Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Tale of a broken-toed Misriya!

The first-time experience is unique. The adrenaline rush that comes with what you're about to do, flushing you with excitement, nervousness, anxiety, giddiness, the fear and confusion of not knowing what lies ahead.. You can only live your first-times once. So try to make the most of it. Such was my first-ever international experience to the land of Misr. (In case you were wondering - Misr is Arabic for Egypt)

In a seemingly routine weekend in November, I was perusing online travel catalogs looking for an exciting escapade. Egypt came calling to me that day. In a flash, my mind was made up. This was the destination which was going to embrace me into its arms as my first overseas travel affair. If you've read my older blog posts, you'd know how bedazzled I am of Egypt. It's an emotional connect that I have no words to explain and account for. A day-dream of two decades, or perhaps more! The land of the Pyramids were calling unto me, and who was I to refuse? I quickly started making the arrangements for the trip: the payment options, visa procedures, reading about the country's landscape in my free time - would it be too hot/ would it be cool when I went there/ political scene and domestic unrest if any, mental-mapping the places we were going to be visiting as per the itinerary etc etc etc. As the travel dates came closer, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Fear of the unknown, mixed with the excitement of whatever was lying ahead came to me in equal parts. Preparations were in full swing for what clothes to wear, accessories to match with it, new cool purchases for the trip, piling up quick, easy snacks into the bag for the trip and so on!

That's when the unexpected happened.. On the fateful night of March 8th, I stubbed my toe to the wall at home just five days ahead of my trip and it resulted in a fracture. I had two options to pursue at that moment: 1) Either give up on this trip, cancel it out and remain at home giving some resting time for the toe to heal, or 2) Go ahead and join the tour anyway, considering the Orthopaedician had given me a thumbs-up for routine activities (except that I couldn't get the foot bandage wet at any cost). Being the brave lass that yours truly is, I chose to do the latter. Sitting at home and musing over a lost opportunity simply isn't me. This was my home calling; I just couldn't ignore that voice. A lot of re-tuning and re-preparation happened. Sneakers/ shoes/ party footwear were tossed out of the suitcase. Many comfortable open-foot slippers replaced them. Painkiller pills, bandage gauze cotton, tissue paper, saran wrap rolls constituted a sizable chunk of my luggage. *chuckles* That's how the great journey began!

I met the group of ladies I was going to tour Egypt with during our transit to Cairo from Kuwait. From the word go, they were charming, kind and loving. The initial nerves and qualms that I had about meeting strangers fizzed out within the first few minutes of chatting with them. It was like being amidst family, despite being far away from the real ones we had. Throughout the trip, there was endless laughter, banter, joking, dancing and fun with these wonderful travel companions. Together, we visited the Giza complex and the magnificent Pyramids, walked into the King's chambers (at the heart of Khufu's pyramid) and marveled at the culture and history that the ancient Egyptians have left behind for the generations to come. Egypt is indeed the cradle of civilization and there's no denying it when you've been there yourself. The visit to the King's inner chambers within the pyramid is an unparalleled experience. Walking/ semi-crouching/ climbing/ plodding through the dank, narrow passage into the high-ceiling King's chamber was worthy of the steep, ascent uphill to reach the sweet spot. There is a calm aura within that captivates you when you're there. I felt goosebumps when my palm slid across the walls of this chamber. So that's how it is, visiting the heart of the pyramid! 

Saba Alkhyr, Egypt! =)

Whichever direction you turn your head to, Egypt provides so much ancient heritage and history that's hard to digest in one visit. Perhaps.. Just perhaps.. One trip is not enough for a country as marvelous as Egypt. I felt this sentiment with strong certainty when we visited the Cairo Museum, home for olden days' artifacts and ancient treasures (special shout-out to Tutankhamun's discovered antiquities from the Valley of Kings), the rich sculpted work and carvings in the temples of Abu Simbel, Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, Hatshepsut and Karnak. Clearly, these kings had GRAAAAAND vision about after-life and wanted to let their enemies know they were strong and mighty. "Don't mess with me, I'm a powerful king" - this is what each royal heir to the throne conveyed to their arch rivals through the sheer size and splendor of these temples. If the ancient history wasn't overwhelming us enough, the sights, sounds and scenes of the modern-day Egypt bewitched us. Be it shopping for fine linens and cottons at Cairo, the perfumes in Aswan, the papyrus and Alabaster of Luxor, or for that matter - some good old Indian style bargain-and-buy in the souks of Khan El-Khalili, Spice markets of Aswan known for its spices, condiments and dates and the Luxor flea market where one could pick up ALL sorts of trinkets and sounvenirs.. One just cannot have enough of Egypt from the past and present era!

The bonding with the group - by this I mean all the awesome ladies, the local guide with his extremely cute landing tone and the fabulous, sassy Ten-plus-One group leader - intensified as we went cruising along River Nile with the stars shooting above our heads as we sat sipping our drink on the deck, during the Felucca ride with some karaoke fun and dancing as we got introduced to the taste of Ouzo en-route a farewell bash at Fella, some leg-shaking fun at Fella as we watched and joined the dancers perform Belly Dancing, Whirling Dervish and other traditional dance forms of Egypt, and as we shared some namkeen and the foot-tapping Desi music during our long, arduous ride across the Sahara desert to the Abu Simbel. We got a glimpse of the humble, inviting Nubian household open for its guests, as we dined with them prior to the visit to Abu Simbel. I cannot miss to mention the hot-air balloon experience at Luxor, where we floated above the Valley of Kings (which we visited later that day) and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut (or simply, Hot chicken soup!). The arid desert sands, laid in parallel with the lush greenery of Luxor's agricultural lands, next to the serene alluring River Nile flowing by quietly - all these seen as three parallel strips and seen from a bird's eye view was a glorious spectacle. As if this wasn't enough for our senses to absorb, the sunrise came by quietly and presented to us a pristine sight to behold. I had never witnessed a sunrise so picturesque as this before, suspended high above the ground. Lo and behold, you sublime beauty!

Witnessing a beautiful sunrise from the hot-air balloon! 

The visit to the Valley of Kings deserves a mention for its grandeur and architectural brilliance. The avenue of tombs laid out as an organized underground labyrinth for the exalted royal families, marked as their final resting place takes your breath away, quite literally. The intricate carvings, the paintings, the charms and offerings painted across the wall as you traverse these passages leave you lost for words to express your awe. As of date, sixty-six tombs have been discovered and the Egyptian Archaeological department is pursuing relentlessly in its endeavor to unearth more riches that may lie undiscovered within this mysterious mountain valley. Now, touching upon the gastronomical delights that Egypt offered to us bemused travellers: Of pita breads with its assortment of dips - hummus, baba ghanoush, and yogurt with cucumber (quite a standard appetizer), the hawawshi and tamia, shawermas (quite unlike the ones which are prepared in India. The Arabian ones are dry with little or no mayo), well-cooked and skewered meats and gravies served with a side of sticky rice, baked, mashed or fried potatoes, and finally the helpings of Umm Ali, traditional burfi-like sweets or fruits like orange, bananas, dates or cantaloupes to top off a wonderful meal.. I can literally feel the flavors rolling my tongue as I type this. Oh, how could I miss the Turkish coffee which flowed freely across the caf├ęs, along with the assorted flavors of sheeshas you could try?

The trip was and is magical to me. Not all those who wander are lost. Sometimes, you discover that you fit so well in another place, in another time. Perhaps, Egypt was where I belonged in an earlier birth. An earlier time that the mind cannot fathom or register, but the heart always knew of. A connect that I cannot put to words, but what the intuition tells was always there. Was that why every shop keeper and vendor told me I looked like an Egyptian? Does that explain why I was told to have the same face structure of a Nubian woman - eyes, face structure and skin tone? I was one of them. I was their habibi. After coming back home and recounting this karmic connect, I have had friends who threw this amusing question at me: "Are you sure your parents didn't adopt you?" Hehe! I am sure it's going to take a lifetime to snap out of the charms of Egypt. As for the fracture that I tended to throughout the trip.. It sometimes reminded me of its annoying presence, a faithful reminder that all things good come with a pinch of bad. For most of the times, I forgot about it and allowed myself to get fully immersed in the incredible Egyptian adventure. As you sit there reading this post, rest assured that the habibi with a fractured toe has done well for herself. Surely, visiting Misr is an incomparable and exotic experience worthy of every minute spent there. As I sat on the flight which would take me home on the last day of our trip, I remember grabbing wads of tissue paper from my handbag and wiping away the silent tears which wouldn't stop flowing. It was time to go from one home to another.

Ready for take-off from Cairo? I don't think so! 

And that's the tale of a broken-toed Misriya (Egyptian woman in Arabic) who returned home with a full suitcase and an even fuller heart. Shukran Egypt, for allowing me the privilege to revel in your magic. Until we meet again, I weave these precious memories close to my heart and seek refuge in the recollections. 

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