As I stand deep in the Valley of Kings in Tutankhamun’s tomb, drinking in the colourful motifs and complex hieroglyphics adorning the cool walls of the Necropolis, in what is considered the most famous archaeological site in the world, goosebumps ripple up my arms and the guides words float in my head – “Today, after visiting the famous Pyramids of Giza you have seen why people come to Egypt, but now we will show you why people fall in love with Egypt”. The next two weeks we were very fortunate to be taken on a spellbinding journey throughout the main highlights of Egypt.
My feet walk along the same stone paths that graced the footsteps of ancient Kings, legendary pharaohs and those of the esteemed artisans that painstakingly carved this necropolis thousands of years ago. In a rare moment, I find myself alone in the musky tomb as my imagination conjures up the biblical funeral procession for the young pharaoh. I can smell the frankincense burning, the chanting of the mourners, the swirling of the dancers’ dresses and jingle of beads as they begin the ancient embalming ritual. A shoe scuffs behind me and the echoes of the past fade as I am whirled back to my western state of mind. For a moment, I felt like I have been walking between worlds through a portal from modern to ancient, which is transcended by the only time defying means we have today…travel.
Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, the Sphinx, The Pyramids of Giza, The Nile River, Tutankhamun, The polarising Gods of Horus and Anubis – the very thought of these legendary names keeps me from sitting still as we fly from Dubai to Cairo. The three hour flight passes by quickly as my new friend Abraham offers me chocolate covered almonds and after exchanging many head bobs and smiles, we land in the infamous capital of Cairo – “The Mother of the World”.
This city is really hard to sum up in a few words. To really appreciate the heaving magnitude of this sprawling ancient metropolis, one should consider its population size. Approximately 20 million people cram into the bustling city streets of Cairo, living in unfinished brick homes, piled haphazardly on top of each other within section after section of sprawling informal neighbourhoods. The entire population of the continent of Australia is approximately 24 million……..!
For as far as the eye can see, there are dusty layers of high rise buildings, all coloured in the “trendy” shade of muted beige and construction red brick, adorned with a multitude of white satellite dishes from the 1980’s, unidentifiable debris, washing lines and the occasional goat or chicken peering down from the jumbled rooftops. Trees and greenery seem to only exist just outside the airport gardens and congested traffic takes on another meaning entirely as we make our way slowly to our hotel near Giza. Where two actual lanes exist, five lanes of cars drive parallel with their horns blaring, their distorted radios on high volume and Qurans displayed on dashboards – all to the muezzins’ call to prayer which echoes above the cacophony of traffic sounds.
I’m grateful to have been allocated a room with a fellow beach bum from Noosa – my roommate, Jemma. We eagerly whisk opened our curtains to drink in the stunning sight from our balcony window, the Pyramids of Giza. The hotel Le Meridian is exceptionally located within kilometres from the ancient monuments and their constant backdrop over the hotel pool sets an incredible sense of anticipation and wonder as we are to visit the famous site in the morning. As one would expect, there is something incredibly humbling and inspiring to stand under the shade of these incredible archaeological feats of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Their construction is almost unfathomable.
One just has to appreciate the intellectual complexity, geographical and logistical challenges, engineering mastery and spiritual reverence of these wonders of the ancient world, let alone the fierce determination and power of the Pharaohs who orchestrated their construction to fulfil their desire of immortality. We also visit the reclining Father of Terror, The Sphinx with its half man-half lion torso, which is no less imposing.
Gazing from the heights of my murky plane window as we fly from Cairo to the Nubian infused city of Aswan, I get my first glimpse of the fabled “Father of African Rivers” the Nile, the longest river in the world. Shrouded in mystery, the topic of heated contention between bygone explorers and adventures alike and home to the infamous Nile crocodile, this renowned geographic wonder brings life, sustenance and economic saviour to over ten African countries.
Its meandering path shimmers in the sunlight whilst its banks are defined by luscious palm trees and pink bougainvillea’s. Hawks soar above the eddies whilst a flock of swallows dart amongst this dreamlike scenery. This mighty river will be our home as we sail from Aswan to Luxor on the Movenpick, MS Royal Lilly.
Over the next few days, every hour is filled with sensory wonders and visual delights, from seeing the Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, inhaling the varieties of natural fragrances at a Nubian perfumery, watching masters of stone carve their wares in a stone quarry, lavish outdoor feasts to intricately decorated canapés and cocktails served on silver platters in iconic hotels.
We coo at the delights for sale in the bustling Khan Khalil Bazar and hold our breaths as we witness treasures and relics of the Cairo Museum.
Our sun kissed days are spent hypnotically gliding through the most incredible temples and tombs of ancient Egypt. A firm favourite is the romantic Temple of the Goddess Isis, accessible only by boat. Its beautiful island location instils a feeling of serenity and strength in its visitors.
Exuding an undeniable sense of power due to its colossal, regal statues, striking motifs of brutal combat yet intricately carved hieroglyphics, the Great Temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel looks over the shimmering expanse of Lake Nasser and beyond that, the deserts of Sudan. Abu Simbel was an incredible site to behold. Our hearts soar as we marvel at the large granite hawk statues of Horus guarding the entrance to his temple in Edfu and our minds race as we try to decipher the multitude of colourful rock hewn labyrinths of tombs in the otherworldly Valley of the Kings.
The balmy evening visits to the Temple of Kom Ombo and Luxor are my favourite. As the sun dips below the inky horizon, the daylight rays are replaced by soft puddles of twilight as the moon and stars sparkle overhead and strategically placed lights illuminate the temple’s defining features. What a pleasure to roam its ancient paved pathways, gaze up at its intricate reliefs and search for secret antechambers. Each temple is a mystery, each temple has its own identity and each temple has its own magic.
As impressive as the temples and tombs are, we would not have been able to understand just a fraction of their intricacies and dynastic heritage if it was not for our Egyptologist. An intellectual connoisseur of all ancient Egyptian things and modern day story teller, our Egyptologist ignited our interest in history, told marvellous tales of Good vs Evil, love vs hate and bestowed enlightenment on the mysteries of ancient civilizations, long settled beneath the ground we walked on.
When you travel, sometimes your path just happens to cross another’s, who leaves a profound impression on you and for me, it was this wonderful man of intellect, spirituality and old world charm that shared his love for his country on a daily basis with us.
The heated flame of the hot air balloon warms my cheeks in noisy bursts as our wicker basket drifts from ground and lifts us into the heavens overlooking the Valley of the Kings, whilst the sun begins to peek above the early morning horizon as we set off on a hot air balloon ride.
The enveloping light gradually reveals a remarkable aerial perspective of the West Bank where green farmlands meet the orange dunes of the desert, scattered with the twinkling of street lights and crumbling old villages.
Our balloon slowly drifts above the cliff carved Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, its ghostly ruins of houses abandoned long ago and all the while the Nile shimmers in the distance.
Thoughts of extremism or violence never once affected the comradery between our groups and the amazing local team who made this trip possible, nor did it discourage the sense of adventure during shared meals of wine, falafels, smokey dips and delicately spiced meats with hand rolled breads. Resident smiles embraced the presence of foreigners. Selfies were taken by both travellers and locals alike, sharing a commonality of laughter, intrigue, humanity and a mutual longing for peace and acceptance.
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