A Travellerspoint blog

Backpacking in Espana!


My first trip to Europe, we decided to go to Spain – not my choice but my husband’s, who has been to Europe before and feels that Barcelona is the best city in Europe and he wanted me to see it, rather experience it. Did I mention that he is an Architect, of course that’s why Barcelona, is his favourite city. Now it’s mine too!! :) :) This city has so many things to do, so much to see and there is vibe here that just inspires you (maybe its Gaudi’s influence that leaves an impression. To know more about the genius architect Antoni Gaudi refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_Gaud).
By the end of my trip I was clicking walls, tiles, floors .. there's a pattern, a story, an inspiration everywhere in Gaudi's city Barcelona!!!

We planned this trip to be a backpack trip, yes, because its cheaper to travel that way! And because I had seen in so many movies where young people just pack, roam around on metros, eurorail, live in hostels and explore the alleys of European cities. I always wanted to do something like that, and did just that! But beware in films its always easy and rosy. In real life there is no room service, no bell boy to carry your luggage, no pickup & drop off to/ from airport, no Indian veg food organized by tour operator and no tour guide to tell where you should go and what you should see. Add to that the language barrier. I didn’t know even ‘Hola’ (Spanish Hello) then. Ask any Dubai kid (expat) where we are spoiled with luxury at every step this can be daunting ;) but actually in a way it was liberating to travel on our own and explore a new city :) where all we had is the research done at home and big city maps.

We went in (early) November when the fall season just sets in and it was my first experience of cool chilly winter. Coming from Dubai it is definitely something new to experience. Seeing the green leaves turn yellow/red or waiting for the sun (hiding between the clouds) to come out, just added some magical touch to European winter experience. I suddenly had a greater appreciation for the simple things in life like a chap stick or that hot cup of coffee. I hail from South India where coffee is a common household drink and I don’t like coffee but in a place where the temperatures drops to less than 10 degrees, a hot cup of coffee is the best thing you can have. :)
Coming from tropical/desert climate the first time I saw autumn leaves.. it was magical...

Coffee and City maps our Companions on a Cold day in a new City!

In Spain we stayed three days in Barcelona, two days in Madrid and two days in Granada. In Madrid I was left speechless at art museums which initially I thought was a boring idea. But it was first time I got to see works of genius artists like Picasso and Van Gogh (To know more refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh). While Granada transported me back in time as we walked around the old forts & palaces of Alhambra.
Art & Museums could leave me speechless.. never thought so..

old alleys of Granada... I wanted to stay here forever :)

We took Air France from Dubai to Paris then to Barcelona. We reached Barcelona mid morning and took the airport tram to reach the city and stayed in a hostel, which was run by a Spanish family. After refreshing and lunch, we head to most iconic attraction of Spain – the Temple of Sagrada Familia. And right from there I was on ride of awe, surprise and wonderment, and that’s how my Spain trip remains with me in my heart and memories.

Gaudi's masterpiece - Temple of Sagrada Familia

Posted by deeptisubraya 00:18 Archived in Spain Tagged me thoughts Comments (0)

Egypt trip review

Please read the travel and tourism advise on the country you want to visit. Please research every city you plan to visit and the attractions there.

Attractions: We visited Egypt in April 2010 and took a package covering one day sightseeing in Alexandria, three days in Cairo which included city attractions and Giza pyramids, overnight train to Aswan, one day sightseeing in Aswan, two days Nile Cruise from Aswan to Luxor and one day sightseeing in Luxor.
Yet there were many things not covered in this package and we researched every place and asked our guide to take us to some places like Qaitbay fort in Alexandria, Memphis & Saqqara in Cairo, Feluca ride in Luxor.

Accommodation /Food: Egypt as a place is economical and we stayed in 5 star hotel in most places including the Nile cruse. The hotels are clean and comfortable however not to the standard of a 5 star. Vegetarian food was available in the hotels/nile cruise however Indian veg food was difficult to find.

Tourist traps / Shopping: Be wary of all kind of tourists trap, even though ours was a completely private booked trip with a car and guide with us at all times. It started with the the guide himself, he took us around to perfume shops, carpet factory and insisted we buy things. At every attraction, pyramids, temples, museums there are people pushing to sell you items - souvenirs, art work, postcards etc. When buying things even water - haggle on prices (though even haggling is not a straightforward deal).

General Caution: Would recommend women to dress appropriately and to travel with company. We were accompanied by guide at all times and still faced hassles at markets, attractions etc. Also be careful with your wallet/camera etc.

Tipping: It is very common and one of the most expensive items. Every person you encounter during the trip expects a tip - guide, driver, hotel staff, taxi, crew on board, beside the regular fare you pay for the services. We tipped the guide & cruise staff in USD currency, they would not take the local currency.

Season to visit: October to April is a good time to visit, Summer peaks in July-August. There is lot of walking around to do - recommend good pair of walking shoes, water and an umbrella/hat.

!! Get ready to be swamped with lots of history and be amazed ;) !!

Posted by deeptisubraya 04:10 Archived in Egypt Tagged review Comments (0)

The walls that tell an untold story

travel musings...

During my visit to Egypt I was intrigued with the temples and ancient sites than the grandeur of the great pyramids. The large walls of ancient temples tell you untold stories through its remarkably beautiful carvings of the various Gods and Goddess prevalent during the ancient Egyptian time. There are numerous stories for anyone who is patient enough to decipher from the walls (or listen to local Egyptian guide who is constantly giving away so much of history referring to the temple walls).

From Aswan to Luxor, there are numerous temple like the Kom Ombo Temple, Edfu Temple, Philae Temple, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple and so many more. On the walls various things were sculpted like the rituals and festivals; stories of God & Goddess and significant symbols including measurement of days, months, seasons and medical instruments.
IMG_3727.jpg IMG_1612.jpg
Edfu Temple and Philae Temple

While walking through the many temples, I could not help but compare it to temples that I know of and have visited in South India. Some elements of the Egyptian temple were similar to that of ancient temples in India:
• Open courtyards in the front and halls leading to inner sanctum is common design feature of Egyptian and Indian temples.
• There were palanquins found in temple sites on which temple Idols were carried around, this is illustrated on the temple walls through the carvings showing rituals, similar practices are followed in Indian temples.
• Tall lean stone structures are found within the temple compound which are known as Obelisks in Egyptian temples while they are known as Stupas in Indian temples.
• Depiction of snakes (known as ‘Nagas’ in India) and lotus flowers (which is considered as an auspicious flower and used in rituals in India) around temple walls, similar carvings are found around Indian temple walls.
• ‘Horus’ (a significant God in Ancient Egypt) is represented as human with falcon head while ‘Garuda’ (a demi-God in Ancient India) is represented as human with eagle head.

While some other elements were in contrast:
• In ancient Egypt there was the concept of Sphinx (sculpted as a lion body with human face) whereas in Ancient India there was God Narashima (sculpted as a human body with lion face).
• There are various Gods with human body and face of an animal - in Egyptian Lord Sobek is Crocodile faced, Lord Horus is Falcon faced while in Ancient India Lord Ganesh is Elephant faced, Lord Hanuman is Monkey faced. Makes you think the Gods where inspired from the creatures found in the local region.
• Outside some Egyptian temple entrances there are many goats or bulls sculpted in stone lined up on either side while in some Indian temple entrances there is a single cow (known as Nandi) sculpted in stone.

IMG_3711.jpg IMG_1645.jpg
Carving on the temple walls

IMG_1680.jpg IMG_1734.jpg
Palanquin used in rituals of temple and Entrance of temple lined up with stone sculpted goats

Inner sanctum of a temple and Obelisk within temple compound

The list is quite long about the similarities and striking contrasts. To a trained eye of an expert in Ancient Indian & Egyptian history there is definitely lots to see and study. To a tourist’s eye it’s almost impossible to capture everything (even with a camera) but it has left me convinced of culture and heritage, which at its epitome, must have been rich, vibrant and resilient. And it’s almost difficult to believe that no part of it exists today.

In the present day Egypt there is no one who follows the ancient Egyptian way of life yet it was there, it can be seen, almost felt. It did not let itself get wiped off from the sands of time. They left a mark so strong that it stood the test of time to tell of their existence. It was as if they knew they would not be around to tell and so they left so many stories for us to find.

Posted by deeptisubraya 03:44 Archived in Egypt Tagged philosophy thoughts ancient_sites ancient_traditions Comments (0)

Sightseeing in Luxor

Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple


We were docked in Luxor and went to explore the temples in the east side of the Luxor city - Karnak temple and Luxor temple.

Temple of Karnak is also known as the temple for Amon Ra. It’s a huge temple complex and has a many ruined temples, chapels, pylons, columns, obelisks and other buildings. More than thirty pharaohs have contributed to building different kind of structures. And it has been developed since the Middle Kingdom period (around 2055 BC) period all the way through Ptolemaic period (around 30 BC), hence it is such a huge temple complex. The deities represented range from some of the earliest worshiped to those worshiped much later in the history of the Ancient Egyptian culture. Many of the features of Karnak are unique, but sheer size of the complex is overwhelming and takes more than a day to really understand and appreciate. We had a half day tour of the temple complex.

Photograph of aerial view of the Karnak Temple - the scale and size is huge.

Karnak Temple in Luxor

Grand entrance of the temple with 20 ram-headed avenue of Sphinxes on each side

Forecourts and open courts inside the temple complex

Pharaoh statues all over the temple complex and ruins of interiors of a temple

One famous aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, which has 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.

Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak temple

Obelisk erected in the temple complex and the sacred lake of the temple

Next we went to visit the Luxor Temple,, which is another massive temple, located about 3 kms away from the Karnak temple. It was dedicated to the cult of Amun and was built by Amenhotep III (around 2055 BC) and there on many additions were made by various Pharaohs to the temple complex. During the Christian era, Alexander the Great rebuilt the Sanctuary and the inner section was converted to a church. And around 10th century the Mosque of Abou El-Hagag was built over the runis of the temple complex.
Luxor Temple
At the entrance of the first pylon, there are two seated colossi representing King Ramses II, seated on his throne.

Open court with rows of papyrus bud columns

This is one of few temples which probably has had three different religions worshipped in the same place – the ruined Egyptian temple, Christian chapel and Muslim mosque.

We were docked in Luxor and it was to be our last day in Egypt with visits to the temples on the east side of the Luxor city. However after a whole of day of sightseeing we got to know that our flight from Luxor to Dubai was cancelled and so we ended up staying for another day in Luxor city. we chose to relax during the day and sailed on the feluca (wooden boats) to watch a beautiful sunset by the nile.

Sailing by the Nile River during sunset!

Feluca ride... I was lost in the history and mystery of Egypt.. an evening .. perhaps a trip to remember!

Quick Review:
• Please read the travel and tourism advise on any country you plan to visit and research every city you plan to visit.
• The two days we were in Luxor we stayed on cruise, as per our itinerary we were supposed to fly out on the third day but our flight was cancelled and so on the third night we stayed at a hotel close by the Nile.
• The stay on cruise was comfortable with variety of food and entertainment every evening. It is customary to tip the crew on board.
• The temples in Luxor are not to be missed and I think are integral part of understanding ancient Egyptian history. The size and architecture of these temples take you to a different world.

Posted by deeptisubraya 22:42 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes art temples attractions ancient_sites Comments (0)

West bank of Luxor city


Next day morning our cruise docked at Luxor and our guide took us to explore the attractions on the west bank of Luxor city.

Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the temple was built for the great queen Hatshepsut (18th dynasty) to commemorate her achievements and to serve as a funerary temple for her. As well as, as a sanctuary of God Amon-Ra. Subsequently her statues were destroyed by King Tohutmosis III

The temple consists of three raising imposing terraces. The 2nd terrace is accessed by a ramp. There are scenes depicting the divine birth of Hatshepsut as the queen and that she was the divine daughter of Amon-Re to legitimize her rule.

Next stop we went to the Valley of Kings. From the new Kingdom period onwards (c.1550-c.1069 BC), kings did not build pyramids in the north of Egypt for their burial but tombs were cut into the cliffs of Valley of Kings on the West Bank of Nile at Thebes. The location of the valley of Kings still has ancient, wild, unapproachable feeling to it. It is desolate and dry. The walls of royal tombs are covered with scenes depicting the pharaoh as Gods and his journey through the Underworld.

There are total of 36 tombs of which tourists are allowed to visit any three. And that pretty much gives an idea how the royal tombs were built. We visited the Tomb of Ramses II, Tomb of Ramses IX (both have color full chambers and easy access) and Tomb of Tuthmosis III (this tomb is at the far end of the valley and has some steep steps to climb.)

Quick review:
The admission ticket gives access to visit any three tombs
Cameras and Video cameras are not allowed into the valley, so not photos.
Guides are not be allowed inside the tomb.

Then we drove back to cruise and on enroute stopped to see two gigantic statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. These two huge figures are of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and were at the entrance of his mortuary temple. The temple is completely destroyed with almost nothing to see expect for the two large statues. These two colossi are made of sandstone and each colossus including the pedestal and the crown is about 18mts (59ft) in height.

We stayed overnight on the cruise, which had another evening of entertainment for in-house guests. They have special celebrations if its your birthday and it was mine so I enjoyed the dancing and all the attention I got. It was one of kind experience to celebrate my birthday evening on a Nile Cruise :)

Posted by deeptisubraya 22:57 Archived in Egypt Tagged landscapes temples attractions ancient_sites Comments (0)

Unforgettable Thebes

Some experiences looking back become sweet little travel stories ...


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 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 carving 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 and 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


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.
Early morning views of Nile River from the cruise

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.
Temple of Kom Ombo

First pylon (columns) in ruins

Parts of the temple tower still standing

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

Carvings 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.

Temple of Edfu - Pylon decorated with battle scenes

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

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

Palanquin used in the temple rituals

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.

Cruises lined up on the Nile River

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


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!


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.

Admission 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



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.

Crowded crosswords in Cairo

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!


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.

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″.

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.

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.

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


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

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


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


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.

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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


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. :)

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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! :)

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


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.

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.

Views around from the little restaurants

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.
Nothing prepares you for this!

Giant boulders along the shore giving all the privacy you need ;)

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


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.

The morning sunrise

Leaving Mahe Island

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.
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.

Coco de Pa

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.

By the beach

Crystal clear water & so many fishes!

Sigh .. can't get over the blue!

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)

(Entries 16 - 30 of 78) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 »