On a fly-in fly-out trip to Cairo, during my holiday in Hurghada on the Red Sea, it was a mad rush to get around all the major sites in one day. Herded like camels, we were ushered onto tour buses as soon as we got out of the airport – one bus for the English, one for the Germans and so-on, splitting our group up according to our Mother Tongue.
Our coach was packed to the brim with British tourists, most of them staying at the more popular Sharm el-Sheikh resort over the other side of the Red Sea. There was only perhaps two other British couples with recognisable faces who had flown in with us from Hurghada.
Arriving at the site of the Pyramids, the fully air-conditioned coach pulled up in front of one of them and the tour guide stood to address the crowd. “Who wants to go inside the pyramids?” he enquired.
Naturally, I raised my hand. When his eyes immediately shifted focus to mine it prompted me to look over my shoulder at the rest of our entourage… Not one other raised hand except my travel partner’s. I was bewildered! Why would these people come all this way just to stand outside for their photo op and then head home having experienced nothing more then what they could get from looking at a postcard photo of the Pyramids while sitting in a sauna in England, for free?
Still in shock by the un-adventurous mob we had been lumped on a bus with, we paid our entrance fee and headed and headed to the entrance of one of the smaller Pyramids, as the Great Pyramid was temporarily closed to the public. The entrance was less extrovert then I’d always pictured in my fantasies of Ancient Egypt, where I’d always imagined a grand and luxurious life for a Pharaoh, full of gold and jewels and silks and thrones and grand staircases! While obviously I was well aware that thousands of years on, the sparkle would have long since gone, this entrance was more like a miner’s tunnel. And it headed down, like a ramp, into the earth.
In a half crouched position, Stephen and I started down the tunnel. The air become stale and rancid, and the tour guide shouted after us “Do not take photo’s in the Pyramid!”. Perhaps this is why the Brits didn’t want to come down here. Sounded like a dare if you ask me!
The ground levelled out for a while, and then we started to incline again, like we’d just gone under a river and were coming back up the other side. Eventually, we reached a small chamber. This was it. For the epic monolith outside, this chamber was microscopic in size. While I’m sure there must have been many other chambers within it’s walls, this was the only one we were allowed in, so it felt a lot like walking into a bedroom that was housed in a castle and finding no other rooms! The walls were covered in very-worn hieroglyphics, it’s obvious age sending shivers down my spine. While there wasn’t much left to see, the air, the decaying smells and just the humble feeling you get inside is well worth the visit. And while I should not be admitting this, I couldn’t help but snap one little photo of my travel companion with the (now-empty) stone sarcophagus sitting in the middle of the chamber!
Back in the daylight and humid heat of the outside, we wondered around the Pyramids for a while. What surprised me the most was how if you looked at them from one side, it looked just how it does in the postcards; giant Pyramids in an other-wise baron desert landscape. However, if you look at them the other way, they are piles of Ancient stone sitting on a backdrop of modern day Cairo. The sprawling City now sits literally on the doorstep of the Pyramids.
After a quick stop to admire the Sphinx – which is practically in a residential suburb nowadays – we headed into town to check out the Egyptian museum. Specifically, the most notorious display in the whole museum, the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The preserved extravagance of the jewels and gold recovered from this young Pharaoh’s tomb sated my ideology of the luxury of Ancient Egypt no-end.
The highlight being the layer upon layer of various tombs he was found in; like a Russian doll the most outer tomb was so grand in size in comparison to the final coffin that housed his body. Incredible, the amount of care that was given to him to prepare for the after-life.
The creepiest part was the room that housed all the mummies. I felt uneasy enough watching the crowds fight for a front row spot to gawk through glass cabinets at dead bodies, thousands of years old. But what was even scarier was their eyes. Obviously their real eyes were long since gone, but during the mummification process the Ancient Egyptians used to replace the eyeballs with a resin that was painted to look just like real eyes. Yeah, I know your imagining it, and yeah, your getting shivers too. Preserved, but nonetheless decayed, bodies with perfectly clear eyes appearing to stare up at you through the cabinet. It’s a little Dawn-of-the-Dead. Not one for the young-uns I don’t think!
Modern-day Cairo is certainly not for me, but this girl can dream that in her past-life she got to live like a Queen, high on here throne inside some mega-structure, here in Ancient Egypt. Love it.