Cairo Chronicles with the scary Sandstorm.

Courtyard view of a mosque in Cairo during sandstorm

What is our mood while travelling? – It is always Laaaalalala. Somehow we both (and I think most people) forget everything and dive deep into the present while travelling. You hardly face any negative vibes from strangers – You may not say hello/hi to those strangers you see every day while jogging in the neighbourhood. But you always smile at the person sitting next to you on a train on your way to an unknown destination.

Likewise, our bubbling positive energy was at its peak after stepping inside thousands of year-old pyramids. There was a sense of satisfaction and calmness after staring at the pyramids from our room balcony every second. The Kadkade, delicious food and friendly locals saving us from scamsters made us fall in love with Egypt.

Little did we know that we would get stuck in a sandstorm the next day that killed at least 5 people!

We could have been among those five. But thanks to Ibrahim and the driver – We were saved!

The Cairo Day

Spread of Egyptian breakfast with the best view of Giza Pyramids from the hotel terrace in Giza

What if we go further to see more pyramids instead of wandering in Cairo? This was the question in our minds while sleeping the day before. But, not seeing real Mummies is the stupidest thing to do as a traveller. After two rounds of kadkade and some Aish with cheese, we moved our lazy butts from the terrace and met our guide Ibrahim downstairs on that sunny day.

What a perfect start it was!

Highrise poorly built apartments by Giza road side

We knew, how fun it is to be with Ibrahim after spending the previous day with him. His music taste introduced us to some amazing Egyptian songs. We understood each other well – He knew, he can’t rush us anywhere. And we knew, he is wise and witty. So our second day on Egypt’s journey began by crossing the garbage-filled streets of Giza. listening to some hip music and eating the freshest oranges that Ibrahim bought.

It is weirdly absurd – when we both travel in an unfamiliar new land, the worst of worst traffic jams also become enjoyable! Honestly, if we were stuck in such bad traffic in our home city, I would have screamed and cried and gone back home somehow.

But here – The slow-moving traffic gave us time to observe some non-touristy local shops. The number of bridal shops selling white gowns (Like Christians) with matching hijabs in Giza and Cairo was insane! Soon we realised, that Egyptians are obsessed with fair skin and lavish weddings as much as we Indians do.

Old Egyptian museum in Cairo

Finally, after 45 minutes, we got off at the Cairo museum to an ocean or a flock of people.

Who isn’t excited to see the Mummies in Egypt. Right?

Indian woman traveller standing infront of a colossal Egyptian king statue at Cairo

While the two over-excited souls went wandering seeing the objects displayed outside and clicking photos, Ibrahim stood in the line to get us tickets. I obviously continued my story of “What if the mummies haunt this place as they showed in the movie and what if we get possessed”

Ancient Wooden statue of a sherif with relaitic eyes made of glass

After a lot of unscientific ghostly conversations, real Egyptology came into the picture. The museum stunned us. Minute details preserved, the greatest mummies preserved, gold jewels and coffins of king Tut – This is a museum of wonders. Forgetting the time and world, we came out after three hours of wandering.

Gold cladded coffin of king tut in Cairo museum

The Scene changed a bit from sunshine to cloud!

Beginning of Cairo sandstorm turning sky grey with the view of Cairo traffic

It was so sunny in the morning that I wore a Poncho and Ashrith wore a full-sleeved shirt without our thick coat. The chilling wind and dark sky made us wear every warm wear possible. The journey through jam-packed streets continued. Every minute, the sky’s colour changed I guess! We didn’t know what was going wrong. We were waiting to reach Old Cairo for some shopping in Khan El Khalili and Arabic coffee at Cafe Fishawi.

Colouful narrow alleys of Old Cairo

That was clean – almost spotless streets lined with old houses were perfect for wanderers like us. If there was an option to play background music, a lute and drum music would be ideal for these labyrinths that take you back in time. The wind was getting angrier every few minutes. It felt as if it was pushing us in front. Anyways, this didn’t bother us much – I told you- As a traveller, we hardly find any negative things – Everything is an experience.

The most beautiful street Muizz Street stole our hearts.

I am a traveller- an outsider. But it feels amazing when we both walk among local crowds. There is somthing awesome about watching people. Yet again, unaware of the time, I and Ashrith settled down on a parapet wall admiring how clean and amzing the Old Cairo is.

Most beautiful street of cairo with minarets and beige sandstone with sepia colour sky

But Ibrahim seemed to be worried and was on phone.

He wasn’t smiling and wasn’t chatty anymore. Continuioulsy he spoke to someone over the phone. After we asked him what is wrong. He said nothing and posed for a photo with a forceful smile and went back to phone.

Most beautiful street of cairo with minarets and beige sandstone with sepia colour sky

But we continued – There were girls putting HIjab on and off. Men were busy talking amon each other. Old men sat in a corner with a hookah. The shop sellers had their own tunes, calling out customers to their antique shops.

Egyptian old man smoking hookh in front of an old arch entrance in Old Cairo

The photos were coming out different then.

Hardly we noticed anything until Ashrith checked one of the photos he had clicked. Without applying any filter, the photos were in Sepia mode. Shockingly we saw outside to relaize, the sky was neither grey nor blue – It was light brown melanin pigment tone.

Egyptians walking on the paved streets of Old Cairo lined with ancient beige sandstone buildings

Slowly, police came on horses talking to Locals. The herd of humans began to move in one direction. Ibrahim came back to us saying “We need to leave right now”

“Whaaaaaaaaaat” was our reaction. “What about our Kosher meal? What do you mean by the weather is about to get worse?” We fired questions at Ibrahim. His answer was – Sandstorm. To console ourselves, we said to each other. “It doesn’t matter where we go, ultimately it’s the Pyramid we love most. Let us go to Citadel so that we can see the Pyramid as a background to modern Cairo from there.” ( I think we had dropped our brains somewhere in the street of Khan El Khalili. The atmosphere was blurry. Is there any possibility of seeing pyramids that are 20km away in that kind of blurry surrounding from the citadel?

Blurry view of mosque covered in sand and sepia sky in Cairo citadel

When we saw the Citadel mosque’s picture, it reminded us of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The Sandstorm began

There were two or three tourist buses. Hardly any tourists were ready to get out of the bus. All were patiently waiting for the sandstorm to get over. But we both wanted to feel more of the sandstorm. So without having any second thoughts, we got off the car and ran to the entrance gate.

Covering our heads with the scarf, wearing goggles could save us from getting itchy eyes, but what can we see when the vision is already blurred. The storm was getting stronger every minute. Holding Ibrahim’s hand, we began to walk. It’s a citadel, so there were high walls everywhere. These high walls were like a guiding rope for us to walk to the mosque.

Blurry view of citadel fiull of miliitary equipments covered in sand and sepia sky in Cairo

Ibrahim kept getting calls from his office to check if he has dropped us back at the hotel or not. So when we were inside the mosque, he came and told-“Guys, I am sorry. We have to end your day here. As your guide., have to follow government rules strictly while escorting the foreign guests. We need to update and inform the government officials after dropping you back safely at the hotel in this kind of situation. If I still let you be outside, I will start getting the calls from official authorities. Please let us go. We have to drive 20km to Giza. It may take more than 1.5hr. We hardly can see anything on the road. It is getting riskier. Let us leave.

Even when he explained how bad the sandstorm could be, we acted like small kids.

It is ok. This is fun. How can we escape first sandstorm experience of our life.

Somehow, Ibrahim convinced us to leave Old Cairo and took us to the Citadel. Now, the condition was terrible. We moved with all difficulty while most other tourists sat in their buses in fear. Call it over-enthusiasm/stupidityadventurous – We made it to the citadel.

By then I could feel sand particles hitting my exposed ankles. Ashrith wore my scarf around his face. The skin began to itch. We had heard, it is an amazing view of Cairo from the city. Forget the city ;We could hardly see each other with the blurry weather. So there was no chance of seeing the Giza pyramids from the Citadel. Thank god, we could see the mosque at least.

Holding hands like Kindergarten Kids

Blurry view of mosque from near covered in sand and sepia sky in Cairo citadel

While walking down the Citadel, we three held each other’s hands like kindergarten kids and managed to get to the car parking. Our driver was ready with four cups of Kadkade, saying, ” Have tea. Tea sets everything right, including the weather” It did not change the weather, but his words made us all burst into laughter – Egyptians know to convert any situation into a comical one. So we happily sat inside the car, asking the tea vendor to sit inside and sipped a few more cups of Kadkade, waiting for the weather to get better. After waiting for 30 minutes, Ibrahim got the call from office asking him to escort us back to our hotel room; because the weather was nowhere near getting any better.

The driver managed to drive in the poorest visibility.

ON OUR WAY TO THE CITADEL – GOD KNOWS HOW DID HE DRIVE!

What seemed to be fun moments ago was a bit scary now. Ibrahim looked worried; the driver wasn’t talking much as he had to concentrate with all of his attention.

We had no clue of the serious situation

Ibrahim saw us rubbing our palms and said, “ it is a sandstorm; we need to get you to the hotel ASAP. Let’s see the citadel quickly and go back to the hotel” Instead of freaking out, we got excited. We have experienced snowfall, extreme rains back at home in India, and the harsh sun at Jaisalmer and Rann of Kutch – this was the first Sandstorm experience. However, Ibrahim looked confused -The wind was pushy, the vision was blurry, the skin was itchy, but we were electrified with our first sandstorm experience. On our way, I saw a potter shop and asked Ibrahim if we could stop by.

Thank God, Ibrahim is kind and patient. Otherwise, anyone could have shouted at us for being silly in a scary sandstorm.

First of all, Egyptians don’t follow traffic and lanes properly: now the vision is so blurred that the driver could not even make out if someone is coming in the same lane from the opposite direction. Still, we were excited – enjoying unexpected things on an imperfect day.

After a drive of more than an hour, we reached the hotel at Giza. We couldn’t stand even a minute outside the hotel. Most buildings had closed all the doors and windows. Some even had pulled down the rolling shutter. At our hotel, the manager stood behind a glass window, waiting for guests to arrive so that he could pull the rolling shutter up.

Ibrahim took that one long breath out of relief once we sat on the couch.

Then was a laughter burst throwing out the fear we all had. Ibrahim sat with us at the hotel reception, talking and explaining the consequences of getting trapped in the sandstorms. Of course, we also talked about why a day trip to Cairo+Giza is almost impractical. The hotel manager kept serving us with Kadkade. That day we might have had 6 kadkade each in 45 minutes.

The storm was at its worst. Nothing was visible outside. Tourists were wondering which direction to look in to see the pyramids! They were totally hidden behind the sand storm. The surrounding was as if there exist no Pyramids.

What you hear about Egyptians and what we experienced

Egyptian guide with Indian couple travellers in front of Step pyramid at Saqqara

The storm slowly reduced. Still, the vision was blurry. I thought we still have our chance to go to Cairo to explore later. But it was risky. Ibrahim decided not to take us out again. We knew our day in Cairo had ended abruptly. The last two days spent with Ibrahim made us get attached to him. He had become more of a friend than a paid guide. It was time to say goodbye to him. Reading so many negative things about Egyptians, we never thought we would be friends with a local Egyptian.

Egyptians are always behind your money – This is what most reviews said. I won’t deny that. But defenitely not, all Egyptians are wrong. As an Indian, I know how terrible it feels to get stereotyped and labelled “bad”

We had not carried any souvenirs from India to give him! Instead we invited him for lunch. Though he wanted to join us, it was better for him to reach home before a sandstorm kicks again. He walked us to Pizza hut, hugged us, and it was goodbye.

Blurred view of Giza pyramids from Pizzahut

If your vision is good, you will spot the mighty pyramid of Giza

We saw the pale faces of tourists in agony, waiting for the storm to clear so that they can see the Pyramid outline at least. Imagine being a tourist there in Cairo for a day, and that is the only day they got to see the pyramids. It took almost four hours to get a decent view of the pyramids later. By then, tourists had left either to their rooms or to airports without even having a glance at Pyramids

The day was joyfully incomplete. It’s not the place that is beautiful, but the people who make it beautiful. If Ibrahim was not there, we would have suffered in the sand storm. We sat in the room, seeing through the balcony glass door and watching the Pyramids revealed after the storm.

Have you ever been stuck in a sandstorm, and how did you escape? Let us know in the comment section below.

Mannequins in Egyptian traditional dress in the balcony of an old house in Old Cairo

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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