Sunday, March 25, 2018

Exploring the Khan

Need a Camel Saddle? 

No visit to Cairo is complete without a trip to the Khan. Originally built to house makers and sellers of luxury goods it provided a secure indoor location for these merchants to sell their products. Now it is mostly taken over by tourist shops, but careful exploring will yield some of the original craftsmen and merchants. This was our second visit to this fascinating market, and we enjoyed it as much this time as in 2009 when we first visited.

We started exploring out on the streets surrounding the Khan, wandering by shops selling camel saddles, wooden buckets, kitchen tools and numerous other specialities. We went to the Tentmaker's Alley where tents were originally made and decorated, and you can still order an elaborate custom made tent to provide shelter when desert camping, but this area is also slowly being taken over by the tourist shops. We walked by shops selling full coverage women's gowns still common here in Egypt, in any colour so long as it was black, right next to vivid displays or bras and skimpy underwear in every day-glow colour imaginable. Each of these streets surrounding the Khan, has little side alleys tempting you to wander off down to see what they had hidden.

Tents in any colour . . .
When you finally enter the Khan itself, you are inside a massive building with ceilings and multi levels where merchants originally lived and worked. The shops are mostly on the one level, but looking up reveals an entirely separate world of windows and verandas and who knows what.

Fortunately we had our own private guide and we were taken to many shops that were not the average tourist-trap. We visited a custom jewellery shop where you could order special items made to order as you waited. Down one narrow alley/hallway we were introduced to a university professor who has continued his father's craft of creating wonderful items from camel bone. The shop is full to the ceiling with interesting objects carved and created from camel bone.

Is this built to code?
Then we went down another narrow side alley past a shop making glassware from recycled bottles and glass, around three or four tight corners, up various flights of stairs twisting up, up and around until somewhere high into the upper reaches of the Khan, we met a man who we visited last time and he unlocked his Alabaster shop, where objects created from this stone reached from floor to ceiling. It is impossible to leave this shop without purchasing something. I'm just glad my guide knew the way, because I know I could never find it again.

Be careful how you bargain with the merchants. I saw a leather messenger bag I sort of liked and was quoted a price of 2500 Egyptian pounds. However when I examined it more closely I really did not like it, but because I originally expressed interest, the merchant wanted that sale. 2000 EP . . . . 1600 EP, 1000 EP . . . . 800 EP as he followed me down the market. Finally I said I “might be back”, and he left. Mistake, walking back out of the Khan he was still there, bag in hand dropping the price as I walked past. I think I could have gotten it for about $30.00.

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