The airport had been located away from the city center and the connecting expressway had been busy with vehicles of all kinds, half finished apartment blocks and blinding hazy heat. The heat had made most people stay indoors and only a few children had splashed in plastic pools on the terrace of their apartment buildings. Their mothers had sat huddled together in the shade and I had watched in awe at people’s lifestyle being crammed inside the box like balcony. Children bicycles, old newspapers, drying laundry and pots of withering plants had given away tell tale signs of life in an Egyptian metro and it had closely resembled Indian suburbs. Cairo city center had arrived in a cacophony of noise, cantankerous traffic, pesky beggars and waves of humanity had went about their ways busily. Although the air conditioned interior of the car had muffled out most of the noise, I had felt a bit relieved to be out of there.

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Cairo had been for

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Half a day of rest and reading

Our hotel had been located in the leafy suburbs of Cairo and it had been a completely different world out there. Broad winding roads had tall walls on both sides and they had hidden the luxurious villas of the rich from prying eyes. Giza had arrived soon and in the late noon light, the Pyramids of Cheops had glowed golden. One of the wonders of ancient world and the only one still standing, the pyramids had been perfectly triangular as they had seemed in numerous iconic pictures and my heart beat had started racing at their sight. Set amidst the vast empty desert, they had looked absolutely surreal and the huge open sky above had heightened their dignified presence. The pyramids of Giza had been and still are one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen and first sight of them had literally taken my breath away.

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With some Pyramids glimpses thrown in

I had craned my neck as long as they had been visible and suddenly my Egypt trip had expanded beyond a romantic holiday. Pharaohs, hieroglyphics, architecture, Bedouin lifestyle, Ottoman past, Cleopatra and Roman glory had flashed in front of my eyes and Egypt had slowly revealed its varied charms in layers. Considered as one of the world’s first nation states, Egypt’s human history goes back to 40,000 BC. The ancient Egyptian civilization had begun sometime around 3150 BC and it had been marked by the political unification of the whole country. Both Upper and Lower Egypt had coerced under the rule of the first Pharaoh of the first dynasty, Narmer and soon the country had flourished with systematic channeling of Nile’s yearly flooding. This had given rise to development of exquisite art, medicine, quarrying, ship building, glass technology, mathematics and other scientific prowess, along with architectural and construction mastery and social reforms. Controlled irrigation system had made crops flourish even in places away from the Nile and this had enhanced trading with the surrounding regions, sponsored mining of the mineral rich valleys and increased military power.

The whole ancient Egyptian civilization had been very structured and the network had been controlled by Pharaoh employed scribes, noblemen, religious leaders and administrators with the ruler himself attaining a godlike status. With the help of royal priests and elaborate religious beliefs, the Pharaoh had ensured unity of entire Egypt and this magnificent ancient civilization had left lasting impressions on the face of the earth. From construction of monumental pyramids, temples and obelisks, ancient Egyptians had been a highly evolved civilization and somewhere they had become synonymous with modern Egypt as well. To most non Egyptians, Misr brings flashes of the pyramids and it will not be wrong to believe that the Pharaohs had truly achieved immortality, something that they had desired the most.

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Evening had brought

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A train ride to Aswan

I had read about them and more, while relaxing by the azure water of the Mövenpick Hotel’s pool and in the dreamy bougainvillea splashed afternoon, Egypt had seemed like a wondrous dream. While its iconic ancient civilization had left maximum impact on Egypt’s present, many less famous, but equally important influences had been instrumental in shaping its history. The Archaemenid Persian Empire, who had conquered Egypt in the 6th century BC had presented it with many beautiful architectural styles, while its subsequent ruler Alexander, the Great had brought in fiery Hellenistic influences. With death of the famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra, Romans had ruled Egypt until the Ottoman Turks had toppled them for power. Egypt had remained Ottoman for a long time until European colonialists like the French and British had seized its control and modern Republic of Egypt had finally come into existence in 1953. With the withdrawal of British troops from the Suez Canal in 1956, the country had been ruled by a native Egyptian for the first time in 2,300 years and in my awe struck eyes, the arid, desert land had seemed like the world’s most powerful rulers’ favourite playground.

It had been a golden late afternoon, when I had read about Egypt’s incredible history and my jet lagged brain had gotten more numb from awe. Mövenpick had the most beautiful view of the Pyramids right in front and it had been the perfect spot to brush up on my Egyptian history. A soft light filtering through the bougainvillea vines had lit up my book and the Pyramids had seemed to look down upon my puny presence. I had fallen asleep by the pool soon and had dreamed of bizarre masked men, strange rituals and endless desert, when our Cairo guide had woken me up in a hurry. Our stay at Mövenpick had been for half a day and we had been booked on a night train to Aswan. We had stumbled about groggily while packing our things and I had tiredly watched the lit up Pyramids disappear into the Cairo night.

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Aswan is the land of the Nubians, Philae Temple

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And deep blue Lake Nasser

I had been looking forward to our overnight train to Aswan but the energy of Cairo’s Ramses station had left me exhausted. Crowded and full of noise, bustle, chaos and wide eyed tourists, people and action had whirled around me like a tornado. For a very jet lagged and sleepy me, the action had been unfathomable and I had sunk back on my seat with complimentary tea and cakes, to watch the spectacle unfold. The din had hushed down with the arrival of the train and we had settled down comfortably in our little coupe post dinner. Strangely sleep had been difficult to come by that night and we had talked, held hands and looked outside from the huge glass windows of the dining car. The Egyptian countryside had lain in shades of black and silver and a huge white moon had hung low over the sleeping plains. Only soft silhouettes had stood against a glowing navy sky and we had watched night birds fly across the disc like moon towards south. Incidentally, we too had been heading south and Aswan had been the gateway of the ancient Egyptians to Africa.