Thursday, July 31, 2014

Raising a Toast to History ~ The Egyptian Tryst...

And then I scrolled through the 'dark' scripts...
The demon had been vanquished...
The glorious verso's of history reincarnated...
The glissade that bathes along the Nile...
And epochal Sphinx to 'furbish'....
A 'raging inferno' that engulfed the crest...

The brazen glimpse of Cleopatra's regime...
The 'endowment' encircling the gory of Kadesh...
The epiphany reflects through the etched glory...
The bite of reminiscence...
As if a time-travel has been recapitulated...
And I silently walked into the regal citadel...
A luring invite straight from the 'throne of caliph'...
I simply couldn't, couldn't decline....

Well, stargazing has been quite a treasured exercise right from the inception...as a kid, I used to 'gorge' into the history books, painting a joy-ride, mingling with the historical figures, embracing them, traversing those 'acclaimed latitudes' , fighting imaginary battles, signing virtual treaties and of course, devouring on the royal indulgence. It's been quite an Utopian ride this, the presumptuous alliance with the 'silhouette of antiquity'...a correlation between the past and the present, the 'reverie' ; it was as if the ancient characters have jumped out of the pages of history and exercised their esteemed authority. In my dreams I saw a allegory....I walked through the debris and I extricated life out of the remnants, I revived the throne, I drove away the detractors and I protected the precious baguette's of the past. I rode on the royal chariots, I controlled the winds, I fought with valor, I witnessed the mythological legends engaging in a confederation; there was certainly an underlying connection between us...oh, should I use the 'past tense'? Nah!

It goes without saying that time-travel did take me to the depth of ancient Egypt, her fascinating history had always allured me...her effulgent 'richness' that has scripted a glorious ascendancy; the saga that began with the rule of the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty did send in goosebumps at the very first read. Everything about Egypt was so bewitching...Alexander's conquest, the 'encrypted' papyrus, hieroglyphs, Narmer Palette, the Giza, the Sphinx, the Bastet and almost every-possible detail attached to the civilization had a charisma to say the least. People would say that it's a delusion, but I could visualize myself as a Pharaoh in my dreams...the widely acclaimed Pharaoh, wearing the Narmer-like red hat of prosperity; I would crave for reincarnation...waiting for a historian to dig into my tomb...an archaeological expedition that could break my trance. It's a disturbed hibernation...it's an aggrieved dormancy; yes the wait was suffocating....the wait was painful. 

"You have been bit by the bug called illusion..."- My pal had articulated. Perhaps that's just one side of the coin. I'm perhaps infatuated...possessed with the enigma of 'relating to the historic, cidevant events' and getting carried in the process. Sometimes I really feel the urge to undertake a Past life regression hypnosis to find out what's 'cooking in my mind'...to go down to the roots and explore the reason behind my perennial allegiance towards history. And then this happened....I managed to gibe into the past through a rather contemporary mode of reconnoiter- A photo-walk. The photo-walk that certainly rejuvenated my frayed nerves.

Snippets from the photo-walk that 'made it happen' - The Egyptian essence in Calcutta..
Snippets from the photo-walk that 'made it happen' - The Regal Epiphany..looks classy..
Snippets from the photo-walk that 'made it happen' - Some wonderful collectibles....
Snippets from the photo-walk that 'made it happen' - There you go, the historic pyramids..
Well, you don't need gaudy props or lavish presents to stimulate a passionate soul...the variety of Egyptian souvenirs that the curio-shop provided brought back those flashes. The Egyptian trader had brought back memories, the replenishing hunger of mingling with the 'ancient' was re-instituted. The Egyptian language appeared to be pretty familiar as well, I don't know whether it's a subconscious kindling but there's certainly a strong connect...this unexpected disclosure was perhaps the cherished touch of a glowing splinter. The way he spoke, the way he conveyed...the way he evinced was simply beguiling, I could 'smell' history through his words. "Why don't you come down to Cairo sometime?"- He asserted, perhaps sensing the state of my mind and the keenness towards exploring Egypt, "I'm sure it will be a joy ride!" 

Ah! There he said it...the Egyptians are mind-readers nevertheless, I had to find a way to quench my thirst and there it is...the inspiration did originate right from where I belong. The mere prospect of searching 'inner peace' in the Egyptian 'arteries' was stimulating to the core; the last couple of impediments on the way were: 1. Convincing my annalist friend to accompany me 2. Getting a mid-year leave request approved. Executing first task was a cake-walk, this friend of mine is like honey-bee...a slight tickle of aroma could have a magnetizing effect for sure; the other one, on the contrary, being a gargantuan one. Who cares though? I guess, I could schedule the travel just ahead of the Durga Puja's that's when the Government organizations face a 'lean period' both in production, execution & sales. But then the first task, which appeared to be an easy one, turned out to be rather challenging because my friend had already taken up an assignment with the National Geographic team on their expedition to the Amazon. It was pretty much a "NO" from his side...Gah! It was almost inevitable that I'd be all alone on the Egyptian expedition, not that I complained ;)

But the obvious question was, how to create a perfect travel-blueprint? With the increasing number of travel booking websites with each day, the job becomes even more difficult...the feedback says, even the most 'prominent' of websites have been involved in travel-centric glitches inspite of their growing reputation. We didn't have the bandwidth to resort to the hit and trial mode; the secret Q&A session in office began and skyscanner.co.in emerged as the most popular choice. 
"I have booked flight tickets with them in the past, they offer lucrative prices"- Subhash, the fresh recruit from IIMA predicated.
"I think I have planned my entire trip to the U.S. with them, it was a seamless and delightful experience" - That's what our Associate Director, Mr. Karan Mundra had to say.
But the decisive prognosis came from the Head of Accounts, Mr Ajmera. "I think Skyscanner is the complete package...they have the best deals in terms of flight bookings, hotel stay and transport, you won't have to expend even a bit of sweat to plan your entire trip. It's economic because it searches for the best packages from all the major travel-oriented websites present in the market and does an analysis on it's own. Highly recommended" - He vindicated. That made it three out of three ...and it goes without saying that Skyscanner has developed quite a bit of fan-base over the last few months. It was time test it's credibility...the task was intense because the aftermath could turn out to be a legendary cognizance, the responsibility on their shoulders was immense...the 'mission of transporting a devotee to his source of reverence". The odds favored them nevertheless ;)


The first thing that struck me while shuffling through the Skyscanner website was it's precision in terms of depicting only the relevant bit of information to the travelers. There's no un-necessary cluttering of information or advertisements to divert your focus. The task, as a result, was pretty much cut out...I had to book flight tickets for two to Cairo at the lowest cost, the travel duration being from 19th September 2014 to 25th September 2014 as per our pre-puja inactivity schedule. Let's get on with it.

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - The first step of the travel-plan, finding the best suited flight
Well, I had a slight bit of doubt with respect to the 'surveying' of all the possible online travel sites i.e. the underlying integration that is perhaps the USP of the Sky-scanner...but the following display did clarify all my doubts. We often execute a best practices study to grab the best of deals, or identify the best of services that are offered by agencies both in the online and offline mode, and this turned out to be a logical extension. What is does, is saves your valuable time...it is programmed with the virtue of analyzing the flight-booking-rates across all the major online vendors and deduces the least price-estimate; shows their customer satisfaction centric approach. I decided to select a round trip package, because that in effect does reduce the expenditure drastically. The head-count was solitary 'one', as previously discussed....the anticipation level was increasing with every second...I was about to take my first step towards attaining 'salvation'. A stimulating 5-Day chore with the Pharaoh's and the historic 'Egyptian mysteries' was about to happen. Oh Dear...I'm feeling the goosebumps already, I've been waiting for this opportunity.

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - The effective online hunt, digging out the lowest air-fare..
Alright then, the wait was over in a flash and the best possible flight deals were unraveled. In this context, let me tell you...the results that showed up, was a huge huge surprise. My previous experience with travel-diaries and travel-feedback says that an Egyptian ride might cost you up to INR 60,000 if booked at a short notice of approximately months; the survey results are based on actual account...hence the slashed rate of INR 50,054 came as welcome surprise. It's an incredulity for sure...an approximate savings of almost INR 10,000 even before the tour has started- that was quite an achievement. The high-flier combination of Jet Airways + Etihad Airways + EgyptAir is a very satisfying one, my cousins have had a good experience with them during their last business trip. The only concern was the double stop journey, one at Mumbai and the other at Abu Dhabi...but then with the prospect of an amazing experience waiting at the end of a 16 hour long journey would certainly be the driving force. Perhaps I could indulge in a blissful shopping spree in course of the two 'long waits'  at the Dubai airport, why should ladies have all the fun? ;) The on-air hospitality is also something that I'm certainly looking forward to on this trip. Ahoy!

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - The 'lowest priced flight-listing' ~ Calcutta to Cairo..
The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - Detailed course of the flight..
I had been previously told that choosing a good hotel at Egypt, specifically Cairo could be a tricky option. People at the airport might misdirect you if the background search has not been executed religiously, but the obvious question that might arise is, "HOW"! I have tried to talk to some of the office colleagues to get a fair idea of the 'best location' to put up in the land of Pyramids...the responses have been pretty much contradictory. The popular choices directed towards the Zamalek and Heliopolis but the room tariffs were sky-high. The main motto behind this 'religious expedition' was to witness the beauty of the city...I had made up my mind of course...I'd rather spend more on sight-seeing and undertake a cost-cutting exercise when it comes to hotel-stay. The following prompt made me curious though...and when I clicked on it, well, half of my problems were solved....

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - The 'esteemed' hotel-booking prompt on Skyscanner
Oh my! Fabulous stuff here...skyscanner has listed down the top-most hotels in Cairo, that too, with utmost lucidity...you don't have to rage a frantic hunt to search for those hotels that fall within your preferred price bracket. The best feature, of course, is the integration with the individual hotel websites and listing down the 'user ratings' when it comes to a choosing the 'right lodge'; the customer feedback is something that you simply can't ignore. The value addition here, is a brief description of the locational advantage of the each of the listed hotels...helps immensely in terms of setting up a preference in accordance to your travel plan. A small statement like- "There are many great attractions nearby, including Cairo Tower, Egyptian Museum, Coptic Museum and Museum of Islamic Art" can make your job very simple...you can gauge, calculate, estimate and devise the right kind of 'navigation-schedule' to get the best out of our holiday. I found my 'solace' in finding a perfect match in Novotel Cairo Airport because of it's convenient location, amenities, services and proximity to the airport; it is just about 17 km in distance from the popular city center, and presents us with the unique opportunity to explore numerous sightseeing opportunities, such as the Egyptian Museum. That, my friend, sounds like a perfect plan...you wouldn't like to waste too much of time 'on the drive' when your objective is to visit & delve into those historic hubs. Furthermore, a gross saving of approximately INR 10,000 by virtue booking through the skyscanner website is a huge bonus...I've already leveled up twice in the first half of the journey. A net expenditure of INR 26,055 (for a 6-night long stay i Cairo) including breakfast is quite a delicious deal I would say. The hotel has ultra-modern luxuries to offer like swimming pools, snack bars, sun loungers and parasols...all draped in the Signature Egyptian idiosyncrasy. I'm 'comfortably numb' right now...It goes without saying that I'm SO looking forward to the experience.

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - My hotel-selection in Cairo..the affordable choice...
The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - Redirected to the hotel's website for confirmation...
Alright, since the hotel selection has been 'freezed', it's time to finalize the 'travel itinerary', the places to be visited and the route map. It is often observed that the local travel guides tend to mislead the travelers and as a result, the primary purpose of the visit remains unfulfilled. My experience says that a through study cum deliberation session on the internet, in consultation with a number of travel bloggers could solve it for you. I follow a number of travel blogs primarily because they provide an unbiased view for sure, and yes, the fact they are personal accounts helps immensely in deciding your course of action. My envisaged "sight-seeing outline", as pre-decided has been enumerated below. The list is a self-research an exclusive one. Here it goes:

Day 1: Mohamed Ali Mosque, Gizeh Plateau, Keops Pyramid ~ Bathed in history, the Pyramid of Khufu (Keops in Greek) is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world and is certainly worth exploring. The Mohamed Ali Mosque, that was intended to echo the great imperial mosques of the Ottoman Empire is quite a feast to the eyes, the Gizeh plateau is home to the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure as well as the Sphinx...it is certainly smells history. The first day of the ride, should be pivotal in setting up the course of the entire trip! Well, I'm totally backing my top 3 selections....*the head start* !!


Day 2: Dahshur, Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Step Pyramid of Djoser ~ The  Egyptian Antiquities Museum houses the famous Tutankhamun collection with its beautiful gold death mask and sarcophagus and the royal Mummy room, which displays an additional eleven Pharaonic dignitaries..certainly a treat for all historians. The Dahshur is an unique Red Pyramid, the first true pyramid ever constructed in history...a must see for all the enthusiasts. The Pyramid of Djoser is a master-piece of the necropolis at Saqqara, it's a step pyramid as they say and attracts tourists from across the globe. Day 2 of my expedition thus covers both -the 'rich heritage' of Egypt as well as it's preservation. Chalking out the travel coordinates, it's certainly within reach.


Day 3 : Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, Memphis and Sakkara, Hanging Church - El Muallaqa, Sitt Mariam, St Mary ~ "Memphis and Sakkara are 2 location sites that a tourist should definitely try to visit if sufficient time is available." - Writes a travel reviewer, it's certainly worth exploring I'd say. The Hanging church, originally built in the ancient fortress of Babylon in Old Cairo around 4th century AD, derives its name from its location suspended above two Roman gate towers...it is an architectural marvel and highly recommended for the ones who gorge of historic constructions. The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is one of the best examples of early 'enshrined' Mamluk architecture in Cairo; it is emblematic in it's beauteous constructional features and is certainly a feast to the eyes! I'm slowly getting into the flow right now, it is so comforting....


Day 4 : Colossus of Ramses II, Cave Church, Khan Al-Khalili ~ Travel bloggers have described the path leading to the Cave Church as a 'breathtaking experience'; one of them says that "Getting there is interesting, the roads are full of organized trash, and are narrow and hard to maneuver" , on the look of it, appears to be quite an amazing place to explore.  Located in the heart of Islamic Cairo, the Khan Al-Khalili is an open-air bazaar that is filled with unique and exotic items from spices and perfumes to jewelry and souvenirs; it certainly gives me chance to gather some wonderful collectibles for the family members back in India...they'll surely relish every bit of it. The Colossus of Ramses II is another gigantic statue carved in limestone is more than 33 feet long, it is a great icon of power representing an Ancient Egypt legend, it's a magnificent creation tailor-made for the disciples of ancient history. Ah...my friend! Looks like the fourth day is really going to set the tone for a memorable climax.


Day 5 : Alabaster Sphinx, Pyramids show, Papyrus Institute ~ I have heard a lot about the light and sound show organized in the midst of the 'historic pyramids'...it is an extraordinary experience, the coalition of technology with the glorious remnants of the past..I simply can't wait to experience the magic! The Alabaster Sphinx, on the other hand, is made of calcite, a type of alabaster....the sphinx is 26 feet long and 16 feet tall and is the largest calcite statue ever found. I have read about this majestic creation in the encyclopedia...it sure is a marvel. The last, and not the least on the list is a tryst at the Papyrus Institute- "It's one thing to hear that papyrus was the first paper. However, it's fascinating to actually see how it's made, and to see people making it and writing on it. " - writes a travel-aficionado and I totally concur. We have read so much about the papyrus, it's going to be an incredible experience to see the manufacturing process; in-fact there lies a marvelous opportunity to 'learn' about those 'coded messages' encrypted on them. "Travel is learning" and I would like to enhance my wisdom-curve through this Egyptian rendezvous. The final day is reserved for 'hogging', 'barefoot trudges', learning local dialects & euphoric recollection.


"But Sammy, have you planned for a local transport to take you to the respective location? Or do you intend to fix it once you reach there? "- The very obvious question followed. Yes, my chaddi-buddy Srijan was rather impressed with the travel plan; but then I must thank him for reminding me this very critical aspect of the travel-alacrity. Yes, with the rise in petrol prices, you got to select the right kind of vehicle to take you around the city...the car that is spacious, offers a comfortable ride and offers a good mileage. And it's all the more interesting to note that Skyscanner helps you find a suitable vehicle online at a reasonable price. What more can you ask for? Within seconds I got a swanky list of automobiles listed categorically on my computer screen, a single click would redirect me to the car-hiring page, it's a hassle-free process. Considering the arduousness of the journey and the coverage, I decided to 'delegate the charge' to the classic Nissan Tida, Chevy Aveo. I sure promised to a thrilling ride across the boulevard of reincarnated dreams, the Egyptian highway is calling me with extended arms. The entire package (transportation) costs me around INR 16,167, that's pretty affordable considering the number of spots to be covered in all the 6 days. P.S. - I forgot to mention that the Pick Up and Drop off to the Cairo International Airport has been included in the package below....

The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - The 'esteemed' car-hiring prompt on Skyscanner
The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - You can select the date of travel & the class of car..
The travel blue-print with Skyscanner - My selection...the stylish Nissan Tida, Chevy Aveo.... 
Okay then, let's come to the grand total, yes, I know that being a financial consultant helps...but then this is the first time I'm designing the complete travel-blue-print on my own, that too on account of an indelible travel experience...it's a special feeling, you know. Alright then, the cumulative expenditure for the entire trip is  INR 50,054 /- (Round trip flight fare) + INR 26,055/- (Hotel tariff for staying in Cairo) + INR 16,167/- (Car-hiring expense for sight-seeing in Cairo) = INR 92,276 /-. The balance amount or rather the contingency fund will be utilized in buying signature token gifts from the Khan Al-Khalili for my dearest family members and some of my close friends as a memento of a successful cavalcade. Infact, being a food-o-grapher, I'd also like to spend a part of the balance amount in tying out some delectable Egyptian cuisines like the Ful Medames or the Kanfah. I've already enlisted the details of the best dining hubs in Cairo. There are certain things that money can't buy....it certainly can't buy the unscripted happiness...the feeling of contentment, the effervescence that this 'royal ramble' promises to generate; this 'trip of reincarnation' should bring in a surge of 'fresh air' mingled with the ancient aura ! Voila...!


* This post is a part of Skyscanner travel wizard activity at BlogAdda.com.
* The first four pictures in the post & self-clicked & copyright protected. Rest of the images have been downloaded from google.
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