Of late, Egypt has been in news for all the wrong reasons. But it isn’t easy to ignore the art, architecture and history of the country. Here are some places that are a must in any itinerary.
Pyramids of Giza, Sphinx and Cairo Museum
Any trip to Cairo is incomplete without a visit to the Pyramids of Giza, and the Cairo Museum, which hosts the most important collection of Egyptian art in the world. The latter made news recently, when protesters demanding Egyptian President Mubarak’s removal, vandalised some mummies present inside the museum.
On the other hand, getting a glimpse of the former is not difficult. The story behind the construction of these magnificent tombs is fascinating. Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. To them, the pharaoh (king) was the incarnation of God. Once the pharaoh died, a pyramid was created as a ‘mortuary temple’.
Here, the royal priests conducted long rites of embalming the king’s body along with his favourite possessions, and finally buried him in the form of a mummy. The chamber was sealed and every passageway blocked to ensure that no one disturbed the king as he made his final ascent to the sun, and was officially reunited with God. The three Great Pyramids of Giza belong to the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.
There is also a 21-metre high and 73-metre long Sphinx at the same site. The human-headed lion, built in the likeness of Khafre, keeps a watch over the pyramids.
The Valley of the Kings:
Getting here means a trip deep in the desert. During the time of the pyramids, the tomb, along with the mortuary temple, was the focal point for kings. With the pharaohs that came later, grandeur took a backseat. Instead, imposing mortuaries rose up at the edge of the desert and the tomb, now smaller, but yet a temple, was jealously guarded from the outside world.
The Valley of the Kings is an arid, harsh place. The funerary complex spreads over a vast area and sometimes, deep in the ground. To get to the various tombs, one needs to cover a large distance. It is not very well known, but a ticket bought can only get you inside five tombs. So one also needs to be well-informed and pick the right chambers, as some tombs are bare while others offer glimpses of the grandeur that was once present there, including coloured carvings that tell the story of the Pharaohs and Gods. The sarcophagus chamber of Tutankhamen, which yielded immense treasures of art and archaeology, was found here.
In the heart of the Nubian territory and almost at the Egypt-Sudan border lies one of Egypt’s most beautiful temples: Abu Simbel. Getting there takes about five hours from Cairo. The temple, in theory, is dedicated to the Gods
Amon-Ra, Harmakes and Ptah, but actually glorifies its creator King Ramses II, The Great.
This port city offers a completely different aspect of Egypt. Built by Alexander the Great, who consecrated himself as pharaoh, the architecture here, with its Greek influences, is different from anything else in Egypt. The city is renowned for the Great Lighthouse or pharaohs and the fortress of Kaitbay.
How to get there and where to stay
How to reach: Flights to Cairo International Airport can easily be booked from various travel portals, and cost anywhere between Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000 (one way)
Where to stay: Depending on your budget, you can choose to live up it pharaoh-style in a number of luxury hotels in Cairo, or opt for numerous budget hotels. Luxury hotels like Four Seasons Cairo At Nile Plaza and Le Meridien cost between Rs 7,500-Rs 30,000 (per day) while budget hotels can cost easily under Rs 5,000 (with basic amenities)
Best time to visit: Between November and March, as the temperature varies with daytime highs of 25°C and night-time lows of around 10°C.