Spell of city on the Nile

Sujoy Dhar recounts his Cairo visit and the ambience of an ancient civilisation

When I saw glimpses of Cairo in The Great Gambler and action involving Big B and his leading ladies, I knew I had to visit this city some day. The awesome Pyramids, enchanting Nile, mind-boggling museums and roadside sheesha joints make it a vibrant city. Cairo can be more rocking than New York. For an Indian, the warmth with which one is perceived can be touching. Egyptians are great Hindi movie fans and Amitabh Bachchan especially is adored.

Founded on the site of Babylon, near the ruins of ancient Memphis, Cairo has been the largest city in Africa for centuries.

Modern Cairo encompasses many former cities and their monuments: the pyramids of the Pharaohs, the Sphinx, early Christian monasteries and churches, Salah Al-Din Citadel, and mosques of the Mamluke and Ottoman sultans. Five thousand years of culture are concentrated in Cairo as you travel through time in a city that is a living index to civilisation while offering all the comforts of a new age city.

From its airport onwards, Cairo is chaotic and in its chaos lies its soul. Today's skyline of Cairo mixes minarets and palm trees with art deco buildings and multicoloured neon.

Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids to be tombs to preserve the bodies of their dead kings as they believed in resurrection and immortality. While the Giza Pyramids, one of the ancient seven wonders of the world, a visit to Saqqara, a major funerary site of the old kingdom. North Saqqara has the step-pyramid of King Djoser (the first pyramid). It is of the mastaba-type, large, unimpressive, bunker affairs. They were made from sun-dried mud bricks and most have long since crumbled to dust. This all changed around 2630 BC with the erection of the step pyramid for Djoser which was subsequently enlarged by adding one mastaba on top of another until it consisted of six terraces some 200ft (60 metres) high.

The most prominent tombs in Saqqara are those of V and VI Dynasty nobles. The tomb walls bear inscriptions of religious rites and the offering of sacrifice to the dead. The pyramid of Unas, last of the V Dynasty pharaohs, is noted for its tomb chamber with walls are inscribed with pyramid texts".

At Giza, the pyramid compound boasts of the The Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and other monuments in a vast funerary complex spanning the range of the dynastic history. On the west bank of the Nile, facing Cairo and on top of Giza plateau, rises the three pyramids and it is one of the seven wonders of the world surrounded by small pyramids (totalling seven) and hundreds of mastabas and tombs for kings and nobles.

The Great Pyramid is the most famous structure in the world built by King Cheops around 2650 B.C. Its height now is 137 metres (original height: 146metre). Almost 2.5 million blocks of stone were put into building this pyramid, which measures 230 metre square at the base. Close to the eastern flank of the Pyramid of Cheops lie three small pyramids dedicated either to his wives or family members.

The second pyramid was built by Kephren, south-west of his father's pyramid. In height it is 136 metres. It still retains, on some of its upper parts, the remains of the limestone that had once covered it all. The third one was built by Mycerinus (Menkaure). The lower part of its sides still retain their granite slab coverings. In the same compound is the Sphinx, a legendary statue with the body of a lion and head of a man with the head cloth indicating that he was a king. It is 60 ms long and 20 m high, carved from an outcrop of rock left after quarrying operations. The Sphinx is the venue of an enchanting light-and-sound show where a visitor can relive the history of the pyramids and the glory of the Pharaohs. The pyramid's interior has famous inscriptions on the walls, or heliographics.

In Cairo central, you can ask your tour guide to take you to some famous Egyptian perfume outlets and there you can choose from an array of perfumes with titles as enticing as "secret of Nile," which is actually called Egyptian viagra for the aphrodisiac power of its fragrance.

The Egyptian Museum, one of the most famous in the world, houses 250000 antique pieces, including mummies and the fabulous treasures from Tutankhamun, the 18th dynasty king who died at 18.

A trip to Cairo is not complete without enjoying a slice of its heady nightlife. Just take a cab and head for the Nile where there are several cruises on offer. In one of those cruises enjoy a wholesome buffet dinner and watching the stunning come-hither belle dancers swaying to the Arabian beats. Don't forget to buy a papyrus painting as a souvenir.