CHAOTIC CAIRO

But it is worth vis­it­ing.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Sub­hashini Viswanathan

airo, the dream city, the land of pyra­mids, is one of the hot des­ti­na­tions of many tourists around the world. With the sole in­ten­tion of vis­it­ing Pyra­mids, we planned our trip to Cairo. We boarded our flight from Kuwait to Cairo, with plenty of ex­cite­ment and ex­pec­ta­tions. As soon as we boarded the flight, we re­alised that Egyp­tians are more like us in many ways. The flight was full of Egyp­tians and the way they boarded the flight was more like our peo­ple get­ting into the un­re­served com­part­ment of a train leav­ing Delhi. There was to­tal may­hem with bag­gage ev­ery­where. They were car­ry­ing ev­ery­thing from fry­pans to CD play­ers and tons of duty-free al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes. Straight­away we re­alised that our trip to Cairo will be any­thing but or­di­nary.

As soon as we landed at the Cairo in­ter­na­tional air­port our ad­ven­ture started. The air­port looked more like a cen­tral mar­ket with peo­ple in all kinds of uni­forms walk­ing around. Even be­fore pass­ing through im­mi­gra­tion, there were peo­ple try­ing to take us to ho­tels, book taxis, and even sell­ing visas. I have never seen an air­port more dis­or­derly like this one. Af­ter wading through all this con­fu­sion we fi­nally ex­ited from the air­port. As soon as we came out there were mil­lion taxi driv­ers ready to take us to wher­ever we wanted to go. Fi­nally, we man­aged to get hold of one taxi driver who looked some­what hon­est. We had a book­ing in a ho­tel called “Re­hab” ho­tel. We asked the driver whether he knew the Re­hab Ho­tel. The taxi driver said “Oh yes, madam. I know that place very well”. “What is the taxi fare to the Re­hab ho­tel” I asked. The man just scratched his head and af­ter few min­utes said, “100 pounds, madam”. Mind you, this is Egyp­tian pounds. One pound is about 4 or 5 Ru­pees or so. That sounded rea­son­able and we agreed and we were on our way to the ho­tel. The time was about 10 pm. Driv­ing through Cairo at that time was just hair rais­ing. Cairo traf­fic makes Delhi traf­fic looks like Sun­day driv­ing. Roads were just packed with cars and all of them do­ing at least 100 km/hr. We drove for about one hour and sud­denly the taxi driver turned back and asked us, “What was the name of the ho­tel you wanted to go to?” At this point I got re­ally scared. This fel­low was driv­ing for about an hour with­out know­ing where he was go­ing? The time was al­most 10 pm. At that stage I was help­less. Then I told him the name of the ho­tel. The driver stopped the car and put his head out of the car win­dow call­ing some­one in the street and then asked where Re­hab ho­tel is. The man in the street said some­thing in Ara­bic, and then the driver drove off. Hope of reach­ing Re­hab ho­tel

The ho­tel was mostly va­cant and it al­most looked as if we were the only peo­ple stay­ing there. The ho­tel tar­iff in­cluded con­ti­nen­tal break­fast. So, the fol­low­ing morn­ing we went to the din­ing hall for break­fast. There was no­body and no sign of any break­fast. I just sat there wait­ing for some­one to show. Af­ter some­time one man just showed. I asked him about the break­fast. He threw up his hands in air and ex­claimed “Ah. Break­fast. Yes. Just a minute please. I will fix it.” He just ran across the street to a bak­ery op­po­site and bought cou­ple of buns and placed it on my ta­ble say­ing, “Here is the break­fast”. Well. Some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing and I ate my con­ti­nen­tal break­fast con­sist­ing of two buns.

Af­ter the hearty break­fast, we went out on our trip to the Pyra­mids. We hired a taxi and we were on our way to the pyra­mids. At that mo­ment my heart was rac­ing as I was about to see one of the great­est won­ders of an­cient world. The pyra­mids were built 5000 years ago and un­til now no one ex­actly knows how they were built. There are lot of the­o­ries ex­ist­ing but noth­ing is def­i­nite. As I was se­ri­ously think­ing about pyra­mids, the taxi stopped and a man jumped

REACH­ING HO­TEL AT THIS POINT I GOT RE­ALLY SCARED. THIS FEL­LOW WAS DRIV­ING FOR ABOUT AN HOUR WITH­OUT KNOW­ING WHERE HE WAS GO­ING? THE TIME WAS AL­MOST 10.00 PM AT THAT STAGE I WAS HELP­LESS.

Any­way I was de­ter­mined not to oblige the taxi driver and the man and I kept shout­ing, “Get out of the car”. As I was shout­ing sud­denly in front of the car the pyra­mids ap­peared. What a sight! It was mas­sive and there it was right in front of me. By now we reached the en­trance to the pyra­mid. I jumped out of the car and there was a po­lice­man nearby. I ran to him and com­plained about the driver and the man. The po­lice­man just looked at me and ig­nored me com­pletely. It ap­peared that ev­ery­one was part of a gang and was in for ex­tract­ing tourist money. Well, there is noth­ing any­one can do and I ac­cepted that this is Cairo and sim­ply went along with it.

Well, at last we reached the pyra­mid and in that area there were three pyra­mids. The big­gest one is about 150 m tall and was the one I was about to en­ter. Un­til that time I never knew that one could ac­tu­ally en­ter a pyra­mid. The pas­sage way into the pyra­mid was about a me­tre high and the only way one could walk in­side was by bend­ing. We walked and walked and it felt as if the pas­sage way was never end­ing. It was lit­er­ally a back break­ing walk and all along not know­ing what was at the end of the pas­sage way. Fi­nally, we reached the end and it was a plain room with a stone bench and noth­ing else. It was a bit of dis­ap­point­ment as we were ex­pect­ing some­thing out­stand­ing. Later I was told that there are three cham­bers within the pyra­mid at three dif­fer­ent lev­els. The high­est one is king’s cham­ber and the next one be­low it is the Queen’s cham­ber and the bot­tom one is the com­mon cham­ber. The one that we went in was the com­mon one and its level was be­low the ground level. This pyra­mid was built by a king called Khufu. Khufu’s son Khafre built the sphinx. The Sphinx’s head is hu­man and the body is that of lion (or some an­i­mal). The head is sup­posed to be the head of Khafre. The Sphinx’s height is mere 20 m. The Sphinx looks tiny in com­par­i­son to the pyra­mid.

As we were walk­ing around the pyra­mid we met a group of col­lege stu­dents. As soon as they saw us they started gig­gling and I won­dered what was hap­pen­ing. One of the girls in the group came to me and asked if we were from In­dia. I said yes. Then she asked “do you know Amitabh Bhachhan. Of course, I know him, I said. “Did you ever talk to him” she asked. I didn’t want to her dis­ap­point and said “yes”. At this mo­ment all the girls started scream­ing and ev­ery­one gath­ered around me and started ask­ing ques­tions about Amitabh Bhachhan. Apart from watch­ing movies I know very lit­tle about Amitabh Bhachhan of course the usual gos­sip one reads in film­fare etc, one of the girls said that Mr Bhachan vis­ited Cairo some years ago and at that time the en­tire Cairo stopped and froze. It is re­ally hard to imag­ine Cairo stop­ping for any­one but it did hap­pen for Mr Bhachhan. Great Mr Bhachhanji you are big­ger than the pyra­mid it­self!

As we came out of the pyra­mid area, there was Pizza Hut and of course we were hun­gry and walked in. The Pizza Hut man as soon as he saw us he started grin­ning. We or­dered a Pizza and sat there with pyra­mid in the back­ground. This must be the best Pizza Hut in the world din­ing with a view of the pyra­mid! The Pizza Hut man came to us and asked ”do you know Zeenat Aman”. Oh my God. That goes long time back and I said yes. The man looked dis­tressed and said I am sad be­cause Zeenat got mar­ried and has got chil­dren. What’s wrong with that I said. How can she get mar­ried and we all adore her even to­day, he lamented. Not bad Zeenat you are still at­tract­ing peo­ple. And that’s great.

The fol­low­ing day we vis­ited few more at­trac­tions in Cairo like the mu­seum, old mar­ket place and sev­eral souks. These fade into in­signif­i­cance in com­par­i­son to the pyra­mids.

It’s time for us to leave. The trip to Cairo was very en­joy­able, in spite of scary taxi driv­ers, strange con­ti­nen­tal break­fast, etc. Egyp­tians love In­di­ans and that we could feel all over the place. Whether it is be­cause of Amitabh Bhachhan or Zeenat Aman, I do not know. Cairo is worth vis­it­ing, ab­so­lutely yes.

THE PYRA­MID BY NOW WE REACHED THE EN­TRANCE TO THE PYRA­MID. I JUMPED OUT OF THE CAR AND THERE WAS A PO­LICE­MAN NEARBY. I RAN TO HIM AND COM­PLAINED ABOUT THE DRIVER AND THE MAN. THE PO­LICE­MAN JUST LOOKED AT ME AND IG­NORED ME COM­PLETELY.

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