May 21, 2013

Hurghada, Egypt


The ride from Aswan to Hurghada was different from what we had experienced so far. The city of Aswan soon gave way to tiny villages. The outskirts of the city were scattered with palm trees and the occasional farmer was tilling his land in the blistering heat. The Nile and its tributaries which fed these fields formed the basis of the economy in this vast arid desert country. Wherever you spot the Nile, greenery will not be far. It is said that 80% of Egypt's population lives around 5 miles from the Nile; thus highlighting the importance of the Nile river to Egypt's economy.

Hilton, Hurghada, Egypt
The paddy fields soon gave way to rugged surfaces with interspersed palm trees followed by swathes of barren desert. Sitting at the backseat of an air-conditioned sedan and looking at the expanse of the desert was a different experience. Though the heart always ached to experience this kind of voidness, the associated thoughts of the 'returning back to civilization and family' was the strong witholding force. With almost no one along this stretch of the road and with the moon-like surface on either sides of the road, driving was a breeze and a treat. We finally arrived in Hurghada around 6pm and soon checked into the Hilton beach resort. The lobby of the hotel was pretty crowded and we had our own inhibitions about the standard of Hilton in Egypt. But those inhibitions soon vanished when we had a look at the beautiful swimming pool and then our excellent sea-facing room. The long journey needed a quick shower and then to calm everything down, we went for a stroll along the beach. Though the beach waters were absolutely dark, the gentle chill in the air with the beautiful moon shining high in a starless sky was captivating.

Hurghada, once an unimposing fishing village has been given a massive facelift making it one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in Egypt. It now lays claim to being a total resort destination overlooking the Red Sea, well connected with direct flights from several European cities to the Hurghada International Airport. Scores of hotels, including some of the top-end hotels line the shoreline. It’s a place where you can just decide to put your legs up and relax by reading a book or choose to indulge in the aquatic activities that the Red Sea has to offer. Activities include scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, windsurfing, para sailing and glass boating to see the breathtaking corals under the turquoise waters.


Promenade

The promenade dotted with luxury resorts and hotels on either side, is one of the quietest and cleanest stretches, making it a pleasure to go on a stroll in the evenings. The vehicles are then restricted to just one lane. The lane is filled with a motley of shops selling everything from souvenirs to garments to toys, roadside restaurants and peddlers. A little beyond the end of this lane is where the downtown begins. Bargaining is the key to buying here. Tourists are generally taken for a ride with the prices and hence, never settle for anything quoted without bargaining - be it a souvenir or the activities package. Some hotels arrange for a good package for their guests through some reputed operators depending on the activities that you decide to go for.

The Red Sea shoreline in this area is laced with deck chairs of the various resorts, where you will find some sun-bathing, some reading, some sleeping or just staring at the pristine blue waters in front. The Red Sea coast near Hurghada has a plethora of adventure activity centers, each willing to offer you the 'best deal'. You can haggle a lot on the price for each activity. Choosing multiple activities for many people helps you get a better deal. We finally settled for snorkeling (which also included the glass boat ride) and kayaking. We were taken by the speed boat to a place 20 minutes away, the boat slowing down at places for us to see the corals thru the glass bottom. The boat finally docked at a place in the shallow waters where we jumped off for snorkeling. Having taken our life jackets and the snorkeling paraphernalia, we were all set to experience the beauty of nature hidden under the crystal clear turquoise waters. The first sight under water makes you want to pinch yourself to reconfirm that you are in no dreamland. The corals and multicolored fishes take your breath away. The one thing that you do not want to do is get out of the waters onto the waiting boat after the scheduled 20 minute snorkeling act. Half-heartedly we get back onto the boat and are back at the shore for our kayaking jaunt.

Couple kayaking is fun when you take the kayak far away to the middle of the waters, steering clear of the deep and high tide area, and start your rants leaving your partner with no channel of escape. It’s the perfect escapade for synchronizing your paddle movements and also to sit back and relax at times while your partner takes over completely. Even to turn around your kayak requires both of you to be in tandem making it a good team building activity. After wading in the waters for close to an hour, we head back and decide to give the tired muscles a bit of rest before plunging into the temperature controlled swimming pool for a dip.


Red Sea

Hurghada is the place for a perfectly laid-back holiday or an adventure filled one. It’s totally up to you to switch modes and gears to get the best out of this vacation.

How to reach there: Hurghada is well connected by flights from Cairo or if you are flying in from some European city, there are direct flights to Hurghada International Airport as well.

What to eat: Most of the luxury resorts lined up serve the finest spread for breakfast making you forget lunch totally. Step out and try the roadside magnificent pizza at King's pizza without burning a hole in your pocket.

Tip: Red Sea makes a perfect destination for doing PADI certification as the waters are crystal clear and the corals are well preserved and beautiful.

[This article was published in Deccan Herald on 19-May-2013]
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