Sunday, August 29, 2010

Trip to Egypt - 1: Preparations

Today, on this rather wet Sunday, I have resolved to write about my trip to Egypt. Actually, I did begin to write the events as they occurred in a diary that I purchased expressly for the purpose, but never found the time to write every day as the trip was quite exhausting and left us with few opportunities to sit at a desk and write. Even so, I will, over the next several posts, begin to describe whatever happened over the 11 days that we were in that lovely country. By we, I mean my family, of course, and by the "11 days", I mean from 6th of June to the 16th of June, 2010.

To start at the very beginning, I started planning for the trip about 3 months before we actually undertook the trip. I wanted to do thorough background research so that we would not only do this trip with the least possible costs, but also individualise the trip with the travel agent so that nothing important was missed. This was important as I am quite sure I won't be able to visit this country again during this lifetime. I began with a search for a good Egypt travel guide,  and discovered, rather unhappily, that the Egypt -specific guide was not available in Mumbai. The one that was available had the entire Middle East region in it, and its cost was over Rs. 1300. I would have loved to get my hands on the book that is featured alongside.

In the circumstances, I began a search for a soft copy on various file sites, and came upon the ME book available for FREE DOWNLOAD at one of the locations. Dutifully, and with glee, I downloaded the entire book, and then printed out the Egypt pages off my clinic printer. The second image alongside, I presume, is the book that I downloaded, as there was no cover page.

When I had all the  required pages with me, I took them to a shop that does spiral binding of books, and voila! I had my handy guide.

The next thing I did was to go to www.egyptair.com and also www.makemytrip.com and look for the best flight deals. Eventually, and with some problems to boot, I managed to book 4 return tickets, Mumbai to Cairo and back on Egypt Air at a little over Rs. 21000/= per ticket. There was a way to book the exact seats too, and it gave me great comfort to book a pair each of window and center seats one behind the other somewhere in the mid-section of the aircraft, reasonably near to the mid-section emergency exits.

I also began to ask people about which travel agent to go with, and visited the biggies, namely, SOTC, Cox and Kings, and so on. Subair, my cousin and neighbour, recommended that I go with Creative Holidays (office just behind Metro Adlabs above Mayrose Restaurant) or Akbar Travels. He also provided me with the names of the persons to contact. I began the process of contacting both the travel agents. A Poorti Mulye was the person I saw at Akbar Travels, while Ms. Medha Deshmukh was the lady in charge of the ME section of Creative Holidays. Up until a month before the actual holiday, I was unable to decide which company would finally plan my trip, but, in the end, I chose to go with Creative as their offers were not only dramatically less expensive, but also, their itinerary was better planned. 

There was one more item on the agenda: convincing the rest of my family to agree on Egypt on this, our first overseas holiday. For me, it was Egypt all the way since the history of Egypt attracted me greatly; besides, trips to other, more exotic locations were also costly. I also considered that travelling through Egypt would involve stretches of walking and climbing (for example, on the Pyramids), and I, sure as the sun rises in the East, wasn't going to get younger as time passed. Inas was the first to agree, then Hannah, and finally, Nishrin, as she realised that she had no option. 

Did I have enough money to go abroad? Well, I managed it quite well, actually, and the entire trip cost us about 350,000 INR in all.

That's it, for now.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Now in Ramadan

Ramadan is upon us, and most Muslims all around the world would be waking up early in the morning to eat some food and take a niyyat to fast from about an hour before sunrise until sunset. For the Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslims )to which I belong - it being the sect that is headed by the Syedna, viz. Syedna Muhammad Burhanuddin (T.U.S.), today is the seventh fast, and I write this an hour and a half before the time that my family and I will perform the Maghrib prayers, inshallah, and then break the fast.

For the non-Muslims who want to know more about Ramadan, I came across this link of what looks like an  interesting book on its importance. Take a look at the link on the left of this write-up and browse the book if you wish to understand the pious nature of this holiest month of the Islamic calender. Personally, I haven't much of a religiosity tagged on to me, but during Ramadan, I change into a mellow and more spirited individual. :-) 

This year, both my daughters have been fasting, and it is a pleasure to fast with them. The elder one, Inas, even goes to the gymnasium after breaking her fast. The younger one, Hannah, is currently at home, awaiting the start of her college life. As such, she is also fasting. In addition, she has been a great help around the home, and I really like her for that. 

Is there anything else to report? The food, what else? In this month, we are all busy either buying, or processing, or making food, delicious, thrilling, enjoyable food. The home of every Muslim resonates with the sounds of vegetables being chopped, pressure cookers indicating that the food inside has been cooked adequately by the sound of the whistle letting off the steam, vessels and plates being cleaned, the cooked food being arranged artistically for the pleasure of the fasting people, fruit plates being created with diced and cut fruit, blenders whizzing - creating fruit juices, mock-tails, etc. ...

During the first six days, we have had vegetable sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, dosai, uthappam, bhajiyas, upama, sev-batata-puri, falooda, various fruit, orange juice, mango juice, lemon juice, chicken tikkas, and maybe one or two things that I forget now as I try to list the stuff. And all this is at the fast-breaking time. Dinner is another meal, at or after 10 p.m., and the third meal is the sehri, or the pre-sunrise meal, where you stock up for the day ahead! 

Apart from the food, praying the salaat, reading the Holy Qur^an, and donating money to charity is also something that every Muslim does ... more of it than during the other 11 months of the year. 

Finally, it is not only about praying and fasting. It is also about controlling your other body-senses, your mind and your sexual urge, during the day time when one is fasting. Thus, one abstains from watching, or doing anything pertaining to sex; one does not lose one's temper as far as possible; one does not hurt another person; one does not willingly do anything that would harm someone else; one eschews bad thought and bad action.

That is all for now.