Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Egypt Chronicles - Day 10

I think I must have slept deeply for about an hour, for I was quite refreshed when I woke up RA at about 8. It was our last day at the hostel, in Cairo, and for some of us, Egypt. I was due to fly out later that afternoon (but for some reason I had thought I was flying earlier at about 11 ish). RA, DT, ST and MS would proceed to Dahab for their dives. The rest would fly back to Bangalore later on that evening.

So, the priority for the early leavers was to visit the Egyptian Museum across the Tahrir Square, the others would continue to the Khan-el-Khalili market to do some touristy shopping. A small batch of us went ahead into the museum, while the others dallied around to settle the bills, pack up and book their onward travel to Dahab.

The museum was a short walk away and looked imposing. There was locker to store cameras etc - they were not allowed into the museum. SK had told me about it earlier, so I had packed my bags and left them at the hostel. We bought tickets (I thought they were expensive) and declined the services of a persistent guide and walked in.

I walked around the various sections and rooms that made up the museum, and the upkeep of many of the artifacts was appalling. In some rooms there were free standing display boards with some information about the artifacts. Where the artifacts were not covered by glass, you could see a layer of dust on them. The ones covered in glass had some kind of markings on them, probably for an audio guide, but even they were not consistent with the display boards.

There was a section which had rows and rows of mummies. Common mummies, they must have been, because the Royal Mummies are preserved in a dedicated section which is temperature and pressure controlled. More on that later, but this section made me feel I was in a mortuary, more than a museum. Across the museum, there was a section for the treasures found in Tut-Ankh-Amen's pyramid. A gold chariot, objects of daily use, a rudimentary armour and head gear.

By this time, NC, DT and others had also entered the museum and we bumped into them every now and then. When SP and I saw them go into the Royal Mummy Hall, we gave it some serious thought. The Royal Mummy Hall had a second entry ticket, and it was more expensive than the original museum entrance ticket. Now, SP and I are not your normal museum buffs, we would rather be outdoors and have beer in the sun (:P) but still, we considered going in there. We did too. And I was glad we did that because the Royal Mummies were awesome.

It was a bit eerie as well. Spread over two pressure and temperature controlled rooms, you had just over a dozen (or more?) mummies. Most were bandaged all over, except the face, palms and feet. It was overwhelming. Although discolored to a smoky black hue, the bodies had their features impossibly undamaged. When I looked at the mummies of Ramesses and Thutmose (I don't recall their numbers), I was amazed at the degree of preservation of this ancient process - you could see the hairline and some wisps, the jaw was complete, with teeth intact.

The Royal Mummy Hall was probably the only thing which interested me enough, apart from that I felt the museum was highly overrated. Probably a disclaimer is in order here. I'm not particularly interested in Egyptian history. I'm awed by their stories, but that's it - I don't have a fancy for dwelling on the kind of pottery or leather saddles used by the Pharaonic people. So, I had very little to take away from there, but I had definitely expected it to be managed better. The Nubian museum at Aswan was more well-kept, if you ask me.

I was one of the first people to leave, so I thought I would go back to the hostel and grab something to eat before leaving, and began to bid goodbye to the gang. The usual promises to meet again etc were made with SP, DT, RA and SM and I stepped out of the museum only to see NC and a few others who had come out bored and were waiting for MS (and few others) to join them for Khan-El-Khalili market. So I did some photos, gave out addresses and bid good bye to them. Before I left, SP and others came out and we stopped near the cash machine as some of them started withdrawing some moolah!

I bid them farewell again, and walked back to the hostel with ST. We stopped at Kazaz and took away some sandwiches for lunch (real ones, not tuna). It was good conversation on the way back. Having picked up my bags, I waved her bye and was almost out when I saw DT and RA return to the hostel. I must have run into these guys 7-8 times before I called a cab and finally left to the airport.

The flight back was uneventful, and once I settled in my seat, I tipped my head and dozed off. The steward woke me up once for some food, which I declined, and the next time I opened my eyes, we were circling over London Heathrow. I spoke to GK on the bus home and we were wondering how something that was almost a dream, slowly loomed large, came to pass and now was being ticked off as 'done'.

We both hung up thinking we should have done the Spain trip when we thought about it. Here's the whole trip in a picture.