The Compelling Chaos of Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

“Please stay on the main streets”, our guide, Sam, said as we stepped out into the bubbling humidity of the Cairo afternoon. “If you wander into a side street, you will get lost”. He led us to the entrance of the bazaar, one the largest in the Arab world. The bazaar is made of two main thoroughfares with many intricate, winding passages and side streets leading away.

Looking down the main street, it was a fast-flowing river of colour and bustling chaos. It seemed that most of Cairo’s twenty million inhabitants had descended upon the bazaar. An endless sea of people shuffled through the bazaar. The vibrant colours of scarves, rugs and prayer mats coupled with the sweet scent of incense sticks exemplified my expectations of visiting a North African bazaar.

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Sam arranged a time for us to meet and then left us to explore the labyrinth that is the bazaar. I began walking down the first main thoroughfare, finding myself swept along with the tide of people. Clearly standing out as a visitor, I became the attention of every merchant as I walked past their shops. “Mister, where are you from?”, “I give you good price!”, “I have what you need”.

The bazaar caters for tourists and locals alike. You never know what you will find there, but it is certainly an ideal place for souvenir shopping. Occasionally, something would catch my eye and sensing an opportunity, the merchant would try to bring me in to his shop. It was time for the haggling to begin. I’d had good practice of my bartering skills during my time in Egypt and Dubai. The bazaar was the perfect chance to put them to the test. I came away with a papyrus bookmark, a papyrus print of king Tut-ank-hamun and a keyring for a friend’s souvenir.

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I was desperate to wander through some of the side streets but remembering Sam’s warning, I reluctantly resisted. After a couple of hours of wandering the bazaar, I made my way to Sam’s meeting point before bidding the bazaar farewell.

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The bazaar completely matched my expectations of visiting a North African souk. It was a vibrant and chaotic hive of life. Crowds shuffling through small passageways, the satisfying fusion of spices mixed with incense sticks; and the harmonious tones of the call to prayer punctuated with the voices of merchants calling out to passers by.

If you find yourself in Cairo, be sure to pay the bazaar a visit. It is a great experience and a taste of Egypt. Also, it’s a fantastic place to pick up mementos of your trip to Egypt at a good price.

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The chaos that is Khan-el-Khalili

 

As always, all photos used here are my own.

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