Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Gaul revisited

Christmas arrives in a couple of days. This year, I haven't yet felt the buzz. But sure I will, as we put up little stockings and do up our tree today. A real pine tree which has grown taller than me. The best part is I am not going to cut and kill it. It will stand in its pot and breathe and laugh as we fuss around it.

Add to it there is a chill in the air and it's making me walk around the house in granny socks. More for old time's sake than any real need of desperate warmth. Hubby finds them really ugly and calls me names. And I say he should have seen me long long ago when Christmas time had me in granny stockings, cap and muffler. And now for added value, I add the stooped shuffling walk too.

Oh, how the winters were spent with a heater which had coal pieces. As we huddled around listening to stories that loomed larger than life. In the night, the shadows grew bigger and took life as we watched in revered amazement. Hot dinners were relished using as little of the hands as possible. Taking off your gloves or taking out your hands from the cocooned warmth was painful. And today I wonder how the dishes got done. Slowly my heart fills up as my mom's calm face flash in front of me.

We longed to get into bed. The first minute of slipping under the heavy quilt was numbing and slowly as the warmth spread all over comfortably, there would be that dreaded feeling. Oh no! But how long can a bladder hold in winter?

The mornings brought with it a dew fresh day. Fog and mist covered the world. Cheeks are rubbed with cold cream as I cycle or jog down the lane. I cannot see much ahead and am glad for the cream that shields my uncovered face and lips. I wait for the sun. Sometimes it appears briefly, sometimes it doesn't. I can no longer see the outline of the blue mountains that are so clearly visible on a clear summer day. I don't even see the tall trees which are much closer, all around our little town. Maybe just a hint of it for that assurance of familiarity. I always wondered how the winter nights had a clear steely moon freezing everything in sight but the days were dunked in fog.

And then Christmas arrives and we celebrate it as always. Our parents never went to new year parties leaving us kids at home. I remember having a good dinner with family and friends and going to bed long before midnight. There was a reason for that. Because on the first day of the new year, we got up early and excited. It was the picnic day! A huge number of people got into a bus and drove off to the picture perfect riverside. We seemed to know all the kids and the all the parents knew each other. Checkered sheets were spread and while the elders got down to having their own laughs and organising the food, we kids played around or went to explore the wilderness further off.

And picnics those days meant that a huge feast was spread out with everything cooked from scratch at the site itself. So amidst much merry making, vegetables were chopped and chicken, ducks and fish were ready to be roasted. In no time there were fires burning and huge cauldrons hanging over them. The aroma carried for miles and we followed it back at lunchtime. Strangely I don't remember carrying water for all the cooking and cleaning. The crystal clear spring water was used and nobody had ever heard of water borne diseases till then. There was a lot of cheer and laughter. Much like a scene straight out of an Asterix comics, now that I think of it. And I think we did have a bard too. Except he wasn't called Cacafonix.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Egyptian tales in pics - 3

1. The temple of Hashepsut. This temple cocooned by mountains is very majestic and well preserved even after thousands of years. I have a breathtaking arial shot but sadly the camera's acting funny while downloading.

2. Statues at the entrance of Luxor Temple. I was as tall as their toes!

3. These statues at the Cairo museum takes your breath away with their sheer size. They could not fit in the massive doors and had to brought in through the roof from where they were found.

4. The Valley of the Kings. After the pyramids (where they laid their kings to rest) were raided and looted, the early pharoahs decided to have their burial tombs at this valley, which was reached through rough mountain terrains, hoping they would be unfound and safe there. (Unfortunately, man did find them and today hundreds of tourists climb laboriously to admire the tombs of ancient kings!) One of my favourite places and the amount of climbing n crawling done here is unbelievable!

5. Mummified crocodile, over 4000 years old, at the Temple of Kom Ombu. When crocodiles on the Nile attacked the early Egyptians, they were advised by the priest to pray to the Crocodile God, Sovek.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Egyptian tales in pics - 2

1. Everytime we got back from town, the liner would extend the walkway for us. (That's me in red with Beryl and David)

2. Belly dancer in action. She got me to jiggle with her but I just couldn't manage it. Maybe if I was dressed like her...

3. Cairo airport

4. Sefer tossing breakfast eggs for me at the Sheraton.

5. The cleaners left towel delights like this in our cabin on the liner. Really sweet!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Egyptian tales in pics - 1

Everything about Egypt is larger than life. Their monuments, their stories, their beliefs.

Since everybody's been asking for pics, I'll keep posting them in batches of 5. (Blogger doesn't allow more than 5 at one go)

1. Huge statues of Ramsis II at the Karnak Temple. The statues are positioned like mummies. This puzzled historians as mummies and the dead are on the west bank. Temples are on the east and has statues in living positions.

2. Temple of Kom Ombu as seen from the deck.

3. Profile of the towering Sphinx

4. Entrance of Karnak Temple

5. The 2nd pyramid, Chephren. We crawled deep inside it. It was a strange feeling.

Finally walking like an Egyptian

I am back from holidaying in Egypt.

I cannot even attempt to describe the feeling of stepping into an era when the mighty pharoahs ruled, when daily life was richer and much much advanced than today. A civilization that flourished 5000 years ago.

But I will still attempt. More of the experiences than the facts and figures.

The first thing that struck us as we landed in Cairo was its size. Huge and bustling with life. The women are sizzling HOT. They dress stylishly, cover their heads and drive very fast, sometimes with a slim cigarette between their fingers.

The Sheraton is a beautiful hotel. But going by 5 star standards in India, it lacks a wee bit in grandeur and doesn't intimidate you, thankfully. The food was good, though vegetarians will not have much to choose from. But we were there to explore, gawk, gape and admire. And we did just that.

The pyramids, the sphinx told their own story. But the Cairo museum is the master storyteller. Everything discovered, that could be moved without any damage has been moved there. The rest like the mummified body of Tutankhamun still lay in the Valley of the Kings.

We got a taste of Cairo's famed nightlife as we walked about window shopping after a long dinner where we were entertained by belly dancing and some amazing performances.

A 4 day cruise on the Nile was very relaxing. Beautiful cabins to sleep in, a lounge bar, a swimming pool, and a sun deck to lounge on were the best part. We didn't bother much with the other areas on the liner. As we sailed along the Nile, it was a journey through thousands of years of an ancient civilization.

While the ship docked at every port, we scampered with an Arabic accented, barely speaking-English guide to seek some more. The magnificent Karnak Temple, built over several centuries by several dynasties on 65 hectares of land. Close to it, the Luxor Temple, another monument of awesome beauty.

On the west bank lay the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. Easily one of my favourite sites, we walked across the valley to have a look at the tombs of ancient pharaohs that ruled history. Thutmosis III, Ramsis II, Tutankhamun.

At pretty little Edfu, we visited the Temple of Horus, the best conserved temple in Egypt. That evening saw us at the Temple of Kom Ombu, with the picturesque little town below. We roamed the streets lined with pretty little ethnic shops.

Sailing on to Aswan, the Nile turned more blue. We woke up to the sight of pretty feluccas all around, the gorgeous botanical garden ahead and the Agha Khan Mausoleum in the distance. We realized why Aswan is called the most beautiful city in Egypt.

After two more divine days of sightseeing, sunning and eating, it was time to head back home. As our newly made British friends from the cruise hugged us tight, invitations and promises flowed back and forth to visit each other. I admit the holiday was better with them thrown in.

As we flew back, the warmth of this land of mystery and magic was hard to shake off. The loud and friendly greetings of the locals, always looking for baksheesh (tips) rang in my ears as I smiled at my dependable cabbie in Bombay. And I sent up a silent prayer of thanks.