My Backpacking in the “City of the Dead” : Cairo, Egypt

As i came from Suez to see off a few friends to Cairo Airport so it gave me sometime to explore on my own for a while. I bade them farewells and came back to the Dahab Hostel which is near to Tehrir square. Well this hostel is by far the most amazing place if you ever plan to visit Cairo. Since i was supposed to stay for the night so i planned to visit places that i didn’t see on my earlier visit with my friends. And to see this place “City of the Dead” was always on my bucket list.

I was out of the hostel at like 3pm and looking for taxis to take me there. The problem one faces in Cairo alot is the taxi drivers looking to rip off foreigners. Well to be honest i looked a local and in my defense i learned a few arabic words that might click for a workable disguise but it didn’t work all the time. And that was that day. Since that part of the city was far from where i was, so i got ripped off pretty as they say; hard. That’s another story which demands a paragraph justice so i’ll save it for later. So after like 40 minutes, I was there.

The taxi driver left me at the start of the necropolis that stretches 5 miles . So i started walking towards this strange place where the living actually live amongst the dead, an epitome of gloom and sadness defied by laughters and happiness , sheesha and chaye, daily life chores and frequent sighs. Where i was getting those vibes that tell you that childhood was way better or where is my share of happiness after working so hard for it. I did not understand it at that time but it was way gloomy for my liking at first . While walking on the streets of grave houses for sometime ‘6 feet above’ , consumed by the sheer immense power of the place i sat down for a while to have chaye. It was a warm day but it felt cold. Thinking about, how people get used to certain places with the passage of time and how they don’t bother anymore. I started walking again and could see old tombs dating back a thousand years. Tombs that were actually houses , a grave on one side and people watching a soap opera on the other side. That seemed unreal and out of a movie . I walked more and saw people enjoying sheesha , old men discussing politics while having their mystical chayes, children playing amongst the graves using them as mazes , women performing their regular chores. Life their , was real for them and it was their home. Before going there i also looked for famous tombs and there was the venerated tomb of the venerated saint , Imam Shafi. It was a kilometer away from the center of the necropolis , being visited upon by hundreds of people everyday who pay homage to the imam and also to pray in the mosque. I went inside , and saw the great imam’s tomb full of light. I sat there for 1 hour , offered my Asr and Maghrib prayers and contemplated upon how God brought me here to see this all. There also, in the mosque was the tomb of the wife of Salahaddin Ayubi. Her name was Shams. It’s said that the present tomb of Imam Shafi was made by Saladin himself being renovated over the years , later. On my way back out of the place i could notice the emptiness of the place , as if people just disappear at night , it seemed unreal at that time. Maybe it was too much , a concept to grasp, the beautiful sadness , the dead who were there once . It was a long way back till i found a taxi . Had another tea on reaching the Tehrir Square. And thought about writing at once but no words came out, Only the feeling of joy to be alive overcame.