1.The monuments – Since this is the most obvious one, let’s start with this one first. As much as you have heard or read about the monuments, it doesn’t prepare you for the splendor that awaits you. One of the oldest civilizations in the world, no other place has captured the imagination of historians and laymen alike. As I read more about the place, it was like going through a maze of stories and mysteries. Ancient temples, tombs, mummies, pyramids – all of these have been depicted and immortalized in popular Hollywood movies. And the reality is much, much better. As we explored the temples and monuments, the stories come alive, the characters became real…almost familiar, and the place a stage for the most engaging drama that we had seen.
2. It’s different – So when we are seeking experiences, we always look for the most unique, the most “different”, and the most unusual. And there’s no doubt that Egypt has been the most unique place I have visited. Yes, as an Indian traveler, there are quite a few familiar aspects – cuisine (like kebabs), music, language, culture (Egyptians are familiar with Bollywood and love it!), but even with all that, there’s a whole different vibe to the place. The closest I can describe it is, as cliched as it sounds, is “exotic”. Now, I have often heard that about India, and wondered about the reality of that description. Do the crowds, the noise, the chaos, the people, the customs, rituals, and the stories qualify as “exotic”? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, and that’s the subject of another post. But it was true here as well – there was so much life in the place; the culture, the customs, the stories, the people – so different, and yet so truly familiar.
3. It’s alive – Talking of vibes, I found Cairo and Luxor to be two of the liveliest places I have visited. There was this whole pulsating, throbbing, and energetic pace to the place. As we landed in Cairo at around 9pm, I remember looking through the window and feeling totally awed at this beautiful blanket of twinkling lights. The hubby then told me that Cairo was the largest city in Africa. A little later at around 11pm, we stepped out of the airport and into this maze of crowded streets, tall flyovers, fast moving cars, and closely packed buildings. I was taken aback – it was past 11, car drivers were driving like maniacs, honking and zipping through the traffic, a lot of shops were open, people were walking on the streets, men and women both seem to be having animated conversations in street side cafes…relaxed and calm, as if the noise and the traffic and the cars were all far, far away. It felt “alive”. As we spent more days in Luxor, and Cairo, it was a feeling that never left me. As a woman traveler, I loved the fact that there were lots of women on the streets – yes, a lot of them wore their scarves around their head (hijaab), but they also wore fashionable clothes, jewelry, make up and were very well-dressed. More importantly, they didn’t sound subdued or quiet; they talked loudly amongst themselves, and also with the men around, something giggling, sometimes arguing, and sometimes throwing their heads back with full throated laughter. I loved it. Something, I would love to see more in India.
4. It’s inexpensive – Egypt is one place which is actually cheap by Indian standards. As per Western standards, I guess it would be dirt cheap! 1 Egyptian pound is roughly 0.14 USD. The political unrest means lesser tourists, and that has translated to lower prices. Food, accommodation, and transport are ridiculously inexpensive. For instance, a first class AC train ticket from Luxor to Cairo costs around 6.5 USD; an AC bus ticket from Cairo to Hurghada costs around the same! A meal in a mid-range restaurant would cost you around 4 dollars, and street food would be even cheaper! The only thing that might pinch your pocket is the entry fees to the various monuments. But then they are so spectacular, you don’t really mind!
5. It’s a traveler’s mecca – It could be because of the monuments, and it could be because it’s so inexpensive, but Egypt is full of travelers. Yes, you have the tourists, but you also meet so many really interesting travelers. People from all across the world, young, old, men, and women, all seem to have converged to this place, full of curiosity, and full of enthusiasm for a culture so alien to theirs. And we made new friends – on the tour buses, where we ganged up, so as to get the guide to take us to all the monuments; at our hotel terrace in Luxor, where we hung out with bottles of Stella, watching the sun set over the minarets, tired but happy, exchanging stories and making plans for the next day. It feels really nice.
1. Well, it’s not the cleanest of places. I am told that things were much better before the revolution, but now, you do have to be prepared to see dirt and garbage on the street. The pyramids of Giza are spectacular, but just outside the complex, it’s really tough to walk around with all the garbage piled up. So yeah, if you are really particular on neatness, this might not be the place for you!
2. The chaos – There’s no such thing as a fixed price in Egypt. (Except for the entrance fees for the monuments). Everywhere else you have to bargain; in addition, people are always haggling or trying to sell goods. I am from India, and I am used to it, but I can easily understand how annoying it could be! Besides, it doesn’t feel great that you always have to be on your guard!
3. Political unrest – Well, it was perfectly fine when I visited, but I do know that things are not really stable in the country. So if you are booking your tickets, do your research, and check if there are any travel advisories or restrictions before you board that plane!