Captivating Cairo

Egypt turned out to be quite different from what I had imagined. People are so warm and friendly – they simply adore India and Indians, more so our Bollywood actors. You can see people glued to cell p

HYDERABAD: As I entered the Citadel on a hot summer morning, there were four men eating breakfast from a sumptuous spread of Felafel, flat breads and other goodies. When I walked past, they warmly invited me to partake from their repast, insisting that I join them. Total strangers and such welcoming bonhomie?!! I was too shy to accept their offer, but was thoroughly impressed by their hospitality.


Unmistakably a fortress, the citadel nestles beneath the slope of the Moquattam hills, built on a protruding outcrop of rock. Built by the mighty Saladin, who managed to defeat the invading Crusaders in the 12th century, the Citadel was home to Egypt’s rulers for some 700 years. Taking a walk around its ramparts, I came across numerous smaller exhibits, museums, antiquities, carriages and the old mint.

Coffee House Experience

Here men, and increasingly women, puff on water pipes known as shisha, drink Turkish coffee and generally watch the world going by. The most famous ahwa is El Fishawy in the Khan al-Khalili bazaar area. El Fishawy occupies several mirror decorated rooms off a main thoroughfare in the bazaar. Popular with Egyptians as well as tourists the ambience reminded me of the Arabian Nights- the constant stream of people passing by is far more entertaining than a five star lobby!

Khan el Khalili

Started in 1382 AD, this great shopping experience of Cairo is unmatched. As I funnelled towards the line of outdoor cafes that line the entrances to the bazaars, I sensed a growing excitement as people weaved through the crowd, many selling as they walk. You can buy everything from watches to leather pouffes, statuettes, spices, souvenirs, silver jewellery, T-shirts, gallabeyas, belly dancing costumes etc. I shopped for two days and still wanted more!! Can’t help falling in love with what they fondly call “Khan”!.


Located just outside of the outskirts of Cairo on the esplanade known as the Giza Plateau, and standing like giant stone hills that are visible from the Nile at dawn and dusk, seeing the Pyramids for real is one of the greatest experiences of life. They are even vaster than what I imagined from all those pictures that I have seen. Built around 2600 BC, the three Pyramids of Giza are believed to be elaborate tombs for the three kings, Cheops, Chephren and Menkaure. It is thought that the Pyramids were built by a series of ramps up which the massive two and three ton rocks were carried. The mystery of what happened to the ramps, however, remains a subject of fierce discussion even today.

Magical Nile

An evening on the Nile with dinner, dance and music thrown in, turned out to be my most cherished memory of Cairo.The gentle sway of the boat added to the sinuous grace of the belly dancer and the mystic whirling of the dervish.The Nile reflected a myriad lights in its placid waters, creating a fairytale like setting.


Considered to be even older than the Pyramids, the Sphinx squats in stony silence and splendour in front of the Pyramids. The fact that the Sphinx is far more eroded than the Pyramids has inclined some experts to declare it as over 10,000 years old. Recently restored, the Shpinx looks very similar in shape to the wind- formed ‘mud lions’ found in the desert, just as the Pyramids look like star dunes- both lending support to the widely held view that ancient Egyptian culture came out of the desert.

The Hanging Church

The oldest church in Cairo, dating from perhaps the 4 th century AD, is stunningly beautiful. It “hangs” because of the way its nave hangs above the passages below, resting on the bastions of the south west gate of the fortress. I walked into the interior courtyard only to be dazzled by the multitude of icons there. Built on top of the Roman fortress gatehouse called Babylon, its 13 magnificent pillars represent Jesus and his 12 apostles.

Egyptian Museum

With over 1,20,000 artefacts, the museum houses an unbelievable display depicting ancient Egypt’s glorious reign. Mummies, sarcophagi, pottery, jewellery and of course, Tutankhamun’s treasures are all here. The boy-king’s death mask-discovered in his tomb, is made of solid gold and has been described as one of the most beautiful objects ever made.

The great Mosque

Situated on the summit of the citadel, this Ottoman mosque, with its animated silhouette and twin minarets, is the most visible mosque in Cairo. Also known as the Alabaster Mosque, the main material is limestone but the lower storey and forecourt are tiled with alabaster.

Fact File

Getting there : Many airlines fly to Cairo - Egypt Air flies from Mumbai to Cairo direct.

Visa: Rs. 2,900 for a tourist visa

Currency: Egyptian pound is equal to 0.11 USD. You can even pay in dollars, some shops accept INR too.

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The New Indian Express