Egypt has fascinated me since my school days. Egyptian Pyramids and Egyptian Mummy had a mysterious allure which has always intrigued me. But in spite of traveling extensively, I never managed to visit Egypt. However, it was always on top of my bucket list. As soon as I got an opportunity to visit Egypt, my excitement was evident to everyone around.
Egypt is a third world country and you can feel the contrast to Western world as soon as you land there. During my seven days trip to Egypt, I came across few things which were not known to me and some of them were quite interesting.
- Egypt is the place where you MUST take a guide. Their history and religion are complex, intriguing and extensive. The Egyptians are proud of their culture and traditions, and it is engrossing to see it from their perspective. The guides are generally well-informed and well-versed and hence worth the extra cost. I would also strongly suggest that brush up your Egyptian history before you head to Egypt as it has unique and thought-provoking traditions and it would really help you in grasping them when the guide is dwelling into intricate details.
- People often wonder whether it is safe to visit Egypt? To be honest, I never felt unsafe there. Because of the political upheaval and turbulence from 2012-2015, Egypt has received a major setback in its tourist inflow. Even now, most of visitors are coming in groups. All tourist places are heavily guarded and have strict security checks. Every tourist coach is accompanied by an armed guard especially when you are in Aswan area which is close to the troubled Sudan border. Egyptian government takes its security seriously and the result is you feel very safe in Egypt. I never felt danger of any sort wherever I went. Pickpockets and mugging are also not a nuisance, unlike some highly popular European cities. However, its better if you visit Egypt in groups and follow the advice given by your local guide. Don’t try to be adventurous and take unnecessary risks. If you want to visit Egypt, this is the right time
- In Egypt, you are expected to tip for anything and everything. Nothing is free in Egypt, from asking the way, using the loo, getting the picture clicked or holding the camera. The Egyptians are very poorly paid and they are always looking for some extra income. If local people in Egypt offer to help, it always comes at a price. The Egyptian boy offered to click my picture and refused to give me back my phone unless I tipped him. The tip referred as “Baksheesh” is really a nuisance here. You can feel the poverty and desperation when you see their happy faces on receiving 2 or 5 Egyptian pounds which is equal to !0-20 rupees. Collect loads of small change of 2, 5 and 10 EP wherever you can, as you have to tip everywhere. Even after living in India amongst so much poverty, you can see that Egypt’s economic condition is another extreme and it’s frustrating and disheartening.
- Egyptians might be in economic despair, but they are still jovial and animated. Expect to be called ‘Indian’, ‘Shah Rukh Khan’, ‘Amitabh Bachchan’, ‘Kareena’ wherever you go. It’s best to ignore them. The kids are really impudent and want to take selfies with you everywhere. But everything is pretty harmless and in good humour. Thankfully groping or touching is not common. On a side note, Egyptians love Bollywood movies and songs and even Indian TV serials and are eager to discuss them whenever they get an opportunity.
- Bargaining is a way of life there. Except in fixed price shops, you have to bargain hard for every thing. You can start with one fourth of the quoted price and keep on haggling till you reach a price which satisfy both the parties. Bargaining is in our blood, and so it’s relatively easy for Indians. But in my experience, however hard you bargain, tourists always end up paying more. If you are not interested in buying, just keep walking, without stopping to look at the goods on display, otherwise you might have a tough time warding them off. There are lots of souvenirs to be found, but they are generally of average quality and hence quite reasonable. Be aware of fake products and cheap copies.
- In Egypt you have to pay to use cameras. Most places charge you for taking camera inside monuments and museums. You can click with the help of mobiles, but if you want to use cameras, be ready to shell out a fee. The charges will depend on the historical significance of the exhibit. However, the cameras can be used to take pictures of monuments from outside. Flash photography is forbidden.
- In spite of all the poverty and backwardness, the toilets are quite clean in Egypt, even in crowded tourist places. The craving for tips keeps the attendants on their toes and the wash rooms adequately clean. Wish lots of countries, including India, learnt from them how to keep the toilets usable in public places. It’s advisable to carry your own toilet paper.
- For most of us, Egypt is synonymous with Pyramids and Mummy but there are only three Pyramids in Egypt which can be found in Giza, near Cairo. And most of the Mummies which we see in the Museums have been excavated from the 62 tombs in The Valley of Kings, Luxor, about 500 km away from the Pyramids. In fact, people believe that Mummies were never found in Pyramids and they were not meant to be tombs but to balance electromagnetic energy. The debate is never ending, and it only adds to mystery and charm of the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
- You might have not heard of Abu Simbel, Temple of Philae, Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings, but they are as magnificent and perplexing as the Pyramids. They give a more vivid glimpses of the bygone area and worth visiting on their own. Egypt is predominantly desert and 90% of its area is desert. Nile valley and Nile Delta are just 5% of total Egypt but they support 99% of the total population with their cultivation. ‘6th of October’ and ‘10th of Ramadan’ are names of cities in Egypt. Weird, isn’t it?
- If you thought Egyptians only mummified their Kings, nobles or religious dignitaries, you are in for a surprise. Cats, birds, baboons, dogs, crocodiles and rams were also mummified in ancient Egypt as they were considered sacred. You can just imagine how evolved and flourishing was the Egyptian civilisation at that time as Mummifying is an expensive and complex procedure lasting 70 days after death.
- Child labor is rampant in Egypt and you can see them engaged in all sorts of work. There are 1.8 million children working and more than half of them are involved in hazardous work. You can see them everywhere you go. The animals like camels and horses used for the tourists seem to be starved and exhausted. But when the economy is in bad shape, and people cannot fill their basic needs, these things are bound to happen.
- If you live in India, you are used to traffic and reckless driving. But Cairo takes road chaos to another level. In some areas there are no traffic lights, no speed limit and no crosswalks. The traffic is haphazard and rules are not followed. It’s risky to drive and even more dangerous to walk. Crossing the road can be tricky. A half an hour ride can take two hours and you will go insane hearing the cars honk. When driving at night, many don’t use headlights. Thankfully Uber is very cheap and you can use it if needed.
Egypt is a different world altogether and it was really fascinating visiting it. Find out details about the best places to travel and suggested itinerary in Egypt Travel Guide. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel experience and could not help appreciating the fact that Egyptians are surviving in such adverse conditions and still remain so positive and exuberant.