Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Part 1

Alan on the pyramids

The two week break between semesters allowed us to do some travelling outside of Qatar as we now have entry & exit visas which means we can come and go as we please. So, with Charles & Marilyn Cron, we set out for an eight day Egypt experience.

Egypt has been one of the countries we've always been on our list of countries we must visit and being so close now was the time to go. We booked a tour with a U.K. group - On the Go Tours- which gave us a loose group of like minded travellers who had selected different experiences and a guided tour through Cairo and the Nile valley to Luxor and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens and flights on Qatar Air and off we set.

Arrival in Cairo was as chaotic as arriving in Delhi with tour company guides waving cards for their clients well before passport control, a lack of direction signs and a reliance on total accident to discover where one could buy the entry visas that would allow us through Customs. Customs declarations over we walked straight onto the street and a guantlet of taxi hucksters and hotel touts where we waited for our group pick-up and our trip through Cairo to our hotel - The Oasis - out on the Alexandria Highway.

Our first experience of Cairo was one of chaos, five lanes of traffic, horses, donkeys, cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians, on three lane streets -an experience which wasn't changed the next day when we set out on a day tour of the Roman & medieval city and the Egyptian Museum.
Getting through the haze of traffic, dust and people all struggling to gain dominance in the sprawling mass of grey, sand blasted high rises and 28 million people trying to survive reminded us of our travels around New Delhi although I think finding ourway around Delhi was probably a lot less confusing!!

The cars of Cairo look as though they've escaped from the wreckers' yards or been transported from "Smash Palace" while private cars parked along the streets looked as though they, too, were fighting battles with the panel beater and the inevitable carpet of sand that falls over Cairo. We passed many that had four flat tires and a veritable rubbish tip underneath while the windscreen wipers were out requesting a car wash from the itinerant car-washers that patrol the streets.
We drove past open air butcher shops, placed beside a rubbish tip, with the carcasses hanging in the street and willing butchers ready to slice off any cut requested by the passing customers while bread sellers hawked bread from trays balanced on their heads or displayed across the bars of their bicycles to anyone who needed it.

We visited the Hanging Church and the Crypt in the Coptic museum area where legend has it that Mary, Joseph and Jesus hid as they remained in exile during the persecution in Palestine.

From there we headed to the Salah El Din Citadel and Mohamed Ali Mosque built high on the hill above Cairo. The Mosque is modeled on that of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul but comes complete with a wrought iron clock, presented by the French to the Egyptian Government in return for an obelisk, that is perpetually stopped at 2.45pm 1845.

The afternoon was spent at the Egyptian Museum where we gazed at the sculptures, statues, mummies, sarcophagie and funerary possessions from the Pharohic period of Egypt's history. The museum is a dusty 19th century archive of exhibits complete with faded typewritten explanations that sprawls over two floors and is a caconophy of sound as tour guides lecture milling throngs in every possible language.

On Wednesday we headed off to Sakkarah and Giza to see the pyramids and tombs of the Pharohs.
The trip to the pyramids through the Cairo countryside gave us a view of rural life that mirrored sights Joy & I saw in India - donkeys and horses hauling loads that seemed out of proportion to the size of the animals. Camels and oxen meandering along the roadsides and people labouring in the fields with no obvious mechanical help in sight.

Donkey & cart - Giza Road - Street trader - GizaRoad
At Sakkarah,amid great laughter, before she knew what had happened, Joy got captured by the Donkey ride entrepeneurs, thrown onto a donkey, draped in a head scarf and, along with Charles and me, conned into a photo opportunity.
Joy & me held captive by Donkey ride entrepeneurs at Giza.

The pyramids at both sites gave us an insight into the customs and beliefs of the Pharonic Egyptians and the monuments they raised in their quest for immortality in the after life. To imagine harnessing entire communities to labour on building such huge works of art and engineering in quest of such a dream makes history even more fascinating and compeling.

Joy at Giza- Sphinx and Pyramids
The evening saw us on board the "Seater Train" to Luxor. A nine hour over night trip to the valleys of the Kings & Queens.

No comments: