Bustling in activity under the shadows of the Al-Hussein Mosque, lies the intricate maze of the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. Egypt houses one of the oldest bazaars of the world, and it combined two things I immensely loved – history and shopping!
The Bazaar started taking shape in the year 1382, under the guidance of Garkas al-Khalili, the Master of Horses under Sultan Barquq. Since then its presented itself to shoppers as the go-to place for antiquities, spices and jewelry. As the influx of tourists grew with time, the bazaar transcended to offer souvenirs as well, among its many other things.
The word ‘Khan‘ represents the warehouses and the lodging used by traveling merchants. The bazaar naturally grew around these khans, also known as wikalas. Today, it is located in what we know as Islamic Cairo.
While navigating the alleys of this Arab Souq(market), if you happen to hear some Egyptian music, be sure to head in its direction. It will lead you to Cairo’s oldest coffee house, Fishawi’s. You will be treated with great hospitality as you are offered a seat on one of it’s copper tables. You can sip on their delicious mint tea or strong Arabic coffee and enjoy a fruit flavored shisha and get a true feel of the Egyptian coffee-house culture.
While shopping, it is important to bargain, as vendors may mark up the price 2 to 3 times. Quote a price that you think is suitable, then the vendor may re-quote a lower price. If you are still not satisfied, walk away. The vendor may continue to quote it for lesser and lesser, until he finally stops. This should enable you to know what is the actual price. Also, make sure you go around the whole place and get a fair idea of what the prices are before making your actual purchase. This will give you a good hand over the prices, and will also allow you to get the best from the market.
When I came across this headdress, I actually screamed in delight! One thing you should not do at shops is show your over-enthusiasm. It is not going to help you get a good price 😛
You should also be prepared to have sellers follow you some distance into the market, persuading you to buy chains, small souvenirs and the like. There is no need to panic, as they are only looking to sell, and won’t harass you any further. You could politely refuse by saying ‘La Shukran’, which in Arabic means, ‘No, Thank you’. Learning a little of Arabic would prove to be very useful, as the locals warm up to you even more. Sometimes with foreign languages, I find it difficult to get the pronunciation right even though I know the words right, but with Arabic, I found it relatively easy to roll out the words, probably because I know Hindi as well.
We got quite a good loot ourselves! We got a bag, some jewelry and a few souvenirs to take back for our home and friends. How we wished to take back these brass chandeliers and ceramic pots, but a long distance travel just wouldn’t allow it!
A cat makes its way through the alleys of Khan el-Khalili
A visit to Egypt is incomplete without experiencing its souqs. If I close my eyes and imagine, I can see myself walking the alleys of the Khan el-Khalili, lit up by the golden glow of the Alabaster lanterns and brass chandeliers. I can hear so very clearly the music from the ends of the streets, calling me in, to take a seat and sip the coffee as I see other travelers like myself mesmerized by the beauty that the bazaar has to offer.