This was Papa’s last LTC before retirement so we considered a lot of destinations before finalising this. Our plans started with Australia then we moved to South Africa but those costed a lot more than what we were entitled to receive. We then considered China but the Visa takes a lot of time so we dropped that idea. Finally, we were given options between Egypt and Dubai + Mauritius. When I heard Egypt was an option, my vote immediately went to Egypt because it has been on my bucket list since I read about Egyptian Civilization in class 6. Even Mummy was quite interested in Egypt so we finally decided on going there. We generally book LTC trips through a travel agent as it is easier to produce the bills and get the entitled amount from the bank. Like the previous trips, we contacted Jai travels and got their quotations for these destinations. Papa also found out about another travel agent called Jatrik Travels based in Kolkata. We compared both their prices and decided to go with Jatrik Travels as they were providing better itinerary and services than Jai Travels.
We did a lot of research on what to wear since it is a Muslim country and found that we had to wear clothes that covered our knees and no sleeveless clothes. So I packed all my long dresses and shrugs since all my clothes are sleeveless. I found that it might be a little cold so packed a few jackets and sweaters although I didn’t expect to use any of it. Looking back I am thankful that I packed winter clothes because it was so cold.
Day 0 – 24th December 2019
I had my flight from Bangalore at 12pm and I reached Mumbai at around 2pm. Mummy, Papa & Vibhi’s flight from Ranchi was at 2:30pm and they arrived in Mumbai at around 5pm. I waited for them in Terminal 1 and met the managers from Jatrik Travels who were travelling with us. They had arrived with other passengers from Kolkata. Our international flight was from Terminal 2. So when Mummy, Papa & Vibhi finally arrived we booked a cab for T2.
By the time we reached T2, everyone else had already checked their luggage in. They were waiting for us to arrive so that we could go together for security check & immigration.
Our flight was from Mumbai to Cairo via Jeddah by Saudia Airlines. We reached Jeddah at around 2am local time. The airport was in such a bad condition that it didn’t feel like an airport. The dirty washrooms reminded me of washrooms on the highways in India. There were very few seats compared to the number of people present there. A lot of people were sitting on the floor and it was chaos overall. After waiting for some time we finally got a few empty seats and took a nap. We waited for a few hours before finally boarding our flight to Cairo.
Day 1 – 25th December 2019
We reached Cairo at around 8:30am and met with the travel agent Tarik from Eastmar Group whom Jatrik Travels had contacted for our trip. They arranged our on arrival visa and helped us with the immigration procedure. After collecting our luggage we finally met Shrief who would be our guide for the trip. We were 67 people in total including 2 managers from Jatrik, so we were divided into 2 buses. Shrief was the guide for Bus 1 and Yusuf was the guide for Bus 2. We were allotted Bus 1, so we loaded our luggage on the bus and went inside. Most of the front seats were already occupied, so we sat in the back seats which later became the most sought after seats because of us. We were the last family to reserve a seat, so we occupied 4 window seats and no one sat beside us. We had the most comfortable seats despite being last. Inside the bus, Shrief assigned a family number to each of the family. Since we were sitting in the back, we became Family Number 10.
We went to see the Giza Pyramid Complex which is also called the Giza Necropolis. It includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza. All were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt.
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. The pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10- to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC with height 146.5 metres (481 feet). Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by limestone casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. On the south side are the subsidiary pyramids, popularly known as the Queens’ Pyramids. Three remain standing to nearly full height but the fourth was so ruined that its existence was not suspected until the recent discovery of the first course of stones and the remains of the capstone. Hidden beneath the paving around the pyramid was the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu. We went inside this pyramid as it was free, unlike the main pyramid. The steps were very steep and made of wood and steel panels. It was a small room with lots of stones strewn about and a few platforms along the walls.
The Pyramid of Khafre or of Chephren is the second-tallest and second-largest of the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Giza and the tomb of the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre (Chefren), who ruled from c. 2558 to 2532 BC. He was the son of Khufu and the throne successor of Djedefre. The pyramid has a base length of 215.5 m (706 ft) and rises up to a height of 136.4 metres (448 ft). It is made of limestone blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. Khafre’s pyramid sits on bedrock 10 m (33 ft) higher than Khufu’s pyramid, which makes it appear to be taller.
The Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three main Pyramids of Giza. The pyramid’s date of construction is unknown because Menkaure’s reign has not been accurately defined, but it was probably completed in the 26th century BC. According to Manetho, he was the throne successor of king Bikheris, but according to archaeological evidence, he was the successor of King Khafre. Menkaure became famous for his tomb, the Pyramid of Menkaure and his beautiful statue triads, showing the king together with his wives Rekhetre and Khamerernebty.
The Giza Pyramid Complex is at the edges of the Western Desert. We booked a tonga ride to go and see a panoramic view of the pyramids from there. Our tonga driver guided us on how to pose and clicked amazing pictures of us. I also tried to recreate the iconic song Teri Ore from Singh is King which was shot there. In the song, Katrina Kaif wore a pink saree and her anchal flew in the wind. I was wearing a red dress, so I took a red stole and draped it like anchal. The place was so windy that mummy had to hold one end of it for a good picture. Generally to shoot such scenes the movie people have to create fake wind, but I think they might have had a hard time controlling the strong wind for shooting that scene there. Suraj Hua Madham from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was also shot there.
After we returned back, we went to see the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. The face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent the pharaoh Khafre, the builder of the second pyramid. The Sphinx is a monolith carved into the bedrock of the plateau. The nummulitic limestone of the area consists of layers which offer differing resistance to erosion (mostly caused by wind and windblown sand), leading to the uneven degradation apparent in the Sphinx’s body. The lowest part of the body, including the legs, is solid rock. The body of the lion up to its neck is fashioned from softer layers that have suffered considerable disintegration. The layer in which the head was sculpted is much harder.
We then went for lunch in Caviar Seafood Restaurant. The buffet was already arranged for us, so we sat by the window and enjoyed our food with the marvellous view of the pyramids.
Our guide then took us to Perfume Palace or Siwa Essence Makers which is a perfume shop. We were escorted to a room where the friendly salesgirl offered coffee & tea before bringing out a variety of scents and oils from beauty to ailments. Papa ordered coffee for himself but left the room before it arrived. We tried a few different oils but none of the scents was unique enough to tempt us.
Next, we went to the Papyrus Museum or 3 Pyramids Papyrus Institute which was also a shop. The salesgirl showed us the process of making papyrus. Papyrus paper is made by taking multiple stems from the Cyperus papyrus plant, a grasslike aquatic species with woody triangular stems. It commonly grows down the banks of the Nile delta region in Egypt. The fibrous stem layers within are extracted and sliced into thin strips. These strips are laid out in rows topped with another layer of strips arranged at right angles. The layers are then dampened and pressed together into a sheet. This sheet of pressed strips is then left out in the sun to dry, forcing the plant’s sticky, glue-like sap to act as an adhesive and cementing the layers together. Finally, the dried sheet of stems is hammered and pasted together with others to form a roll of paper ready for writing, drawing or even painting. Several papyrus paintings were displayed there. It was an interesting place, but they had too much emphasis on making a purchase. We got so tired of the salesgirl trying to sell us paintings that we left the shop and waited for others on the bus.
Finally, it was time for the Giza Pyramids Light & Sound Show. We went back to Pyramids and found seats. It was very cold and windy. We wore all our layers of sweaters and jackets that we that brought with us and we were still a little cold. They were renting blankets for 50EGP (non-refundable) which was too much, so we sat in the cold and watched the entire show. It was a great show that brought the rule of ancient Egyptians creatively to life. The history was re-told by the Sphinx, telling us the most ancient secrets of the world. In one hour, the show narrated the history of those great kings, their secrets, legends and secrets of ancient history. The show was quite enjoyable but we were freezing by the end of it.
We were then taken for dinner at a restaurant in Giza. The food was not that good but we ate whatever was served in the buffet. After dinner, we went back to our hotel and fell asleep immediately.
Day 2 – 26th December 2019
We got up early and checked out of our rooms and had breakfast before boarding the bus. We had a 3-hour long drive to Alexandria from Cairo.
Our 1st stop was Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa which consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the period, many of the features of the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points. Some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hairstyle whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunnelled into the bedrock during the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century AD). The facility was then used as a burial chamber from the 2nd century to the 4th century, before being rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. It is believed that the catacombs were only intended for a single-family, but it is unclear why the site was expanded to house numerous other individuals. Another feature of the catacombs is the Hall of Caracalla, which contains the bones of horses. These were the tombs created for the horses of the emperor Caracalla in 215 AD. The catacombs were named Kom El Shoqafa, meaning Mound of Shards, because the area used to contain a mound of shards of terra cotta which mostly consisted of jars and objects made of clay. These objects were left by those visiting the tombs, who would bring food and wine for their consumption during the visit. However, they did not wish to carry these containers home from this place of death so they would break them. At the time of the discovery, heaps of these broken plates were found. There were lots of carvings showing mummification along with Egyptian gods & goddesses like Isis (the goddess of life & magic), Osiris (god of heaven), Horus (god of kingship) and Anubis (god of death & mummification).
We then went to Pompey’s Pillar which is a Roman triumphal column. It is the largest of its type constructed outside the imperial capitals of Rome and Constantinople, located at the Serapeum of Alexandria. It is the only known free-standing column in Roman Egypt which was not composed of drums and it is one of the largest monolithic columns ever erected. The monolithic column shaft measures 20.46 m in height with a diameter of 2.71 m at its base. The weight of the single piece of red Aswan granite is estimated at 285 tonnes. The column is 26.85 m high including its base and capital. Erroneously dated to the time of Pompey, the Corinthian column was actually built in 297 AD, commemorating the victory of Roman emperor Diocletian over an Alexandrian revolt.
Next, we went to the Fish Market Restaurant for lunch. Shrief had already asked our preference of fish when we reached Alexandria. We had to choose between grilled & fried fish, so we ordered 2 of each and decided to share. We had to wait a bit due to the rush and luckily we got a table with a view. We were served pita bread and various types of hummus while we waited for our fish. All the hummus tasted quite different and were delicious. The grilled fish was yummy. For the fried version, they had fried it like KFC chicken which we didn’t like too much. While we were having lunch, it started raining heavily. We had to run to our bus on our way back.
We stopped near Alexandria Beach which is on the Mediterranian Sea. It was still raining, so very few people got down from the bus to click pictures. But we were too excited to miss the opportunity.
Finally, we started our journey back to Cairo. We could see the sea for a while. When it was not visible anymore, I went to sleep.
We lastly reached El Giza Station for our train. We bought 1 local SIM from the station with 8GB data for 200EGP. Our destination was Aswan and we had first-class sleeper seats booked for us. When our train arrived, an attendant checked our tickets and guided us onboard. The compartment was small and congested. I think we have such good trains in India that we expected something extraordinary from the 1st class bogie but we were a little disappointed. They served us dinner at night and breakfast in the morning. There was a basin inside each compartment so we didn’t have to go to the washroom for brushing or washing hands. After dinner, the attendant, who was exceptionally friendly and personable, came by to turn our compartment into sleeping mode. I put all our phones for charging and went to sleep in the lower bed while Vibhi slept on the upper bed.