Overland Journey to India
From the moment of arrival in Egypt, we feel that we are in a country possessing many relics of the past but this feeling cannot be said to exist in perfect force till we approach Cairo, which is the threshold of all the great marvels of ancient art. Those who have not before sailed up the Nile, watch for the first appearance of the pyramids. These become suddenly visible about forty miles below Cairo; and the cry that they are in sight, renders the spectator almost breathless with anxiety to discover them. They are seen far across the desert breaking the western horizon, and seem at this enormous distance almost as large as when looked at from Cairo. Here the desert sand has fairly drifted over the fertile soil, and is blown in masses into the river. The banks of the Nile, indeed, show that this has been an event of frequent occurrence since silt began to accumulate, alternate beds of sand and mud being visible all down a section of ten to fifteen feet of bank. The sand examined through a magnifier, is of a yellowish smoke color, sharp and angular, often of a pretty regular cubical form. It looks like the quartz portions of disintegrated granite, which it probably is.
The banks of the Nile, which have been hitherto dull and uninteresting, become exceedingly striking as we approach Boulac, which is in the vicinity of Cairo. Long lines and groups of trees skirt the left bank of the river. Amongst some half-dozen of beautiful acacias, the magnificent golden flowers of the acacia fistula stand conspicuous. The tree receives its name from the seed-pod being of the form and size of an ordinary fife: the flower is something like that of the laburnum, with each branch five or six times the size of those of the latter tree. Then come the gardens and pleasure grounds around the palace of Shoubra. The island of Rhoda, a garden nearly altogether, divides and half fills up the river in front. The beautiful weeping-willow of Egypt - most graceful and lovely of its loveliest of races - is conspicuous everywhere. The long sweeping yards of the lateen-sailed boats of the Nile, sometimes not less than sixty feet in length, shoot up by the shore. Just beyond are the large cotton-mills and other works of the pasha, intruding English steam-engines, and huge chimney stalks, which, though striking enough as contrasts, seem here eminently out of place. Sweeping along the eastern horizon, at a distance of two miles, is the Citadel, with the vast city and countless minarets of Grand Cairo. On the other or right side but two objects present themselves to the eye - the desert and the pyramids: and they are enough.
The voyage up the Nile, extending to 120 miles from Atfeh, occupied from eighteen to nineteen hours, and was brought to a close at Boulac. Here travelers disembark, and go to Cairo by vans provided on purpose. The drive to the city is by no means over a good road; but being through fields and gardens, the scene is everywhere most rich and beautiful. All, save the spirit of man is divine; saving, it may be added, his habitations and his fleshly tenements. More wretched hovels than are the houses, more squalid wretches than are the people, cannot be conceived. Crossing various canals and gardens, and threading some beautiful avenues of trees, the traveler at length reaches the great square of Grand Cairo, and the picture presented is sufficiently striking. There is nothing in the way of building which deserves the name of fine architecture; but the houses are lofty and picturesque, and of every conceivable shape and size - tall graceful minarets shooting up in all directions. The Hotel d'Orient the principal one in Cairo, is in the great square, and is a large and very showy building, though the establishment and style of living is somewhat too French for an Englishman's taste. There is an excellent, though less conspicuous, English tavern close by. The area enclosed by the great square is surrounded by a very wide and deep ditch, which is filled with water during the inundation: fine rows of acacia-trees skirt it on both sides, and form a double avenue along the road which intersects it. Vast crowds of people are at all times in the neighborhood, and here almost alone in Cairo there is abundant room for observing the passers-by. It is indeed almost the only open space in this vast city, the thoroughfares of which consist of narrow lanes, hardly anywhere deserving the name of streets. The houses are so high, and the balconies above project so far, that it is often difficult to obtain a glimpse of the sky above. They are almost everywhere crowded most densely with people. Nimble donkeys, with jingling bells, trot rapidly along, threading their way with extraordinary dexterity through the multitude. Lines of huge camels, with vast burdens on their sides, bear down upon you, threatening to close up the pathway, and arrest the progress of the living current. Contrasted with all this activity and bustle, is the profound composure of the shopkeepers, who, in the richest dresses, and with long flowing beards, recline beside their wares, smoking their hookas, or long cherry-stalked, amber-mouthed pipes, as in a state of the most apathetic unconcern. I have rarely seen so large a proportion of fine-looking men as are to be found thus occupied in many of the bazaars.