Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Lepakshi


Me: I’m off to Lepakshi tomorrow morning, dad.
Dad: Where’s that? What does it have?
Me: It’s in Andhra Pradesh but very close to Bangalore. It’s a temple town - there’s a Shiva temple and a huge Nandi statue.
Dad: Hah!

The tone of the “hah” said it all - incredulous. Probably brought back memories of when I’d fought with him to not go to temples. An acquaintance used the same tone when she bumped into me at the temple:”what are YOU doing here?” I too had asked myself this question before I left Bangalore - will I really enjoy a temple visit?

Luckily, I have parents who never forced me to be ritualistic or pious; they let me be. On the rare occasion that they did force me to go on a ‘family pilgrimage’, I was thoroughly annoyed by all the din, people paying to get ‘special darshans’ & ‘special blessings’ and the expectation to wear my piety on my sleeve or what I call PDP: public display of piety. “Fold your hands” mom would say. “Smear the chandan and the kumkum and the vibhuti” grandma would say. “No jeans” everybody would say. “Prostrate…no, no, not like that; do it like this!” “Wear flowers in your hair.” “You are not looking devoted enough.” “When they open the sanctum door, you should crane your neck for the darshan; don’t stand there looking uninterested”. “When they ring the bells, call out to the lord….louder!” “Have tears in your eyes at the idol’s sight.” “Elbow everybody and get your prasad.” “You don’t remember your gotra??? How can you get his blessings?”

Temples didn't offer me peace. They didn't allow me to introspect. All they gave me was a headache. I felt more at ease in mosques, churches or monasteries. They had quiet corners which let me sit and enjoy some tranquility. They let me appreciate their beauty. I wished temples could do the same for me. I decided that it was about time I cast aside my self-imposed ban and went back to temples sans restrictions, to see if I could enjoy all the things I admire -architecture, paintings, tales & lore, the finesse of the sculptures and people-watching. A friend had suggested Lepakshi; I think I couldn't have chosen better.


When Sita was abducted by Ravana, the mythical bird Jatayu is said to have fought Ravana right here, over the ground where the temple is built. Ravana cut off its wing and Jatayu lay here, injured. When Rama found Jatayu, he said “le, pakshi” (rise, bird) and the bird rose. Hence the name Lepakshi.


To understand the history and lore of the temple, I hired a guide who explained everything, beginning with how the temple actually has 7 layers in its design. The outer layers of the temple complex are apparently now occupied by people who have set up shops and houses within the colonnaded pavilions. So, houses of the poor may have up to 10 columns within them while larger houses supposedly have up to 200 columns! The temple complex currently occupies about 5 acres of land. A tortoise-shaped rocky hill is where it all began. It is presumed that a small shrine installed by sage Agastya already existed here when Achyutaraya (Achyuta Devaraya), the ruler of the Vijaynagara Empire, came upon it in the 16th Century. This temple was planned and begun by Virupanna, Achyutaraya’s trusted treasurer, in 1530 AD. He was assisted by his brother Veeranna. It was built in the Vijayanagara style of architecture, using brown and grey granite. The temple construction continued till 1542 AD, when a few enemies of Virupanna complained to the king that the treasury funds were being embezzled by him. 













The temple is today known as the Veerabhadraswamy temple: Veerabhadra being the wrathful form of Shiva. This is said to be the spot Shiva threw a clump of his hair on, when he found that his beloved Dakshayani had died, insulted by her father. She was re-born as Parvati and married Shiva once more. Besides Veerabhadra, there are shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu too. There is a pavilion connecting all the three shrines and a hall for ritual dance (Natya mantapa) as you enter the temple. 

Wandering in the Natya mantapa, I tore my eyes away from the life-size sculptures to look up, only to have lovely paintings vie for my attention. These paintings have been coloured using vegetable and natural dyes. For the next hour, I was the fool in the temple, walking with my head turned upwards, bumping into columns and people, all while muttering to myself about how beautiful these paintings were. But, people were strangely indulgent of me. This is also when I almost trampled my guide, who was seated near a column for some rest. Had he not said “That’s Rambha” in time, I would have stepped over him. Instead, I hired him to guide me around the temple.






















I turned my aching neck downwards to focus on the statue he was pointing to - Rambha, the apsara, the celestial nymph, dancing as the gods watched. Rambha mimicked her three-legged dance teacher, also sculpted there, and both statues were in the exact same pose. The gods arrived to watch the spectacle and play an instrument or two. I looked back upwards to admire more paintings - Parvati grooming herself and peering into a mirror; Baby Krishna, with his eye following you all around; Ravana with his Shivalinga, and many more such mythological tales. Looking down once more, I was stunned to see the ‘hanging column’, a column which does not touch the floor. Apparently, the British were equally stunned and tried to find out how the column stood. In doing so, they moved it slightly. That led to many other columns and beams around re-aligning themselves. Scared that the temple would collapse, they let it be and there were no further investigations. It was obvious to them that this was a very crucial column, probably one of the main supports. 


When you go inside the main sanctum and circumambulate, definitely walk into the smaller chambers that you see and turn your eyes to the ceiling. It has beautiful paintings - all worn out, though. The main sanctum itself has a large, splendidly-painted ceiling which is unfortunately faded and sooty. But, I am happy that it has been left as is and not been subjected to shoddy re-painting under the guise of ‘restoration’. At least I can spot glimpses of the original craftsmanship, which has no parity.









The afternoon sun did not dampen my enthusiasm to walk around the complex. Luckily, the monsoons made it a warm but bearably hot day. Visitors seeking shade rested in the cool and shaded dance hall, oblivious to the heat outside. I walked on to find a large footprint in my path, filled with water and having turned a little green from the algae. I was told that this is Seeta’s footprint and a perennial source of water, considered holy. As if on cue, devotees appeared and cupped some water with their hands, drinking it, and then sprinkling a little over their heads. A couple of steps ahead, there were curious circles scooped into the rock. “A colour palette?” I asked. My guide nodded negatively and said that it was a thali (a plate with multiple bowls), where workmen sat for lunch, and food was served in the various ‘bowls’. “Wasn’t it too large to be a thali?” “Not really,” said my guide “considering the fact that humans then were gigantic, almost 7 to 8 feet tall.” I wondered whether to believe that but then, decided to; don’t things like these make for the fun, fantasy-filled stories I love?



I had more such stories in store for me. As we approached the Nagalinga where a Shivalinga sits shielded by a coiled, seven-headed snake, my guide told me how it was built. During lunch break, a group of brothers waited outside the kitchen at this spot, as their mother hurried to cook their meal. Not wanting to waste their time waiting, they built this in the 30 minutes that it took their mother to prepare the food. When she came out to call them, she was surprised to see the Nagalinga, and the power of surprise from her vision (also called nazar) was so strong that the sculpture cracked in two places.


Lepakshi, it seems, was quite the cradle of arts and crafts in the region. Various repetitive motifs in the paintings were pointed out to me; they are reproduced on fabrics till today (bed-covers, mostly) and known as Lepakshi prints. In the Lata mantapa or the hall of creepers, each of the 42 columns is embellished with a unique creeper design on every face. These are popular as ‘border’ designs, apparently a favourite with Kancheepuram saree makers even today.

As I stood in the Kalyana mantapa, I marvelled at what my guide called ‘special effects’: two monkeys that would also seem like four. And, a three-headed cow, which, depending on the head you focused on, looked like it was standing, grazing or licking itself. My guide then pointed out to two reddish smear marks on a stone wall nearby. He went on to tell me that this was the blood from Virupanna’s eyes, when he threw them here. “And why would he do such a thing?” I asked, aghast. Apparently, when the king received the embezzlement complaint, he ordered that Virupanna’s eyes be gouged out and he be blinded, as was the customary punishment those days. When the loyal Virupanna heard this, he decided to carry out the task himself. And, the Kalyana mantapa remained unfinished. It was the last part to be built in the temple complex.


I gazed at the ornate columns of this Kalyana Mantapa, built at the spot where Shiva and Parvati were said to have married, many yugas ago. The sculptures of all the guests, the bride and the groom are exquisite. Had it been completed, it might have had a roof; maybe, with vibrant paintings as well. Or domes, maybe? One can only speculate. Today, I had a brilliant blue sky with dramatic clouds for a roof, and that worked fine as well.



















I stopped at the Nandi on my way out of Lepakshi. It is India’s largest Nandi carved out of monolithic granite. The second largest is at Tanjore’s Brihadeeshwara temple and the third largest is at Chamundi Hills, in Mysore. The Nandi is in the middle of a garden which is a favourite with locals as well. There’s never a free moment and quite a challenge to photograph the bull without people or with the subjects you want. It’s a beautiful piece of work - with lovely doe-eyes, a benevolent countenance and a hint of a smile. Admiration-worthy are the neck and ear ornaments and the saddle on the back. I left Lepakshi just as the sun hinted at setting, happy with my day.






And, what do you know - ’temple-going’ seems to have changed since my last visit, quite a few years ago. People now walked in with families like they were on a picnic, munchies in tow. Mandatory prayers offered, it was time for photo sessions. Each member of the family dutifully posed next to the gods to have their picture taken. Children were told to pray and hold the pose. Larger statues outside the main sanctum had both adults and kids clambering over them, smiling for the camera. A large family surrounded the Naga linga and wanted me to click their group photo as they smiled away, a kid even casually draping his hand around the Naga. Of course, all this is done with due reverence, after the customary removal of footwear. I thought of the days when gods were ‘above all’ and nobody would dare go near an idol, much less put an arm around them. I smiled at the ‘Facebook-isation’ of temple visits and wondered how many people were going to change their profile picture the next day. 




For information about my trip & tips, read this:


For my story published in the English newspaper Deccan Herald's 'Sunday Herald', read this:





Thursday, 18 August 2011

Belgaum


View from hill-top viewpoint
“Ninnindale, Ninnindale, kanasondu shuruvaagide.
Ninnindale, Ninnindale, Manasindu kunidaadide”

“You are the cause of my new dream.
You are the cause of my heart dancing”

Cheerful sunflowers on a grey day
crooned an ebullient Sonu Nigam in Kannada; as I poked my head out of the car window, soaking in the verdure. The mood created by what my ears heard complemented what my eyes saw & this song had me humming along. Frankly, I’d had no expectations from Belgaum & it was turning out to be a pleasant surprise. So much was the lack of expectation, that I hadn’t carried my camera with me; something I would regret later. As the beauty begged to be captured, my friend’s ‘point & shoot’ would come to the rescue.

My friend, whose home it is, always ended up being the target of our leg-pulling about his ‘small town’ or ‘Bull town’ (Belgaum does not mean ‘bull town’, by the way; that was just a literal translation we used to tease him with). He would challenge us to visit Belgaum with him so that he could show us how beautiful it was. A huge gang decided to finally take up the offer. But, at the last minute, people dropped out due to various reasons. We would have cancelled the trip altogether hadn’t the three of us decided to go ahead with the plan; we were in the mood for a trip, gang or no gang. So, it ended up being 3 girls in Belgaum. We set up camp at our friend’s house & imposed on his poor mom, who patiently cooked yummy breakfast for us before we headed out each morning.

Hut with a view at the viewpoint
People run to escape the ulta baarish
The rain beat down on us every day but we didn’t mind. That’s what made it so much fun to eat hot goodies at MK Swamy’s, a Belgaum institution & popular hang-out. We dutifully trooped in there morning & evening, to have our fill. Nothing gourmet: just homely, piping hot munchies on a cold, rainy day; standing with friends on the road outside. The rain was also what made it fun to walk around the hill-top viewpoint, where the sun highlighted waterfalls & streams cascading down green slopes. When the rain stopped briefly, we had the ‘ulta baarish’ or the ‘upside-down rain’: the strong wind blowing a waterfall upwards at one particular spot, drenching all of us standing on the hill-top. Great fun to play in!













Yet another viewpoint allowed us to walk onto a cliff, mossy-green & misty. Sit there & you can see nothing else around you, except a green carpet. Even tree trunks & branches are clothed in moss, due to the almost perennial rainfall. The rain also meant that the waterfalls were bursting forth at their seams. There’s Gokak falls with a rickety suspension bridge over it. As it cascades over horizontal granite slabs before the steep plunge, you can feel its raw power. 


Gokak Falls & a small Hoysala-style temple next to it


Moss covered trees

Then, there’s the tiny & intimate Godachinmalki falls, which allows you to walk into it & play. It’s so small, you feel like Goliath. It’s fun sitting on rocks by the falls, swinging your feet over the water. The far end of the falls has a steep drop, though. Both these falls can be seen from at least 2 viewpoints, each with different views; ensure you do that. Don’t miss the sunflower fields as you drive from Belgaum to these falls; they look stunning with a dramatic monsoon sky as the backdrop.

 
Amboli Falls
The rain also brought out the full glory of the Amboli falls, just across the border; in Maharashtra. Alas, we were not to see that. What we saw instead, was a cascade of people in un-flatteringly wet clothes; not a pleasant sight at all. Add some groping to it & we were totally repulsed. Our mistake; we’d ventured there on a weekend. Another friend who went on a weekday had the loveliest time. You can climb up to the middle of the falls & enjoy the water. The saving grace was the vada-pav stalls. We sat there gorging on piping hot & fiery vada pavs, trying to ignore the waterfall.

While in Belgaum, feast on some Kunda & Kardant, two sweets that are a local specialty. Kardant is made of dry fruits & jaggery and is a bit of an acquired taste. I bought Kardant from shops at Gokak falls. Kunda is a melt-in-your-mouth milk sweet, made with heavily reduced milk & khoa. This, I purchased from ‘Purohit’ in the cantonment area, next to MK Swamys. And oh yeah, we spent an evening relaxing at ‘Ajanta CafĂ©’, a youth hang-out at Belgaum & my friend’s favourite. It’s a nice little place to sit & have some sandwiches & coffee.

Belgaum is definitely not to be dismissed as a fun holiday destination; especially during the monsoons. I still haven’t seen everything that it has to offer: the Hidkal dam, Jain temples and the Fort. Even the Dudhsagar Falls in Goa are only 120 odd kms away & easily accessible as a day trip from Belgaum.

I must admit this: I’m glad my friend challenged us to come. Maybe we should thank ourselves; he may not have invited us hadn’t we riled him about his ‘bull-town’……some good things do happen by annoying your friends, after all!

Quick facts:

  • Belgaum is at its most beautiful during / after the monsoons when you can enjoy the green vistas & the waterfalls. Visit then (July-October).  
  • Belgaum is conveniently connected by train and bus, from Bangalore. Both depart at night to deposit you at Belgaum early in the morning.
  • I stayed at hotel ‘Kshema Inn’ on Khanapur main road, during another visit to Belgaum. It’s one of the best in the town & I had no major complaints. Makes for a comfortable base.
  • Gokak & Godachinmalki falls are approx 60-70 kms from Belgaum. Both can be clubbed together in a day.  
  • Amboli requires approx. 70 kms of travel in another direction, on another day. On this day, you can take in the view points along the way.  
  • Hire a car & a driver to drive to all the sights….that’s what we did. It’s not too expensive.   
  • Within Belgaum, you have autos to get around.


    Photo credit: some photos by Preethi Reddy & Hema Priya K
     

Monday, 15 August 2011

Along the Nile

 
Egypt: oft-visited, oft-advertised, travel agents’ favourite package tour. I’d seen hordes of families signing up for the 3n-4d or 6n-7d packages to Egypt & return; happy at having seen the pyramids. People seem to go for 4 to 7 days so we’d probably need 10-12 days; that’s what I figured. So, I began reading & planning. And the 12 days grew to 15, then to 18, then to 21, then to 25, then to 30 & would have probably grown further had I not stopped myself, alarmed. K threw a fit:”Are you crazy? Asking my boss for a month off is hara-kiri & I refuse to do it. Cut it down”. He didn’t understand why we needed to go for 30 days. And then I explained to him what my research had thrown up; enticed him with pictures. Soon, he was convinced but said that he could try for maybe 25 days. Over the next couple of weeks, we both negotiated with our respective bosses. Bargained hard. Tried to save every day possible. Finally, all 4 of us arrived at a consensus: it was to be 23 days. Well….I could live with that!


Fast-forward to 3 months later - My history teacher’s voice echoes in my head, as I day-dream: The Egyptian civilization, mummies, the porcelain beauty of Nefertiti, Cleopatra’s milk baths, King Tut’s riches, fine Egyptian cotton (supposedly rivaling silk), Papyrus leaves, Cuneiform script, Hieroglyphics, Abu Simbel, Karnak temple’s hypostyle hall, King Ramses, Queen Hatshepsut, the Nile, the Sphinx, the Giza pyramids. When I studied to be an architect, Egypt again had a lot to offer. Finally, it was time for me to see it all.

An October evening, my flight hovers over Cairo, preparing to land. It’s just 5 pm but the sun’s already set. I crane my neck trying to get a glimpse of the pyramids, but, without success. I was to see them weeks later, when I returned to Cairo; journeying along the Nile, South to North. Today, I take a connecting flight to Aswan, where I reach at midnight, to begin my 3-week odyssey across Egypt. 


It’s crazy to even attempt writing about each & every temple that we saw, every tomb that we visited, every museum that we wandered into, every statue that we admired, every carving that awed us, every god we tried to recognise & every hieroglyphic we pored over.  Egypt has history seeping through every pore & copious amounts at that; even the most avid history buffs can get tombed-out & templed-out after just a week of monument hopping. But, that’s not all there is to the country. 





Space out the history with some walks on the beach; a dive into the inviting aquamarine sea; some surprisingly accessible snorkeling; quiet walks along corniches (roads by the sea), watching the sun go down; spend hot afternoons savouring the cool breeze at sea, as you sail in a felucca (traditional wooden sailboats); go potty in souks, bargaining for that thing that you must have; eat delicious food : fresh, crunchy & exotic; walk the dunes in a desert & feel incredibly tiny; eat some of the yummiest dates you’ll ever taste, plucked straight from the tree; gape at the starry sky over the desert; trek all night  to the top of Mt.Sinai for some glorious sunrise; take a hot-air balloon ride for a birds’-eye view of monuments; wander around past midnight, watching the markets & roads come alive with locals out for a stroll…. 
 
















 

Let me also put in a word of caution: Travelling across Egypt requires you to be prepared. Disclaimer: No amount of preparation may prepare you for what you will experience. With this perplexing statement, read this for tips that I put together after my trip to Egypt.

 












Along the Nile
My first taste of Egypt was at Aswan, near the Sudanese border; usually just a transit point for visitors to Abu Simbel, that stupendous temple built by the megalomaniac Ramses II. I spent a few days here that left me wondering why people didn’t explore this town. Small, with a leisurely pace of life & a friendly Nubian population, Aswan is a great place to unwind. Here, the Nile is at her most beautiful. I spent hot afternoons drifting around in a traditional sailboat, a felucca, cooled by the river breeze; sometimes, I stopped at the botanical garden island, to seek shade amongst exotic trees.

Evenings, I joined locals strolling around the river-side promenade, the corniche; watching the sun set, munching on falafels. Sometimes, I spent time in a Nubian village across the Nile; sipping Hibiscus juice, Karkadai, seated in a typical roof-less house with a sand floor. Souq lovers, Khan-al-Khalili in Cairo may be your mecca but I think the lively souq in Aswan is the best. Throw in the excellent Nubian museum, a sound & light show at the isolated Philae temple, fresh local food by the Nile & I had to drag myself away from Aswan to proceed to Luxor.












 











From Aswan, we drove to Luxor in the convoy. Luxor is in central Egypt, by the Nile. It is on the popular tourist circuit & hence, crowded. Thebes, as Luxor was called centuries ago, was the prosperous capital of ancient Egypt. This explains why it is filled with stunning architecture. The Nile cuts across Luxor too. Ancient Egyptians believed that the east bank signifies life as the sun rises here while the west bank signifies death because that’s where the sun sets. While all the monuments & temples are on the east bank, the west is filled with a treasure trove of hidden underground tombs, all brilliantly painted. Mesmerising, to say the least. I spent a few days soaking all the monuments in. Equally distracting are the collection of artefacts at Luxor museum & the unique Mummification museum, which tells you all you wanted to know about the process. 

Staying in the quieter west bank amongst sugarcane fields, I walked about, chatting up locals & occasionally stopping for a cuppa at tea-stalls. A ferry ride to the East bank & you can walk along the corniche or ride a caleche (horse-carriage) through the markets. If you’ve had enough of the water, Luxor allows you to take to the air! A hot-air balloon ride at sunrise gives you a birds’-eye view of all where you’ve been to while grounded. And, given the plethora of monuments, it makes for an interesting landscape. Sometimes, flying over the roof-less houses, we could literally peek into people’s lives. I wonder what they felt about that!







 
















Sinai & the Red Sea 
It was time to de-tomb & de-temple myself; a dose of Dahab was just what I needed.  A small town by the Red sea, it is an extremely popular place for scuba diving & snorkeling, blessed with abundant corals & marine life. It's a shame I didn't have an under-water camera! When I wasn’t in water, I could be found relaxing on one of the lounge beds, drink in hand, staring across the waters into the land-mass of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The Assalah beach was barely a pebble strip but with aquamarine water like this, who needs the sand? Further down, it did widen into a sandy beach but I refused to be parted from my perch. In the evening, it was time to dress & return to the same shacks; by then, they’d metamorphosised into lively eateries & bars, adorned with twinkling lights, music & candle-lit tables. If more activity is what you crave; the water-sports, desert safaris by jeep or camel, relaxing massages & shopping will satiate that.  







If you can break away from this languorous life-style for a night; drive a couple of hours to Mt.Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Some people undertake the climb as a pilgrimage and then visit St. Katherine’s monastery after they descend. About 1500 of us began climbing at 2 am & reached the summit just in time to catch sunrise. Along the dark, 5 km long trail, moonlight & torches are your only source of light. Camels guided by Bedouins can carry people who are unable to climb, for a part of the trail. The last 1.5 kms has to be climbed by foot. The total height that we climbed is 2900 metres. The climb in the freezing cold, under the starry sky, was quite an experience; as was the view over the vast expanse of the Eastern desert. As the sun rose over the peaks, there was a collective cheer. Snugly ensconced in a thick blanket, I was thankful for the vendors at the summit, who hire these out. A mug of hot chocolate in my hands would have been wishful thinking!

A desert & a date
Wanting to fulfill a long-standing wish to stay in an oasis, my next stop was at Bahariya in the Western desert. The oasis was as tiny & green as I’d imagined. Life there seemed frozen in time. I watched Tamar, my guide, as he plucked a few dates off the tree & offered them to me. When I was about to wash the sand stuck to the dates, he coaxed me into eating them with the sand; he claimed it added to the taste. And he was right; they were the softest & tastiest dates I’d ever eaten! Tamar & Somali were to be my guides into the desert. Somali was so named by his parents because he’s dark skinned unlike the fair men & women in the desert. The pretty women in the oasis were all clad in colourful gowns called abeyyas, famed for local embroidery work adorning them. I bought one for myself at a women’s co-operative; a memento of my Egyptian sojourn.

I set off to visit the famous Black desert. We drove around in a 4-wheel drive, which could manoeuvre the sand dunes; sometimes at heart-stopping acute angles. En-route, when Tamar dropped by his aunt’s to say hello, she insisted on rustling up a quick meal for us. After we’d lunched around the traditional communal plate, we drove towards the White desert. Famous for its sculptural white-rock formations, this desert plays on your imagination. I whiled away time naming all the rocks based on their shape: mushroom, whale, dove, lion-head & Alladin’s lamp. As the light dimmed that afternoon, we set up camp. Soon, we sat basking in the warmth of a roaring fire, taking turns playing the Zummara (a traditional Egyptian clarinet); with me producing noise compared to the mellifluous notes my guides generated from it. Since my tent collapsed (not related to how badly I played the instrument); I slept in the open, with the starry sky for a roof. Shivering under blankets with temperatures hovering a little above zero, I literally saw a million stars!



















The Egyptian capital
Cairo: dense, congested and as chaotic as the Kushari; a Cairene dish of rice, pasta, lentils, onions & gravy mixed together & sold by the bowl. And, as inviting! I reached Cairo at the end of my trip, to unwind & summarise all that the last 2 weeks had offered me. Cairo’s most famous resident is the Sphinx, flanked by the Giza pyramids. Once I’d seen all the monuments, I explored the rest of Cairo’s offerings. There’s the mammoth Egyptian Museum with un-believable treasures on display, which you can put into context once you’ve seen all the historical sites around Egypt. And then, there are the mummies; not looking like they’ve died aeons ago, but just sleeping peacefully.

The Red Pyramid
A view of Cairo
Coptic Cairo, with its indigenous Christian population, churches & narrow alleys, offers a different ambience. At Islamic Cairo, I explored the starkly beautiful & tranquil Ibn Touloun and Sultan Al-Hassan mosques. I had a relaxed lunch seated at the terrace restaurant within Al-Azhar Park; I then worked off my lunch by strolling through the well-laid gardens. Next, it was time to dive head-first into the frenzy that is Khan-al-Khalili. If you escape this souq’s madness unscathed & have money left over from shopping, there’s more you can do in Cairo: visit the citadel, indulge in gastronomic pleasures, catch the sound & light show at the pyramids or appreciate some belly dancing; after all, Egypt is where the art of belly dancing originated from. I spent a week in Cairo; I could have easily spent more.



Ibn Tulun mosque
Inside Mohammad Ali Basha mosque
Lanterns at Sultan Al-Hassan mosque

Egyptians, both young & old, are crazy about Amitabh Bachchan! They have a channel which screens Hindi movies 24 x 7! The family set-up in Egypt is very similar to India, which is why they say they can relate to our movies. Indian tourists are rare to find except in Cairo & the main tourist sites; so, we were chased everywhere we went. That was a very different feeling for us! People would run behind us calling out “Amitabh Bachchan” and would then shake our hands. We had some shopkeepers handing out things for free, just in exchange for a handshake. Our refusals to accept free goodies would be met by such doleful looks that we indulged them. 









It's over-whelming to see monuments & artefacts from thousands of years ago. We, for all our modern tools & technology, still cannot ape the work done in that age; neither in precision nor in grandeur or scale. It makes you question: Were people 'backward' 5000 years ago or are we, now? For me, the thing that clinched it all was this: Where else in the world can you see monuments from so long ago as well as the bodies of the kings who had them built? With such an abundance of history staring you in the face, it’s little wonder that most people don’t see beyond it. But, if you do, Egypt rewards you.

Curious to know more about Egypt, our itinerary & travel tips? Read on:

More stories from Egypt:

For my story published in Jet Airways' in-flight magazine JetWings, read:

About Egypt, our Itinerary & Hotel details:

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