Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Port Said - Ismalia - Ras el Bar

I stayed in the city of Port Said, Egypt for four days. There wasn't much to do, other than the short visits to the neighbouring cities of Ismalia and Ras El Bar. The trip to Ismalia by train had been planned to fulfil my wish to see the movement of ships in the Suez canal. The train track from Port Said to Cairo runs right next to the Suez canal and provides a wonderful opportunity to see the canal close up. I went up to Ismalia and it was a very enjoyable one hour train ride. The train seemed to be a very popular mode of transport. It was packed to capacity and the un reserved compartments were overflowing.

A Container ship in the Suez Canal, photographed through the 'not very clean' train window. 

The new Ismalia city built around the triangular Timsah lake, is a beautiful city with wide roads and parks. There are pathways, benches and picnic areas all along the water front and people were picnicking and enjoying themselves. We took a drive around the city on our way back from Ismalia to Port Said. I wish I had more time to spend there.

The entrance to the Agricultural University in Ismalia.

Another view of the  City of Ismalia

Another short trip was to the tourist place of Ras El Bar - the northern most point in Egypt.  River Nile joins the Mediterranean sea here after a long flow of 6695 kms, and provides for an enchanting waterfront area. Ras El Bar is a triangular projection of land with river Nile on one side and the Mediterranean on the other, both of them joining at the tip where there is a light house.

The light house at Ras el Bar

The water front pathway at the time of sunset.

 The plaque needs no explanation.

River Nile, at a place called Damietta, just before joining the sea at Ras El Bar

A group of conservatively dressed locals whom we befriended at Ras El Bar. Almost every stranger whom we met during our eight days's stay was very civilised in behaviour, very friendly in attitude and expressed lot of regards towards India and Indians. One of the girls in the group could manage a smattering of english which was enough to express the feelings and develop an instant friendship.

(Though I love to write and maintain a record of my trips on the blog, it takes considerable time and efforts to select pictures, upload them, set them at right places and post them. I loaded all the pictures of Port Said in this post by mistake and have no patience to take them off and place them in another post. Hence I leave them here with the captions. please bear.)

Port Said - the last two days. 

I was on my own most of the time and spent a lot of time walking around. I could walk from one end of the city to the other end in about forty minutes.  Other than the two major thoroughfares all other streets were narrow, criss crossing and and full of parked cars. Still there were no traffic jams!  Port Said is named after King Said Pasha, who signed the agreement for construction of the Suez Canal. I walked for hours along the canal, the beach and also the streets and have posted some pictures giving my impressions of the city.

The historic government building where the decision to construct the Suez Canal is said to have been taken. I went closer for a better picture but was shooed away by the  security guard.

 The Panoramic view from the balcony of my cousine's 6th floor apartment. Suez canal starts behind the building at the right hand side.

Picture of a ship entering the Suez canal taken from a shack on the beach. Later I went for a closer look of the canal, disturbing a pair of love birds who were sitting next to an abandoned old boat. I did not want to annoy them and walked away from the place. But they followed me and were eager to talk to me! The girl knew a bit of english and was the interpreter. An instant friendship developed and the girl - who did not want to be included - took our picture. By then a security guard arrived there and wanted to know what was happening in the restricted area. He wanted to check our identity but I did not have my passport on my person. The girl explained to him that I was from India and touring Egypt. On hearing 'India' he smiled and allowed me to stay there with the restriction that I should not take any pictures. In this confusion I forgot to save their numbers which I had noted and the new found friendship ended there! The Name of the girl Yara, and the picture of the boy will remain as memories.

Looking like a pigmy standing next to the handsome young boy whose love affair I disturbed.  By the way this was the closest I could get to the Suez canal.

I do not know what these conical things are. They are some meat preparation which were seen roasting in front of almost all eateries.

The ferry which runs all the twenty four hours carrying passengers from Port Said to Port Faud, on the opposite bank of Suez canal.

Port Said as seen from the ferry.

One of the thousands of Taxis that you find on the streets. You can get one almost anywhere and it costs seven Egyptian pounds (about 25 rupees) from one point to any other point in the city.

A typical internal street in the city.

The Church of Virgin Mary. The churches are under tight security due to the constant threat from the 'Muslim Brotherhood'.

The Al Salaam Mosque located close to Suez canal.

Under the pillar is the Egyptian Museum Of Modern Art and all around the monument are the government offices. This can be considered the centre of the city.

The City is full of cars and hardly few two wheelers. Fuel is cheap - Seven EGPs, about twenty eight rupees a litre. We find plenty of old cars of all makes and many on the verge of junking still being used for transportation of goods.

Person selling the staple Arabian 'Pita' bread at a street corner.

A very popular variety of Sun glasses. I found almost all young girls wearing these types of coloured sun glasses of different shapes. Everyone is fashionably dressed in jeans, T shirts, jackets and shoes and wearing these glasses when in sun. A cigarette between every youngman's fingers complete the picture. Smoking is rampant but I did not see anyone spitting on the streets. 

Khaleed and Ahmed whom we nicknamed Laurel and Hardy because of their build and bumbling nature which they sometime exhibited - probably due to their inability to communicate effectively. Both of them very polite and affable. Thy drove us around Egypt.

Sunset witnessed from the light house at Ras El Bar on the last day of our stay in Port Said. A beautiful end to a beautiful trip!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cairo - Giza - Pyramids and Museum.

The road from Alexandria to Cairo is supposed to be the best stretch in Egypt but we covered the distance after dark and could only feel the smoothness of the road. I wasn't able to see anything other than the burning outlets of natural gas. When we entered Cairo from Alexandria it was nearing ten at night. Cairo is supposed to be the 15th largest city in the world and along with its suburbs has a population of about 15 million. Our hotel was at the other end of the city and it took us about 45 minutes to traverse through. Though the traffic was heavy we hardly spent anytime at traffic signals and the flow was smooth. 

I had a better look at the city in the morning. While the areas housing the important establishments like the military academy, consulates and major government offices appeared spread out, well planned and maintained, the interiors of the city were narrow, congested and dusty.  Cars, trucks, and horse/camel carts vied for space. But traffic discipline seemed to be much better than what I see in my country. Most of the buildings were multi storey residential buildings constructed with bricks, but I could not understand why none of them were finished with cement plaster or paint!

The Giza area where the great pyramids are located seemed to have been handed over to self proclaimed tourist guides and touts. With these people trying to serve their own interest, and misguiding people, it wasn't easy getting through. We had to ask for directions at half a dozen places before we could reach one of the seven wonders of the world!

I was expecting the Pyramids, with the status that they enjoy in world history, to be treated with due respect and regards. But no. Once you buy your ticket and enter through the gate after the cursory security check, it is a free for all. I was appalled to see hundreds of people climbing on the outer surface of the pyramids over the crumbling and disintegrating stone blocks. There was no one in authority to guide or control people and their activities. We had bought tickets to go inside the pyramid but I was in half a mind. Entry is allowed into only one of Pyramids, the four thousand year old Pyramid of king Khufu, the biggest amongst the existing pyramids in Giza. It is the one at the extreme left in the above picture. My wife was firm about her intention to see the interior of the Pyramid and  since I could not let her go alone, I had to follow. 

You enter and pass through a narrow but tall passage for about fifty feet and the going, though steep, seems easy.

Soon after the passage becomes a tunnel of about 3*3 and you have to crouch and move ahead. This passage as another fifty feet in length but when packed with people in front of you and behind you it could get very stuffy and claustrophobic. ( the above picture is from the net. usually you wont find it like this) After covering about half the length, my wife, who was very firm about seeing the interior of the Pyramid had second thoughts but it was too late. So, we decided to move ahead and after some uncomfortable time reached the chamber which housed the tomb. 

Except for the empty tomb (and lots of positive energy - as they claim) there is nothing in the chamber. The mummy and other artefacts have been moved to the museum in Cairo. 

The Sphinx - the biggest existing in Egypt- about which nothing is known for sure. It is supposed to be protecting the Pyramids seen in the back ground. It might have done its job protecting the pyramids from evil spirits. But how effectively is it going to protect them from civilisation is to be seen! It sits by the side of the road as you exit from the pyramids enclosure and one may even miss it amongst other broken structures if not pointed out!

I think my narration is getting monotonous and I have difficulty moving the pictures where I want them to be. I will just finish with captions for the pictures in the random order in which they have been uploaded to the blog.

The above instruments are the four thousand year old dental instruments exhibited at the Egyptian Museum Cairo. I sent the pictures to my classmates group and got the response "Oh, they are the ones we had in our college!"

The Al Hussaini Mosque near Khan Khallili market Cairo. 

The interior of the mosque. I understand people come from distant cities both in and out of Egypt, to visit this sacred place where the head of Hussain, the son of Prophet Mohammad is believed to have been buried. Some were praying silently, some aloud, some were singing while some just sat or slept. I had a very similar feeling to what I would experience looking at the different ways of worship the devout perform in our temples. Incidentally this was the first time I entered a mosque!

The Zarih - An ornate lattice structure which encloses a grave - inside the mosque.

The oldest coffee shop 'El Feshawi'  stablished 1797 - inside the Khan Khallili Market

The Mosque and the market after it is dark.

Stone blocks - varying from 2 to 18 tons - used to build the pyramids.

View of Cairo from the River Nile. We went on a cruise on the river which reminded me of the cruise on the Mandovi in Panaji- Goa. As good or as bad - based on your taste, but nothing great.

The court yard of the Egyptian Museum at Thrir Square, Cairo.

The Containers used to store the internal organs removed from the mummified bodies.

A section of the Ground floor viewed from above.

Instruments used to take out the internal organs from the mummified bodies. 

There are one lakh and twenty thousand exhibits in the museum. I am overwhelmed by the fact that almost all of them are  2000+ in age! And many of them have actually been used!  It will be foolish on my part to attempt to write more  about them. I only posted some pictures which I felt like, for no particular reason.

I think I should not test your patience further and hence end here. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Alexandria - Beautiful City, Beautiful People.

It took about three hours for us to reach Alexandria from Port Said. The road was good and traffic lean. The presence of vast resources of natural gas in the region was evident with the sight of hundreds of outlets of burning gas all along the road, huge pipe manufacturing units, large tankers and associated industrial establishments from all over the world. In between there was some evidence of agricultural activity with large fields of date palms interspersed with mango trees.

The city of Alexaandria is the second largest city in Egypt after Cairo and stretches for about thirty two kilometres along the Mediterranean coast. Judging from what we could see, it seemed to be a  neat city, busy but not in a hurry, well populated but not congested. The city is a major tourist attraction in Egypt because of the the beautiful coastline, the five hundred years old fort and also the famous library. Since all three are in close proximity to one another the area was full of tourists both foreign and local. Boisterous but polite youngsters in groups were moving around everywhere, smoking, chattering and laughing, creating an atmosphere of happiness all over. 

Thanks largely to Bollywood (the mention of the name 'India' invariably gets the response "I love Amithab Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan")  India is very well known, appreciated and loved. Girls literally swarmed my cousine for a selfie exclaiming "Karishma Kapoor"!  

I asked these two girls, who were amongst the selfie seekers, if I could take their picture. They were thrilled. One of them snatched my phone and clicked this picture, exhibiting two classic samples of the happy, pretty faces we were seeing all around, juxtaposed with a scarecrow to ward off the evil eye!

The New Alexandria Library  2002 - built at the site which had housed the oldest library (two thousand years old but burnt down entirely during invasions of the city) in the world. It is a circular building depicting the cyclic nature of knowledge but incomplete on the right side to symbolise that knowledge is never complete and there is always scope to add to it. An eleven storied building facing west allows plenty of light but not the heat and it is sloping down to the sea level in the front symbolising spreading of knowledge to the world. 
The interior of the Library

The Quaitbay Citadel - The five hundred year old fort of Alexandria. Teeming with tourists, provides a wonderful view of the multi hued Mediterranean sea 

A view of the sea from the fort.
Another view of the sea shore which resembles Marine Drive in Mumbai. Minus the traffic and hustle and much more beautiful.
We ended our Alexandria visit with a cup of very refreshing coffee at a coffee house on the sea shore which provided a very beautiful view of the sea.
Here I am indulging in an activity I hate from the bottom of my heart. I was carried away by the flavours available on the menu for "Sheesha" - as the hookah is called here. The smokers, with the hookah in hand and their sights set at the horizon looked to be on the verge of 'Nirvana' . I was tempted to experience the feeling! It was nothing great though not unpleasant as I had expected it to be. Sorry for setting a bad example - may be it is the atmosphere at Alexandria!