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  • Writer's pictureShatabdi Mukherjee

A Visit to the Land of Pharaohs

My long-cherished dream of seeing the pyramids and mummies came true in 2019. Egypt, however, is not merely about pyramids and mummies but a confluence of history, art, culture, architecture, geography, science and much more.


Preparations

We went to Egypt from India, with a travel agency called SOTC. One can get a visa on arrival at Cairo Airport. Or may apply for an online visa. As many would say, Egypt is not too orthodox to foreigners. You can wear anything, but keeping in mind the scorching heat during the day, avoid short dresses or pants, or you may burn your skin. Carrying caps or hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, enough water, and food for long journeys is a must. Take one or two pieces of warm clothing too, for nights are cold there.


The Journey

We arrived at Cairo Airport from Kolkata via Mumbai. After passing through immigration and customs, we exchanged some US Dollars for Egyptian Pounds at the airport and bought a local SIM card. Then we headed to our hotel, the Hilton, which was arranged by the travel agency.


Day 1

After some food and rest, we went to see the Egyptian Museum, situated just beside the Hilton. The museum is full of wonders. I would highly recommend booking a guided tour to understand the history of Egypt and learn about the legends, mythology and culture of ancient Egypt. The museum is full of Egyptian art, sculptures, manuscripts, treasures of pharaohs, and mummies of men, women and animals. Our guide Mr Hany, fluent in English, explained everything we saw in the museum and told mythological stories related to the exhibits. Tutankhamun's jewellery and treasures room is a must-see. And so is the 'Mummies Room'. Set at least three hours aside for this wonderful museum.

Then in the evening, we visited a perfume factory, to learn about famous Egyptian perfumes, and a glass factory. It was interesting to see how colourful and delicate glass tumblers and small pitchers of glass are made.


Later that evening we went to Giza for the Pyramids Sound and Light Show about the history of Egypt. As nights are cold in the desert, wear a jacket or wrap a shawl around during the show.


The day, albeit hectic, was full of exciting experiences.


Day 2

After breakfast, we set out on our day trip to Alexandria. It was lovely passing through Cairo and by the Mediterranean Sea. Our first stop in Alexandria was the Citadel of Qaitbay, a harbour fort on the sea coast built in the 15th century. We then stopped at the beautiful Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, which was on the way to our next destination, the Library of Alexandria.

The original library is said to have been built by the famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra but was destroyed in a fire. It was later rebuilt and has been protected by the Egyptian government ever since. There are a number of myths and legends related to this library. At present, it has a huge collection of books, paintings, sculptures and printing machines along with large reading halls. Interestingly, children below 13 are allowed inside only up to the first floor. As a result, we had to leave our 11-year-old son outside with our tour manager!


Day 3

The next day was another exciting one as we were visiting our dream landmark: the Great Pyramids of Giza. Reaching the Giza plateau, I felt as though the pictures from my old history book had popped up in front of my eyes. The enormous pyramids were standing right in front of me amidst the sand and rocks of the vast land. A separate ticket has to be bought to enter the pyramids. Horse-drawn carriages and camel rides are also available there to take you around the massive structures. There is a helipad nearby from where one can get excellent views of the pyramids and take photos.

Beware of frauds though, who might approach you as local hawkers and guides. Some might come to help you or pose with you for a photo and then demand money.

After spending some more time at the Pyramids and having completed a horse-drawn carriage ride in the desert, we went to see another iconic attraction of Egypt: the Sphinx. The gigantic statue is of a mythological creature with a lion's body and a human head. Egyptians believe that it guards the pyramids.


Later in the evening, we were taken to a Papyrus factory and shop. We were shown how papyrus is made. You can buy painted Papyrus or a blank one for your artwork from here. This was our last day with our guide Hany.

Day 4

The morning was free for packing as we were flying from Cairo to Aswan in the afternoon. We reached there in the evening. We were joined by our new guide, whose name was so difficult that I could neither pronounce it nor remember it. Another excitement began when we boarded MS Beau Rivage II for a Nile Cruise with Etapes Nouvelle Egypte Voyages. Our room on board was small but cosy and beautiful with a wide window giving us the view of the sunset by the golden banks of the majestic Nile. The cruise was stationed at the Aswan dock that evening, so we got to go for a walk on the pavement beside the dock in the cool breeze.

Day 5

Our journey to Abu Simbel started before dawn. As we had to pass through the Sahara Desert, an early start was necessary to minimise our exposure to the heat of the late morning.


There are two temples in Abu Simbel: one dedicated to Pharaoh Ramasses II and the other to his wife Nefertari. These twin temples are situated beside the west bank of Naser Lake. The four colossal statues at the entrance are the most notable features of the Abu Simbel temples. This entrance can be seen in the movie The Mummy Returns. The sculptures, pillars, and idols inside are very attractive too.

On our way back from Abu Simbel, we stopped in the middle of the Sahara Desert and spotted a mirage. Before coming back to our cruise ship, we went to see the world's largest embankment dam, the Aswan Dam, which I had read about in high school, in our geography book.

We returned to the cruise and soon embarked on our journey. Later that afternoon we reached Kom Ombo. The Temple of Kom Ombo is dedicated to two Egyptian gods: Sobek, the crocodile god, and the falcon-headed god Horus. The stone sculptures here tell many stories. There is a museum where you can see a number of mummies of crocodiles.


We came back to our beautiful cruise around 6:00 pm and sailed through the night.


Day 6

The ship halted at Edfu the next morning. We went to the Edfu temple in a horse-drawn carriage. It was nice to pass through a small suburban area of a new country. The temple of Edfu is one of the best-preserved shrines in Egypt. It provides information about the myths, culture and language of the then Egypt.

We spent the rest of the day in the swimming pool on the deck and shopping from hawkers who sold clothes and bedsheets from their boats and would throw their wares to the passengers on the ship. We passed through the famous Esna Lock, built in the 19th century, to control the flow of water of the Nile and to connect the upper and lower parts of the river.


In the evening, the cruise reached the east bank of the Nile so we could visit Karnak Temple. This temple is dedicated to the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonshu. Karnak is a vast temple complex covering about 200 acres and comprised of temples, pylons, chapels and many other buildings.

On returning to the ship, we were told the rest of the evening had more excitement. A programme of belly dance and Tanoura, which is a traditional Egyptian dance, with live traditional music was arranged. All the guests on board danced and enjoyed the evening.

Day 7

Our next day started very early, in Luxor. It was still dark. We were going for a ride in a hot air balloon! For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The ballooning company, Salem Balloons, picked us up from our ship. A boat took us to the other side of the water, and then a car to a vast field where a number of large balloons were being prepared for our flight. Soon we climbed into the basket of the hot air balloon and it took off. A pilot controlled the flight of the balloon and explained what we saw below. He even sang a line or two of a Hindi song! We flew above corn fields, houses, villages, the Valley of the Kings, and the Colossi of Memnon. We saw the sun rising beyond the date trees. The views mersmerised us so much that we were still talking about it hours later! It was a 45-minute ride and we landed in a paddy field. We were awarded a certificate too!

After returning to the ship, we had breakfast and then bid the ship farewell as we were about to go on a bus, with all our luggage, for a day tour of Luxor. We stopped at different sites, the first being the Colossi of Memnon. These are the two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. However, to me, they looked like the huge alien from the movie The Predator.


Then we reached the Valley of the Kings, which was the burial ground for the Egyptian pharaohs. The most fascinating part of this visit was to enter the Tomb of Tutankhamun and meet Mr. Tut's Mummy lying inside a glass box. There is an extra fee to enter the tomb, but it is nothing compared to what you get to see inside.

Our next destination in Luxor was the Valley of the Queens - the burial temples of the likes of Queen Nefertari.

The scorching heat of the advancing day was roasting us! In that heat, we reached the Temple of Hatshepsut, one of the most beautiful

ancient monuments in Egypt, situated outside the city of Luxor. It is one of the masterpieces of ancient architecture.


Then we visited the Alabaster factory and Egyptian cotton shop. However, we noticed that those Egyptian cotton dresses were actually made in China, so we did not buy any!

After lunch, we went to Luxor Temple. It signifies the architectural skills of the ancient Egyptians, and the sculptures, pillars and inscriptions make it a masterpiece. Our visit to Egyptian monuments concluded at the Luxor Temple.


Now it was time for some shopping. We rushed to Luxor Market, which is situated near the temple. We bought a Mo Salah jersey for my son, some mango tea leaves, and some souvenirs and gifts.


We saved some shopping for the Khan el-Khalili Market, but I personally found Luxor Market to be cheaper and a better option for shopping.


We stayed in Hotel Sonesta in Luxor city for the night.


Day 8

The following morning we flew back to Cairo. We had a strange experience at Cairo Airport! Even after completing all formalities, we were kept at the airport for an hour. When we were finally allowed to leave, it was in a convoy of vehicles carrying foreign tourists. We were told later that there had been some sort of protest in the city of Cairo, which prompted the local government to organise the airport transfer so the tourists weren't stranded.


In the evening we visited the Khan El-Khalili Market and bought a bottle of perfume and dates, which are absolute must-buys in Egypt. The Khan el Khalili is a historic marketplace of local artefacts, souvenirs, carpets, jewellery, spices and hookahs. But if you visit here, be very careful, or you will be cheated. Bargaining is common here, and interestingly, quite a few different currencies are accepted. These include American Dollars, British Pounds, Euros, Indian Rupees, and Chinese Yen. Khan el Khalili Bazaar was our last destination in Egypt.


Day 9

The next morning we flew back to our home city Kolkata via Mumbai with a lot of exciting memories, experiences and knowledge.


Egypt is one of the most valued tourist destinations in the world. However, communication might be difficult as local people hardly speak anything other than Arabic. Though Uber is available, the number plates of the cars are all in Arabic too, so if you are traveling on your own, having Google Translator on your phone is a must.


All who love travelling and have an interest in history, culture and art should definitely keep Egypt on their list of must-see places.


About the Author

Shatabdi is an English teacher by day, a chaos manager of a teen by night, and forever an artist at heart. During vacations, you will find her exploring a new city, or lost in a museum, or trying a new adventure sport. Her backpack is always ready for an action-packed travel escapade, but it often gets hijacked by her teen's school books. And when she is not teaching or travelling, you might find her painting a canvas with vibrant colours. From the jungle safari in Jim Corbett National Park with her family to paragliding in Nepal, her adventures are as varied as the metaphors she teaches. Dive into her world, but a fair warning: it is a mix of colorful canvases, globetrotting tales, and spontaneous laughter with friends and family!

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6 comentarios


Invitado
09 oct 2023

Well described and well written

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Invitado
07 oct 2023

Wow!!! What a description, your pics and you also,... Splendid.... Keep it up.. Want to see another tour pics.. ❤❤ kalpana mukherjee.

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Invitado
07 oct 2023

Well narrated Shatabdi. I could actually visualise the travel experience u shared

Regards

Nishant Mishra

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Invitado
06 oct 2023

Very informative

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Invitado
06 oct 2023

Awesome 👍

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