By Sujoy Dhar/TWF
As a child and long before Discovery and National Geographic were part of our everyday TV diet, glimpses of Cairo in a hardcore Hindi movie called "The Great Gambler" had caught my fancy.
A lot of action in the film involving Big B and her leading ladies were in Cairo. I knew I had to visit this hell of a city some day and so on arrival I found every bit of Cairo welcoming me. Where on earth can you get to see the awesome Pyramids, the enchanting Nile, the mind-boggling museums, the roadside sheesha joints, confident outgoing Egyptian women, their flirting male counterparts and breathtaking belle dancers who are part of a rocking nightlife that perhaps challenges the hedonism of the West. Cairo can be more rocking than New York. The reasons may be the viagra of Egyptian zest for life. For an Indian, it is also about the warmth with which they perceive us. "You Indian? Good nationality. How is Amitabh Bachchan?" said the camel man at Giza. They are all great Hindi movie fans and Amitabh Bachchan is as adorable to an Egyptian as us. Then at a shop selling papyrus, the wealthy shopkeeper turned all his attention to me as he enquired about our film stars and passed a final judgement on Hindi movie: in three hours you are wronged and you get justice and your revenge. Cairo also resembles Mumbai a lot, especially the Nile riverfront which is quite akin to Marine Drive.
Founded on the site of Babylon, near the ruins of ancient Memphis, Cairo has been the largest city in Africa for centuries. Modern Cairo encompasses many former cities and their monuments: the pyramids of the Pharaohs, the Sphinx, early Christian monasteries and churches, Salah Al-Din Citadel, and mosques of the Mamluke and Ottoman sultans. Five thousand years of culture are concentrated here at the centre of three continents. In Cairo you travel through time in a city that is a living index to civilization while offering all the comforts of a cosmopolitan twentieth-century capital. Cairo is chaotic and noisy and perhaps in its chaos lies the soul of the city. Today's skyline of Cairo mixes minarets and palm trees with art deco buildings and multicoloured neon, but you can still see the sunset over the Nile. Cairo has a unique atmosphere: both exciting and relaxing. The city pulses with life while the Nile flows on toward the sea. "The Mother of the World" is one of the friendliest and safest cities in the world: Egyptian hospitality will ensure that, wherever you come from, you"ll feel quite at home.
Egypt, especially Cairo, means the pyramids. The Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids to be tombs to preserve the bodies of their dead kings as they believed in resurrection and immortality. While the Giza Pyramids, one of the seven wonders of the world, are what we see in pictures and television, the tourist guide would first take you to the Saqqara region for a visit to the step pyramid. Our burly driver drove at a breakneck speed to Saqqara which is a major funerary site of the Old Kingdom. North Saqqara has the Step Pyramid of King Djoser (the first pyramid). It is of the mastaba-type. Mastabas are rectangular tomb-chapel belonging to ancient Egypt. The first tombs of the pharaohs were large, unimpressive, bunker affairs called mastabas. They were made from sun dried mud brick and most have long since crumbled to dust. This all changed around 2630 BC with the erection of the step pyramid for Djoser. It began as a normal mastaba, but was subsequently enlarged by adding one mastaba on top of another until it consisted of six terraces some 200ft (60 meters) high.
Saqqara is noted for the mastaba-type tombs of the nobles, the most prominent of which are the tombs of V and VI Dynasty nobles. The tomb walls bear inscriptions of religious rites and the offering of sacrifice to the dead. South of the Step-Pyramid, lies the Pyramid of Unas, last of the V Dynasty pharaohs. This pyramid is noted for its tomb chamber, whose walls are inscribed with what is known as the "Pyramid Texts." Near to the Pyramid of Unas lies the Persian Shaft, a tomb of XXVI Dynastry known as the "Persian Dynasty". The Shaft is 25 ms deep and at the bottom lie several tomb champers.
Saqqara completed we left for the Giza where the pyramid compound boasts of the world famous The Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and other monuments in a vast funerary complex spanning the range of the dynastic history. Perched precariously on a camel, it was an exciting time. On the west bank of the Nile facing Cairo and on top of Giza plateau rises the three Pyramids and it is one of the seven wonders of the world surrounded by small Pyramids (totaling seven) and hundreds of Mastabas and tombs for kings and nobels. The Great Pyramid is the most famous structure in the world which was built by king Cheops(IV Dynasty) around 2650 B.C. Its height now is 137 ms (original height: 146ms). Almost 2.5 million blocks of stone were put into building this pyramid, which measures 230 ms square at the base. All this, however, dwindles when compared to the precision and astounding ability of the ancient Egyptian in building this pyramid. Close to the eastern flank of the Pyramid of Cheops lie three small pyramids dedicated either to his wives or family members. The Second Pyramid was built by Kephren, south-west of his father's pyramid though lower in height: 136m., it still retains, on some of its upper parts, the remains of the limestone that had once covered it all. The base measures 215.5 m square. The Third Pyramid was built by Mycerinus (Menkaure) south-west of the Great and Second Pyramids. It is much smaller than either one (62 ms). It is distinguished by the fact that the lower part of its sides still retain their granite slab coverings. In the same compound is The Sphinx, a legendary statue with the body of a lion and head of a man with the headcloth indicating that he was a king. It is 60 ms long and 20 m high, carved from an outcrop of rock left after quarrying operations. The Sphinx is the venue of an enchanting light and sound show where a visitor can relive the history of the Pyramids and the glory of the Pharaohs.
Well, on your way back from Giza to Cairo central, you can ask your guide to take you to some famous Egyptian perfume outlets and there you can choose from an array of perfumes something with a name as enticing as Secret of Nile, which is actually called Egyptian viagra for the aphrodisiac power of its fragrance.
Also not to be missed in Cairo, is the Egyptian Museum, one of the most famous in the world. It houses 250000 antique pieces, including mummies and the fabulous treasures from Tutankhamun, the 18th dynasty king who died at 18.
But a trip to Cairo is not complete without enjoying a slice of its hedonistic nightlife. Just take a cab and head for the Nile where there are several cruises are on offer. In one of those cruiser enjoy a wholesome buffet dinner and be a voyeur watching the stunning come-hither belle dancers shedding their clothes to the Arabian beats and taking your breath away. In Cairo be a Pharaoh and whet the hedonist in you!