Egypt: A tomb with a view

Egypt: A tomb with a view

Trying to describe the vast, jaw-dropping place that is Egypt in a few succinct paragraphs is impossible. As I ponder the word limit my editor gave me for this article, adjectives like vast, stunning, hectic, sweltering and relaxing race through my mind. Where do I begin to recall the 11 days I spent in this fascinating, ancient African country?

Should I start with the pure amazement of the pyramids in Giza and beautifully carved temples of Luxor and Abu Simbel, or the unexpected paradise of Dahab on the Red Sea? How about the buzz of the markets in Luxor, where the characters you meet end up being more important than the purchases you make? Then there’s the Nile — no words can describe the overwhelming rush you feel as you float along the world’s biggest river, watching the dry, arid Sahara pass you by.

Here goes my best attempt to sum up all that Egypt threw at me.

On my 9-day one-way Egypt tour with BusAbout the first stop was Cairo — a place that knocks down even the most seasoned traveller, and then reverses over them. My senses are in overload – the traffic, the heat, the pollution, the noise — the chaos hits me like a brick wall. Car horns are beeping, women are carrying huge jugs of water and suitcases on their heads and motorbikes are racing past, yet we’re only a few metres from the airport doors.

Ahead of me is a beaten-up old ute that would struggle to sell for scrap metal – I pray this isn’t my ride. Thankfully, the safer-looking minibus parked next to it means I live to see another day. On the way to the hotel I see a man let off fireworks from the window of his moving car. This place is a circus.

With Cairo’s urban area boasting a population of almost 17,000 people, road rules never stood a chance. I begin to wonder how I will survive Egypt. Thankfully, we only have a little over 24 hours in this crazy city.

Next stop, Giza. All the photos and history books in the world can never prepare you for the sight of these three pyramids. If these – which I admired from the back of a rather angry camel – don’t send shivers down your spine then you had better check your pulse.

 

At almost 140m tall, the largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza, proves its worth as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Climbing inside these beauties is back-breaking work – the stuffy, steep and narrow tunnel is definitely worth enduring. Standing in the middle of these structures, which are believed to date as far back as 2584 BC, is amazing. Nearby is the equally impressive Great Sphinx of Giza, standing at almost 74m tall.

We embark on the long overnight train ride to Aswan. In the sweltering heat of the afternoon we check out the unfinished obelisk. Mostly placed in front of temples, this column was destined to be the tallest of all at over 40m, but it was cracked while being made and was never finished.

Next, we jump on a little boat to reach the amazing Philae temple — one of many we visit during our trip. At dusk we take a ride on a traditional felucca and watch the amazing scenery of the Nile River banks pass us by.

This is by far the best way to see the sun set — vivid and red, with the colours of the desert, sun and green river banks reflecting in the water. Sadly, we don’t get far as there is very little wind so we need to call on the help of a local with a motorboat to pull us along.

Next is a three night stay aboard a five-star cruise boat. With a roof-top pool, bar and buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s hard to believe we’re in Egypt.

From Aswan we embark on an early morning flight to see the two temples at Abu Simbel. These are two of the six temples built during the reign of king Ramses II. Ramses, who also made himself a god during his reign, had The Great Temple, the bigger and more famous of the two temples at Abu Simbel, built for himself. This impressive structure is carved into a mountain and towers above you like, well, exactly that.

 

The four statues at its entrance are absolutely huge. Inside, the colours on the walls, although understandably quite faded, bring to life the carved scenes from Egypt’s Old Kingdom period. Ramses had the second, smaller temple built for his “favourite” wife Nefertari. These beautifully carved buildings are visually outstanding, but hearing the story of how they were relocated makes them even more impressive. They were moved in the 1960’s to avoid them being flooded as a result of the new Lake Nasser.

Another highlight was the Pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. Discovered at different times in the past two centuries, these underground tombs date back as far as the 16th Century BC. Having been buried underground for thousands of years, their colours and carvings are in better condition than any of the temples. Yellows, reds, blacks and blues colour the walls with what look like brush strokes.

About 20 of the tombs can be opened, but there are believed to be some 65 tombs in the valley in total. Some of them are easier to access and less stuffy than others and not all are open to tourists at the same time due to restoration and preservation works.
Be careful, they are addictive. If you master one, you’ll want to see more.

Last, but definitely not least, is Dahab and the Red Sea. Picture this: your day starts with a buffet breakfast. Next you head to the beach to do some reading and catch some sun while you decide whether to snorkel or scuba dive in the clearest sea you have ever seen in your life. You can also hire a quad-bike, a horse or even a camel and explore the sand dunes, go sand or wind surfing, or maybe take a trip to Jerusalem for the day. Or you could say “to hell with it” and just lay there in the sand and relax.
Far from the image of Egypt our teachers painted for us in high school history lessons!

Dahab is a sleepy little seaside town where you can do exactly that — sleep — or be as adventurous as you like before heat stroke strikes. Luckily, I had three days in this little town, so I managed to do a bit of a both. Putting on a snorkel, mask and flippers to take a peek at some of the most beautiful coral and sea life in one of the world’s few Blue Holes was definitely a good decision. The Red Sea — whether it be at Dahab or the busier Sharm el-Sheikh — was an ideal way to wrap up what was a long, exhausting, but above all, amazing adventure through one of the most spectacular countries on Earth. Go there.

DO:
- make friends with the chatty but harmless locals
– try hibiscus tea – an Egyptian delicacy
– dress conservatively
– barter for the best price to avoid getting ripped off

DON’T:
– eat street food or drink tap water — ‘Egypt belly’ is no fun
– take the overnight train or bus — the sleeper train is the only way
– expect transport, or anything for that matter, to be on time

Shannon Crane travelled through Egypt on Busabout’s 9-day One Way Egypt tour:
Adults from £389.00 (tour £359.00 plus local payment approx £30.00)
Students from £369.00 (tour £339.00 plus local payment approx £30.00)

For more details, visit www.busabout.com

Shannon Crane

Shannon Crane

Shannon Crane is an experienced journalist who has recently returned to Australia after living in London for two years. Travel, music, shopping and discovering Melbourne's best-kept secrets are just a few of her favourite things. Oh, and The Sound of Music features quite highly on that list, too.


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