Egypt With My Favourite Ladies!


It was a regular Sunday evening with me and my sister sipping my mother’s delicious homemade cold coffee and hurling the customary appreciations at her. Let me tell you, she is really good at it! We were intentionally making coffee froth moustaches and I was posting the funny pictures on Snapchat when my mother came in with her coffee mug and asked, ‘kothay jachhi eibar?’ (Where are we going this time?)

I diverted my full attention towards her and gave her a smirk. “Aisa coffee pilaya aapne, jahan bolenge chalenge madam!” Jokes apart, there is a traditional thing in my family. We make these happy annual trips every year and the whole point of these trips is to cover as many places we can from the map. Last year was Andamans so this year definitely had to be better than the previous one.

The Bullseye I was talking about - the Great Sphinx of Giza

Photo of Great Sphinx of Giza, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

The ruins of Philae Temple, Aswan

Photo of Philae Temple, Qism Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Got inked the Nubian way

Photo of Nubian Village, Aswan Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

En route to the Land of the Pharaohs

Photo of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

The breakfast I was talking about...

Photo of Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, Kafr Nassar, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Outside the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Photo of Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Al Karah WA at Toubageyah WA Kafr Al Ghates, Qesm Karmouz, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

The Roman Theater

Photo of Roman Amphitheatre, Kom Ad Dakah Gharb, Qesm Al Attarin, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Pompey's Pillar

Photo of Pompey's Pillar, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Thug life ;)

Photo of Montaza Palace, El-Gaish Road, Qism El-Montaza, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee
Photo of Cairo International Airport, Cairo Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee
Photo of Alexandria, Nile Corniche, Cairo Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

The Pyramids of Giza

Photo of Giza Pyramid Complex, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Menkaure's Pyramid

Photo of Giza Pyramid Complex, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

While coming back from the Nubian Village

Photo of Nubian Village, Aswan Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

The beautiful Abu Simbel

Photo of Abu Simbel Temples, Aswan Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Valley of the Kings

Photo of Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Where to go soon made the three of us land up in Egypt. Yes, it was an all girls trip with my mother and sister (& that’s because my father is in merchant navy and he is always travelling). We travelled via Qatar Airways and had the transit flight from Doha International Airport to Cairo International Airport. This is the easiest route and mostly how it’s done.

The beautiful Cairo skyline

Photo of Cairo Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee
Photo of Luxor Temple, Luxor City, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt by Sudatta Bhattacharjee

Our first destination as planned was Cairo, the bustling capital city of Egypt. We were putting up at Le Meridien Pyramids (mind you there are many other Le Meridien properties but this one is undoubtedly the best 5-star property with a breathtaking view of the Giza Pyramid right at the back).

Day one began with the check-in at the hotel, refreshing up and then meeting Ibrahem, the sweet local and did I mention how good-looking our guide was??? He introduced us to his travel group (with whom we would be touring) that had about 9 families from all over India. I had no idea that these people would end up becoming like my extended family. After the initial hello-hi, all of us were taken for the evening boat ride on the famous river Nile.

I cannot even begin to say how beautiful the entire city was looking. The sun had just set in; the crimson hue of the sky was peeping through the tall skyscrapers and I was soaking in all the beauty. Ibrahem introduced us to his friend Medhat who was also a local guide there and would be travelling with us. That night we dined at this famous Indian restaurant called ‘Kandhar’, and I discovered an all-new definition of Indian food. In short, it was finger-licking good!

Day two began with a bang and of course a grand breakfast buffet (one of the many advantages of staying at a 5-star). I am a very bread-y person and I stuffed my plate with as many varieties I could and yes the constant social media update that ruined the mornings of my closest friends. I was helpless or maybe not ;)

The second day was all about exploring the beautiful Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Our first halt was at the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa – cemetery in layman’s term. It’s the largest and also the most important burial site that goes back to the Greco-Roman period in Egypt. The catacombs are a combination of Roman, Hellenistic, Pharaonic and ancient Egyptian decorative art, elements that were prevalent around that time period in Alexandria. It consists of three levels; all located under the ground level with each chamber being led down by a spiral staircase. The lowest chamber is however inaccessible because of a massive flood that had occurred in that area.

I was happily absorbing the history as much as I could and I just couldn’t wait for the next stop which was Kom el-Dikka also known as the Roman Theater. This well-preserved theatre had beautiful seating arrangements with 13 rows of white and gray marble seats that could easily hold up to 700-800 spectators. My camera was out by now and my mission was to capture each and every detail.

Next was the stop at Pompey’s Pillar or should I say Alexandria’s only ancient monument left standing. The best part of the visit was the ruins of the Serapium. You can go underground and see where they think the temple’s library was located. We were lucky to be the only visitors at that time.

The rest of the day was spent at the Montaza Gardens and Corniche. Montaza can be called a king’s paradise with lush green lawns, palm trees, beautiful flowers and the breathtaking view of the Mediterranean sea that had promised not to leave our side. On the other side is the grand Montaza Palace which is not open to the public. Did that stop me from taking a picture? Of course not! I leaned against the closed gates and had several shots taken keeping the palace at the backdrop.

The last stop for the day was Corniche, which just blew my mind! You have the Mediterranean Sea flowing on one side & you have the city on the other side filled with those open European cafes. Speaking of architecture, you can check out the colonial remnants of the famed Cecil Hotel and Windsor Palace Hotel.

I was more than just happy. I think I had the best sleep that night.

Day three started sharp at 6 in the morning. It was the most awaited part of the whole trip. We were going to witness the majestic Giza Pyramids. I could hardly hold my excitement any longer! There were three pyramids – the tallest and also the first built by Pharaoh Khufu; the second built by Pharaoh Khafre (Khufu’s son) and the third and also the smallest built by Pharaoh Menkaure. I wanted to go inside the pyramids; in fact I even wanted to climb on one of them. My enthusiasm just had no limits. I am lucky that ways, both my sister and my mother are always bitten by the enthusiasm bug. So, it wasn’t just me going crazy! Ibrahem told us that we could all go inside Menkaure’s pyramid. It cost us 40 Egyptian pounds per person which in Indian currency would be close to Rs 160.

There were sliding steps from the entrance and let me tell you one thing – it wasn’t that easy! But if you have the will and determination, don’t listen to anybody- just take the plunge like I did. Medhat had warned us about the possibility of having breathing problems underground but I think I was in no mood to hear anybody or anything. I knew that I had to go inside! All of us formed a line; I was right after Ibrahem. The descending passageway led us to the first chamber. The room was empty and relatively small and it led us to another opening. The next chamber offered the view of the top of the vaulted ceiling of the main burial chamber. There was also another passageway into a mysterious chamber that Ibrahem said was known as the cellar. It was locked. As I climbed my way back to the entrance and breathed fresh air, I sensed a certain feeling of achievement. I took out my wish list diary and put a huge tick-mark right across where I had written Pyramid and the King’s Chamber. I was feeling euphoric!

Next, on line was the Great Sphinx of Giza – the mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. The face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent Pharaoh Khafre and is also the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt. I wasted no time and went all click-click like the rest of the maddening crowd. My sister hit the bulls-eye clicking just the right picture for me.

The rest of the day was spent at the Egyptian Museum or Museum of Cairo which had close to 120,000 items on display. As part of the itinerary, we boarded the first-class sleeper coach from Giza station in the evening and had an overnight journey to Aswan.

Aswan is a city in the south of Egypt, also the smallest of the three major tourist cities on the Nile. Before we went onboard the Nile cruise, we were taken to the ruins of the Philae Temple, which was an ancient pilgrimage centre for the cult of Isis. This scared place continued to work its charm on me and everyone else who had visited.

What awaited next for us was the luxurious Nile cruise – MS Nile Premium. I was indeed having the time of my life! The sophisticated chic cruise ship had a lovely ambience with the latest features in comfort and style without sacrificing even a bit of elegance. A bottle of wine was provided to us in the suites right after we checked in. We wasted no time and freshened up ourselves. The Nile Cruise was not supposed to leave before nightfall; Ibrahem already had plans for us. We were going to The Nubian village to see the crocodiles. Yes, the local Nubians keep large as well as small crocodiles in their home. I did hold a baby one but by the looks of its siblings, soon kept it back. I had a great time interacting with the locals, they seemed friendly. We tasted their local hibiscus tea; one of the Nubian girls even applied mehendi on my hand.

As we strolled down the streets of the Nubian Village, we were taken to the local markets that were popularly known as ‘Souqs’. My mother did buy some African masks and a few souvenirs at an unbelievably cheap price. Credits to her, she is excellent when it comes to bargaining. Once back to our cruise, the ship sailed off.

Day five was the most challenging and hectic part of our entire journey. We were going to see Abu Simbel. It was a four-hour long bus journey; the cruise had packed our breakfast in boxes and we were eagerly waiting to see the historic beauty. For many travellers, a trip to this place often becomes the highlight of their entire Egypt escapade. Every year, only on February 21 and October 21, the rays of the sun is said to penetrate inside the temple thus lighting up the faces of the divine figures and for the rest of the whole year, sunlight doesn’t enter the temple. I don’t know if it was a co-incidence but we were there standing inside the temple on the very 21st of February, witnessing the miracle.

Back on the ship, we had a Gala party that was awaiting for us that night.

Day six, we reached Luxor – our final destination! Our first halt was at The Valley of the Kings that had 63 magnificent royal tombs. The entry ticket gained us access to see three tombs, with extra tickets to see the tombs of Ay, Tutankhamun, Seti I and Ramses VI. There was quite a distance from one tomb to the other, so we rode on the tuf-tufs (open view electrical trains) that ferried us from one tomb to the other.

We were exhausted by the time we reached back to the cruise. That night, we also witnessed the beautiful light and sound show at the Karnak Temple, which is the largest ancient religious preservation in the world.

Day seven was all about exploring the beautiful temple of Luxor located on the east bank of the river Nile and shopping of course.

While my mother and sister decided to go and splurge on shopping at the famous Luxor market, I decided to stay back. As I recall back today, I think I did the right thing. I was invited both by Ibrahem and Medhat for hookah. They took me to this local cafe outside Luxor market and asked me what flavour hookah I wanted. I like double apple so I told them what I wanted. Medhat ordered a falafel for himself and Ibrahem ordered tea for us. I was quite surprised when I saw the size of their hookah. I am five feet eight and a half inches tall (I know, I have quite a height) but the hookah that was kept in front of me was almost five feet tall (I am not kidding!). And undoubtedly, the best double apple flavour hookah that I have ever had. I think that was the time when I truly fell in love with Egypt. Next came the tea; it was a regular black tea except for the fact that it had the soaked tea leaves lying at the bottom. Ibrahem told me that is how they have tea there. I happily drank from my cup.

The hookah, tea and my new found friends are all I could ask for a perfect ending to my perfect trip. It was hard to say goodbye. But it was time to head back to the monotony of everyday lives.