“Man fears Time, Time fears the Pyramids”– Ancient Arab proverb
A lifetime dream was about to fulfilled. For once, no airport dramas. In fact, quite the contrary, I was upgraded to Business Class. So, despite being early hours of the morning, I settled into my comfy seat, toasted my impending adventure with a nice glass of champagne, and peered out the window at the beautiful scenery as we flew over the Swiss Alps. I was finally going to Egypt, land of pharaohs, pyramids, and feluccas..
CAIRO: Egypt was all cerulean skies and sunshine, and stayed that way for the whole holiday. On arrival at the hotel, I was happy to be re-united with my flatmate, and shouted “Kusum!” as I gave her a big hug. This was met with glares and shocked glances, as if I’d just said “Mother F*cker”! Well it turns out, I had – Kusum in arabic means just that. From then on she was “Samira” lest the locals should think we were some potty-mouthed foreigners. That evening we had a brilliant night, entertained by the antics of the comedian waiters, while we drank beer and smoked shisha…sheer decadence, I like it!
The next morning we were awoken by unceremonious chanting at 4.00am – the muslim call to prayer. After Turkey and Morocco, I was familiar with this, and had my strategy all worked out – cover head with pillow and duvet and attempt to induce sleep by way of nice dreams. Kus was not a happy child in the morning!
Day 1 was jam-packed with activity, and I was rearing to go. First stop was CAIRO MUSEUM. Packed with gargantuan statues, sarcophagi, mummies, and other manmade objects that have cheated time to make it to present day, where they can be marvelled at by the likes of me! The piece de resistance for me was Tutankhamen’s shrines, sarcophagi and funerary masks. I had seen loads of pictures but nothing beats the real thing. Firstly there were 4 shrines – wooden, hieroglyphed, and beautifully painted boxes, nested perfectly within each other like russian dolls. Inside the innermost shrine was a stone sarcophagus which housed three nested coffins. Inside the 3rd solid gold coffin was the infamous gold mask resting on top of the mummy, surprisingly unsquashed! I can just imagine Carter’s frustration. As for Tut, he looks so young and sombre, but regal. No peace for the poor guy. The knowledge and craftsmenship of these people is unbelievable. Another curious object found in the tomb was a boomerang??! I could easily have spent days there. But alas, time was limited, so off to the next stop
PYRAMIDS OF GIZA: As we cruised through the busy streets of Cairo, I gazed nonchalantly out the window, and suddenly, there they were! From all the pictures I’d seen, I expected them to be in the middle of some desert, but no, they were smack bang in the middle of the city. As we drew closer, they loomed ever larger. Luckily it was a crystal clear day, and a short bumpy camel ride later, we were in the middle of the plain, gazing down at the 9 pyramids – 2 big ones, one medium sized, and 6 small ones, of which the 2 big ones are obviously the most famous. Rising from the desert plain like staircases to heaven, each constructed using approximately 2.3million blocks of stone, weighing on average 2.5tons, these colossal giants are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Standing at the base, I could only marvel and wonder as to what inspired these ancient people to take on an undertaking of such huge proportions. They are also different from other ancient architecture in the precision of their construction. “The Great Pyramid is the most accurately magnetically aligned structure ever built and faces true north with only 3/60th of a degree of error. The position of the North Pole moves over time and the pyramid was probably exactly aligned at one time. ” It is a very humbling experience to be gazed upon by these time cheating giants, the silent sentinels that have been watching the world for the last 45 centuries.
The poor SPHINX must have been a beauty in her day. Her face has been disfigured more by man than by time – Napoleon’s army used it as target practice. Hidden and protected from man by the desert sands, and exposed only to be violated in the most repugnant manner…really sad. As we left the Giza plateau, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have beheld such an object of mystery, fascination and awe – man’s statement to the world that we’re capable of great things.
We caught an overnight train journey, to ASWAN, with the river Nile keeping us company for the whole 14 hour journey. As the bright sun rose into a cloudless sky, it quickly became apparent why the Nile is so important to the Egyptians. The desertscape is dissected by this long, seemingly never ending river, and only along its banks is there any sign of life. Palm trees and crops abound. People still farm the land with cattle driven ploughs. These people seem at one with the land.
That night we were treated to a Nubian dinner and dance. While the dinner was average, the dance was fantastic, the best I have ever witnessed (or been involved in for that matter!). Amid pulsating drumbeats, the dancers twirl around like human spinning tops, lifting their skirts over their heads like tents. It is incredible how long they can spin on the same spot, and still walk straight?! Seriously if you ever get a chance to see Nubian Dancers, do.
The next morning we were up before sunrise, together with our VIP police escort, heading for the much-lauded temples of ..
ABU SIMBEL: Abu Simbel comprises of two massive rock temples, originally carved out of the mountainside, during the reign of Ramses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his favourite queen Nefertari. In 1960s, the complex was relocated in its entirety on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, to avoid being submerged under the Aswan dam – one of the greatest engineering feats ever. We were welcomed by a magnificent sunrise, and another gloriously clear day. The sun lit up the enormous statues, as it had done for some 3500 years, but the passage to the interior of the temple remained dark, as it does for most the year, except for two days – 22 Feb and 22 Oct, Ramses birthday, and the day of his ascension to the throne, when it shines through to the deepest recess, to light up three of the four statues, including one of Ramses himself – the God of Darkness, Ptah, remains forever in the darkness. One can only marvel at the intelligence and purpose of these people who have left their lasting mark on the world. How clever they were. The inside was beautiful with hieroglyphs and friezes depicting the life of Ramses II, potentially and contentiously, the greatest Egyptian pharaoh. As we left, I thought if we are awestruck by this imposing temple today, how would the olden day people have felt as they dazed up at it, while sailing down the Nile.
The next few days were spent cruising down the Nile on a Felucca, a boat with a triangular sail, with no motor, just the wind to power it along. I felt like Huckleberry Finn, no cares in the world, just cruising along to the next adventure – just idyllic! Our relaxing cruise was broken up by piss-stops (booze on board but no toilet), dinner, shisha smoking, swimming and general frolicking, and on the last night, a big bonfire night with local Nubians on the drums.
Then onto LUXOR, olden day Thebes, where we visited several temples – Kom Ombo, Edfu, Hatchepsut, Luxor and Karnak, each more spectacular than the one before. The Edfu and Karnak temples are quite similar (see pics below). At the entrance of the Luxor temple are 2 huge statues of Ramses II (this guy had a bit of an ego problem me thinks!) as well as an obelisk. The obelisk is quite remarkable in the it is made from a single block of granite, one of the hardest stones in the world. What did they use to carve it? It’s twin now sits in Place de la Concorde in Paris. I could bore you with the stats, but I don’t think too many people are as geeky about them as I am, so will spare you.
From Hatchepsut’s temple, we continued to Valley of the Kings. Due to the plundering of the pyramids, the pharaohs of the New Kingdom decided their tombs would be safer if they were less conspicuous, so they moved their final resting place to a deserted valley near Luxor, and carved their tombs inconspicuously into the cliffs. This worked for some such as Tutankhamun, but most others were plundered. However, the dryness of the desert has preserved the interiors really well. The tombs I saw were hieroglyphed from top to bottom, and all around, with each hieroglyph painted vividly in bold colours. The colours had been preserved because the tombs had been sealed, combined with the lack of humidity, and were really brought the stone to life. It made me think how spectacular all Egypt must have looked back in the day when all hieroglyphics were painted, rather than the current bare carving that remains today.
While the pyramids and sphinx were amazing to behold, having seen countless photos and documentaries, I felt like I’d seen them already. What really blew me away were the many other temples, the beauty and detail in each, their durability and defiance against time, the fact that they held secrets of a past civilisation who were truly advanced, yet lived were in harmony with the land, whose ideals were very different to ours, and whose monuments outshine ours. I hope to return one day, armed with more knowledge of Egyptian history, so I can better appreciate their legacy. To those of you who haven’t been, one word – “GO!”.. it will not disappoint.