gypt may be hot in June, but the balmy side is the reduced expense to travel to the African country during the summer month. The plan was to travel to only Cairo, the country's capital. It is also Egypt's biggest city.
The flight touched down on north-east Africa at dawn. A cab from the airport to the city took 40 minutes. In the 6 am light of day, the city's downtown looked eerie with buildings that looked set to collapse any time. They hold a direct mirror to the historical travails Cairo and its residents have undergone over years.
The hotel we checked in to wasn't far from the Egyptian Museum or the Cairo Tower. Since viewing the antiques at the museum could a long time, the first visit on day one ended up to the 1961-built concrete structure in the shape of a cylinder. Lit up tastefully by dusk time, the 614-feet-tall tower is Egypt's tallest building, standing on the Gezira island in the Nile river.
Its upper floors have a view to the whole of Cairo, which is world's 15th-largest city going by the metropolitan area. Also seen is the north-flowing Nile – the longest river on earth, covering 11 countries.
The tower, which underwent restoration in 2011, in its 50th year, houses several hotels.
The hot weather (maximum 35°C) makes early mornings the best time to see the pyramids. The mercury will hover around 20°C around 7 am, which is anyway when the place opens for tourists. It's a 30-minute drive from Cairo. It's best to book private services online like Uber instead of government-run taxi.
Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure are the three best-known pyramids. These are tombs of the Egyptian pharaoh monarchs of the first dynasty (3150 BCE to 30 BCE). They are as tall as 147 metres, and are raised by 20 lakh stones weighing 2.5 to 15 tonnes each. How this was possible in times when there was no mechanisation is still a matter of debate, a beautiful mystery.
If one is willing to spend a little more, access to the interiors of the Khufu pyramid becomes possible. The more inside you go, the lesser the air circulation gets. Yet it is worth a visit. Deep in the interiors are the tombs of the king and the queen after whom the pyramid is named.
Less than a kilometre away from the Khafre pyramid is the Great Sphinx, where the fourth-dynasty pharaoh (2558 BC to 2532 BC) is famously represented with a half-lion face. A tour guide will be an ideal source to learn the history in depth, particularly about the monolithic 66.5-foot-high limestone statue (with its nose later destroyed) carved along 240 feet into the bedrock of the plateau on the western bank of the Nile.
Khan el-Khalili is historical bazaar that largely sells handicrafts in present times. They are sold in varieties at the place, which is a major tourist attraction. Egypt's endemic rice and fava beans are available here as well.
The 6,853-km river has a close association with Moses, a prophet in the Abrahamic religions. Cut to the present, the Nile has a big role in Egypt's tourism, as the array of ships along it would prove. The tour packages range from one week to a month inside the ships.
With no less than 1.2 lakh exhibits, the 1902-opened Egyptian museum is one of the world's top repositories of antiques. Each of its segments and rooms has impressive artefacts, each of them capable of narrating several stories from a bygone era. Among them, among the most prized, are the personal belongings of King Tut, the 18th-dynasy pharaoh (real name Tutankhamun, 1332-1323 BC). When he died at age 19, much of his personal property, too, was buried. They include a famed mask, which is made of gold and weighs 11 kg, besides the mummy belt and ornaments. Today, they are all stored in a chamber on the second floor of the museum. Common tourists are not permitted to photograph them. If caught doing so, the snaps will be deleted from the camera or mobile phone.
The museum has a royal mummy room that keeps deceased ancient human beings preserved with special chemicals. Among them is the famed 'screaming mummy' known for its face that bears an expression of extreme agony. Theories and inferences abound about the apparently unnatural death of the person, who is believed to be Egyptian prince Pentawer of the 20th dynasty, a son of Pharaoh Ramesses III.
Mummification is a process that lasts no less than 70 days. The first phase of it involves sucking out all the humidity in the body. Next, a specially treated cloth is wound around the deceased.