July 26, 2006

A JOURNEY TO EGYPT: Part Two - Pyramids & Tombs

I don't wish to go into to many details regarding my outstanding visits to the pyramids in Giza, Saqqara and Dashur at this time, as I would like to write a fuller account of what I saw at the sites, accompanied by my photography. However, I will offer my first impressions.

Waking early in the morning, my rotund driver, Said, who had a constantly sniffling nose and a deep regular wheeze, picked me up for my first visit to an Egyptian pyramid. He is an extremely jolly man with a very affable demeanor.

We seem to hit it off straight away, and quickly our conversation deteriorated to that standard chat between men. He gave me several insights into the sexual benefits that can be had from eating various meats. For example, Said revealed to me that if a woman eats camel meat, she would gain a breast line that is not only large, but also very firm. When I heard this "secret" from my friend Said, it instantly occurred to me that if this "secret" should be revealed to the world, perhaps almost instantaneously, the plastic surgery industry would collapse and large bras would become the norm.

Said offered me yet another "secret" that could also have a massive impact on Viagra. To my great surprise, he informed me that eating not one, but two pigeons helped to increase a man's virile prowess. I asked what would happen if six were consumed and he just laughed in response.

As our conversations veered of into the bizarre and hilarious, he would inadvertently stop off at various small shops on the way, kindly buying me such delights as sugar cane water, falafel and koshari - a wonderful vegetarian dish that comprises of soft macaroni, short spaghetti, dried onions, beans, lentils and a spicy tomato sauce. Highly recommend to all visitors to Egypt.

Finally, as we left the banks of the Nile and the desert replaced the view of fig trees and other crops, the site of Zoser's Stepped Pyramid came into sight. Since childhood, I had looked at images of this site in many, many books and articles, and at last, I could see it with my own eyes. For some reason, I had expected it to be smaller, but it was far grander than I had imagined, surrounded by a temple complex and two other derelict and crumbling pyramids nearby.

Zoser's Pyramid is the oldest standing stone structure in the world, built over 5000 years ago, and while it does not retain the aesthetic beauty of the Giza Pyramids, it was from this experiment in architecture that was to lead to the construction of all other Pyramids.

I spent two hours in Saqqara, enjoying the ambience, and determinedly trying to avoid the various "guides" that harass for a few Egyptian pounds.

After Saqqara, we moved on to Giza. I had heard of people being disappointed by the Great Pyramids, but I really cannot understand how that is possible. Approaching the site from the bustling nearby town is something that will remain with me forever. Not since I first saw Angkor Wat, have I felt so emotionally moved by such a sight.

Standing guard with a proud silence sits the Sphinx, as she/he has done so for centuries. Behind, the three giant pyramids stand like sunrays fossilised in stone; each with their own charm and character. Khafra's Pyramid is particularly stirring, because some of the original limestone covering remains at its apex.

I spent time avoiding the crowds and soaking up the great history that surrounded me. After wandering for an hour under the intense desert sun, I purchased a ticket to enter the King's Chamber in Khufu's Pyramid. As stated in a previous post on this site, I was enthused to visit a place where my hero, Aleister Crowley and Napoleon had both had strange mystical experiences.

After climbing for several metres up the pyramid, I finally came to a small entrance with a passageway leading within. After a short walk, a closed off passageway to a chamber below appeared on my left. I continued straight ahead to a steep incline upwards through a very narrow, claustrophobic passageway, which requires the visitor to uncomfortably crouch all the way up.

At the top of the passageway, it opened up to another passageway with a grand and very high ceiling. Ahead was a narrow corridor to the so-called Queen's Chamber, but this was closed. So further I climbed up towards the King's chamber, finally reaching the grand, extremely humid empty room. The only thing that occupied it, apart from a few very, very hot tourists, was a damaged granite sarcophagus.

On one of the walls is also the famous vent that retains a secret yet to be answered. The tiny vent was explored via a robot mounted with a camera. After some time, the robot came to a small portcullis door. What lay beyond tantalised the archaeological teams. After a yearlong wait for permission, the scientists were allowed to send up another robot, which would this time break pass the door. The robot succeeded, but to the amazement of everyone, it discovered yet another door! At this present time, there is a lot of speculation as to what lies beyond. Until it has been breached the mystery will continue.

The following day was spent in Cairo rearranging my flight back to Tokyo. After this was done, I returned to the Egyptian Museum for a more relaxed visit, returning to exhibits that particularly attracted me.

The next day, I visited the Pyramids of Dashur. These structures are close to those of Saqqara, and they continue to show the development of the pyramid builders. In the distance, and closed to the public, because it stands on a military training ground, is the enigmatic Bent Pyramid. It gets its name due to the fact that the pyramid changes angle rather suddenly half way up. Unlike many of the other pyramids, it still largely retains its limestone casing.

Nearby, is the Red Pyramid. This is the first true pyramidal structure in the world, and equals the pyramids of Giza. Tourists seldom visit the Red Pyramid, so it is a place of tranquility compared to the Pyramids in Giza. It is also possible to enter it, and climb down a very long and narrow passage into its heart. The smell of bat urine is quite overpowering.

After this visit, I then explored the cloistered streets of old Coptic Cairo, which is dotted with various churches of different denominations, as well as mosques and one of the oldest synagogues in Egypt. A fascinating place imbued with much charm.

Part 3 Coming Shortly

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