Updated: Apr 8, 2020
..travel story by Vinita Vyas!!
Someday on a cool early morning of December breeze, I am walking the edges of sand dunes in the Nubra valley of Ladakh region. The views are more than breath-taking. Suddenly a gush of wind comes in from my left, and hundreds of sand particles give me a caress all over. I close my eyes and throw a smile recalling some sweet memories … Some images of deserts spring up in my mind and the sand, now, being gently blown by dry and warm wind… they say while in Egypt, walk like an Egyptian!
And I am back in my memory lane, walking the streets of Egypt – the humble abode of the oldest of seven wonders of the ancient world – the Pyramids of Giza!
I thought to myself, what a contrasting world we live in! Here is a wonder of nature – a rain-shadowed cold desert. And there it is a man-made wonder of the world in the middle of a warm desert.
Egypt, for starters is a land swarming with ancient as well as modern unworldly monuments, mesmerizing architecture, unbelievably fascinating history of Pharaoh and their legacy, and visual and mystical richness in every street I walked.
However, the Great Pyramids of Giza undoubtedly had me spellbound!
Believe me, it would totally be unfair to this architectural wonder, if I do not dedicate an entire post only to the pyramids, rest of Egypt, some other time… 😊
During my 15 days visit to Egypt, right from the moment I boarded my flight from Mumbai to Cairo, Pyramids of Giza, specifically the Great Sphinx was on my mind. To be rather honest to myself and not just to you, my dear fellow traveller, I was fascinated by this beautifully massive structure right from my childhood days as we had a huge artwork of the Great Sphinx in our living room and I always wanted to see this beauty and touch the structure myself.
And here I was… After visiting a few places of interest, the evening had arrived, when our local guide Mohammed, who spoke quite fluent English called us to be ready sharp by 5pm to experience the most enthralling part of our Egypt trip. And I knew we were going to see the pyramids, but I wondered, what can possibly be seen of this beauty in the dark!
We reached the Giza Pyramids complex, and the Great Pyramids were already absorbed in the darkness of the night as the sun set at the bustling city of Cairo. I felt a little disheartened, however, in no time, my eyes lit up in excitement as the great Pyramids woke up to life with this amazing Sound & Light show. It was stunning, colourful, super dramatic experience of watching history resurrecting to life. It was undoubtedly love at first sight for me!
As the evening unfolded, I realized we had bought a ticket to a journey back to thousands of years ago. Yes, thousands of years have passed since the pharaohs walked these lands, leaving behind a mystery on how the great pyramids and the sphinx were built. Sphinx is our storyteller for next 40 minutes narrating the history of the great kings - Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure whose burial chambers are these Pyramid-shaped tombs.
It is a memorable experience to sit under the stars in the middle of an open cool desert amidst the great pyramids, and listen to the Sphinx bringing back the Egyptian legacy to life. Stories of these great kings, the secrets of ancient Egyptian history are recreated through high power stereo sounds and laser lights, the experience that makes you feel part of that era.
After this magnificent evening, I could not wait for our day-visit to witness the sheer grandiosity of the pyramids.
And, the very next morning there I was looking up in the sky trying to find the tip of the mighty Pyramid of Khufu, known as the Great Pyramid. They are what you see everywhere since the day you were born, but it’s entirely a different experience just standing under them and looking up.
Whoa! It is known to have built-up on the flat land of 230 square meters and 146.5 meters high when construction was completed about 2000 years BC.
Mohammed told us that the entire pyramid was originally shielded by limestone, casing the basic stone structure, and what is seen today is only the underlying core stones. Some of these casing limestones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. On top of the limestone shield, these three pyramids were embellished with gold, ruins of which can still be seen close to the tip.
It sure is something out of this world as the tallest pyramid is composed of about 2.3 million blocks of stone, each stone much taller than me with an average weight of 3 tons each. It’s truly a mega-engineering project. We were told that about 1,00,000 of the slaves devoted their lives and blood in moving and placing of these giant stones over 30 years and under the gaze of the Pharaoh's vigilance.
To my surprise, excavations are on even today and about 70 other small pyramids, across Egypt have been found, but the Great Pyramid at Giza is the most famous till date. To me, every stone in Egypt engulfs mystery.
Khafre, Son of Khufu, built his pyramid at Giza, next to the great pyramid of Khufu, but at a higher level, giving a false impression that both the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre have the same height. It was an interesting optical illusion, as in fact, the pyramid of Khafre is shorter by about three meters.
Khafre's son built the last of the three pyramids on the hill of Giza, the smallest as it is, it has been built of granite; more expensive and elegant than limestone is.
There is a clear difference between the Khafre pyramid complex and the others, which is the presence of a large statue of a guard with the body of a lion and head of a human – our very own, the Giant Sphinx!
As per ancient Egyptian history, Sphinx is said to be a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a person, mostly that of a Pharaoh or a God. Why were they built? They are believed to be the guards of important areas such as tombs and temples in ancient Egypt.
It can’t get more exciting and mysterious at the same time. Isn’t it?
Adding to my excitement, the curious climber in me could not stay grounded for long. Although it is officially not allowed to climb up the pyramid, I did climb up with an on-site official’s permission till a point which was legal. Now, isn’t that thrilling!
Like many of you, even I wanted to explore the mystery of these cagy tombs. We bought nominally priced tickets and entered the pyramid to get face to face with the ancient secrets. We chose to enter the smallest of the three pyramids. Yes, it was super exciting but that narrow passageway deeper inside became a bit claustrophobic for some of our group members at a point. Although it wasn’t that scary to me. I went till the core of the pyramid and it was a small room like structure with an empty space meant for burying the royal mummies of pharaohs and Gods. We were told that these excavated mummies are now preserved at the British Museum at London and Museum of Cairo, which, of course, we went to visit later during our trip.
It was no less than a strange wonder for me how Egyptians believed that their actual life begins after death and this life on earth is a mere preparation of their afterlife. They believed that the physical body would be important in the next life. Thus, preserving the body in as lifelike a way as possible was the goal of mummification. All the mummies of important pharaohs, queens and Gods were accompanied by jars and baskets full of food and drink, precious ornaments, dresses, everyday objects, and some useful tools, their mummified servants and even pets so that the person would continue to enjoy all the luxuries in the afterlife too.
Although most of these pyramids have been looted by tomb-robbers over ages, my imagination recreated the scene from history where I could see the ancient time coming alive in this empty burial space right in this moment. It was beyond majestic. It sure left me wanting to uncover more of this piece of Egyptian legacy. Books, museums, and Mohammed were my best friends now.
This space had a peculiar smell and feel to it which was most certainly not too pleasant to me. And I came out quicker than I walked in!
Mohammed guided us to the eastern face of the pyramid, to show ruins of the temple that was built as the central location for the king's funeral team. This temple was linked via a paved road from the Nile valley to the large Giza pyramid complex as a whole, and near the southern face of the pyramid, there is a small Satellite pyramid leading to the Dynasty of the king and queens. We also spotted a large dismantled boat, built of cedarwood and a length of about 44 meters. This boat is said to have served transitions to the king from this life to the afterlife.
We are not really sure how the Great Pyramids were built, the Sphinx may still remain a mystery, indeed, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
I visited the pyramids in the 21st century, thousands of years after their construction and many years to come, and still, they vanquish me with their size and the great human spirit behind them.
It is indescribable to just stand in the same place where part of my race as human-beings stood more than four thousand years ago. I can’t really recommend a visit to the Great Pyramids of Giza enough! I hope you can make it happen, and you choose to explore it’s glory too! My experience is beyond my words could spell...
This was my journey to the most mysterious wonder of our ancient world, as I recalled with the wind gently touching my skin in this peaceful noon here at Nubra, Ladakh.
I will definitely walk you with me on the sands of Nubra Valley too, sooner sometime.
Till we meet again…
With love, Simply Vinita 😊