation from us would be followed by the inevitable 'Amitabh Bachchan Number 1' (accompanied by appropriate finger gestures). 'Cept one guy who said "India? Aamir Khan I like".

There are no cars allowed into this street. So while walking out, we had lunch at a small eatery, despite not being hungry after that divine breakfast spread. Had one seller in the Coptic try to sell us wallets, he even offered to accept payment in Indian rupees. Ladies and Gentlemen, that rarely, if ever, happens. This guy must have been desperate beyond measure to take the one currency that you'll never find accepted even at any exchange other than in India itself and a few places in the UAE. Don't really get quite how they identify us as being from India - We wait and never ever jump queues, we, wait for the pedestrian crossing signal to turn on before walking, we don't talk loudly nonstop, and we don't bargain too hard where it's inappropriate either - quite un-Indian in a way, lol.

Next stop - Saqqara. The Step pyramids of Djoser are situated here. An open desert area bordering a lush green forest of palm trees. No horses needed here though you can take a ride on one if you fancy it. The Step Pyramids are not as grand as the ones in Giza, and they do have a few Greek looking columns and structures nearby.

Then it was on to Memphis, the ancient Pharonic capital. A great number of articles from the New kingdom are preserved here with a huge statue of Rameses the 2nd / Rameses the Great taking pride of place. We made it just before the attractions here started to close.

Most every place of sightseeing closes at 5pm in Cairo, and at 4pm in Saqqara, so see stuff quick (though not as quick as the big tour operators will show you - they were running 10 times as fast as our privately planned trip. Oh those poor buggers :D ). The long drive back to the hotel took a good deal of time and netted us the sight of another Black Cruze too. But its nowhere near a very taxing drive.

Rested our tired selves at the hotel for a few hours. Hit the road again around 7pm for a trip back to the Pyramids of Giza. Traffic was high, but people turning into a road always wait for a hand signal from drivers in the oncoming lanes before completing their entry. Pavements are plenty too, and well kept. No one walks onto the road. And everyone has a smile for everyone else even when sitting still in traffic. The only vehicles that seemed a bit unruly, jostling with others and scurrying into any open gap between vehicles, were the large minivans that ferry people for a very low fee like the share autos back in Chennai.

Air conditioning in the car wasn't really necessary once the sun set, though that took till 7.30pm to happen. Finally we reached the Sphinx. Yesterday's guide had said that the show was canceled, so it was with an air of anxiety that we'd set out today. Our suspicions were further raised when we saw the road to the Sound and Light Show lined with policemen, police dogs, and an assortment of Mercs and BMWs. When we got to the front of the line, we were informed politely by a government guy that the show had indeed been canceled. I could see that under his coat he had a concealed Uzi. With nothing else to be done here, we turned around with Tiger profusely apologizing for us not knowing ahead of time about the show. Not his fault, really. Apparently, there was some other function being conducted in the same area for a very high up government official, which was confirmed when we saw (as we were turning the car around) another BMW enter the area and drawing salutes from the entire gaggle of policemen. Obviously these people want tourists and make a lot of money from them, but they definitely don't depend on tourism to the extent that the Thais do (as was apparent from our previous sojourn).

We found out later that the show had been canceled for the next day too, which was our last full day in Cairo. Parked near a shopping area on the way back to the hotel, just to take a look around. Bought some trinkets and cakes from a most wonderful bakery. Soon we were back to the hotel and we had room service bring something up since we were dead tired. Looking out the window, we saw that the lights on the Cairo tower (they seemed to be some kind of giant LEDs lining every inch of the tower from top to bottom) put on a spectacular display which can be seen in the form of huge changing patterns - like hieroglyphics, balloons floating up, a felucca sailing on the Nile, calligraphy and many more - for 15 minutes straight. Apparently, they were putting on the show because today was some special event. It did not happen on the other days either. Watched The Descent on television after dinner before going to bed.


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