Sitting in a cafe at the Khan-e-Khaleeli market corner, I am thinking about the last 5 days. While there have been moments of wonder, there also have been some incidents which will be difficult to forget. The coffee seems to echo my thoughts - all dark, bitter and muddled.
The tanned leather that I am surrounded with, the occasional shouts from vendors selling their knick knacks, the smell of hookah drifting in the air, and the stares from people around, don’t seem to help.
On any other day, at any other place, I would have enjoyed this cup of coffee - my moment of joy, which is woven into my evenings - but today I am just relieved that my holiday is about to end in two days!
Here are few glimpses from my Egyptian escapade-
We land in Cairo, all dreamy eyed - but what welcomes us are hassling people, some unwanted grins and some piercing stares. I feel grateful that this is one place we are not exploring on our own but have a guide accpmpanying us for the entire duration of one week.
Our guide, Noor and driver Ahmed are waiting for us. I feel better, but the moment we enter our car, the first thing our guide tells us about the Egyptian culture is to tip every person we meet (including him on a daily basis)!!
I glance at my husband and he senses my wariness. I understand the tipping culture but I feel he could have introduced himself in a more welcoming fashion.
I look outside and try to convince myself not to be judgemental. All I see are beige coloured brick walls and houses. The city looks sad and chaotic.
We reach our hotel. I am happy that our room is huge, but the happiness is short lived as the AC doesn’t work.
I step out to the balcony and catch a glimpse of the Great Pyramids at a distance. Though the same color as the other houses in Cairo, They stand out (out of the town too)!
The sound and light show is magnificent. The highlights of the Egyptian Pharaonic history, with the darkness and stillness around adds to the aura of the place. It sets the mood for the holiday, preparing us for what’s to expect ahead.
It’s January and I enjoy the crisp air. I think my daughter does too. She is all warm and snuggled up in husband’s lap.
The sight of the gigantic pyramids, standing tall and proud, against the chaotic commotion of Cairo city, is alluring. I see my husband and daughter gaping at them. I know it’s not just me who is amazed by the sheer power of this stunning architectural wonder!
I am glad I enjoyed the sound and light show before visiting the pyramids during the day. The darkness didn’t give away the size and enormity of the structure . It would have been a dampener otherwise. I am simply awed by the beautiful ochre against the blue sky.
We enter the pyramid. For the size of the structure and the amount of admission fee, the entrance is surprisingly small and hidden. I see damp walls around me, smell mold in the air and can feel suffocation building up. The pyramid is like an ill maintained maze inside. Graffiti on walls and hidden doors, surprising alleys, low ceilings and over crowded by people ~ it makes me claustrophobic. I keep my feelings to myself because it’s still a shockingly fascinating discovery inside.
We are back early in the hotel, so we decide to go for a stroll outside. We love walking down the by lanes and exploring the little shops, buying some local souvenirs, food items or coffees and teas.
Just a couple of metres down the hotel, a well dressed man starts following us. What initially starts with a ‘Hey’, ‘Hello’ , follows up with ‘Hey Salman’ & ‘Hey Madhuri’. We just smile at him and increase our pace, thinking he will take a cue and stop following. He increases his pace too. My husband signals at a supermarket on the left and we enter it. We while away our time for around half an hour, keeping an eye on the street outside the entrance.
Seeing him nowhere in sight , we step out and start walking back towards our hotel. Relieved, we slow down our pace and enjoy the daily lives of people here- people waiting at the bus stop, kids coming back from school, women with Kohled eyes and manicured nails & well dressed men ( yes they are all in suits and polished boots) !
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the same man turns up!
Right in front of us!
This time with a bouquet of red roses in his hands!
He bows down, gestures the roses towards me and asks, ‘Will you marry me?’
Yes, when I am not solo travelling!
Yes, when I am with my husband AND my kid!
No, it’s not flattering, it is harassing!
He refuses to budge and my husband politely asks him to move aside.
Does he move? No!!
Instead he starts shouting words we don’t understand and draws attention from the crowd on the street.
Unsure of what he is saying and sensing my discomfort from the stares around, my husband grabs my hand and nudges me to move aside. The mini commotion works to our advantage. People are laughing and shouting and we take this opportunity to make a dash to our hotel.
Back in my hotel room, I am still in disbelief and shocked at what just ensued- on a busy street, in day light, only a couple of meters outside the hotel!
Even the stuffy room feels comfortable now.
A new day, a new beginning - with this thought we set out to visit the Egyptian museum. Finally, we get to see the mummies- thankfully, they are well preserved, unlike some others exhibits in the same museum! :)
The room with Tutankhamen treasures are literally eye opening - all the gold I am surrounded with- tends to have that effect!:O
For a boy who lived only for 18 yrs , this King surely defines what going down in history means!
On our way to Alexandria, our driver and guide surprise us by halting at a mini zoo restaurant. It’s a good break for Suhaani and for us too. There aren’t many people around. We enjoy watching the various stalls depicting the local Egyptian life. Suhaani enjoys watching and feeding the animals.
We think the guide deserves a better tip today (yes, the tipping ritual has been religiously followed) :|
After a good day spent in a more modern city of Alexandria, I am looking forward to the next day in Cairo. May be, I am slowly starting to like that city!?
The papyrus museum is fascinating. So is the lunch at the Nile river cruise.
I am in love with Egyptian handicrafts and their colors.
Our guide takes us to Khan-e-Khaleeli market for shopping and insists we try the traditional coffee at a traditional cafe. He sits with us and talks about his fiancé. On prodding, he smiles shyly and shows her photo too. We tease him and ask him to invite us for the wedding, which is slated next month. Yes, such is the friendly rapport and camaraderie!
The cafe is small and congested with low benches. We are sitting in the open part, facing the street. The guide sits on the opposite side of the table. Once we finish our coffees, he advises us to take a tour of the market.
The daughter moves out, the husband moves out, and I get up to move out. Noor, the guide, grabs my elbow and I tumble and fall back on the bench. I am caught unawares.
I stare back at him and he winks at me! I am quite puzzled and push my elbow hard and get up. He winks again, laughs and says, “Hey sweetheart”
His words after that are just a mumble and I can barely hear them. His shy smile is now a sly smile!
I am flummoxed and numb.
I gather my courage and shout back at him, loud for everyone to hear and I run towards my husband. Everyone is laughing, as if it’s something silly to be made fun of!
I tell my husband about the incident. We enter the market. Once we are out of sight from this crazy crowd and in between another maddening crowd, we call our tour organiser and request him to have another person sent within an hour to pick us up.
The most awaited visit to Khan-e_Khaleeli is ruined and so is the Egyptian holiday! I know it’s going to scar me for a long long time. We just take a small round, and sit in another cafe, while waiting for the new guide.
The coffee seems to echo my thoughts--it is all bitter, dark and muddled!
It’s the last day here. I can’t wait for the holiday to get over.
Never have I ever felt so vulnerable and scared. Thankfully, there’s a woman who accompanies us today.
We are crossing the Suez Canal, in the car, on the ferry. The vast emptiness for miles ahead, is frightening. More so, because we are now in Israel.
The War Memorial is beautiful but the abandoned soldiers bunkers are heart wrenching. The barbed wire fence looks like it has been witness to terrible incidents and will see more.
Our guide asks us to pose for photos, and we reluctantly do so, as if it’s just the last bit you endure before you are free again, on your path, in your country, amongst your people!
PS-- By no means am I trying to discourage anyone from going to Egypt. All I want to say is to do your research well before going.