Hantoor (Carriage) Rides
by Heba Fatteen Bizzari
Some ancient methods of transportation seem to be infinite. They still enjoy their status and preference in the hearts of all Egyptians who enjoy the ride despite its ancient origins. The Hantoor (Plural: Hantoors) Rides or the Horse Carriage Rides can be easily spotted making their way down modern streets in Egypt, particularly in places like Luxor. They multiply extensively during the summertime when children, families and foreigners go out during their vacations to enjoy the light breeze at night. Despite the jamming of streets with the most fashionable cars, the Hantoor is found throughout Egypt, fully decorated with colored threads and their drivers, braiding the heavy traffic as they transport their customers from one part of the city to another, or take foreign visitors on a tour of the capital's most famous sights.
After Alexander the Great's death, a funeral car was prepared to convey his body from Babylon to Alexandria in Egypt. This car has perhaps never been excelled in the annals of coach-building. It was designed by the celebrated architect, Hieronymus, and took two years to build. It was eight feet long by twelve feet wide, riding on four massive wheels, and drawn by sixty-four mules. The car was composed of a platform, with a lofty roof supported by eighteen columns, and was profusely adorned with drapery, gold and jewels. About the roof of the vehicle along its edge was a row of golden bells. In the center of the platform was a throne, and before it the coffin. Placed around the coffin were the weapons of war and the armor that Alexander had used. This funeral car was diverted to Egypt, where Alexander is thought to have been laid to rest.
This was one of the earliest experiences Egyptians had to the idea of a Hantoor. As Egypt entered the modern era, coaches were given as gifts to the Egyptians elite by the European rulers. Soon, they were being imported from from Europe, particularly France. Afterwards, Egyptian blacksmiths soon learned the business of making the chassis themselves, creating new models and renovating the imported ones with new upholstery and decorating them with traditional Egyptian symbols. Today, there is only one workshop left in Cairo's Ardin district which makes, fixes and renovates these old carriages.
These Hantoor rides can be found parked in the gardens that surround the Cairo tower, which is one of Egypts most attractive locations for tourists. They can also be found parked by the curbs of the streets bordering the Nile in some locations where there is less traffic. These beautifully decorated carriages are very tempting for tourists who enjoy the ride after visiting the tower or after having a felucca ride. Elsewhere in Egypt, Hantoors are a bit too easy to find in Luxor, where one has difficulty walking along the sidewalks without being offered a dozen rides. One can also find these carriages easily in Aswan, and just about any other location popular for tourists.
Abdullah Ismail, a 37-year-old driver of a Hantoor says that he became a Hantoor man when he was born. I was born while my father had a Hantoor, I grew up in it and went to school by it. said Ismail. Ismail has been a driver now for 20 years and he still talks about his Hantoor with great excitement. I was permitted to take the Hantoor when I was 15. It was then when my father gave me the responsibility of taking care of the horse in the jammed streets and retuning it only with the day's profit. Ismail talk about the Gameela, the horse, with a loving tone, She is my best friend. She is my beloved one, and because Im not married I spend almost all of my day with her whether were working or at home. Shes now very old because my father got her while he was in business after Nasra, his former horse died, added Ismail.
Ismail begins his day late, During the summer vacation we start as early as 10:00 in the morning, because the children enjoy the ride with their families and the country is full of tourists. They seem to enjoy it the most, said Ismail. But during the rest of the year we start parking in the tower garden or by the Nile later in the day, sometimes as late as 5:00 in the afternoon. He added.
Ismail negotiates the fare with the commuters before the ride begins. I discuss the fare before we start because I like to make the deal before any problems arise. This way, during the ride I can concentrate on making my client happy, Ismail added. I have almost 20 commuters on summer days, and usually about six or seven during the rest of the year. However, during winter work is rare because its impossible to take a horse carriage ride when its raining or very cold, said Ismail.
Not only do Egyptians enjoy the Hantoor ride, it is also a magical experience for tourists who wish to see the Cairo sights using it, said Ismail. Michael and I got into a Hantoor after enjoying a meal from one of the Nile Cruise Ship", says Annie Gray, a 24 year old American Tourist. We thought it would be a good means to see the Cairo sights. We had a very nice Hantoor driver who allowed us to drive the carriage for a portion of the trip", she added.
A few Tour Egypt Notes:
There are good Hantoors and others that are not so good. Before picking a ride, take a look around the Hantoor to make sure that it looks to be in good shape and sound. This is not so much a safety issue usually as one of comfort, as a Hantoor in good condition will ride much more comfortably. Also, while I realize that our readers are not all good judges of animal flesh, just as a matter of conscious, take a look at the horse to see if the animal appears to be healthy (not too skinny, with no sores, etc). Most of the Hantoors should be in good shape with good horses, but in certain places, such as Luxor, where these vehicles are everywhere, some horses may be undernourished and the carriages themselves rickety.
Beware those drivers in places such as Luxor who follow along offering less and less expensive rides. Once in the carriage one may find themselves besieged with requests for additional money and even for tips for the horse. This is a fun activity in Egypt, but one is perhaps better off selecting a well kept carriage with a healthy horse and negotiating a reasonable fee, rather than finally accepting a rock bottom bargain price from a Hantoor driver stalking along the street. In other words, choose to take a Hantoor ride and pick your carriage rather than being talked into one because of the price. This same reasoning also applies to Faluccas (sailboats), which are also popular.