Anger in an ancient land

ANJANA CHANDRAMOULY | Updated on February 10, 2011 Published on February 10, 2011

Visitors who cherish warm memories of Egypt watch the unfolding crisis in consternation.

What I recall of Cairo from my two-week holiday in October 2005, is an extremely beautiful city, set on the river Nile and teeming with tourists drawn to a country that is steeped in history dating back to the pre-Christian era.

But the present uprising in Cairo is bound to keep tourists away for some time to come. Watching the disturbing footages of strife-torn Cairo on television, the mind travels back and forth between 2005 and now... it is a rush of images, of a city where time stood still then and where life has come to a standstill now.

Egypt came across as a country that was proud of its ancient civilisation, where people centuries ago set sail on the Nile and transported raw material for the construction of the Pyramids of Giza. The sand-coloured stones were transported from Aswan, more than 600 km away, to Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. As an NRI living in Cairo pointed out, “When other civilisations were learning to live in caves, Egypt was advanced enough to transport building material on huge boats and build pyramids.” Nothing quite prepares you for your tryst with the ancient wonders at Giza. You stand there, dwarfed by the massive stone structures in front of you.

The antiquity of these gigantic creations makes them extra special when compared with some of the modern high-rise wonders such as a Burj Khalifa in Dubai or a Petronas Towers in Malaysia. Today, in the midst of a people's uprising, it is extremely distressing to come upon images of looters vandalising the Egyptian Museum, home to the mummies of many pharaohs, and even destroying some of the valuable relics. During our visit to the Royal Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum, we came upon the pharaohs lying in state, in perfect condition, with even the skin intact! With their belief in after-life, the ancient Egyptians had perfected the art of preserving the dead, even retaining many of the facial expressions. The museum also displays many of the treasures recovered from the coffins including the famous gold mask of Tutankhamen; handcrafted jewellery made of gold, ivory and beads; furniture including thrones, beds, boxes, stools, chests, vases, flasks and many others for use in the after-life.

In its modern avatar, Egypt boasts roads in impeccable condition — eight-lane highways modelled on American roads — both in Cairo as well as other interior cities.

For tourists in Egypt the appeal lies in a country that offers the best of history with a dash of modernity! A lot of work had obviously gone into the construction of roads, hotels, restaurants, airports and other tourist infrastructure.

We found the people warm and friendly, making tourists feel welcome wherever they went. The angry Egyptians pelting stones or shouting slogans at Tahrir Square today are unrecognisable. One hopes that this ancient civilisation, preserved so wonderfully and painstakingly over the centuries, emerges unscathed and stronger from the ongoing turmoil, and continues to delight and educate millions of tourists as it has in the past.

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Published on February 10, 2011
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