After having experienced the enthralling country of Kenya, I felt that I would never experience as much as I did then. And yet, there I was, on a flight to Egypt, where I would continue to have transformative, epic experiences! Despite being from the same continent of Africa, the culture and disposition of Egypt was a stark change from that of Kenya. We landed in Cairo, filled to the brim with excitement as we sat in our cab, watching the streets run by us. One thing that we noticed was that the buildings we saw were not painted, giving the whole city a rustic, unruly feel. We spent the night indoors, munching on kebabs and rolls.
The next morning, we headed to the birthplace of pyramids, Giza. The river Nile ran along the town, providing a perfect backdrop. We were in awe of the fact that we had landed up in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And also the fact that we were admiring real architectural marvels right in front of us, had us speechless. The largest and oldest pyramid, built for Khufu, the second king of the fourth dynasty, was the Great Pyramid of Giza. The second largest and middlemost pyramid was built for Khafe, and the final pyramid was built for Menkaure. We watched these magnificent sights on the backs of a camel and a horse. The structure of the pyramids gave us the urge to climb the structures, but we were informed that the pyramids were infected with the “cancer of the rocks”, that is, the rocks making up the pyramid were rotting on the inside.
Then we admired yet another creation of King Khafre, which depicts his own face on the body of a lion. We felt shivers as we watched one of the most iconic structures in history, The Sphinx. We also noticed that the Sphinx did not have a nose anymore, which could possibly have been due to attacks by Napoleon, his troops, and a canon.
We spent our evening on a slow walk on the banks of the Nile. We would spend every evening in Egypt doing so.
We woke up to a beautiful Friday morning, to find out that Fridays were a weekly holiday for Egyptians. This explained how crowded and blooming with life the streets were as we entered the Khan-e-Khalili Market. We observed that most of the families at the market were heading towards the Plaza, where they parked their expensive cars aside, and sat on mat covered floors, enjoying nothing but each other’s company and the freeing feeling of a day off. It was so specifically cultural, and yet so universal. Of all the sights we would see on this trip, this was my favourite one.
Back to the Khan-e-Khalili markets, we found ourselves in a cafe that was supposedly 150 years old. Surrounded by men and other tourists who were sipping on chai-nana (black tea), we felt a familiarity with what many Egyptians were probably doing in the same market about 150 years ago.
From here, we explored the neighbourhood surrounding the market. Suddenly, we heard the faint whistle of two ladies, who walked up to Anoop. They made fun of his beard, and conversed with us in somewhat broken English. One of the girls let out another whistle before leaving us. It was nice to have experienced the rare phenomenon of adam-teasing, over the usual eve-teasing!
Our eventful day culminated in a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs that somehow became one of the tastiest meals I have ever had.
We spent our next morning boarding a 9 hour-long train from Cairo to Luxor, seated in a special compartment that was separately used by tourists. Our next morning was when we decided to explore Luxor on foot. The city was scattered with ruins of the ancient city of Thebes. We met the Nile here too, as she flowed parallel to the Temple of Luxor. The temple was connected to the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak by an avenue of sphinxes.
We spent our next day boarding another train from Luxor to Aswan. However, this one was only a 3 hour-long train which reached the city in the afternoon. The Nile seemed to be our closest friend in Egypt, as our hotel, The Oberoi, was right in the middle of it, on an island. The view of the river was spectacular from every city we had been to, and Aswan was no less, as its banks were planted with small shops and cafes. In the evening, we visited one of these cafes. Here, we ordered a traditional Egyptian coffee. We were told by our waiter that after having this coffee, we will see pink elephants! And he was right. The coffee hit us hard, and we absolutely saw pink elephants.
We spent our evening walking along the Nile. Enroute, we lost our way, and were surrounded by Nubian houses. By some wondrous happenstance, we ended up in an alley where a kind gentleman showed us our way back to the hotel. He invited us to his abode for dinner the next evening.
Dinner was a treat to both our hunger and our conversational appetites, as we were blessed with an elaborate platter of food, as well as stories told to us by the gentleman, who made amazing company, as he showed us some traditional masks. We thanked him for everything and bid him adieu.
On the next day we moved from Oberoi to a cheaper hotel to save our pockets from any further devastation. When we informed the manager of the new hotel of this, he looked at us with a puzzled look in his eyes. We probably left him wondering about why we shifted to his hotel after staying a night at the Oberoi’s.
Every day in Egypt brought about anecdotes like this that we still hold on to after all these years.
The next morning, we rose early, at about 4 am to go to Abu Simbel. We were escorted by a convoy of buses and police forces to Abu Simbel for over 3 hours. We were surrounded by yards and yards of sand, as the road passed through the desert. On this road, we also watched the first rays of the sun fall. The gateway to the monument was already mesmerising, as it was covered in seated figures of Ramses II.
The temple was relocated from the middle of Lake Nasser to higher grounds. This was because they built the Aswan high dam atop the Lake. After an observant day, we found ourselves back in Aswan. Our night was spent mentally saying goodbye to this city and the Nile that had accompanied us faithfully, as it was our last night in this beautiful city.
We reached Cairo the next morning. From here, my husband and I had different destinations, as he was headed to Alexandria, Egypt, and I was headed to Pune, India. Kenya combined with Egypt was my first ever international trip back in 2006. In hindsight, Africa can be a difficult first timer’s destination but here I was with my better half. I felt like I had more to explore in both Kenya and Egypt but my budget did not allow me. Some other day I said. And now, here I am 34 countries old.