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The Sphinx

Some Travel Tips

Cairo is a city of tourism and at any given time of the year there are many tourists - so, get your hotel reservations done well in advance. The currency is Egyptian pound. It is quite a safe place and there are policemen all over the city for the security of the tourists. Cairo in many ways is like India. Tourism is a primary industry here.

Once in the street people surround you eager to sell their goods - package tours, papyrus paintings, perfume and so on. Generally bargaining is fine - even in taxis! If you try to gather information from hotel reception, even they can take you for a ride for want of money. Everything costs money in Cairo - even if you ask for direction on the road! Most people demand Tips - from the tour operator to the driver and guide, from the life operator to the reception desk in the hotel!

Tour operators can take you to perfumeries and papyrus museums. Don't buy anything in these places as they are very highly priced! So, shop on your own. People in general are friendly and mostly speak English. I would recommend that you travel by tram to most places, as it is inexpensive and clean.

Cairo - friendy people, attractive smiles!

Gizah pyramidsEnter Cairo - the land of the Pharaohs and the gift of Nile. There are many flights from all over the world that will take you to Cairo. But, before you even get there, plan your trip because once you are there, you want to discover and explore everything at once! It was my dream to be in Cairo and thought that the streets and the city will look like what we see in the films. Believe me, it isn't for as you drive from the airport, you will be amazed to see this huge ring road that runs around Cairo that is 27 kms! This fly over is extra ordinary and the traffic is real smooth and we thought they existed only in the U.S.

Cairo is thickly populated and sometimes you even wonder if you are in India by mistake. There are 18 million people living here. The people are very friendly and especially the children. They all say `Welcome to Egypt' to foreigners - a gesture that I have seen for the first time. The children are eager to talk to you. They are very pleased even if you just say 'hello'.

There are many private tour operators who can take you around or even your hotel could arrange one or even better you can go on your own which is my way. I first bought a book and took a taxi to Gizeh. In fact, a lot of people come here on package tours. However, there is also a metro to get here.

Gizeh spreads over two thousand square metros. You could take a camel ride and wander in this sprawling area of sand or just take the taxi inside and linger in the desert. As soon as you see the pyramids, you are eager to jump out and take pictures. One or two people may ask you if they can take a picture of yours in front of the pyramid. Don't even indulge in this because, it will cost money. Yes - for a picture of yours to be taken from your camera costs money here! Gizeh has three pyramids - Cheops, Chephren, and Micerinus and three small pyramids of the queens and also the Sphinx. The remarkable thing about these pyramids is that, at such an early age, they could build these amazing pyramids with a square base and straight-line edges with hardly any scientific methods! These three pyramids in Gizeh belong to the kings of the Old Kingdom dating back to 2700 BC and this is precisely why they stand above everything that you will see in Cairo. These pyramids which are the funerary complexes of these kings were built for more than ten years. There are many theories as to how it was built. You can also visit the funerary temple inside the pyramid though there is nothing there now except for some hieroglyphics on the wall.

A few yards from the pyramid is the museum which house the solar bark. This is believed to have carried Emperor Cheops to the pyramid because in those days the Nile flowed beside these pyramids. About a few meters from Cheop's pyramid is the gigantic Sphinx. This great Sphinx known in Arabic as Abu el-Hol means 'father of terror', represents a lion's body and a human head. The face of the Sphinx is believed to resemble the face of Cheops and this Sphinx stands here guarding the tomb - the pyramid of Cheops. Many times over centuries, this enormous body has been buried in sand and many times men have dug it out too.

Every evening there is a sound and light show at Gizeh. Be wary to carry some very warm clothing as it gets very cold. This is a spectacular event and true to its word you will be spell bound in the end and you will believe the Egyptian saying - 'Everybody fears Time but Time fears the Pyramids!'

A few kms from Cairo is Memphis - the old capital of Lower Egypt. Memphis till the finding of Alexandria prospered and today nothing remains of the once prosperous capital except for some ruins. Here you can find a huge statue of RamsesII. Also in Memphis you can see the Sphinx of Amon-OfisII. A short drive from Memphis will take you to Sakkarah. This is a beautiful place where you can find the remarkable step pyramid of Zoser and many mastabas. This pyramid is also exclusive because it was the first funerary complex to be built and therefore the first ever pyramid to appear in the world. Originally all these pyramids had a covering of smooth stone but today only the stones glare at you. These are also many mastabas here. Mastaba in Arabic means 'bench'. These mastabas were tombs of dignitary built to resemble the houses they lived. These were rectangular with slightly inclined walls and hence - mastaba. These mastabas are also well known for their decorations on the wall. You can see many scenes of hunting, dancing and fishing with some original colours.

The Egyptian National museum throws more light into the Egyptian history. Everyday, hundreds of people visit this museum and it seems to be eternally crowded. But, here you can find a copy of the Rosetta stone (the original is in the British museum) - the key to hieroglyphic writing. However, the gold coffin of Tutankhamon is the highlight of the museum. Tutankhamon, though not prosperous king is famous today because his funerary complex was found almost intact. This gold coffin of King Tut, who died at the age of 18, is made of 450 pounds of solid gold and bears the finest example of goldsmithing work of Egyptian history. Also in the museum is the special mummy room where you get to learn the entire process of mummification and see many mummies. Here, we learn how in the early Egypt people believed in re-birth and so went on to preserve the bodies so that the soul could find its body and enter it.

SaqaraIf you think Egypt if only about Pharaohs, mummies and pyramids, then, you are mistaken for as you explore you will find the magical city unfolding itself. There is the Mohammed Ali Mosque and sultan Hassan mosque which are worth visiting. The Mohammed Ali Mosque stands out for its cascading dome design and spectacular interior. Here you can also find the tomb of Mohammed Ali. You can also visit the old Cairo where you can go back in time. The old city is perfect place to walk and explore the old times. Here there are cathedrals, which bear the Islamic architectural touch. This old city is also called the city of dead because in ancient times, people were buried outside the city.

Having come to Egypt, can you avoid a cruise in the Nile? This river in all its glory has been the sole witness to Egyptian history. Nile is a very sacred river to Egyptians and it has been so from very early times. Today, a lot of people take a cruise down the Nile to visit places. However, if you are hard pressed for time, you can take a 2-3 hour night cruise on Nile with excellent dinner and Dance or you could even talk a boatman into taking you alone on a one-hour boat ride with loud Egyptian music!

There is also the Cairo tower with a revolving restaurant on top. From the top of this tower you will get a good view no doubt but I really don't recommend this because the money is not worth it unless you have not eaten in a revolving restaurant.

Al-Khaleeli Bazaar is the best place to shop for souvenirs. This is a very big bazaar and you can spend hours just shopping. You can buy gold, silver and many precious stones! You can bargain for at least one-third of the price. (I bought a gold pendant of King Tut for 35 Egyptian pounds but the quoted price was 60 Egyptian pounds!) One thing that impressed me here is that people could speak many languages - French, Italian, English, Russian and Spanish! It speaks of the number of people who come here everyday from different parts of the world.

 
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