The Group : Standing (left to right) Jane, Aravind, David,
Yours Truly, Kartik, Tim, Melody and Taryn.
Squating (left to right) our guide and Bec.
There are not many countries in the world which present greater tourist attractions than Egypt and certainly not many with a longer history. Attractions in Egypt are so well known that the response to "I am off to Egypt" is always a "When?" and never a "Why?". Not surprisingly, for the first time in three attempts, it wasn't hard for me to convince a couple of my friends - Aravind and Kartik - to join me for a trip overseas. And my long cherished dream of visiting Egypt finally came true when I landed in Cairo late one sultry summer evening.
Travelling in Egypt, like travelling in any new region, had its share of idiosyncrasies. Adjusting to strange numerals in the automobile license plates to ceiling fans which ran faster at lower regulator settings was challenging enough, but the hardest thing to cope with was the security. It ranged from being forced to register your passport within the first week to walking through x-ray machines every time one entered a hotel, bank or a shop selling chewing gums. But the high point was definitely the intercity convoy - which is a bunch of tourist vehicles flanked by army trucks with each tourist vehicle having a pair of Kalashnikova carrying policemen. As if this wasn't enough, the convoy always chooses to leave at the strangest early morning hours. The funniest part is that the convoy invariably falls apart within metres of leaving the city and the policemen always try to outdo each other in emulating Rip Van Winkle. Luckily, the convoy does not exist off the beaten track, that is if you can put Sinai and Alexandria in that category. Despite these minor glitches, the overall security in the country is enough to protect you from everything except perhaps the obstinate shop keepers who refuse to believe that one may not be interested in buying spices at three in the morning.
Given the security, it was no surprise to learn that Egypt is extremely safe to travel around. But it was definitely surprising to hear that the tourism wasn't affected by the events of 11th Sep. The only thing that seems to keep the tourists away is the heat. Summer in Egypt is a constant 40 C + which, thanks to the hot winds, seems twice that in the Sahara. Even our group strength was only nine (four during the last week) - it is normally about twice as big. Some of us were badly affected by the heat and almost all of us were dehydrated at least once during our stay. On the bright side, enduring that heat offered us a chance to photograph the country's monuments without having 200 clueless tourist staring randomly in the foreground. Luckily for me, I came back without doing much damage to my body. Although I am tempted to attribute it to my strong build and rugged lifestyle, the real reason for my good health is just dumb luck.
Egypt has enough history to leave anyone dazed. It is easy to feel intimidated by so many names and information hurled at you everyday. Although doing a bit of research before the trip helps, we quickly realised that our best defence was to hire a guide at every spot, be it a temple, tomb or a museum. Even in the following pages, I have tried my best to separate the historical information about the sites - all of which are accessible via hyperrlinks - from the general travel journal.
It is not possible for me to end this section
without mentioning a strange torture me and my two friends were subjected
to during our trip, we being singled out purely due to our country of birth.
Everyone we met, passed by, ignored, saw, didn't notice, was adamant in
addressing us as Amitabh Bacchan, an Indian film star of the '80s. How
they could figure out our nationality is still beyond my comprehension
and by the end of the trip, I was pretty much reduced to referring to my
passport to remember my own name!