29 January 2017
Cairo is a must for three reasons which I have fulfilled thanks to Yara’s support (Ali’s friend). Since young, I’ve always wanted to bow in front of the Great Pyramid and just enjoy the moment. I want to tick charity off my list and meet Dr Alaziz in person. I want to go to the Egyptian Musem and see the priceless treasures with my own eyes. Tick- Tick- Tick.
After a visit to the local bank and handing over medical supplies to Dr Alaziz’s clinic, we inched our way towards Giza. 9:45 am and I’m already close to ticking No. 2 off my list. One LE is all it cost to use the metro (cheaper than a medical check up at Dr Alaziz’s clinic). As Africa’s first and most expansive metro system, three simple lines is all it takes to cover most of the districts in the city. Unlike other big cities, metro price is a flat rate which is rather thoughtful (unlike Beijing and Shanghai). It is great to use public transportation since I got the chance to ride with the friendy locals. Like Iran, there are carriages only for women and family. The metro made its way throughout Cairo, a city with around 20 million or so people and not surprising one of the largest cities in Africa and Middle East. The Nile River quietly watches on the busy city and the ongoing action – a witness to the medieval Islamic remnants in Old Cairo, the more modern look in the busy centre, the lingering revolutionary spirit and the inevitable changes that awaits this city. Apart from seeing the major tourist sites, watching the locals carry on with their daily lives is perhaps something else that makes travelling so intoxicating.
If Dhaka in Bangladesh is called the ‘City of Mosques’, then Cairo is nicknamed “The city of a thousand minarets” for her many Islamic architecture. It is easy to find some peace and quietness in busy Cairo- just escape into one of the alleyways in the old part of the town or hide in one of the mosques. During such promenade, one cannot ignore the tangible problems facing the city- environmental degradation.
A common symptom of all major capital cities: waste, air pollution, water pollution, heavy traffic and lack of proper and even distribution of natural resources (just to name a few). If population is a factor then having old cars on the road in Cairo and being a fairly dry city adds a double blow to environment. Old 1890’s photos of the pyramid clearly shows an oasis where one can find ponds and palm trees with the pyramids in the background.
However, it is now a desert and a huge necropolis.
From Giza’s metro stop, a local mini bus is needed to take us to the Pyramids. Together with the Sphinx ( a lot smaller than I’ve imagined it to be), they are not just iconic images of the country but also a symbol of Egyptian civilisation. I was filled with absolute joy when I first laid eyes on the Pyramids – not like the photos but still wonderful in a personal kind of way. Childhood dream- tick:)
El Haram Street which lead travellers to the complex used to be a small track amongst fields and surrounded by the villages of Giza. Now, it feels like a touristy street in Siem Reap or Kathmandu. Athough tourism helps to boost a country’s economy, I still prefer the olden days when sites are much well protected and its surroundings less commericialised.
The entrance to the Pyramids is a bit chaotic but with Yara by my side, we quickly found the nicest horse/camel Pyramid tour company and before we knew it, we were off to find our own corner and quiet lookout in the Pyramid Complex. We had the best spot in the complex since the view is super.
The three big Pyramids of Giza are the focal point of the necropolis- a place which served the elite of the Old Kingdom and the burial place of the three pharaohs: Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Other members of the royal family were also buried in the complex.
Khufu is often the most talked about pyramid since it is often regarded as the last surviving representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is easy to forget as I stared at Khufu that it is actually 9 m shorter than its original 146 m height. 2 million blocks were used for this pyramid alone. Compare this with Khafre and Menkaure, Khufu is the largest of the three with Menkaure (62 m in height) being the smallest. The noseless Sphinx (much smaller than I’ve imagined it to be) guards the entrance to the big three. How in the world did our ancestors ( with ‘limited’ technology and tools) came to construct structures as magnificient as this? Well- they did it and no doubt, they are alot smarter than us ( angles, degrees, astronimically oriented etc).
After a chat and rest by the Nile River, Yara and I went to see the Egyptian Museum. It is a top museum filled with treasures and houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities. Since it is located right on Tahrir Square, it did not escape looting during the 2011 Revolution (two mummies were destroyed and 25 objects remain missing). I remember staring at pictures in my history book and becoming fascinated with mummies and many artifacts (especially beonging to the boy King). Now, I found myself staring at his mask (11kg of solid gold), that iconic golden chair and mummies of 11 kings and queens.
Random Information on Egypt
- Islamized in the 7th century, Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. It was a Christian country before that. 90% are Muslims and the rest are Christians.
- The economy relies on the Suez Canal and Tourism. Egypt is a developed energy market on coal, oil, natural gas and hydro power.
- 35-40% of Egyptians earn less than $2 a day. Only 2-3% are considered to be wealthy.
- Some challenges: growing population, limited land, overdependence on the Nile ( the majority of people live near the banks of the Nile), pollution, corruption, terrorism