Thanks to the readers who took out time from their busy schedules to read my first instalment on the above subject. Those who did not read it, may click HERE.
Let me continue.
The itinerary was planned by Medha, my travel agent from Creative Holidays. Her charges included most of the fees and moneys for all the locations that we were to visit while in Egypt. It also included a daily breakfast, 3 days' dinner in an Indian restaurant while in Cairo, 3 days' dinner on the Nile cruise, and dinner while in the desert. It included visa fees too. It did not include entry to the Mummies' room in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and it did not include out of pocket expenses and any upgrades if we took them. (We did not take any upgrades, and the single biggest out of pocket expenditure was the tips that we had to give to our local tour guides, waiters and stewards at the various hotels we stayed and on the Nile cruise, as well as tips to the porter who looked after us on the train from Cairo to Aswan ... but I am getting a bit ahead of things ... so please be patient while I carry on.)
Day 1 (6th June): Leave Mumbai for Cairo, arriving at the latter at about 3 in the afternoon. We travelled by Egypt Air, and the memory I will carry back with me is the beautiful but dour air hostess who looked after our catering and other needs on the flight. Also, I must say that the sights of the various artificial islands that we saw ... obviously the "palms" that Dubai is famous for ... were breath-taking.
While the Cairo Int. Airport is located far to the east of the Nile river , which, by the way, neatly bisects the metropolitan city of Cairo, our hotel, the Hotel Horizon Pyramids, is located far west of the same river at Giza, and is more than 25 miles from the airport. Looking at this problem, our local tourist agency, M/S Sunny Travels, represented at the airport by an ebullient, chain-smoking, innocent-faced Mostapha Hamdy, decided to take us to neighbouring areas of Coptic Cairo, part of Old Cairo - before taking us to the hotel later in the evening. This is what then occurred: we took our bags from the airport carousel, went out, got into a spacious Honda SUV, and drove to Old Cairo.
While their official itinerary was to show us a Jewish synagogue and take us to two or three churches, I asked them to also take us to visit a few of the holy shrines where we could offer prayers. These included the shrines of Hazrat Iman Husein, Syeda Nafisa, Syeda Rukaiya, and a few more. There was a protest from them, as these places were not on the official agenda, but we negotiated a price for this, which they agreed upon - a sum of 90 U.S. greenbacks. While we visited the shrines of Syeda Nafisa, Syeda Aisha and Syeda Zainab, we did not find where the shrine of Syeda Rukaiya was, so we skipped it. The photos alongside show the shrines of Syeda Zainab, Syeda Nafisa and Syeda Aisha.
We would see the shrine of Imam Husein at a later time, when we visited the Khan-el-Khalili market (see future blog posts).
To the non-Muslims, the above places are shrines of holy Muslims who were either prophets or other biggies of the religion. As per tradition, Bohras as well as other Muslims visit the graves of these people and pray there for salvation and other more earthly desires to be fulfilled.
However, before we visited these shrines, we took a trip into the heart of Old Cairo, where we were shown an old, very old Jewish synagogue (cameras not allowed), and a few churches, of which the Hanging Church was clearly the best. This church is built over the old course of the Nile river, which once flowed 40 feet below the church. The inside has a marvellous central podium with 13 pillars, each representing one of the apostles of the Christ, while the 13th represents the Christ Himself. Here are some pictures of this podium, as well as some more enchanting sights of this church:
This church is supposed to have sheltered Jesus Christ when He was a small child, and the courtyard has a couple of date trees under which He is supposed to have played. The pictures show our family on the steps to the church, a view of the special podium (or pulpit), and a few stained glass windows.
It is obvious that this church is one of the prized heritages of this otherwise Islamic country. We did see some other churches, and we were also taken to St. Barpara Church and the Ben Azra synagogue, but we could not take any pictures, since cameras were not allowed inside.
After the visits to the shrines, we were driven into the heart of commercial Cairo, where we were taken to the Bukhara Restaurant, the only Indian-food serving restaurant in this amazing city. The owner was a soft-spoken Muslim, who served us a-la-carte. We chose to have a chicken makhani, dal fry, special Egyptian "chapatis" and rice. A salad with large red and green chillis was also served, and we would see different versions of this salad at many places over the next week and a half that we spent in this country.
While the children and I took food heartily, Nishrin felt under the best of condition, and had a headache coming on, and so, did not eat anything. After dinner, which was quite nice, we drove to Giza, and checked in at the Hotel Horizon Pyramids at about 8.00 p.m. This is a good hotel, and from the upper floors, we are supposed to be able to see the Great Pyramids, but tonight, we were allotted rooms on the first floor, albeit adjoining ones, and we settled in for the night, eager to explore the country the next day.