Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Travelogue: The Best of Free Cairo

Taxi Tips: Know Your Numbers

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Local Advantage
It was one of the most exciting days of my traveling history. At the end of which I realized that we did not even spend EGP 100 the whole day. But the reason the day was so special was the stunning Tanoura show التنورہ; a simple looking routine that actually turned out to be a masterpiece of human skills.

The credit goes to Ahmed Usman, a young Couchsurfer, who toured us around the most defining historical sites of Cairo before taking us to the narrow Al-Azhar streets for the breathtaking Sufi performance.

The Best Things in Life Are Free
That Tanoura evening was just incredible. It was indulging and authentic. An extensive demonstration of excellence. 

At the end of the show, Marek - our Polish travel buddy - was totally awestruck. And who was not! The whole audience was just mesmerized for a couple of hours. Indeed, a must see in one’s lifetime!

While one relentless artist was busy in producing beautiful spectrum of vivid colors, I was trying to catch the vocals and the surrounding beats.  

Soon I realized that this is not a mere combination of music and colors but a way to communicate the divine message through mystical notes. I wish to have better Arabic skills to fathom what had been delivered during several Nasheeds نشید.

On the other hand, I managed to recognize a few of the beats, especially the one which is played during Ramzan, رمضان, in Karachi in the wee hours to alert people for Sehri, سحری! Another was the one which is traditionally played during wedding ceremonies here.

In fact, time and distance lost their meaning in the clairvoyant ambiance of the historical Al-Gouri Mausoleum!
Coming into Rhythm
Building the Momentum
The Spin Effect
Mixing It!
Going Crazy
All Out
Men in Black
The stunned Audience
The Coptic Connection
Earlier in the day, we took the Metro to catch up Ahmed Usman and Marek to explore the Hanging Church and the Mosque Amr bin Alaas.
The Saint Virgin Mary's Church, or the Hanging Church کنیسہ المعلقہ, does not hang as such, which would have been a real miracle otherwise, but built on a stone pillar and extending outwards to give a hollow impression beneath.  
The place is frequented by Egyptian Copts, who make a sizable proportion of the Egyptian population. 

A Church representative kindly explained us the meaning of the various engraved religious symbols inside the main hall. I also tried to dig into their concerns about the emerging political scenario especially after reading newspaper rumors about the possible mass migration of Egyptian Copts.

And Then the Islamic One

The Historic Amr ibn al-Aas Mosque is located next door to the Coptic Cairo.
The mosque which had been originally built by Amr ibn al-Aas (RA),عمر بن العاص  حضرت, in the 7th century had gone into various transformations hence losing its structural novelty. 

Luckily, It was time for Zuhr, ظہر, so Ahmed and I joined the official prayers, جماعت! 

Decades before the unfolding of events, Muhammad (PBUH), advised Amr (RA) that “when you conquer Egypt be kind to Copts because they are your protégé, kith, and kin”.

The historical duo not only defined Egypt's political landscape in the past but also has the potential to become a symbol of peaceful coexistence in the future as well.

The Cradle of Civilization

We also got the opportunity to visit the historical Al-Azhar Mosque, مسجد الاظہر. The mosque houses the world’s second oldest continuously run University! Founded as an Ismaili institution, the seminary is now an unrivalled hub of Sunni Islam

The gown and the cap used by teachers and graduating students of the modern universities had also started from this timeless institution!

Inside the mosque, or in any other mosque we visited in Cairo, women were free to offer their prayers. A sight which is uncommon, or in fact a taboo, in the subcontinent!

ج: Jeem or Geem!?
Masjid is Masgid (Mosque) in the local dialect as Egyptians pronounce 'Jeem' ج as 'Geem'. Similar to the 'Gaaf' گ in Urdu! So January will be Ganuary there! Outside a Jeweler shop it was written other way round; جولدن (Jolden) in lieu of Golden! The Poor Q ق is not alone in Cairo!!

Islamist or Liberal?
It was not until we ordered the lunch that we knew Ahmed was fasting, in respect of Ashura, عاشورہ.

After having discussions on random topics I realized that Ahmed is not an Islamist, as per the popular definition, although he is a practicing Muslim; strictly practicing. Neither is he a liberal, I guess, not only because he did not vote for any of the Islamist parties! 

In my opinion, he is actually an example for those politicians and intellectuals who try to divide the society around the imaginary lines conveniently ignoring the real issues. 
The Hanging Church of Cairo
The Prayer Hall
Painted Arches
Baptizing Corner
The Hidden Message
The Outer Wall
Here Written a Story!
St. George Church

Masjid Amr bin Al'as
The Prayer Hall
Writing on the 'Pillar'
Some More Writing on the 'Pillar'

Masjid Al-Azhar
The Architecture
Going to the Prayer Hall
Masjid Hussain from Azhar
The Happy Chef

The chef was not only a happy soul but quite dexterous also. He quickly converted the dough into a huge rounded bread! Not only that, he could even through the spinning bread into the air to catch it back on its fingers without letting it fold!!

Everyone is Crazy about Football
While having dinner, we observed every downtown café was fitted with the television screens and locals glued up with the chairs. The ambiance was more like the cricket world cup back home.

It was no ordinary match. Egypt’s junior team was playing a crucial match with Morocco!

The cool night started turning into a hot affair with every passing minute. Good for the TV screen, 'our' team only lost with the margin of one goal!
Magician at Work
And the Magic Starts
A Downtown Ahwa-khana
A Winning Candidate Meeting His Voters
Misha Enjoying the Metro Ride
Tip of the Day: Entrance to all the sites we visited today was free!

What We Spend Today
EGP 5 Taxi
EGP 70 Food etc

1 USD = 6 EGP
1 EGP = 15 PKR

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