(a night we would never forget…)
Middle East: is gone as we know it. Over the past few years, it has changed so rapidly that even Egyptian civilization wouldn’t have changed so much in thousand years. Borders are blurred, rebels and militants are on the rise and regional powers are losing ground as never seen before. Egypt, which recently experienced Arab uprising, overthrowing Hosini Mubarak and giving way to an elected president, Mohamed Morsi, had quickly lost faith in democracy and preferred military regime. Today, Egypt is grappling with multiple facets of terrorism: ISIS from the east (Sinai region), claiming control on large part of Sinai region; Libyan terrorists from the west, massacring several hundred Egyptian army men in the past few months; And, Egypt rebels (members of Muslim Brotherhood) from within the country, demanding freedom and justice, while fighting against their own army.
In the midst of this turmoil, Shipra and I decided to spend our to-be-most-remembered days in Egypt as part of our honeymoon trip. You may ask me “why Egypt! Have all the beautiful islands in the world drowned in ocean?” And I have no answer to it. May be, my love for adventure traveling sets me sailing on such trips.
On 28th November, we set out for a three-country (Egypt, Jordan and Turkey) trip.
That night (also our first night of the honeymoon trip, realistically), we were traveling from Cairo to Minya along the western side of Nile, which runs through the Saharan desert. Both of us were completely exhausted after a day-trip to pyramids of Giza. I was feeling sleepy and my eyes were tired of driving in the night. In fact, I had not slept for 40 hours. Three hours after we left Cairo, I gave up. I told Shipra to look for a spot off the road where we can take a power nap of 30 minutes and regain energy to reach upto the nearest town. We found a place 300 feet off the highway, a good enough distance to keep us hiding. Shipra might have expected the first night somewhat better, if not a five-star hotel, but at least a bed and four walls for privacy.
Alarm was set for 30 minutes. At 29th minute and few seconds later (I can say with surety because few seconds later the alarm rang off), there was knocking on our windows from both sides. We got up to our shock to realize that we have been surrounded by 5 men. They were young, may be in early 30s, and wearing civilian dress. The man next to Shipra was holding an assault automatic rifle, AK-47. I had no clue how to react to this situation. Though, it wasn’t my first such experience, I had faced a similar one on Mexico-Guatemala border but definitely a first one with wife.
I chose not to attempt anything that may excite them, instead, followed as they said. So, I opened my side of the door. The guy (who seemed the leader of the group) asked what we are doing here. Thank goodness I could speak a bit of Arabic and explained him in a mix of Arabic and English. When I told him that I felt sleepy and stopped here to sleep, he kept repeatedly saying “you feel sleepy, come with me!” That was the point when my confidence shook and I was short of words. I was clueless about what to say. So, I started saying sorry. I told him I will not stop for sleep again (pretty much pleading for life). He then asked me where you from. I replied in Arabic ‘Aana Hindi’ (I am Indian). India is one of those few major countries, who have the least enemies.
Something seemed to have changed in him after I said ‘I am Indian’. He decided to let us go. His last words to us were ‘don’t stop, very risky’. This was the night Shipra and I would never forget. After that we drove 3000 kms across Egypt (East, West, North, South), including 1500 km western Sahara route without a petrol pump, and everywhere we got the same advice “don’t stop on the highway, unless it is an army check post”.
If we leave aside the terrorism for a while, no country in the world can offer what Egypt can offer. You would be amazed to see magnanimity of Pyramids, vastness of Sahara, corals of Red Sea and temples of Pharaohs. I would hope that these things remain intact, just as they did for centuries, regardless of who claims the control on Egypt.