After completing all the formalities at the immigration in Delhi we headed to board a flight to Cairo. My dream of visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza was about to come true. Soon it was time to fly. After a short lay over in Kuwait, we ultimately reached the Cairo International Airport.
As we entered the city of Cairo, our local tour agency greeted us with flowers; they also danced to the beats of the drums and played an Egyptian flute. We were overwhelmed and even tried to match a step or two with them.
Soon were off and driving through the city. Drove past many ancient structures, went past the citadel of Saladin — the great Muslim leader who confronted the Crusaders. Many beautiful mosques and other Egyptian antiquities lay on both sides of the road. It was indeed a treat for the eyes. Among them the most prominent structure is the mosque of Muhammad Ali, stopping by, took many pictures. While driving across the ‘’city of the dead’’ or the Necropolis, the guide informed us of its rich history in exhaustive detail.
Our car pulled over by the Nile river. The pellucid water of the river glistened as the rays of the sun fell on it. Entering a floating restaurant tucked into our lunch as we had been very hungry. The Egyptian food that they served was so palatable. Finally, it was time to check in at the hotel.
With the evening setting in, the city was decked out with beautiful colours and lights. From my window I could see the silhouette minarets standing tall against the crimson sky. Beneath, the city was bustling with life and energy. It was time to venture out and soak in the ambience. As we straggled along the road, I could see people busy at their work. Hawkers were selling ‘’Keffiyeh’’ (Egyptian scarves) and other things mostly made of camel bone. Curio shops and other plush departmental stores and eateries were to be found everywhere. As I was leafing through a book in a book stall, the smell of shawarma wafted through my nostrils. It was time to visit the famous Al Khalili market, it is a souk in the centre of the city and a major tourist attraction.
The bazaar was crowded, so had to jostle in. Starting from vibrant coloured lanterns, leather bags to dry fruits and jewelleries, Al Khalili market has it all. We were spoilt for choices. Paid a short visit to the Cairo museum and the Pharaonic village; these places are very touristy and a quick scanning is pretty worthwhile.
The next morning was very special as we were about to visit the Pyramids of Giza. On the way dropped in at an Egyptian perfumery. The experience was unique. I have a yen for perfume, did pick up a few fragrances. Finally, it was time to reach the great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the pyramid of Khufu). It is the oldest and the largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Pyramid complex. The complex also houses the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
As I dismounted from the car, hawkers came running in. One was brandishing a bust of Tutankhamen on his head while the other was hellbent on selling a tiny wooden pyramid to me. We somehow managed to walk past them and reach the spot. Finally, the moment arrived, I was all eyes. We took countless pictures and even tried to climb the steps of the Pyramid; it was a moment of unbridled joy.
That evening we had a Nile cruise on the cards. While waiting on the bank I could see the gigantic cruise approaching us. Inside it felt very regal, musicians and dancers were enthralling the guests while it moved slowly giving us ample chance to get a wonderful view of the city at night. An array of mouth-watering dishes was laid on the table. We had a fun filled time. The journey was rounded off by a svelte Egyptian woman sensually belly dancing to the beats of the Darbuka drums.
The next day we were scheduled to visit the Christian quarters of Cairo. The Coptic Cairo, as it is popularly called, is a part of old Cairo. This area is famous for harbouring many churches and other historical sites; the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church are a few of the must visited sites. The Greek church of St. George dates back as early as the 10th century. The buildings’ baroque architecture contains detailed etching on the corners. Extremely intricate in detail, the structures look splendid and the place is a photographer’s favourite haunt. We also visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue; once a church now converted into a synagogue. The beautiful Abu Serga Church in Coptic Cairo is believed to date back to the 4th century. Legend has it that when Jesus had come to Egypt as child, stayed here.
Finally, it was time for us to bid adieu to Cairo and proceed our onward journey to Israel.
Next day by crossing the Suez Canal, we entered the Sinai Peninsula. The Suez Canal is under strict surveillance, so clicking pictures is prohibited there. Sinai is one of the riskiest places on earth because of the ever presence of ISIS. An Egyptian convoy drove in front of us in order to tighten our security. The place is completely arid and deserted.
Soon we reached the desert oasis of Marah. The well of Marah as mentioned in the Book of Exodus, is the well from where Moses and his men drank water during their journey to Israel. It is believed that Moses had turned the bitter water into sweet. The Red Sea was by our side throughout the journey.
We reached the resort town of Ras Sadr in the Gulf of Suez to have our lunch. The azure water of the Red sea and the surrounding mountains of Sinai was just a perfect setting to enjoy a continental meal.
Post lunch we continued our escapade to even more arid landscapes, with no sign of people, not even birds. While passing through the Gulf of Suez, occasionally drove past oil refineries and oil extraction stations. Finally reached our hotel in St. Catherine after darkness.
Next morning woke up to the sight of the beautiful Biblical Sinai mountains surrounding our resort, it was bitingly cold in the month of January but was enjoying every bit of it. Later on in the day took a trip to St. Catherine’s monastery, situated on the holy valley of Wade -ed -dier. It is considered to be one of the world’s oldest monasteries housing a treasure trove of artworks and ancient texts. The monastery was built by Justinian the First, a Roman emperor. This place also preserves Moses’ Burning Bush and hence is considered a holy shrine by the Christian pilgrims. On our way, came across numerous Bedouin stalls selling coloured stone carved souvenirs, specially made of the famed Sinai turquoise. We also spotted many Bedouin riders sitting astride on their camels and gawking at us.
The following morning, we resumed journey and headed towards the Taba-Eilat border. Taba is a town located on the border of Egypt and Israel. While travelling through the gulf of Aqaba, drove past many important resort towns including Nuweiba and Dahab.
We also spotted Saudi Arabia and Jordon on the other side and stopped by Fjord Bay — a top diving spot in the gulf of Aqaba. The citadel of Saladin on Pharaoh’s Island is a work of masterpiece and should not be missed.
Finally, after reaching the immigration check post at Taba we had a hassle-free check in. A Jew on the other side was waiting for us and with him our new odyssey in Israel began.