A Travellerspoint blog

Unforgettable Thebes

Stories from my travel

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On the day of my birthday, I was on a Nile Cruise in Egypt. Coming from Aswan the ship had docked in Luxor. As planned, we set out to explore Luxor with our local Egyptian guide and went to some sightseeing places. Later during the day he took us to an ancient looking little town, Thebes, with narrow alleys and scattered little huts on the mountains. It was hot and humid and I just wanted to go to nice place for lunch but instead our guide took us to a shop.

It was typical souvenir shop, though it was different because all the items were made out of lime stone found only in Luxor. There were various items related to Ancient Egypt - God/ Goddess/ symbols/ candle holders/ pyramids/ pyramids as candle holders etc. I remember it to be a vast shop and I was in one corner of the shop looking through the beautiful craving on the lime stone. I was aloof and in no hurry, just examining the various items. But I could not help wondering that there were no other tourist excluding us (me and my family).

Then suddenly out of nowhere. All the lights were out though it was midday it got totally dark inside. I presume, they even closed the doors and windows to block any light from coming in. I was too shocked by sudden darkness that I did not scream. I froze.

In the next instant around 10-12 of the shop guys (the salesmen and workers) including our guide were holding candles. They carried the candles in various candleholders and some within ‘pyramid like' structure from which light glowed. I saw ghost like huge figures, with their shadows looming behind, walking towards me. So many thoughts rushed through my mind but I could not bring myself to scream or move from there. I stood still. But there was this trance like feeling from the candle light and glow and I wondering - was I going to be taken into my past life or was future about to be revealed.

Then it happened, in thick middle eastern accent and not so pleasing voices they started singing out aloud ‘Happy Birthday to you’. They sang once then twice. I was in complete shock from the darkness then loud noise to comprehend that it was just a birthday surprise organized by the guide alongwith the shop guys. I freaked out than being happy at that moment. Then I realized that they just meant good and wanted to surprise me. But I was not prepared for it.

Absolute strangers (some shop sales men, workers and a guide) in some remote village in a peculiar shop wanted to make my day special! The universe sometimes has weird ways to surprise and spring on you. I reconciled with myself that I must have had some Karamic connection left from my previous lifetime with that place and those people.

We had an unopened cake pack in the car, which I cut and gave to all the guys around. We purchased a few souvenirs before leaving. And I thanked the Shop Manager for the special customer service, who beamed a huge smile. As for me, this was by far the most unforgettable (I don’t know whether its memorable) birthday celebration experience. ;)

Posted by deeptisubraya 22:08 Archived in Egypt Tagged people stories Comments (0)

Nile Cruise, Kom Ombo Temple & Edfu Temple

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The previous day we checked into the cruise and during the day went to see Aswan’s tourist attractions. Late in the night the cruise began its journey from Aswan to Luxor sailing through the Nile River and along the way stopped at various ancient sites, which I think is the most beautiful and unique part of the Nile cruise tour.

The excursions generally take place early in the morning before it’s too hot and busy. Afternoons we spent relaxing on the sun deck and marveling at views of Nile river, there is something so serene, so soothing about it – which has been silently flowing for thousands of years with all the history stacked at its lush green banks.
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Early morning views of Nile River from the cruise

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Lush green banks of Nile River

We made our first stop early in the morning at Kom Ombo Temple. It stands on the east bank of the Nile and was dedicated two Gods, Horus and Sobik. The temple date backs to 119 BC and was built in Greco-roman style. The temple was mainly dedicated to God Sobik, the crocodile God, along with his wife Goddess Hathor. On the other side, the temple was dedicated to God Hours the elder, God of victory, here Horus was known as a doctor. It was a major pilgrimage site and a sanctuary for many patients, seeking treatment by the priests.
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Temple of Kom Ombo

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First pylon (columns) in ruins

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Parts of the temple tower still standing

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Hallway leading to one of the inner sanctum which is also in ruins

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Cravings on the temple walls

Most of the temple - the first pylon and inner sanctum of the temple are in ruins and only foundation stones & part of the walls remain. This temple is different from other ancient sites in that - the main forecourt at the entrance is divided into two gateways, with each leading to one half of the temple dedicated to each of the twin deities.
Out of many cravings on the temple walls two notable ones are - list of calendars with various festivals dedicated to various gods, which shows Egyptian way of tracking time, seasons and so on. Secondly the illustrations of medical and surgical tools that were used in those times, which shows Egyptians were advanced even in the field of medical science.
Though it is mainly in ruins this temple is a must see to appreciate how old these temples really are and then when these are compared to some preserved temples, one can understand how difficult it is to maintain these ancient sites.

Our next stop for the day was a couple of hours later at the Temple of Edfu. Edfu was a flourishing city but in current day there is nothing much to see except the temple dedicated to God Horus, which is one of the beautiful and well preserved temple. This temple is not on the banks of Nile and we had to take a horse cart through the narrow alleys of this ancient city.

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Temple of Edfu - Pylon decorated with battle scenes

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On both sides of the entrance stands a statue of God Horus of Behdet, which is in shape of a falcon

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Two consecutive vestibules, the outer one is called the hall of the offerings. The inner vestibule was where the statue was housed.

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Palanquin used in the temple rituals

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On the various walls of the temple, there are many battle scenes, ritual of the temple, divine marriage of Hathor and Horus etc depicted.
The construction of this temple dates back to around 237 BC and took around 180 years to complete with various additions, cravings etc. The temple complex is huge and the sanctuary is surrounded by 12 rooms from the outside. Some of these rooms were used as storerooms while the others were dedicated for different religious purposes. This temple is intact and not ruined like most other temples maybe because it is not on the banks of Nile.

Later in the evening, the cruise held Egyptian night, with local food and musical performances. There were traditional songs and dance in which the cruise guests were involved. It was interesting and fun though there were language barriers one could understand, or appreciate the language of music and get a sense of the Egyptian culture.

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Cruises lined up on the Nile River

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Views of Sailing boats on the Nile River

Quick Review of Nile Cruise
• Though the Nile river cruise cannot be compared to a sea cruise, I think, the major attraction is visiting the ancient sites and watching the Nile passing by, from the Sun deck. The contrast is quite striking in the views – the lush green banks of Nile River and beyond the banks its desert sand and dry.
• Though we were vegetarians we had enough options (in spite of not having any Indian cuisine) on the menu and enjoyed the food.
• It is customary to tip the crew and guides at the end of the cruise.

Posted by deeptisubraya 00:24 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes temples attractions ancient_sites Comments (0)

Philae Temple & other attractions in Aswan

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The Philae temple is a beautiful and well preserved temple on an island away from the Aswan city. We took a boat ride to reach this little island. It was dedicated to the Goddess Isis, companion of Osiris and mother of Horus. It was built in the classical Egyptian architectural style and its construction began around approx. 690 BC. The Temple of Isis consists of the 1st Pylon, which is a great traditional monumental gateway with two high towers, and an open forecourt, which leads to the 2nd pylon. On the left side of this court is the Mamisi, which has scenes depicting the birth of the God Horus by his mother Isis. The 2nd Pylon leads to a Hypostyle Hall with 10 columns, and then 3 vestibules leading to a sanctuary.
View from boat on our way to Philae Temple

View from boat on our way to Philae Temple


Approaching Philae Temple

Approaching Philae Temple


1st Pylon - Gateway with two high towers depicting various Gods

1st Pylon - Gateway with two high towers depicting various Gods

Impressive row of columns

Impressive row of columns

Columns leading into halls

Columns leading into halls

Innermost sanctuary of the Temple

Innermost sanctuary of the Temple

'Offering to Goddess' - cravings on temple walls

'Offering to Goddess' - cravings on temple walls


'Key of Life' - Ancient Egyptian symbol

'Key of Life' - Ancient Egyptian symbol


Philae Temple - 1st and 2nd Pylon (high towers) can be seen

Philae Temple - 1st and 2nd Pylon (high towers) can be seen


Part of the temple structure found on the island

Part of the temple structure found on the island


Christian symbols found in the Temple

Christian symbols found in the Temple

The temples on the island were eventually neglected/ destroyed and during Roman period around 527-565 A.D the temple was converted to a church. In 1960 when the Aswan High Dam was constructed the island was threatened by rising water levels. Then UNSECO started a project and the temple site was relocated to Aglika Island (renamed Philae island), situated on higher ground. The temple was dismantled into 40,000 units, transported to the new site, re-assembled and landscaped to match the original site of the temple. It took over 10 years to rebuild this build.

Other attractions in Aswan
Unfinished obelisk: The obelisk was a sacred symbol of the cult of the sun and found in many Egyptian temples. The unfinished obelisk in Aswan is a stone quarry site where one can a seen an obelisk being carved out bedrock but abandoned because of the cracks in the granite. The bottom side is still attached to the bedrock. If the obelisk was completed it would have weighed 1,100 tons (one of most heaviest) and would be 42 mts in height
Unfinished Obelisk

Unfinished Obelisk

High Dam: The Aswan high dam (built around 1960-70) is important infrastructure and engineering feat, however, there is nothing much to see except for some nice views of Nile River by the bridge. This part of sight seeing can be given a miss.
At Aswan High Dam

At Aswan High Dam

View of Nile River at Aswan High Dam

View of Nile River at Aswan High Dam

Quick review:
• We took an overnight sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan (South of Egypt), which is 13-14 hour journey, and were to reach Aswan in the morning. However due to delays and long stops we reached Aswan only in the afternoon. We were exhausted :( by the long journey. The train itself was clean and comfortable. We were served dinner & breakfast on board which was good.

• We were directly taken (by our tour guide) to Cruise from where next day early morning we were to begin our Nile Cruise. That afternoon we went on tourist sites of Aswan in a private car. The boat ride to Philae temple was also organized by our guide. All the tourist sites had admission tickets.

Of the tourist attractions - Unfinished Obelisk and High Dam can be given a miss, however Philae temple is a huge temple occupying much of the island which is worth seeing. The effort by UNSECO to preserve an ancient temple is highly appreciable. This was the first Egyptian temple I was seeing and it was as if I was walking into a world of magnificent architecture. They not only built great pyramids but grand temples as well. The surrounding water, grandeur of the temple pylons and so many stories, rituals depicted on the walls really prove that cult of Isis was strong and powerful. As we sat and watched the sun go down, the little island took us back in time. :)

• There are many more tourist attractions like the Corniche, Nubian Museum, Elephantine Temple in Aswan which we could not cover as we had to head back to the cruise.

Posted by deeptisubraya 01:14 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes art temples islands attractions ancient_sites Comments (0)

Cairo’s attractions

Museum, Pyramids, Mosque, Khan Al Khaili .. so much to see so little time!

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We started our day by visiting the famous Egyptian Museum early in the morning. The museum is large with over 100 halls filled with artifacts of Pharaonic era covering 5,000 years of history from the prehistoric through the Roman periods.It’s almost difficult to see the whole museum and really appreciate in a day or two.
But within the limited time available the must see are King Tutankhamun gallery – which is filled with treasure including the iconic mask made in gold weighing approx.11kgs, golden coffin and many other treasures. The amount of wealth displayed is truly staggering. :) Next the Royal Mummies Hall – which has mummies of kings and queen. It is definitely something to see 5,000 year old mummies. I had all mixed up feelings inside me (makes you think, wonder, fear!!!). And on the ground floor just as you enter don’t forget to awe in wonder at the huge iconic statue of King and Queen.

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Asmission tickets

Quick review:
• There are long lines at the entrance of the museum and at the gallery of Tutankhamun.
• There is additional admission ticket to the Royal Hall of Mummies.
• Photography is not allowed inside so it’s for your eyes only.

Next on the list was Cairo Mosque also known as Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Islamic Cairo. It is one of the touristic mosques meaning open to public. It is beautiful mosque built around 1830 by Turkish Architects for the then King Muhammad Ali. It sits on a high vantage point offering views of the Cairo city. It’s a huge mosque with embellished ceiling, large prayer halls, decorated corridors and hallways, which are impressive.
Cairo Mosque

Cairo Mosque


Decorated Ceiling

Decorated Ceiling

Inside the prayer hall

Inside the prayer hall

Hallways leading open squares

Hallways leading open squares

Corridor

Corridor

Islamic Cairo city view from Cairo Mosque

Islamic Cairo city view from Cairo Mosque

Then towards evening we went to Khan-al-khalil market, which is a major souk/ bazaar. Everything from souvenirs, antiques, jewellery, perfumes, gold, papyrus, egyptian art, belly dancing accessories etc is found here. There are many local eatery and street food vendors where locals and tourists sit down to enjoy evening shish /arabic coffee.

The bazar was colourful with all the displays but cluttered with narrow alleys & the bustling crowd. We entered the market walked around a few lanes but were overwhelmed with the constant chattering and pestering by the vendors asking us to buy things. We took a few clicks and left this place. Honestly, I could not judge if the vendors were asking for a fair price and haggling did not seem like a simple process so we left without shopping.
Souk in Cairo - Khan Al Khalili

Souk in Cairo - Khan Al Khalili

Narrow alley in Khan Al Khalili

Narrow alley in Khan Al Khalili

Shisha on display

Shisha on display

Then we were headed to Railway station to board a overnight train to Aswan but our last stop was a Papyrus Institute, where we took a tour of the place and shopped here. Some of the art displayed here was really brilliant.

Quick review:
• We stayed three nights and two days in Cairo at Cairo Pyramid Parks Hotel (which was good and reasonable).
• We visited the Giza pyramids (please read my blog entry 'Giza Pyramids & Sphinx' for review & 'From Step pyramid to Giza pyramid' for some philosophy ;).)
• On day 2 in Cairo we took half day trip to Memphis & Saqqara.
• We were always accompanied by a guide and went around the city in a private car. The guide even waited with us at the railway station and ensured we boarded the train etc. Only later did I realize that Egypt is a place where you need help, doing anything alone is not that safe (specially for women). :(
• Please read the latest travel & tourism advise issued on the country you want to travel to.

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Crowded crosswords in Cairo

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An ancient RED car ;)

Posted by deeptisubraya 22:54 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes attractions review ancient_sites Comments (0)

From Step Pyramid to the Great Pyramids!

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In Ancient Egypt, the pyramids were built not just as a burial chamber or grave but its purpose was to facilitate afterlife for the King / Pharaoh so that he could be eternal. To understand why something was done it is important to understand the philosophy behind it. Given afterlife was more important than the life here on earth, huge pyramids were built by the Kings.

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When we planned our trip to Egypt we could not wait to lay our eyes on the greatest and perhaps the oldest man-made structures. On our very first day in Cairo we planned a visit one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Giza Pyramids.
The Giza Plateau* is pyramid complex of three pyramids, the burial place of fourth dynasty Kings – Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.
Pyramid of Khufu known as the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids and was built around 2500 BC. It originally stood at 480 ft but with erosion it’s present height is 455 ft. It consists of an estimated 2.3 million limestone blocks. The pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.

Pyramid of Khafre is the second tallest of the Giza pyramids and rises to a height of 448 ft but appears taller because the pyramid sits on bedrock 33 ft higher than Khufu’s pyramid. It was built around 2500 BC. The slope of the pyramid rises at a 53° 10' angle, steeper than the Pyramid of Khufu which has an angle of 51°50'40". The Sphinx is an integral part of the Khafre’s Pyramid complex.

Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three Pyramids of Giza. It was built at a height of 215 ft but with erosion now stands at 204 ft tall. Its angle of incline is approximately 51°20′25″.

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True Pyramid

Our guide then took us to the ancient city of Memphis and told us about the Bent Pyramid (we did not see it) and I later went on to read about it.
The Bent Pyramid* is an ancient Egyptian pyramid located at Dahshur, (40 kms from Cairo). It was built for Pharaoh Sneferu around 2600 BC and rises 322 ft tall. The lower part of the pyramid rises from the desert at a 54-degree inclination, but the top section is built at the shallower angle of 43 degrees, lending the pyramid its very obvious "bent" appearance.

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Bent Pyramid Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bent_Pyramid

Step Pyramids* in Saqqra, located 24 kms away from Cairo was built around (2600 BC) for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. The pyramid stands tall at 203 ft and was built in six stages with six steps. This is an unique example of early pyramid development in Egypt.

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Step Pyramid

We were awe-struck by sheer size and magnificence, but not just of the Giza plateau. My brain was trying its best to process all the history & facts :). Later that evening when we retreated back to our hotel’s café, one thought was unmistakably evident. It was as though time has been crystalized into pyramids, which silently standing was not just giving out history lessons but telling a story of humankind as a race.

Its through transitions that we, humans, progress – one can see the pattern (base of the bent pyramids are wider however the slope inclines steeply) and the progress thereof (great pyramid with steep incline from the base). Even the great pyramid of Giza was not built from just one generation’s knowledge - its culmination of knowledge (past trials – step then bent then steeper incline) resulting in the way the structure is - A colossal wonder of the ancient world. That each generation learns from predecessor’s work, not starting from scratch. And perhaps, that's what sets us apart from other species.

Later I read about this from various sources (books & online), archaeologists now believe that the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form between step-pyramids and true pyramids. Pyramids are history’s evidence to show that humanity progresses and it is to be witnessed (seen) to be believed!

*Source- height, angle, built period : wikipedia

Posted by deeptisubraya 22:46 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes attractions pyramids philosophy thoughts ancient_sites Comments (0)

Saqqara (Step Pyramid) and Memphis

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Early next day we set out towards Memphis and Saqqara, which is around 24 kms away from Cairo. It is actually a nice drive away from the crowded Cairo city.


Saqqara, is where Egypt's oldest pyramid is found, the Step Pyramids. It gets its name from a series of ascending steps and there are six tiers built to form the pyramid. It was built around 2600 BC by Architect Imhotep, for King Djoser. It is in much more desert setting with only ruins found around. We were told that restoration work was going (we saw scaffholding at the base of the pyramid). The entrance to complex has a courtyard with tall columns and narrow passage, which is in ruins. (Please read my blog entry From Step pyramid to Giza pyramid for some more details)
Entrance at Saqqara

Entrance at Saqqara

Passageway with tall columns

Passageway with tall columns

Saqqara Complex in runis

Saqqara Complex in runis

Step Pyramid

Step Pyramid

Next we drove to Memphis, which was the first capital of unified Egypt founded around 3100 BC, though nothing much of it remains in the present day. There is a open air museum also known as Mit Rahina Museum, which has many artifacts of the Pharaohs. The local god of Memphis was called god Petah (pronounced more like Pitah, which means father in Hindi language and so we were intrigued about it). This museum is less crowded and it being open air, is an interesting site to visit. The museum’s highlights are - the fallen statue of Rameses II and the Sphnix.

Colossal polished limestone statue of Ramses II. This statue is big (43ft) and laid down. The statue is kept in a two level building and tourists are allowed to view from the both floors. Just goes to show how large the statue is.

Large Statue (compare with people standing behind)

Large Statue (compare with people standing behind)

Fallen Statue of Ramses II

Fallen Statue of Ramses II

This is one of most impressive statues even though it is not standing erect.

Craftsmanship so perfect with all details

Craftsmanship so perfect with all details

Open Air Museum at Memphis

Open Air Museum at Memphis


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Giant alabaster sphinx weighting more than 80 tons of weight, that once stood out side the temple of god Petah.
Sphinx

Sphinx

Symbols used in Ancient Egypt (reminded me of symbols found in Indian temples)

Symbols used in Ancient Egypt (reminded me of symbols found in Indian temples)


Statue from Ancient Egypt (looks like an immortalized Alien)

Statue from Ancient Egypt (looks like an immortalized Alien)

Statue of Pharaohs

Statue of Pharaohs

There are many more statues of Pharaohs and Ancient Gods found around the museum.

Quick review:
• The visit to Saqqara and Memphis took half day and we returned back to Cairo in the afternoon. This trip was not included in our tour and we planned it after we reached Cairo. It was worth it for Step pyramid and Statue of Ramses II, which were striking and extraordinary.
• There is admission ticket at Saqqara and Open Air Museum.
• On the way again our guide decided to take us to a carpet store/factory without asking us. We decided not buy anything and so just went on a tour and returned.
• We went in April when summer just starts to begin, and if you do visit during this season, recommend comfortable clothes. Essentials to carry water and umbrella.
• Saqqara is mostly in ruins in the desert (though guide claimed to us that restoration work was on-going) I did not see any shops or anything else nearby.

Posted by deeptisubraya 06:01 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes attractions pyramids review ancient_sites Comments (0)

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx

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Day 1 of Cairo we headed towards - the reason everyone comes to Egypt - to see Pyramids. We were excited, all charged up and it sure leaves you in awe! But there are over 100 pyramids in Egypt built over many periods of time for different pharaohs. As a first time tourist, our guide explained that a visit to the Giza and Saqqra gives a good idea of the pyramids story. So our first stop was Giza Plateau.

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From the time we set foot in Cairo city we were looking towards the sky to see the outline of huge pyramid.

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The Giza Pyramid complex comprises of Great Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre, Pyramid of Menkaure. It was built using manual labour with over 2 million blocks and each block varying in weight from 2 to 15 tons. And its only when you get close, can you really comprehend and appreciate the accomplishment by the ancient Egyptians in building these massive structure. We went around the pyramid, looked at in awe, tried to climb but it’s kind of difficult. We wanted to go inside the pyramids but it was closed and so we were not allowed.

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The guide took us across the plateau to a platform from where the three pyramids can be seen. This viewing point is the best, you can sit back and keep watching :). Here almost all tourists are posing in different poses for photos. Another common thing among all tourists is to ride over a camel or horse against the backdrop of pyramids.

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Then at the city side of the plateau we were at Sphinx, which is a massive, sprawling human-headed lion. It is 45 meters long, 22 meters wide, and carved from a single giant block of sandstone. It definitely sends an image of strong, fearless King even after 5,000 years!! (if that’s what the King wanted to achieve).
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Spoiler Alert - As you get down the Pyramid complex leading to the street outside you are pushed onto a chaotic street on Giza and when you look back one can see the tip of Pyramid rising from signage of shops & cafes, it’s in total contrast to pyramids standing tall on a empty desert.

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Found this little RED car parked inside the pyramid complex! Cairo city view in the background which is almost encroaching the Giza plateau.

Quick review:
• Please read the latest travel & tourism advise issued on the country you want to travel to.
Although we went on private tour with a guide, we still encountered all forms of tourist traps. :(
• Pyramids are the most popular tourist attractions and there are people even children, literally at every step, trying to have a conversation or sell something to you in order to extract money. Any kind of favour – asking for directions, taking photos - you are expected to give bakeesh or tip. Best way is to avoid any eye contact, ignore and keep walking.
• Our tour guide was to take us from the Museum to the Giza Pyramids, instead he went on a de-tour and took us to a perfume shop and did not let us go till we purchased something.
• Because of the time spent at the guide’s perfume shop when we reached Giza Pyramids the entry to inside the pyramids was closed.

Please read my blog entry ‘From Step pyramid to Giza pyramid’ for some more details.

Posted by deeptisubraya 11:19 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes attractions pyramids review ancient_sites Comments (0)

Visiting Alexandria in April

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Everyone tells me it’s hot in Egypt in April. But against all odds I plan my trip to Egypt and as I live Dubai I think I know how to manage the heat. We (with my family) flew to the city of Alexandria in Egypt and reached mid morning. Our tour guide was a small round guy with a big smile and even bigger name card with my name on it. He was standing right outside the aircraft to welcome us. I was surprised, wondering how he had managed to come inside the airport, right next to the aircraft!! He takes it upon himself to clear us through the immigration and pick our baggage. A service I have not got in any other part of the world. As far as I understand a tour guide’s job starts after you clear the immigration and come out of the airport. But I was only glad to be welcomed. :)
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The tour guide took us around this ancient city - Alexandria, which sits on the tip of Africa melting into Mediterranean almost touching Europe. So many parts of the city takes you back in to history. We visited the various tourist attractions –
Catacombs, which is an underground burial chamber used between 2nd century and 4th century AD. Could not take photo’s as it was dark inside and we went down almost 2 levels below ground.

Pompey’s Pillar, built in 297AD to commemorating the victory of Roman emperor Diocletian. It is the only Roman Triumphal column outside Rome and Constantinople. There are many other exhibits from the Roman ruins kept here.
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Roman Amphitheatre, there are many Roman ruins found in Alexander but the Amphitheatre is one of the well-preserved theatres with seating, flooring and columns. It is similar to the Amphitheatre found in Europe.
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Montazah Palace & Gardens, is a palace built in 18th century overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The palace is still in use for State guests only some parts of the garden is open to general public. We walked this park and the views of the palace and the Sea are nice.
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This city though is a part of the modern Egypt it’s not Egyptian and has a different kind of story to tell. This city got its name from Alexander the Great, who founded the city. The influence of the Mediterranean can be seen by residents enjoying the coastal life and in the mix cuisine – Egyptian/Arabic/Greek.
Later we drove around the city, more precisely we drove around El Garish Road, which is by the Sea and reached Citadel of Qaitbay. It was built Sultan Qaitbay as a defensive forts.
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Citadel of Qaitbay

We explored many aspects of this massive Citadel that stands tall on the edge of Mediterranean Sea coast. The hallways, underground tunnels, basement, stairway, central hall etc. But it was when I went up to the terrace of the fort, which was facing the sea when I was overwhelmed by the strong cold breeze.
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The cool Mediterranean wind was blowing through my hair, face, and almost pushed me into a time travel and I could see/feel scenes from the past of how the Soldiers or Generals defending the city would have spent their lives by this fort. I stood at the edge of the fort under bright April Sun – to find solace in the Mediterranean Sea, probably like the soldiers did from the past.
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A visit to Alexandria without seeing the Citadel of Qaitbay and the views it has to offer would be like eating a delightful mix cuisine meal of culture and leaving out a cold dessert. Just what you need on a bright day in April, Mystical Blue Mediterranean Breeze! :)
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Review of the day trip:
• We visited Egypt in April 2010. Please read the latest travel & tourism advise on the country you want to travel to.
• We took an early morning flight from Dubai (around 6:00 AM) and reached Alexandria by around 9:00 AM. We set out on sightseeing from the airport itself. Since it was early morning flight we were fresh and didn't really need a hotel. We did a day trip in Alexandria.
• We drove from Alexandria to Cairo that evening, which was around 3 hours drive, we reached Cairo just in time for Indian dinner (it was more like Egyptian version of Indian food but eatable nonetheless).
• We had an escorted guide and a vehicle booked, who took us around all the places. There is entry ticket at every tourist attraction.
• Our guide did not have ‘Citadel of Qaitbay’ in his list of attractions but on insistence he took us there I found it to absolutely worth it. Please research every place and plan accordingly.

Posted by deeptisubraya 00:49 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes buildings attractions thoughts ancient_sites Comments (0)

La la la in La Digue island

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La Digue is part of Archipelago of Seychelles. There is no airport on this tiny island and can be reached by a ferry from Praslin and is 20 minutes away. Cat Coco, the popular inter island ferry, has many rides across the islands.

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Long stretches of untouched beaches and nothing else!

It's another world out there on this tiny island with none of modern day hustle bustle. There are no buildings, no cars, no modern day noise, just long stretches of beaches with sound of waves creating a rhythm in the background. Local residents use cycles and ox-cart to go around and tourists are encouraged too because the island is so small with an area of 3.9 sq miles.

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Views around from the little restaurants
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First thing we found some restaurants by the beaches with thatched roofs, which had fantastic views and food. After having sandwiches we set out to explore the tiny island’s attractions – vanilla plantations and copra mill.

We then head out to explore the island’s best – the beaches, which make into the world’s best beaches list and photos of which adorn travel magazines. The two most popular beaches on this island are Anse Source d'Argent and Grand Anse. The beaches are turquoise blue waters, white sand shores guarded with giant granite boulders. These boulders offers private spots to honeymooners ;) from prying tourists.
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Nothing prepares you for this!

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Giant boulders along the shore giving all the privacy you need ;)
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lie on the white sand and soak the blue, green and everything around!

We had read about these beaches but nothing really prepared me for what I was going to experience. Seeing this little treasure, we just let ourself go, diving into the turquoise blue waters, lying on the beach soaking the green, blue surrounding, or that simple walk along the untouched shores made me sing out 'la la la' and you will see everyone around doing the same, just feeling bliss :).

Quick review:

  • There are no direct ferries coming from Mahe (the main island). One has to go to Praslin island and then change the ferry to reach La Digue. Other alternatives of private ferry and heli rides are also available but are expensive.
  • There are many sorts of accommodations available to choose from, to step back in time and enjoy the laid back island life. Would definably recommend staying on this island.

Posted by deeptisubraya 06:33 Archived in Seychelles Tagged landscapes beaches sky islands attractions Comments (0)

Praslin Island, the Paradise

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Seychelles is a 115 island country and there are many islands you can choose from, to stay, explore, drive, dive or you can just spend a day hoping between the islands! The most popular islands other than Mahe are Praslin and La Digue. The are many Inter-island ferry, the most popular being Cat Cocos, which has trips to/fro to Praslin and La Digue.

Praslin is around an hour's journey from Mahe on cruise. We started early and the views early morning were unreal. As we got closer to the island the stark colour change in the ocean – beautiful turquoise blue was the difficult to get used to. It looked so beautiful it was one of those 'too good to be true' moments.

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The morning sunrise

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Leaving Mahe Island

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first glimpse of Parslin Island and its turquoise blue water

Praslin is famous for two things its astounding beaches, which make in to lists of world’s beat beaches and the Coco de Mer (also known as Love Nut). The Vallee de Mai located in the center of the island, is protected nature park and UNSECO World heritage site since 1983. The Coco de Mer is found here with many other unique species of plants and birds. There are escorted walks/tours around the park with multi-lingual guides.
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Local guide with Coco de Mer - world's largest nut

Quoting from the Wikipedia on Coco de Mer:
The tree grows to 25–34 m tall. The leaves are fan-shaped, 7–10 m long and 4.5 m wide with a 4 m petiole. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The male flowers are catkin-like, up to 1 m long. The mature fruit is 40–50 cm in diameter and weighs 15–30 kg, and contains the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The fruit, which requires 6–7 years to mature and a further two years to germinate, is sometimes also referred to as the Sea Coconut, Love Nut, double coconut, coco fresse, or Seychelles Nut.

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Coco de Pa

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Coco de Mer plant

The unique thing about this plant is that there are Male plants known as Coco de Pa and Female Plants known as Coco de Mer. With its intriguing shape of coconut, the Coco de Mer is also the national symbol for Seychelles and stamped on your passport on entry. The concept that plants have gender and the shape of respective fruits took me by complete surprise. Nature sure is God’s masterpiece and an inspiration to mankind. A visit to this rare valley park is a must when in Seychelles.

Praslin’s best beaches are Anse Volbert and Anse Lazio. The sea around was so crystal clear that we could see through the water. We were not snorkeling just standing by the water and we could see so many fishes. It’s a delight to see aquatic life! Half day is just not enough to see and feel this place but we had to move on. Like most tourists we were on a day trip. But even after so many years when I close my eyes I can feel the magic of the Paradise Praslin.

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By the beach

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Crystal clear water & so many fishes!

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Sigh .. can't get over the blue!

Review:
Inter-island ferry - Cat Cocos is most popular but would not call it economical, it’s one of least expensive available option. The alternatives like private ferries and heli rides, all comes with a steep price tag.

Posted by deeptisubraya 06:36 Archived in Seychelles Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches trees sky islands attractions Comments (0)

Sun Sand and Seychelles

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As mentioned in thousands of travel brochures and flyers – Seychelles is truly a paradise. The little island, blue waters, white sand, lush greens hills are to be seen, to be believed, because it’s difficult to describe how magical it is. Cameras can only click pictures but cannot capture what you feel when you are there, my photos don't do justice.

Seychelles located in east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean is a 115-island country. The popular islands are Mahe (which is the largest), Parslin and La Digue. Victoria is the capital of Mahe Island and is considered the smallest capital in the world. The climate is all year around tropical, sunny and perfect getaway for a beach holiday. We went in March and enjoyed beautiful weather.

Things to do in Seychelles include lazing on the beach, driving around the tiny island, diving underwater, exploring other tiny islands, trekking around and so many other simple yet awesome activities. We stuck to lazing, driving and exploring around the island.
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There are many types of accommodation from lavish hotel properties to self catering places on rent, depending on the budget/ length of stay you can choose where you want to stay, we stayed in local resort for a week. Wherever you stay you are in paradise. Our resort was located on the South of the Mahe Island. There were few and scattered resorts and hotels, in this part of the island which gave a feeling of privacy and seclusion however for restaurants or markets we had to drive to north of the island.
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We used to start our day listening to waves gushing and birds chirping. It’s not everyday that you hear ocean when you wake up! It was one of the best things. Our resort was on high cliff with spectacular views and close enough to the sea.

The island is so tiny that we drove around the island within an hour but in that one hour, it’s guaranteed you get the best views you would have ever seen. We spent lazy long hours going around narrow winding roads of the island’s beautiful coastlines. Driving around island is easy but hiring a car (with or without a driver/guide) is expensive.
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We went to high points on the northeast end of the island for beautiful views of the whole island and neighboring little islands (they were like Jade Jems on turquoise blue ocean). We also went through hills to find waterfalls. The island also has sanctuaries for turtles we visited one of them to see turtles in their natural habitat. They are around 100-150 years old.
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Seychelles is known for honeymooners, high-end tourists and celebrities. Like any piece of paradise, this island is very pricey but worth every penny! The beaches all around the Mahe island were perfect, untouched and unspoiled. We didn’t see many people unlike other tourist destinations.

Tip from the trip: Go to this island only with a loved one. This is one place that is to be enjoyed with your loved one at least once in lifetime. :)

Posted by deeptisubraya 23:08 Archived in Seychelles Tagged landscapes waterfalls beaches sky islands attractions Comments (0)

Nepal trip review

As a tourist you get to see the best of both - Culture & Nature...

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• Nepal is budget friendly place. We visited Kathmandu in October 2008 from Dubai. But we went during an Eid break and had taken a package tour (flight plus accommodation in a 5 star hotel). Eid breaks are like peak holiday season so we paid premium for this package.

• While in Kathmandu, the mountain flight experience (please read my blog entry – ‘For those who cannot climb Mt Everest’) is an absolute must see and almost any one can do. These flights can be booked just a day in advance at any for the tourist centers or at the domestic airports.

• Another easy and worth doing is a trip to Manakamana temple. This temple is at outskirts of the valley on a mountain top. We barely went inside the temple. It’s drive to the place, the cable car ride and scenery around that is beautiful beyond words. The tourist guides or hotels arrange this little trip.

• Kathmandu valley is filled with tourist attractions - Temples, Monasteries, Durbar Square, Thamel (market place). These are interesting sites to visit and a must do. If time permits visit Bhakatapur and Patan (sister cities) and other nearby places to see include Pokhara and Nagarkot.

• Nepal has number of outdoor adventure activities available, day trip treks, camping, trek to the base camp, trek to peaks, river rafting from few hours to days together, jungle safari etc. Depending on your health, age, capability, time available and experience, make the most of it. We went for a day of river rafting and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had (please read my blog entry – ‘Rafting in River Trishuli’). These adventure activities can also be booked just a day in advance at any tourist centers or at the hotel you are staying at and are not expensive.

• Nepal is blessed with abundance of nature - mountains, valleys, rivers, greenery but it lacks in infrastructure & maintenance. It’s rustic & chaotic, but perhaps that’s the characteristic of this place. Be prepared while travelling – to walk around in dirt roads, unkempt shops, taxis, cafes.

• We were staying in a 5 star hotel, which was reasonably maintained with clean rooms but not to the standard of a 5 star. The food was also reasonable and lots of vegetarian options were available almost everywhere.

• Shopping like anywhere else is tricky thing. Bargain your way down on prices or you could be paying more than double of it’s value.

Festival - Another thing to plan for is the festival time, Nepal is a Hindu country and has lot of colorful elaborate festivals. Either you would like to come down to see how a festival is celebrated then prepare yourself to embrace large crowds or you could avoid the festivals (crowds, traffic jams, delays) to enjoy the nature around. We went some days before the Dusshera festival which is a big 9 day long festival and by the end of trip we could feel people gearing up for the festival as traffic was congested, lots of crowd shopping and visiting temples.

Season – It rains during June to August which limits your activities – limited mountain flights & adventure activities etc. Good months to travel are between October to April.

Buddhist Temple

Buddhist Temple


Cable car ride to Manakamana temple

Cable car ride to Manakamana temple


River rafting

River rafting

Posted by deeptisubraya 21:24 Archived in Nepal Tagged landscapes mountains lakes art review ancient_sites Comments (0)

Rafting in River Trishuli, Nepal

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Nepal is blessed with nature, lush greenery all round, gushing rivers flowing from the high mountains. Just drive out of the valley and you are transported into another world. The best way to experience the nature, is to take up one of the many adventure activities that Nepal has to offer - Trekking, Rafting or Camping.
I must make a confession here, honestly, we overheard two tourists talking in the hotel lobby about the rafting adventures they had previously done in Nepal, they loved the experience and were back in Kathmandu for longer (one week) rafting trip. I have never tried Rafting and as such, had no plans for any adventure activity but inspiration strikes you (from a overheard conversation in a hotel lobby) when you least expect it. :) We had just one day available so booked ourselves for a River Rafting experience.

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We woke up early the next day, excited and nervous not knowing what to expect. We were picked up in a tourist bus from our hotel at 7:30 in the morning and after a four & half hour bumpy bus ride through the beautiful Kathmandu valley we reached the rafting site. By now I was eagerly waiting to start rafting, we finally got our life jackets, helmet & paddles and headed down to river Trishuli. After a briefing (how to hold the paddle; how to sit in the raft and other instructions - all in all just about 10-15 mins) from our Nepali guide, six of us got into an raft. In the front was an Aussie man & my husband, both were excited and tall. In the middle the Aussie man’s wife and me, both looking baffled. Behind us were two thin and small Nepali men.
Nepali Guide

Nepali Guide

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The scenery was picturesque, mountains lining the valley, high rickety bridges from one side to the other and greenery all around. We rafted for 4 hours covering 25 kms on a rapid of grade 2 (I am told highest rapid is graded at 5). Each rapid seemed bigger and stronger than the previous one.
The guide was at the back and he steered our raft in to the rapids. He called out orders for us to paddle forward / backwards when we hit the waves.
It had a rhythm – 1 -2 Forward 3-4 backward … 1-2 Forward 3-4 backward, I seem to be losing the count 1-3 2-4 backward/ forward or was it forward / backward. At some points it was impossible to paddle as it felt as the though raft was flying up and so I was striking thin air! I screamed for my life as the raft hit rocks, water splashed in and I soaked through!

At one rapid, a huge wave knocked the Aussie guy out of the raft! Everyone was shocked..we couldn’t grab him back! The guide didn’t throw any rope or anything! We watched his terrified face as we got swept away from him. He got stuck in a pocket of rapids for about TEN seconds, until the current swept him downstream. Then my husband and the guide pulled him back into the raft! Phew, we all let out a sigh!

We paddled on with great enthusiasm and slowly it felt the current had slowed down. The guide told us to jump out and take a dip. We all gave him bewildered looks and none of us dared as the recent rescue operation was fresh in our mind. I held the raft tightly.

Then Nepali boys jumped out and soon we followed to experience what I call the ‘caaalmmmmmm’ portion of the river. The water was ice-cold, refreshing and revitalizing. All this while I was in my raft (in my shell) seeing the nature around me, now in the water I was experiencing the nature. I was with the RIVER.... I was floating downstream with six others and we enjoyed the breathtaking scenery surrounding us. That was probably the best moments of this experience. We got back into our rafts as the current picked up.

At the end of it, we stopped for our packed lunch – the slice of bread with cheese, after rafting for four hours, felt like the most tastiest meal ever. We changed into dry clothes and captured as many pictures as we could. I found River Rafting to be an exhilarating adventure sport not just for its adrenaline pumping action. But also because, it lets you soak in the feeling of being with the nature. :)
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Posted by deeptisubraya 22:41 Archived in Nepal Tagged landscapes mountains Comments (0)

For those who cannot climb the Everest…

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For those who cannot climb the Everest, now you can fly to the Mount Everest. We were choosing a destination for a vacation when I saw the above tagline on one of the airline website and that was it, we made up our mind to visit Nepal.

Climbing Mount Everest or at least trekking to the base camp is on my 'to do' list but till then I wanted fly to Everest or at least as close as possible and see it. Thanks to Mountain flight service in Kathmandu.

There are many airlines, which operate on these mountain flight routes and we opted for Buddha Air. These are short (an hour to an hour & half) flight trips leaving from Kathmandu Valley. The tickets are around USD 150 but the experience you get is priceless. We booked the tickets previous evening in Thamel. We reached the domestic airport early in the morning, after having to wait for an hour we were boarded on the plane. It was small 19 seater flight with every person having a window seat.
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As we took off, we were given maps and the air hostess explained to us – ‘Nepal is home to over eight of the fourteen highest peaks in the world’ and about the peaks that we were going to see. To name a few (out of 20 + peaks that we saw) - Starting from Langtang Lirung (23,734 ft); Gauri Shankar (23,405 ft); Cho-Oyo (26,906 ft); Nuptse (25,771 ft); Everest also known as Sagarmatha (29,028 ft); Lhotse (27,940 ft); Kanchenjunga (28,170 ft)

In about 20 mins of flying we were hovering around the peaks of the mountains. By turn each one of us was allowed to go into the cockpit to see 180 degree panoramic view. To see the whole range of peaks from the cockpit was unbelievable and highlight of the whole experience! I also remember feeling the difference in temperature. It got cold inside the aircraft as we flew close to the peaks.

The peaks - It’s white (with snow), it's barren and stands tall. The word ‘Majestic’ is made for high mountains. It is hard to describe the wow that you feel. It is an unmatched feeling. I can only imagine the feeling when climbers reach the peak.

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Posted by deeptisubraya 00:47 Archived in Nepal Tagged landscapes mountains sky planes Comments (0)

Durbar Square Stories, Kathmandu

We were at Durbar Square in Kathmandu late in the evening. The noise, the crowd, the frenzy of people around was overwhelming and we were two tired tourists. We had been touring all day visiting the famous tourist attractions of Nepal.

But I still had some energy left and was excited because there was one place in particular I wanted to visit in Darbur Sqaure - the Kumari Ghar, the official residence of the Living Goddess known as ‘Kumari’ and if you are lucky you are likely to get her 'darshan'.
Durbar Sqaure - Kumari Ghar in the background

Durbar Sqaure - Kumari Ghar in the background

When preparing for my trip to Nepal I had read up many things about this little country – its tourist attractions, natural landscapes, people, food, culture and then I came upon this concept of Kumari – the Nepali Kings started this ancient tradition of Living Goddess, who guide them in ruling the country.

As per the tradition, infant girl (2 or 3 years of age) based on a number of criteria (date of birth, place of birth, physical attributes etc) is chosen as their living Goddess – she is treated very different from other children & people – well she is treated like a Goddess. Prayers are offered to her on daily basis. There is set way in which her life is to lived and there are various intriguing rules that she must follow. Others - devotees, tourists - are also to follow rules when in her presence. On festive occasions she is elaborately decorated and taken around in a chariot for processions and important rituals. When she reaches puberty (13-15 years of age) she is sent back to her parents home and another infant girl is chosen as ‘Kumari’.

I was inquisitive and wanted to see the Kumari. Our tour guide took us around Durbar Square then to the Kumari Ghar & arranged for a darshan. We were asked to wait at the verandha of the Kumar Ghar. We must have waited for 10 mins when some more tourists joined us. Then the Kumari appeared from her balcony two floors above us. She was a pretty young Nepali girl with a beautiful smile looking down at us. I could not help but smile back then I realized that she was the Goddess and so I bowed down in reverence.
Kumari Ghar in Kathmandu

Kumari Ghar in Kathmandu

But this meeting or darshan got me thinking about the girl for the remaining days of my trip. And I decided to read up a little more on the lives of the Kumaris.
I was aghast at first – the young girls faced a lot of emotional & psychological problems because she was treated like a goddess till she was 13-15 and suddenly after that she just like everyone else, a mere mortal. Because of the position she holds she is denied a normal childhood, education and family life during her growing years and so settling back, into a normal everyday life including working life, is a huge issue for these girls. To add to this apparently it was considered unlucky to marry a girl, who was a Kumari hence the girl invariably had no life after puberty.

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One of books found on the life of Kumari

I have read from various other sources (online, interviews, books) that over the last few years a lot developments have been done to improve the lives of these girls, so that they can cope to normal life after their reign as Kumari. Now education is provided (during her rein) and she is allowed to work. In recent times, marrying a girl who has been a Kumari is more acceptable in Nepali society.

But I wonder what a tremendous impact it leaves on the girl’s life to have such a childhood - of a Living Goddess? And if given a choice would the girl have chosen such a childhood for herself?

Posted by deeptisubraya 03:47 Archived in Nepal Tagged buildings children philosophy thoughts stories ancient_sites ancient_traditions Comments (0)

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