It’s always on everyone’s bucket list to go to Egypt. So when we, at Tarantismo Creative Dance Company, were invited to teach Indian Fusion Belly Dance at a Belly Dance Festival in Cairo , we could hardly believe it was happening ! It was a memorable two weeks filled with a lot of sightseeing, food and of course dancing !
Cairo is an interesting place, to say the least. The chaos and the hustle bustle on the streets, the maddening traffic and the number of people everywhere reminds you of home instantly. If you can manoeuvre your way around the hordes of locals waiting to make some money off of you, you are good to go ! I must confess, we couldn’t do it. We were fooled more than once into doing several things which were completely unnecessary, including buying some Papyrus; the first form of paper invented by the Egyptians which, though very cool, is now lying in some drawer at home; and some very questionable Ittar ( their local perfume). But in the end it all adds up to the experience that is Egypt !
Here is our pick of top 10 things we enjoyed in Cairo :
Needless to say the Pyramids are on everyone’s agenda. Making our way into some bylanes, which our local driver took us to, we found ourselves in this little shop which hires out camels for a half day tour of the Pyramids. Sit atop your camel and make your way through the desert toward the Pyramids. At first sight, it is really breathtaking. You have rolling sand dunes for as far as you can see and then in the middle of it all, these majestic creations. Make a pit stop at a “viewing deck”, which is just a perfectly positioned dune, and enjoy a little picnic of falafel in the middle of the desert. Your guide will take some fun albeit cheesy pictures of you with the Pyramids. Go with the flow. It’s all part of the experience !
This market is definitely worth going to. A cobweb of lanes filled with colourful, rustic shops, interspersed with Hookah bars from which emerge both hazy fog and the brash tunes of Shaabi Pop, reminiscent of Bollywood music in the 90s. From lamps to belly wraps to antiques to spices, this place will hit you with an explosion of sights and smells. Shopkeepers constantly try to lure you in by dropping names of Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan. There is loud haggling everywhere you look. Shops sell the most exotic looking things that will call out to the shopaholic in you. This place is truly a slice of Egypt. After you’re exhausted from all the shopping, which I’m sure you will be, go eat at Naguib Mahfouz, a beautiful restaurant perfect to relax in after a tiring day.
So we did this in two different ways. One was on a large sunset cruise. Enjoy some time for yourself on the upper deck as the boat lazily makes it way down this iconic river. Go down into the lower deck and enjoy some local dancing – Belly Dance and the breathtaking Tanoura or whirling dance- followed by a large buffet of local cuisine and call it a night. The second way we did it was a lot more relaxed. A friend of ours who lives there took us on a small boat for a relaxed, beautiful ride down the gorgeous Nile. These speed boats can be hired by anyone and is a lovely way to spend one of your evenings in Cairo.
Moez street or Muiz street is one of the oldest streets in Cairo. With a large concentration of medieval architectural sites, the government has renovated the entire street to create a kilometer long museum of sorts. From mosques to museums to a spice bazaar, this lane is a beautiful place to spend an evening. Go to the Al Hakim Mosque and revel in its grand courtyard and minarets, take a break for a hot cup of tea or a chilled Karkade and make your way along the cobbled paths to the spice bazaar. We chanced upon a surreal folk music concert tucked away in a little in a courtyard which was the pretty much the perfect way for us to end our evening in this enchanted little place.
Karkade is basically Hibiscous tea and is the perfect relief you need on a hot, sweltering day in Cairo. We had our first glass of this in a little shop in one of the many lanes of Khan – el -Khalili and was the perfect pick-me-up we needed. Made by boiling dried Hibiscous flowers, this can be had hot or cold and is so delicious we came back to India with a batch of the dried flowers to make our own Karkade at home !
If you have always been fascinated by mummies, the Egyptian Museum is the place to go. Relics and artifacts dating back centuries, this place houses the most fascinating exhibits. Extremely large, it is almost impossible to finish it in a day. Do not miss Tutankhamen’s exhibit. It’s fascinating to see how he lived. His mummy is in the Valley of Kings, a little away from Cairo but it is still amazing to see all of the other artefacts from his time. Don’t worry there are other mummies that you can see, preserved in large glass caskets. The creepiest thing we saw there ? The mummy of a sheep!
Tip : Beware of sweet old men just outside who, in the guise of helping you, slyly get you to go to a nearby Ittar shop where you end up buying some really unnecessary stuff!
Part of Old Cairo, Coptic Cairo is a labyrinth of museums and churches which are a delight to navigate. Start at the Coptic museum and see the ruins of the Babylon Fortress. Go to the iconic Hanging Church and a number of Greek Orthodox and other churches in the area. Make your way through the camouflaged underground streets which appear out of nowhere. On one such street we came across a large bookstore. Just like that. On the street. End your exploration of this area at the mystical Abu Serga Church. It is believed that holy family of Christ, Mary and Joseph took shelter in a crypt in this Church. The crypt is preserved as is and provides for quite a goosebump-y moment ! If you feel you have the energy to brave a rather crazy journey make your way up to the Cave church where an entire Church is carved into a cliff. End your day with sunset at Mohamed Ali citadel where you can take in the gorgeous architecture and breathtaking views of the city !
In Giza itself and close to the Pyramids, this museum holds everything Papyrus. The first type of paper ever invented, this museum hold all kinds of paintings all done on this beautiful material. To take things a step further, they even demonstrate how to make this paper right there in front of you. Pretty amazing to see paper being created out of the papyrus plant ! Carry some money along because you will definitely feel like buying one !
You cannot leave Egypt without trying their local bread, a thick, pita bread called Eish Masri or Eish Baladi. Lap it up with some hummus, baba ganoush, with lentils or with meat, you really cannot go wrong with this local staple. Our favourite was this bread with a local mutton preparation at the Naguib Mahfouz cafe in Khan-el-khalili.
We were of course there for a festival so we got our fix of belly dancing, but either way try to do at least one Belly Dance or Tanoura class ! Learn to shimmy and spin like the locals – it’s really fun and a great way to get to know a little bit more about their local culture !
Cairo gave us 10 days of real gratification because not only did we get to visit a place as ethereal as itself, but we got to learn and share our artform in a land where it originated from. Certainly, a trip to remember.