Egypt LAND – of the PYRAMIDS By Jayant DoshiIt was 4.00 a.m. in the morning when mostof the 46 members of those travelling onthe tour of Egypt, and organised by NavnatVanik Bhagini Samaj, had gathered at theairport terminal. Even though it was early,everyone was in a jovial mood, andacquaintances were quickly renewed orformed in no time. Each group memberwas given a box with some snacks andtheplas, prepared with care by thecommittee members. The box saved usfrom hunger, as we did not get anythingworth eating on the flight. The flight, viaMilan, landed at Cairo airport in the searingheat of Cairo in the afternoon. The tour manager welcomed us, and led us to the coach where wewere introduced to the tour guide. The one-hour drive to the hotel took us through the streets ofCairo, and we had a glimpse of the life around us.The Indus valley of India, Babylon region in Iraq and Iran, China and Egypt vie for the position of theoldest civilisation on this earth. But one thing is certain that Egypt has the oldest recorded civilisation.Its temples and tombs have carvings telling the history, and these are dated as far back as fourthousand years. Our guide spoke good English, and he gave us a thorough historical background asand when he got the opportunity. Egypt is part of the great Sahara desert, and the seventy millionpeople of the country live on a narrow strip along the great river Nile, while rest of the country is adesert and very thinly populated.While driving through Cairo, what drew our attention were hundreds of multi-storey houses, whichwere incomplete. Most houses were incomplete in one way or the other – either windows missing orceilings not completed, or big hole in the wall on some floor or the pillars erected without any walls.There was no plaster or paint on these buildings, and the construction was haphazard. It surprisedand puzzled us, but the guide explained that people were exploiting a loophole in the law, whichcreated this maze of unfinished houses. We reached the hotel, got our rooms and everyone settled down nicely. Everyone was tired after a long journey, the heat and the lack of sleep the previous night. A cook had been brought from India to cater for our special dietary needs, and through out the trip we had tasty food for lunch and dinner. However, when a chance was offered for an optional cruise on river Nile, some of us decided to take advantage of the same and see Cairo by night. For those who have been on Thames boats at night, there was nothing special on this cruise, but the belly dancing followed by some wonderful dancing in colour clothes by a young man was enchanting and worth the trip.Next day we started early on our sight seeing. First we visited the great citadel built by the greatSalladin. The citadel also had an impressive mosque inside. This was followed by a visit to the world
famous Cairo museum, which has exhibits of mummies, and contents of many tombs inside the pyramids of famous Pharaohs. We were told that there are one hundred thousand exhibits of antiquities in the museum. If one minute were spent to see each exhibit, then it would take a few years to see everything. We had less then two hours, and what ever we were shown was impressive and enchanting. We were given a lot of historical background, which impressed a few and bored many of the group members. Amongst the highlights was the tomb and mummy of Tutankhanam decorated in lots of gold, and all the possessions found in the tomb in the pyramid. The pharaohs believed that the soul will come looking for the body, and the king deserved to take his worldly possessions for his after life. This was the reason why tombs and temples were built in isolated places and on highground.After lunch we were taken to a fortress and one of the impressive historical mosques. We had agroup photo at the fortress. This was followed by a visit to a papyrus shop where we were given ademonstration of how papyrus paper was made. Egypt is well known for this paper, which is verystrong and long lasting. Many of the oldest historical documents have been written and preserved onpapyrus paper. The stem of the papyrus plant is cut into about nine inch pieces, the bark removed,and the white middle is soaked in water. The soft middle of the stem is removed and the outer skin isthen rolled to make it flat. These strips are then inter woven and pressed to make paper. The shophad lots of paintings on these papyrus papers. We also visited perfume shop and cotton clothingshop. Egypt is famous for its cotton, and also has a speciality in the perfumes.We were taken to a local market area in the evening. The guide gave strict instructions as to theroads to follow, and asked everyone to be present at a specific time. As it happens always, whileeveryone came on time, two did not show up. We were getting late for the light and sound show and itwas decided to go without the two missing passengers. Luckily, the two knew where our next visitwas, and took a taxi to meet us there.Language was a big problem, but theysomehow managed to find someone whocould understand. But for that period of time, itgot everyone worried, and it was a great reliefto see them at the show.Cairo has three pyramids on its outskirts. Thepyramids, one of the wonders of the world, areamazing and huge in size, and most of themwere built as far as four thousand years back.It is still a mystery how these huge structureswere built from huge blocks of granite toheights, which dwarf present day multi-storeybuildings. Each pyramid has a tomb for apharaoh, and tomb has various chamberswhere worldly things are put for the use of the pharaoh in his next life. Pyramids are built from granite,one of the heaviest stones, and each block is large. The largest block is estimated to be two hundredtonnes in weight. It is still a mystery to understand how such huge blocks of granite were transported
hundreds of miles at a time when wheel had not been invented, and still more mysterious how theywere raised to those heights. In the evening we were taken for a sound and light show at the pyramids. With the clever use of lights, and recordings, the history of the pyramids was relayed to a crowd of people sitting in the open ground in front of the pyramids and sphinx. At night everyone gathered outside near the swimming pool, and introductions were made, and some jokes cracked. It was only our first day, but it felt as if we all knew each other for ages, and it was like a big family get-to-gather. Next morning we visited the pyramids, and entered one of the pyramids to look at the inside chambers. Each pyramid has a central chamber for themummy of the pharaoh, and other small chambers to keep all the worldly things he is given to takewith him. Group photos and individual photos were taken at the pyramids and the sphinx.That evening we were travelling by train to Luxor. Having travelled considerably in India by train, I hadexperience of difficulties of travelling in these countries. But the train journey from Cairo to Luxor wasan experience by itself. We were rushed to the station platform, and asked to stand where roughly ourcarriages were supposed to stop. While the platform is marked with carriage numbers, they rarelystop at those points. But even the point at which we were asked to wait also proved to be wrong. Asthe train was stopping for only ten minutes there was a scramble and everyone rushed with theirluggage, or whatever they can handle, to get to the coach. While for a few moments it was chaotic, itall turned out for the best, and soon we were all settled on the train for the night journey. For dinnerwe were given theplas to supplement whatever food we might get on the train. There was a loungecarriage in the train but that was packed. As we were going to wake up early, everyone retired quiteearly to their respective cabins. I was surprised to see only one entry and exit door on eachcompartment. Not only this made boarding difficult, but also I was surprised that there was noconsideration given to a fire exit in case of a disaster.Most of the members did not sleep well as the trainjourney was noisy, and braking was erratic.Next morning we arrived at Luxor, and weretransferred to our cruise ship. The ship was small butluxuriously furnished. It had room for 100 people, butour group were given the exclusive use of the ship forthe next four days. Well-furnished and air-conditionedlounge, two tiers of deck with sun-beds and chairs andtables, and a small swimming pool were at our disposalfor the four days of our stay. The four days on the shipbecame the most enjoyable of our trip. During daytimemembers used the swimming pool, played cards, orjust relaxed in the shade. The Indian chef made tastyfood for lunch and dinner. We had music and dancingat night, birthday cakes and celebrations, and a bellydancer to entertain us all. The ship was abuzz withhappy members of the group. We had some goodjokes and singing during the cruise.In the afternoon we went to see the Temple of Karnak,which took 2000 years to build. The whole complex,
built from solid granite blocks, and walls and pillars carved with stories of the time and best records ofthe past civilisation, is huge and covers a large area. Three kilometres away is Luxor Temple, andboth the temples are connected by sphinx like statues all along the way. Some of the temples we visited had paintings in colours, which after all this time still look fresh and bright. Next morning we visited the valley of Kings. It has twelve temples including the famous Tutankhaman Tomb. While the temples are in ruins, what is still left is lot more then what is lost. The hylographic writings on the walls have preserved the past, which no other civilisation has been able to do. Paintings on the walls are still in good state. After this we visited the valley of the Queens and Hatshepsut temple built after a queen – the only woman pharaoh to have ruled Egypt. We saw the operation of a lock on the river, and that fascinated most of the members who watched the whole process with curiosity.Riverbed could be at different levels, and for the ship to sail through those different levels, a lock isbuilt which allows the ship to be lowered or raised to the level on the other side. We had a gala nightand a party at night, and all the members danced the night away. For once we did not have therestraint of time or the need to control noise.We visited Edfu temple, which was built in the 4th century B.C., and is the most preserved temple inEgypt. It has some Greek influence in its architecture. The temple was buried in sand for a long time,and that is the reason for its good preservation. At night we had a Egyptian night when mostmembers dressed themselves in Egyptian clothes. We had some mind boggling games and everyoneenjoyed the party. The guide came up with some interesting games, and the group had a good laugh.Next morning we visited a temple where a crocodile has been mummified. This, and pictures ofsnakes on the walls reminded us of the Hindu religious beliefs, and make one wonder who influencedwhom, or where was the origin of such ideas. In the afternoon we had felucca ride. A felucca is atraditional canvas sail boat of the river Nile. The felucca ride gave us a view of the picturesque riverNile and the Aswan region. We had another party on the ship. There was music and dancing and abirthday cake was cut and distributed. At 11.00 p.m. at night some of us walked to the market. At thattime, the place was buzzing with people and activity. When days are extremely hot, it is not surprisingthat people rest in the afternoon and come out in force at night.Next morning we were taken for a city tour of Aswan. Compared to Cairo, Aswan looked muchmodern. Buildings were well made and decorated compared to the dilapidated and unfinishedbuildings in Cairo. Later we visited Aswan Damand the High Dam. The High Dam, or AswanDam as we know it, was built in 1960’s, and itwas one of the largest dam ever built. Therewas lot of uproar all over the world when it wasplanned. We were not allowed any where nearthe actual dam, for security reasons, but had alook at it from a distance. After this visit, wewere taken for shopping. On all the tours themembers of the trip have an insatiable appetitefor shopping, and in spite of strict instructionsas to timing, it seemed to make little differenceto those who were engrossed in theirshopping.
After lunch we had to complete our packing as ourstay on the cruise ship was coming to an end.Seventeen members of the group were taking thetrain to Cairo to fly to London, while rest of the groupwas staying one night in a hotel to visit Abu Simbelthe next day. But suddenly it seemed that the happyfamily was breaking up, and farewells were said withpromises of keeping in touch. One group was taken tothe station while the rest were taken to their hotel forthe night. It was very hot, and the hotel had a lovelyswimming pool. Some of the group decided to coolthemselves in the pool.Next morning we were woken up at 3.00 in themorning, given a cup of tea and packed breakfast,and we left on our long journey at 4.00. On the waywe stopped to look at an unfinished Obelisk. Obeliskis a tall pillar with a pointed top like a needle. Thehuge Obelisk, which is over 200 feet, and weighshundreds of tonnes, is made from one rock. Theincomplete Obelisk was still not totally carved outfrom the rock. Experts still cannot work out how sucha huge piece of rock is lifted from the mountain andtransported 150 kilometres to Luxor, and once itreaches there, how it is raised to its upright position. One such Obelisk has been presented to Britain,and is erected near the Pall Mall.Abu Simble has two temples, and was constructed by Rameses II who ruled Egypt from 1290 to 1224B.C. The temple was covered with sand over a period of time, and was only found by a Europeantraveller in the late 19th century. Since it was covered in sand for a long period of time, the structureand the inside paintings have been very well preserved. The temples are carved out from themountains. Each temple has four huge statutes at the entrance and they stand at 20 metres height.The temple itself is 33 metres high, 38 metres wide and 56 metres deep. Inside there are variouschambers, and all the walls are decorated with colourful pictures telling us a story. There are hugepillars supporting the ceiling. One temple was built for Rameses while the other temple was built forhis wife Nefertari. Normally temples were made for Pharaohs only. But Rameses loved his wife verydearly and he had the temple made in her memory. However, when Aswan Dam construction started in 1960’s and water started coming near the temples, there was an outcry through out the world. Appeals were made to save this valuable heritage. UNESCO raised 50 million dollars to save the temples. It took four years to do the great job. First the mountain was dismantled, and the rocks stored away. Then each statute was cut carefully and lifted out from the temple. The pillars and walls were also carefully cut and removed from there. The two temples were reconstructed 60 metres above the original ground level. When the temples were reconstructed on their new sites, and the joints very carefully disguised, and the
original looks restored, a huge dome was constructed on top of each temple, and then that dome was covered with sand and rocks. Modern technology has done wonders. Each twenty metre statute had to be cut in several pieces to be moved. When we look at those statutes today, it seems totally unbelieveable that it could have been cut into pieces. Any layman would not even guess that the temples had been moved from their original places. We had checked out of the hotel in the morning so when we came back at lunch time we had no where to go to. However the tour manager managed to convince the cruise ship to allow us the use of the ship. We were taken there, each given a cabin to change and rest, and we had our usual lunch. We packed our bags and by evening we were at the station to board our train to Cairo. We reached Cairo early next morning, and our flight was in the afternoon. Here also the tour manager managed us to get into the hotel we had stayed in previously. Everyone took advantage and caught up with their sleep. By midday we were on the coach to go to the airport. Lunch for that day was not included, but by Egyptian hospitality, we were given a taste of hotly madefalafal,It had been a lovely holiday. All the members of the group got attached to each other like one bigfamily. Good byes were said, promises to keep in contact were made, and our bags were packed.Many of the members of the group asked the organisers to inform them in future whenever any suchtrip was planned. Every one enjoyed; the trip was meticulously planned; care was taken of everysmall detail; the weaker members of the group were well looked after. Our community organisationsare there to help our community members; this trip provides an excellent example of this in action.