Khan el-Khalili market – a major souk or open air market was mentioned by many as a must do in Cairo. We passed by the market during the day and night on many of our outings in the city and always noticed it packed with people. So, one day we decided to spend several hours walking around what appeared to be a really fun market.
First, for those desiring to go, the market does not open too early. When we got there around 10:00 am, things were just starting to get set up. So, the best thing to do is to get there a bit later and plan to spend several hours there.
There is a lot of affection the Egyptians have for Indians, witnessed by the craze for Indian movies, movie stars, the cuisine etc. So while it should not have come as a surprise, we were taken aback when store keepers started yelling towards us, “Amitabh Bachchan was here, you should come in”. Or “Shah Rukh Khan shopped for something here”. Or, they would simply start singing a song from a Hindi movie to greet us. After witnessing this a few times, we actually looked forward to the next greeting. We were asked as to what city in India we were from, we were told that a particular store sold the best spices, we were asked to take dried rose petals back to flavor our tea…..the list goes on. Needless to say a lot of warmth was exuded towards us.
The market presents a smorgasboard of items and regardless of who you might want to shop for, there is something of interest here. Bargaining is the name of the game. We saw handmade leather goods, beautiful pieces of ceramic ware, spices piled up on stands, little packets of pepper in red, green and black (made for a very interesting rice when I got back), musical instruments, paintings, brass ware, lamps, jewelry, belly dancing costumes, interesting hookahs and so much more. Besides seeing all these things, you could smell so many different aromas of spices and coffee and food being cooked and served at the small cafes.
We spent a lot of time taking pictures of the profusion of colors greeting us, shopped for an assortment of items and of course spent a lot of time answering questions from the store keepers.
My one regret? I saw a stunningly beautiful painting of the courtyard of a mosque, with people coming in an out. It looked more like a line drawing than a painting. The details in the work were simply exquisite. I absolutely fell for the painting, but it was too expensive. And I had already picked up two paintings earlier, that did not even come close to the piece of art that I was admiring. With a few more days left in Cairo, I walked away thinking I would find a similar piece elsewhere. I did not and even extensive internet searches since then have been unable to unearth the image that is etched in my memory.
To learn more about Khan el-Khalili market, click here:
Who? Anyone who is visiting Cairo should plan to spend a few hours at this jewel.
What? The Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo was completed in 972 AD and has seen many a renovation and addition since its inception. This place of worship is indeed a serene, tranquil place in the heart of Cairo and is also the center of the prestigious university with the same name.
How? The Al-Azhar Mosque is located at El Darb El Ahmer in Cairo and is literally a short walk from the famous Khan el Khalili bazaar. There is no entrance fee, but when we entered, one of the administrators at the mosque offered to show us the madrassas and the minaret for a nominal fee.
Please remember that this is an active place of worship. So it is best to check with your hotel and avoid prayer times. Since it is a place of worship, visitors need to dress conservatively. A head scarf is necessary and clothing must cover the arms and legs. You need to remove your slippers before entering.
Why? In addition to being an important place of worship and learning, the mosque presents some exquisite architecture which has evolved with the additions over time. As you enter the mosque, you see the madrassas (schools) on your right where young kids come to learn. Immediately you walk into a beautiful open courtyard with architecture from the Fatimid period. You are greeted with a visual of people praying along the perimeter, kids running around with parents chatting and of course, tourists admiring the intricate, elaborate architecture that beholds them.
Tourists are allowed to walk into the carpeted prayer hall, the red carpet with signs pointing to Mecca forming a contrast against the alabaster columns. There is a beautiful interplay of light that you can see as it makes its way in through the doors.
If you do get a chance, please do visit the minarets. In addition to seeing the architecture from a different vantage point, you can also get some great city views.
To get a virtual, 360 degree tour of the mosque click here.